Category Archives: Reintegration Program

2012: Things to keep an eye on in Afghanistan

This incomprehensive list is a repository of my initial thoughts and will evolve over the next few days. As this year wraps up, I thought I’d make a note of some of the important news items to look out for in 2012. Two of the first items are part of a larger listicle (list article) on the UN Dispatch.

  • Security transition/international troop withdrawal

More than a dozen members of the 49-country international coalition in Afghanistan are preparing to bring many or all of their soldiers home next year. The foreign military footprint is expected to shrink by around 40,000 troops by the end of 2012. The United States will pull approximately 29,000 troops, reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan from 97,000 to around 68,000. Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Denmark, New Zealand, Slovenia, Hungary, Finland and Italy will collectively withdraw thousands more.

Will the Afghan security forces be prepared to take over when they leave? The signs aren’t encouraging. Attrition, lack of discipline, disrespect for civilian lives and propertyinsurgent infiltration, ethnic and political fractures, corruption, and unsustainable recruitment continue to plague Afghanistan’s police and army.

Also worrisome is the fact that anti-Taliban militias nominally under government control will continue expanding in 2012 with the support of international forces. These groups have gained notoriety among ordinary Afghan civilians and civil society for their fluid loyalties, links to organized crime and involvement in human rights abuses.

The government in Kabul needs competent police and soldiers to survive the departure of foreign forces. If the international community, and especially the United States, fails to seriously address the Afghan security forces’ shortcomings in 2012, doing so in 2013 will be too late.

Una Moore

  • Food insecurity and hunger

Close to three million Afghans are facing starvation as a harsh winter descends upon the country. A drought affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces has rendered many families that engage in subsistence farming incapable of feeding themselves. The affected provinces are mostly in the north and northeast, where the loss of 80% of the staple wheat crop has left many with little to eat – some families are already reportedly limiting their diets to one meal a day. Winters can last up to six months and supply routes become impassable much of that time due to the mountainous terrain and snowfall of up to 13 feet. The international community has so far only pledged about one-third of the $142 million requested by the U.N. That is likely to impede efforts to stockpile food in affected areas before they become inaccessible. Children and pregnant women face chronic malnutrition in some of the poverty-hit areas regardless of drought.

An estimated 80% of Afghanistan’s population is involved in farming and herding. Droughts are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but their effects on crops and livestock are especially severe because irrigation remains poorly developed and water preservation is largely nonexistent. In addition to these structural challenges, the mountainous terrain and the harsh winter, a limited road network makes it difficult to reach many remote villages.

Although this drought does not affect areas with the strongest insurgency presence, serious concern still remains for the millions of people who will be cold and hungry for six months.

  • Negotiations and reconciliation

President Karzai has agreed at last to accept an office for the Taliban in Qatar, provided Afghanistan plays a lead role in the negotiations. The US has been conducting secret preliminary talks with the Taliban as it looks for an “honorable” exit from Afghanistan. But there are a number of other variables that make negotiations a tough task, not the least of which is the Taliban’s strong public refusal, thus far, of any talks. Other variables are Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even China, whose stakes in Afghanistan are growing in tandem with their investment in the natural resource extraction sector.  Domestic Afghan opposition to reconciliation and the question of justice — what to do with the Taliban leaders who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity — are some of the other important dimensions to the reconciliation process. Then there is the all-important question of what to do if the reconciliation process fails, or if any potential peace deal resulting from this process falls apart, after the world has moved on from Afghanistan.

  • Afghan security forces and irregular militias

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been rapidly growing in numbers, although desertion, the quality of recruits and infiltration by the Taliban remain as serious challenges. But ANSF is taking over the security of more areas in Afghanistan. A parliamentary committee recently evaluated their performance in the “phase 1” of the transition as unsatisfactory. The transition is a good early indicator of the quality and development of the ANSF as a fighting force, although they are expected to remain dependent on ISAF for air support, medevacs, intelligence/communication, operational help — and operating budget. On the other hand, the Afghans and Americans are arming ALP and a slew of other militia groups that have little formal accountability. The Afghan-initiated disbandment of CIP is also an important factor to watch.

  • The political process

The international community is preparing to leave Afghanistan but the Afghan political elite are reaching out to each other — instead of their guns — as political battle lines are drawn and the stakes increase. The formation of three major political parties in the past three months is a strong indicator that the Afghan elite are not giving up — yet — on democracy and politicking as a means to carve out a future for themselves in Afghanistan. They still believe that by being part of the system, they can gain more than they are expected to give — which is relinquishing violence and factional and inter-ethnic war. It’d be interesting to see how long they can hold their collective breath before they reach out for their guns, now that the US is withdrawing, the Taliban are increasingly assertive and Karzai is preparing his moves for his political future.

To be continued…

Those who don’t learn from history

Rachel Reid has a must-read article about the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a program under which NATO (read the US)  trains and then arms local groups as a way to shield communities against the creeping menace of the Taliban. As you can imagine, creating a new armed group with little supervision or accountability is a recipe for disaster. That’s what Rachel’s report for Human Rights Watch pointed out. Now, even NATO is beginning to officially admit that.

But there’s more than just the ALP that is cause for real concern. Writes Rachel:

Human rights abuses are almost inevitable when injecting lightly trained forces into fractured communities that tend to lie at the edge of government control, where impunity is rampant. Significant efforts have been made to safeguard against the risk of creating lawless militias, but what compounds this risk is that it’s not just the ALP that the U.S. and Afghan governments are backing. There’s also the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), the Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP), the Interim Security Infrastructure (ISCI), Community Based Security Solutions (CBSS), and the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3). And these are just the groups with acronyms. Beyond them are a myriad of informal militias supported by Afghan intelligence forces, provincial officials, warlords, and unregistered private security forces, as well as the reintegrated former insurgents who are allowed to keep their arms.

Read the whole article here. In a country where the state does not have a monopoly of force, distributing arms among such an astonishingly broad spectrum of groups that have competing interests and little to no loyalty to the state is a patently bad idea. It’s a simple calculation: when you give guns to groups that don’t love each other and you, as the arbitrer, aren’t strong enough to keep them in line, you can’t expect peace and brotherly love to reign over the country.

As the report shows, the ALPs have shown a modicum of success in keeping the Taliban out, but their success is not motivated by a sense of duty to the country or the communities they are supposedly protecting. Rather, their motivation is their own interests, which they jealously guard by extortion, human rights abuses, fear tactics and violating the law, almost always with complete impunity. As a result, Afghanistan gets a whole host of new abusive militant groups in exchange for one. And a lot of money is being spent on this bad bargain.

This policy is an experiment in irony. Right after the fall of the Taliban, the international community, under the leadership of the Japanese, spent many millions of dollars disarming and reintegrating armed groups that existed in the nooks and crannies of Afghanistan. The only two big groups that weren’t disarmed — the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami — are now the biggest challenge to Afghanistan’s future. Under this new policy, millions of dollars are being spent to once again to create armed militias, rolling back the gains made with Japanese and international help. Worse yet, there is no strategy to demobilize these new groups once their utility value runs out.

Afghanistan should know better than anyone that the last time armed entities were formed (to chase the USSR out of the country) we got the civil war. It took Afghanistan 20 years of unspeakable horrors and billions of dollars in international aid to get here. If Afghanistan botches it this time, the world won’t give it a second chance — and we’re not strong enough to do it on our own.

So we seem more or less destined to repeat our bloody history.

Karza ditches the Taliban, wants to talk to Pakistan – initial thoughts

In an incredible moment of lucidity, Karzai seems to have finally realized two things that much of the rest of the world — and his Afghan opposition — has been telling him for a pretty long time. In a meeting with a group of religious leaders, Karzai said the following:

Where is [Mullah Omar]? We cannot find the Taliban Council. Where is it? A messenger comes disguised as a Taliban Council member and kills, and they neither confirm nor reject it.

And this:

Who is the other side in the peace process? I do not have any other answer but to say Pakistan is the other side in the peace talks with us.

Karzai

Photo source: BBC Persian website.

His favorite expression for the Taliban had always been “angry brothers,” with whom he had insisted that Afghanistan should reconcile. He had held his ground in the face of stiffest criticism from his political opposition and the barrage of assassination of high-level government officials, senior security officials, his own brother and, most recently, his chief peace negotiator. That he has now turned against his “angry brothers” is a huge change from him.

This step from Karzai will radically alter the equation for everyone — Pakistan, the Taliban, the Afghan opposition, the United States, Iran, KSA, India and the Afghan people. But what does it exactly mean for the various actors involved in the picture? As of this writing, there hasn’t been any official reaction from any of these parties; that said, here’s a preliminary attempt at making sense of it all.

The “Northern Alliance”:

Karzai’s political opposition, which had doggedly opposed any talks with the Taliban, has scored a huge victory by having one of their longstanding demands recognized. But not only that, Karzai’s recognition of Pakistan as the real party to any settlement has affirmed their perennial suspicion toward Pakistan and its security institutions. So their victory is both political and moral.

Bolstered, they will likely amp up their opposition toward Pakistan, which they have always seen as interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters and always backing anyone but them.

Taliban:

The Taliban have been behaving like the spoiled child that gets the candy but still maintains the nagging, unreasonable behavior. The UN Security Council removed about a dozen Taliban members from its blacklist, and Karzai had maintained an open embrace with a bag of goodies at the end of one arm in exchange for the Taliban dropping their weapons. This despite the carnage they wreaked in the country in the last few years. So the Taliban have been scoring international points and making domestic inroads by assassinating key leaders and expanding their presence across Afghanistan.

But by refusing to treat them as a legitimate party to negotiations, Karzai has ostensibly withdrawn the golden handshake. The terms of the previous offer are no longer valid — Taliban leaders won’t get (what amounts to) amnesty in exchange for peace and they likely won’t get to participate in the political process. (Those were huge concessions that Karzai had made even before getting to the negotiating table!)

The Taliban will now have to do their bidding through Pakistan, with whom they have always had a love-hate relationship — they have continued to receive needed help and support, but have always resented Pakistan.

The Afghan people:

The biggest losers of the whole reintegration/peace/reconciliation/negotiation saga, the Afghan people, will be watching President Karzai intently for his next moves. The previous peace process was not inclusive – Karzai had convened a rubber-stamp loya jirga to give himself the green light on negotiations. Three-day jirgas are hardly any substitute to serious, inclusive national debates about such issues of immense importance. In true democracies, hand-picked jirgas can’t make effective foreign policy or decide matters relating to serious national crimes and injustices.

Karzai had not consulted the broader Afghan public about reconciliation and, perhaps purposefully, not set out any clear and definite parameters for reconciliation, expected outcomes and the extent of concessions.

Pakistan et. al.:

Karzai handed Pakistan a victory by accepting unconditionally and decisively their longstanding demand that they be recognized as the principal party to any future settlement in Afghanistan. It is unclear who Karzai will get to negotiate with in Pakistan — the ISI-military side or the civilian government. And it is unclear how sincerely, if at all, Pakistan will engage in any talks. However, although the Afghan recognition of their role is important, the Pakistanis really covet the same acceptance from the United States.

And they will view Karzai’s concession as an important step to that end. Regardless, Pakistanis area already feeling better in their strategic calculus vis-a-vis India, which will be watching everything warily.

Iran, which had just started to cultivate ties with the Taliban, will also need to reassess its policy. They have historically been close to the Hazara/Shia and the Tajik camps and will likely continue to press their side. KSA — whose diplomats left Kabul last week and whose proxy now has the rug snatched from under its feet — has lost much of its status as the arbiter that could bring the Taliban to the table and broker a deal.

Moving ahead…

Naturally, talks with Pakistan are radically different from negotiations with the Taliban. If Pakistan chooses to oblige and negotiate a settlement, they will have obligations under international law. Whether Pakistan will choose to honor any final settlement and what the world can do to enforce those obligations in case of noncompliance is a different matter.

Because of the different nature of this ‘peace process,’ the Afghans will need to do new soul-searching. A broad national consultation will need to take place to determine what the nation is ready to give in exchange for peace, and what they hope to realistically gain from negotiations. Perhaps a little less urgently, the Afghans will need to decide whether they will continue to fight the insurgency indefinitely and how to handle justice issues related to Taliban’s crimes during and before the insurgency.

And Karzai’s success won’t just be determined by the domestic support of his policies. He will also need to have serious international backing. But that’s not guaranteed, given that he just left the United States high and dry by abandoning the trilateral peace process.

Karzai’s Reintegration Program IS Beginning to Work…Kind of

I wrote a post some time ago in which I noted the growing number of fighters joining the government’s reintegration program and asked whether the program is really working.

Well, it is…kind of.

Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that there’s been an increase in the number of anti-government fighters willing to lay down their and reintegrate.

British Maj. Gen. Phillip Jones, the NATO military command’s director for reintegration, said there has been a “significant uptick” in interest among insurgents in laying down their weapons. He said that more than 40 groups of fighters, amounting to a few thousand men, are in negotiations with the Afghan government.

There’s apparently been so much interest, in fact, that the Kandahar governor is asking for a breather:

In Kandahar province, a hub of Taliban activity that has been a focus of U.S. military operations, the governor is taking the extraordinary step of urging insurgent leaders to delay their surrender.

“We are not prepared the way we should be,” said the governor, Tooryalai Wesa, who has been approached in recent weeks by emissaries for mid-level Taliban leaders. “We are telling them to wait a little bit.”

The lack of preparation Governor Wesa talks about includes funding restrictions from USAID, slow or incompetent implementation of the program from the Afghan government, delay from inter-ministerial coordination, etc. (Read more on this in the WaPo article.)

And then there is the issue of weeding out false claimants — people who claim they’re fighters only to get the benefits of the program.

Perhaps the most complicated and important of all is the question of justice: should we really be rewarding these people, many of whom have been involved in killings or otherwise illegal activity, instead of prosecuting them? This concern is raised primarily by civil society organizations. But in a different incarnation, Karzai’s political opposition is asking why we should invest so many resources in buying off Taliban fighters instead of rewarding peaceful, law-abiding Afghans.

But for now these questions are ignored in favor an attempt at a swifter path to peace through the reintegration program. But that’s not working too well either.

Is Karzai’s reintegration program beginning to work?

Lately, there has been a flurry of news reports about Taliban fighters and other insurgents laying down their weapons and joining the ‘peace process.’ The ‘reintegration’ reported in the media is happening primarily in Afghanistan’s northern provinces — Faryab, Jawzjan, Takhar, Balkh, Kunduz, Baghlan and others — but there have also been cases in the South.

Defections in the south of the country might be because of the massive surge that appears to have created some space for peace. Coalition forces are hinging their efforts on the surge, hoping it will turn the tide.

However, defections in the North are more significant because they represent an apparent reversal in the rapid growth of militancy in the once-peaceful region.

Compared to the overall size of the insurgency, defection numbers are trivial — a few here, a dozen there — and the trend might just be anecdotal, but the element key in this phenomenon is the timing, to which there are two dimensions.

  1. It comes in the wake of last year’s peace jirga, the creation of the High Peace Council, Afghanistan’s reaching out to Pakistan and other efforts part of a Western-backed attempt to revive Karzai’s floundering peace offer to the Taliban, originally extended in the early years of his time in power. The defections might be a sign that the plan is finally working.
  2. It is wintertime in Afghanistan, and traditionally militants take a break to sleep away the months of heavy snow, iced roads and subzero temperatures that can seriously hamper their mobility and operational capability. The hibernation might just have been sweetened by the benefits of the reintegration program, which promises former militants amnesty, skills training, cash-for-work schemes and protection against reprisals from other militants for defection.

So, is the reintegration working? Or are the defections motivated by the perks only?

The answer could be anyone’s guess, although right now the consensus seems to be on the side of reintegration skeptics. One would hope, somewhat wishfully, that the winter break, the perks of surrender and the surge will work in synergy to lead the war to a critical turning point.