Kabul/Brussels, 29 September 2003: Providing security in Afghanistan requires a greater effort to deal with local disputes. These frequently flare into violence, and local commanders often exploit such clashes to consolidate their positions, further weakening the authority of the Afghan Transitional Administration in Kabul.
The International Crisis Group’s new report, Peacebuilding in Afghanistan,* examines these disputes and finds them to be derived typically from one of three causes: land and water claims, ethnic division, or family strife, frequently over women. The report finds that the significance of such local skirmishes is too often underestimated.
“Although these disputes attract less attention than the resurgent Taliban threat, they are as important because they produce an environment of insecurity that destroys all quality of life for ordinary civilians and allows extremism and criminality to thrive”, said Robert Templer, Director of ICG’s Asia Program.
Different legal systems – customary law, sharia (religious law), and state law – operate simultaneously. Official structures such as police forces and the judiciary are highly politicised, corrupt, and not trusted by most Afghans. Traditional structures such as councils of elders do function in some areas; however, they often reflect a very narrow, traditional view of authority, which many young people and returning refugees are reluctant to submit to. Other councils have been essentially creations of aid groups and the UN, used to channel money to communities. They may have legitimacy and be relatively representative, but their authority is not always accepted.
In this environment it is difficult to establish methods for the containment and resolution of local disputes. Enhancing the effectiveness of the police and judiciary is vital but takes a generation, even with sustained assistance. Local structures need to be developed but represent a risk of either enhancing the authority of people responsible for much of the conflict or trampling on the rights of the persecuted.
Reconciliation initiatives thus need active promotion at three interdependent levels. There must be sustained international engagement – something to which the sponsors of the Bonn Agreement committed themselves – particularly during the run-up to elections next year. At the same time, the Afghan central government needs to pursue security sector reform and the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of fighters, which can improve the overall security situation, restore the rule of law, and build confidence in processes of political and social reconciliation. This, in turn, should create the conditions in which the local means for solving problems can be effective.
Robert Templer said, “Afghanistan is far from stable. Widespread conflict could return. While most focus is on Kabul power struggles, local conflicts and the uses commanders make of them present risks. Many can be contained, but only with more attention, more of an international security presence throughout the country, and more flexible aid schemes that deliver not just material benefits but also political progress”.
Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
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*Read the report in full on our website: http://www.crisisweb.org/