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Securing Afghanistan: The Need for More International Action


A series of incidents has highlighted the frailty of the military and political situation in Afghanistan and raised questions regarding the international community's approach to stabilising the country. These incidents include the slaying of Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism Abdul Rahman, labelled by the leader of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, as an assassination, and reports that peacekeepers have been fired upon in Kabul in drive-by shootings.

Outside the capital, more serious problems are contributing to a sense of insecurity. Sources of concern include friction between rival militia factions, particularly in Mazar-I-Sharif; violence that is driving many Pashtuns from areas in the north of the country; civilian deaths that result from U.S. bombing in the south and hamper efforts to bring Pashtuns more fully into the Loya Jirga process and so develop more representative government institutions; continuing banditry; and, often conflicting reports of renewed efforts by various states to influence military leaders through payments.

While most of these might be considered relatively low-level disturbances in view of the depth of violence in Afghanistan over the last 23 years, they illustrate the challenges facing the country and the international community. First, the international community - particularly the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France - will need to expand the mandate and scale of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). There is widespread desire within Afghanistan to see the peacekeeping force expand its reach beyond simply patrolling Kabul. The failure of major NATO powers to summon the political will to take such a step risks seeing Afghanistan again slide toward factional fighting.

Recent security incidents underscore the challenges in creating credible national military and police forces. While support for establishing ethnically balanced forces has been strong rhetorically, particularly from the United States, these are massive undertakings that will take more time and resources than are yet available. Afghanistan has not had a genuinely effective police force in more than a decade, its current force has not received training in years, officers have not been paid for months, and the force structure is built around an old Soviet-style system. Similarly, the notion that a national military can quickly be propped up as an effective national force - free of allegiance to local commanders - is subject to serious question.

The immediate priority, therefore, has to be an expanded ISAF - up from 4,500 to more than 25, 000 troops - and a more effective one as well. In addition to the problem of sheer numbers that needs to be addressed urgently, ISAF should improve internal coordination, which is highly problematic for the current small force made up of eighteen national components all in the Kabul area, and will be still more challenged if the force grows in size and geographic responsibilities.

These security developments will shape a difficult political process being played out through the emergency Loya Jirga. The timeline for the emergency Loya Jirga to be held in June is daunting, and there are already signs that the UN Special Mission for Afghanistan (UNSMA) is struggling in its stewardship. UN bureaucratic delays in funding and deploying field officers, combined with what will surely be aggressive rivalry by all political and military groups as well as efforts by outside actors to exploit Afghan internal divisions and influence the Loya Jirga process, could well prove a combustible mixture if significant steps are not taken to improve the security situation across the country.


The international community should rapidly:

    a) expand ISAF forces to 25,000-30,000 troops;
    b) expand the mandate to cover the main cities of Afghanistan and secure vital transport routes;
    c) clarify which country will command ISAF when the British relinquish the role, and improve ISAF's internal coordination; and
    d) provide funding for those countries such as Turkey that wish to play a role but face financial difficulties.

The United Nations should move quickly to:

    a) push member states vigorously for expansion of ISAF;
    b) expand its political and civil affairs operations around the country to monitor potential disputes that could derail the Loya Jirga;
    c) expand public affairs operations so more Afghans are aware of the workings of the Interim Administration and the process of putting together the Loya Jirga; and
    d) expand its role in planning a national police force and a national army, developing a legal system and monitoring human rights.

Brussels/Kabul, 15 March 2002

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