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Afghanistan - Militia

The "security dilemma" for people in Afghanistan consists of the privatization of security and a pervasive military mentality in the country, both of which are detrimental to peace-building.

As the state is unable to hold a monopoly on power in Afghanistan, its authority is challenged by a number of competing factions. Local and regional commanders, some of whom also represent government structures and local officials, engage in regular fighting, often with heavy civilian casualties. Armed regional and local private militia leaders, together with their armed followers, establish their own rules for the provision of welfare and security, the collection and distribution of wealth and booty, and clientelism.

Historically, Afghanistan has never had robust national armed forces. The treasury simply could not support the demands of such an army. In addition, the cultural factors that had prevented the previous formation of a national nontribal military also have sabotaged efforts to establish such a force. For example, soldiers were accustomed to nonhierarchical tribal organization rather than blind submission to officers. Officers, who achieved their position through tribal and interpersonal ties, never received adequate training. Furthermore, military equipment was less than adequate.

Tribesmen, however, have always been extremely knowledgeable about the topography in their own areas, and on their own turf they could outmaneuver and outfight any invading force. A prominent historian remarking on Anglo-Afghan Wars, noted that "the real problems of a European army fighting the Afghans began only after the `war' against the Afghan regulars was over, as was clearly demonstrated in both the First (1838 42) and Second (1878 80) Afghan wars."

In both wars the British vanquished the Afghan army and deposed the rulers but were ultimately defeated by massive tribal uprisings. Opposition by the Afghan tribes would have forced the British to wage a long term guerrilla campaign against them. The British opted to settle hostilities by political means. The Soviets facing the mujahideen encountered similar problems.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Afghanistan on 26 February 2004 to observe reconstruction efforts in the southern city of Kandahar. He later travelled to Kabul for talks with President Karzai, in which they sought to strengthen efforts to ensure stability. There was little evidence that the security environment was improving; just the day before, five Afghan NGO workers were killed by Taliban militants. Since August 2003, over 550 individuals had died in political-related violence, including scores of Islamic militants killed in clashes with US troops and Afghan security forces. Karzai's administration would redouble efforts to disarm warlord militia units before elections were held, although disarmament efforts to date have accomplished little, with only an estimated 5000 militia fighters entering the demobilization program. The government hopes to disarm approximately 40,000 militia fighters.

March 2004 witnessed violence in western Herat province as fighting began on 21 March between forces loyal to the regional warlord Ismail Khan and Afghan army units under General Abdul Zahir Nayebzadeh, who professes loyalty to Karzai's administration. The clashes, which involved tanks and mortars, occurred after an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Khan. Gunmen killed the warlord's son, Mirwai Sadeq a few hours later. Sadeq was the minister of civil aviation and tourism in Karzai's cabinet. Khan loyalists blamed Nayebzadeh for the incidents, accusing the general of trying to overthrow the regional leadership.

On 22 March 2004 the central government dispatched a 1500-strong force headed by Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim to restore order in the region. He established a cease-fire that would allow for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sadeq's death, and sought Khan's support for the central government. The next day around 1500 Afghan National Army soldiers had been deployed to Herat with the promise of more troops to "ensure security, prevent regional clashes and show the presence of the central government in Herat province." The entry of Afghan National Army troops into Herat marked the first time since the demise of the Taliban in late 2001 that Kabul had forces in Ismail Khan's province.

Khan is one of many regional warlords who have been acting independently of central government control since the fall of the Taliban. Despite a May 2003 pledge to recognize the preeminence of the central government and promises to adhere to the chain of command, Khan and others, including ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, have largely disregarded Kabul.

The lack of governmental cohesion was an underlying cause of the instability that plagued Afghanistan and threatened the nation's future. On 14 July 2004, Karzai signed a decree pledging to crack down on warlords and militia commanders who resist the internationally backed process of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, also known as DDR.

The initial approach to DDR in Afghanistan addressed amnesty (though not a general amnesty), and the government’s Disarmament and Reintegration Commission ran it under the name “Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups.” The program sought to influence fighters to disarm voluntarily, as opposed to offering monetary incentives for weapons turn-in. It offered incentives for communities, but not to the illegal armed groups themselves, in order to avoid the perception that the program directly aided criminal activity.

The Afghan government had limited success reintegrating members of illegal armed groups and reconciling with certain Taliban fighters. The goal of the “Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups” program was to disarm and reintegrate 150,000 militiamen, but these goals have not been met in part because armed groups in the south feared the continued Taliban combat activity and refused to disarm voluntarily.

In September 2007, Taliban leaders stated that they would reject offers from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reconcile until “(1) all foreign troops leave Afghanistan; (2) a new ‘Islamic’ constitution is adopted; and (3) Islamic law is imposed.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2018 17:36:46 ZULU