Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, considerable international attention has been directed towards Afghanistan. Key instruments in support of the new government in Afghanistan and its people have been military operations through the United States of America (US), the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and international development cooperation. The strategies and approaches of the international community have shifted over time, but international development has remained one of the foundations in promoting security, combating terrorism, reducing poverty, promoting democracy and state-building, and fostering gender equality. The war after 2001 in Afghanistan refers to the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its allies to combat terrorism. The emergence of this conflict goes back to the incident on 9/11 in the United States of America. The aim of this intervention by NATO and its allies was to dismantle the safe havens of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the region by removing the Taliban from power.
The government of the United States demanded that the Taliban should hand over Osama Bin Laden and expel Al-Qaeda. The Taliban in Afghanistan asked Bin Laden to leave the country but declined to extradite him without evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The United States of America denied negotiating the launch of its operations in response to the rejection of the Taliban regime to hand over Osama bin Laden.
Structure and Framework of Analysis
The paper is based on the International Alert conflict assessment framework due to the fact that the conflict in Afghanistan is very complex and this framework is structured in a very comprehensive and understandable way. This framework divides the report between levels, i.e., conflict profile, causes of the conflict, actors, and dynamics. In the conflict profile part, it discusses historical dynamics, and global, national and societal factors influencing the conflict. This framework also makes connections between these levels, which give a broader knowledge of conflict complexity instead of a general knowledge of the situation. It makes the reader think critically about the conflict rather than grasping a holistic categorization and knowledge about the conflict.
Using this framework, the paper begins with analysis and a discussion of historical dynamics, structures and international interventions, which will be followed by discussion of the root causes. Furthermore, this paper will give information about the different actors involved in the conflict. Finally, it will provide an overview of the current trends, impediments, and recommendations to address the conflict.
To analyze the conflict in Afghanistan and in order to identify the actors and structure that have contributed to the dynamics, it is necessary to explore the history of the conflict in this country and to examine the root causes. In addition to that, this paper will focus on the international interventions and the strategies implemented by the Afghan government with international assistance to determine the potential for security and stability.
The official name of the country is The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It gained independence from the British in 1919. Afghanistan has a land area of 647,000 square km and has borders with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the north, China and Pakistan to the east and south and Iran to the west. In 2014 Afghanistan is estimated to have a population of 31.82 million inhabitants with 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek and 13% comprising smaller ethnical groups such as Aimak, Turkmen, Baloch and Nuristani. 99% are Muslims, 80% of whom are Sunnis and 19% Shiite. The official languages are Dari (50%) and Pashtu (35%). Turkic languages are spoken by 11% of the population and there are thirty other minor languages. In October 2001, of the estimated four million refugees in October 2001, 2.3 million Afghans have returned home. (The World Fact book, 2014)
Afghanistan, (which literally means Land of the Afghan) is a mountainous land-locked country with a history and culture that goes back over 5000 years. The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul and it has 34 provinces. Afghanistan adopted its new constitution, establishing the country as an Islamic Republic in early January 2004. According to the constitution, the Afghan government consists of an elected President, two Vice Presidents, and a National Assembly consist of two Houses: the House of People (Wolesi Jirga), and the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga). There is also an independent Judiciary branch consisting of the Supreme Court (Stera Mahkama), High Courts and Appeal Courts. The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga (Qazi, n.d).
The provinces are organized into districts. A district is a collection of villages. As the boundaries between districts and between villages are often flexible, and changing, they will be described as the “local level”. The smallest unit is the family with around eight to ten family members. The organization on the local level differs: it can be by governor, elders, khan, mullah, former commander, warlord, or others.
Afghanistan has been characterized as “peasant-tribal society”. According to Foreign Policy index 2007, it received a critical (worst out of five cumulative ratings) and eight out of the 60 least stable states. (Breede, 2008, p.54) The conflict in Afghanistan is identified as one of the high level armed conflicts according to the Alert yearbook. (2014) According to the Fragile States Index, 2014, Afghanistan is categorized under the high alert countries. The fragile state index is based on the thousands of reports and articles that are available electronically through their software.
Afghanistan is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country. Most political conflicts in modern Afghan history are not because of the directions such as development, religious belief, constitutional rights, or social class but they have stemmed from the attempts of the dominant tribes and their elites to accomplish a high degree of centralism of power with the help of foreign patrons (Bredee, 2008, p.58). The history of Afghanistan shows that a person from the majority tribe, the Pashtuns, has almost always ruled the country. This has provided the opportunity for the people of other groups, who felt oppressed, to emerge as a cause for the conflict in later stages. In addition to the multi-cultural, multi-tribal and multi-lingual factors, one of the most important factors that need to be noted about Afghanistan is the religion. Despite the fact that the majority of the population in the country is Muslim, sectarian differences between the Sunni (majority) and Shias (minority) has also helped the ignition of the conflict in certain cases.
Afghanistan had undergone conflict since 1970. Since 1994 the Taliban (religious students) fought to liberate themselves and the country from the tyranny of the warlords. The Pakistani Intelligence armed them. Pakistan was one of the three countries recognizing the Taliban regimes officially. By 2001 the Taliban had 90% of the country under their control using a very strong Islamic regime. They gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, who developed training camps for extremist Islamic fighters.
The current conflict in Afghanistan in the fight against Taliban traces back to 2001. The armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance), previously involved in the civil war, launched operations in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States. This operation, which succeeded in 2001, aimed at dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base.
The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. The United States of America with its allies including NATO drove the Taliban government down. The preludes to the war were the assassination of anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001, and the September 11 attacks on the United States, in which nearly 3000 civilians lost their lives in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. The United States identified members of al-Qaeda as the perpetrators of the attacks (War in Afghanistan, n.d, p.1).
On December 2001, the United Nation Security Council established the International Security Forces (ISAF) to oversee military operations in the Afghanistan and train Afghan National Security Forces. At the same time at the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to preside over the country as head of Interim Administration, which after a Loya Jirga in 2002 became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In 2004, Karzai was elected as president of the country.
In 2003, NATO led the ISAF and the troops from 43 countries. One portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operated under NATO command; the rest remained under direct U.S. command. Taliban leader Mullah Omar reorganized the movement and in 2003 launched an insurgency against the government and ISAF. The Taliban group supported by Haqqani Network and Hezb-e- Islami waged warfare with guerilla raids and ambushes in the countryside. Since 2006, Afghanistan has experienced a dramatic increase in Taliban-led insurgent activity. In their campaign the Taliban also target the civilian population of Afghanistan in terrorist attacks. According to a report by the United Nations, the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan (Rogio, 2010). These insurgencies were responded by ISAF to increase the troops for operations. While ISAF continued to fight against Taliban insurgency, the fight crossed into neighboring North West Pakistan. In 2004, the Pakistani Army began to fight with local tribes hosting Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The US military launched attacks in Pakistan to kill insurgent leaders. This resulted in the start of an insurgency in Waziristan region of Pakistan in 2007. In December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would deploy an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months and also set a withdrawal date for the year 2014 (Obama details Afghan, 2009).
On January 2010, at the International Conference on Afghanistan in London, which brought together some 70 countries, President Hamid Karzai addressed the world leaders that he intended to reach out to the top levels of the Taliban (including Mullah Omar, Siraj Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) with a peace leadership to take part in a “loya Jirga”(the elders councils) (Richter, 2010). This was resisted by the opposition group Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and the Intelligence head Mr. Amrullah Saleh, believing that Karzai’s plan aims to appease the insurgents’ senior leadership at the cost of the democratic constitution, the democratic process and progress in the field of human rights, especially women’s rights (Karzai’s Taleban talks, 2010).
In May 2011, United States Navy killed Osama Bin Laden, in Abbotabad, Pakistan (Library 2014). In 2012, NATO leaders endorsed an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces. United Nations backed peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban. In May 2014, the United States announced that its combat operations would end in 2014 leaving a small residual force in the country until the end of 2016.
As of 2013, tens of thousands of people had been killed in the war. Over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian contractors as well as over 10,000 Afghan National Security Forces had been killed (War in Afghanistan, n.d). In October 2014 British forces handed over the last bases in Helmand to the Afghan military, officially ending their combat operations in the war. In 2014, a Bilateral Security Agreement was signed between the government of Afghanistan and the government of the United States that was aimed to allow the United States to establish its military bases in the major cities of Afghanistan.
There is still an ongoing war against the Taliban, mainly in the southern part of the country. The security situation is tense with threats against and killings of pro-government Afghans, threats against and killings of the Afghan army and police, suicide bombings and attacks on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and attacking the international agencies’ personnel and staff.
Causes of the Conflict
The conflict in Afghanistan is complex and protracted. From a general perspective, it is impossible to make a clear distinction between the original root causes and escalating root causes of the conflict. The conflict areas in Afghanistan are very complex as shown in (figure 1), it varies from local level to national and international levels. According to Schnieder (n.d), to study the root causes of a conflict it is important to focus on the strategic dimension including security, political dimension and socio-economic dimension of the conflict. Similarly, in this paper, for better understandings of the root causes of the conflict in Afghanistan the causes of the conflict are divided into four levels i.e. political, social, economic/environmental and security level.
Additionally, Afghanistan due to its strategic location has become the arena for conflicts between foreign powers that try to influence the situation in Afghanistan to their benefits. The insurgent groups receive external support or at least benefit from “safe havens” outside Afghanistan’s border. The international presence has also led to escalating effect of the conflict in the country.
Considering the points above, it is very difficult to clearly distinguish which factors directly relate to which conflict or whether something is a root cause or escalating. However, to provide some categorization, the root causes and escalating factors are discussed accordingly:
Political: Afghanistan is suffering from the effects of terrorism, narcotics, bad governance, militarization of peace building, and using ethnicity, religion and regionalism to mobilize the followers.
One of the main challenges in building a professional and trusted government is the greed of the government officials who seek resources and power in local government rather than contributing to the enrichment of the government and addressing the larger problem of insurgency in the country (Vigier, 2009,p.81). In the INGO Transparency International’s Perception Index listing 180 countries, Afghanistan is among the 5 worst nations in terms of corruption (2014).
The policy of integrating warlords and the system of collective participation without consideration of the qualification in the government has reduced the resistance and has supported the bad governance. There are several warlords who are the key players in ministries and decision-making in the government level. According to Human Rights Watch, about 60% of members of the Afghan parliament are believed to be (war) criminals (Vigier, 2009, p.83). As a result, the high percentage of the warlords in influential positions has led to the boycott of the transitional justice as a part of the reconciliation. This has also increased tribal and ethnical mobilization and radicalization. For example the decisions in parliament are not made based on its context but of their linkages to the ethnical context. Tajik will only support the Tajik proposal. Pashtuns would stick to Pashtun ones; Hazaras would support only options from their kind, and so on (Vigier, 2009, p.83).
One of the other political causes of the conflict in Afghanistan is the culture of rotating unqualified officials to a different official post due political considerations. There is also a rather dominating militarized understanding of “conflict resolution” and “peace building” among government officials. The danger of legitimizing the killings by use of military actions, as a way of peace building is still visible. The dependence of the Afghan government on international assistance due to low government revenue is also a factor that can intensify the conflict.
Social: There is a high illiteracy rate and lack of vocational training. There are ancient honor codes that can lead to bloody disputes, growth of population and limited services as well as highly traumatized population after decades of war.
Strong community and group structures characterize Afghan society. Identity as well as social security is largely subject to membership in one’s family, clan, tribe or ethnic group. The men of a family are expected to care for their relatives in need as a part of the ancient code of honor. This can lead to the high level of nepotism in all levels in Afghanistan. For example one family or ethnic group often dominates NGOs, as the people in charge prefer to hire based on relationship rather than merit (Vigier, 2009, p.85). A person in charge of collecting applications for jobs or funding may “filter” these applications in favor of his or her own group, disregarding the others.
Furthermore, numerous members of the educated elite left the country and many of the few schools that existed were destroyed or shut down during the civil war and the Taliban regime. The result is a very low literacy rate among the people in Afghanistan with a significant difference between the sexes: about 45% male compared to 15% female (Vigier, 2009, p.85). There is also a lack of vocational training structures, and people very much depend on either agricultural or unskilled work opportunities.
Afghanistan also lacks a strong civil society. The civil society is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan that needs ripeness. The return of more than 5 million refugees since 2002 and the lack of resources and job opportunities combined with a population growth supported the conflict.
The insurgent groups and narcotics smugglers target most of the unemployed youth in Afghanistan. According to Oxfam, 70% of people saw poverty and unemployment as the main reason for conflict in Afghanistan; the survey also shows that 35% of the youth in Afghanistan, who are not able to leave the country for work, remain jobless (Amiri, 2010). This is a good opportunity for the opium poppy cultivators and the Taliban insurgent groups to target them for their businesses. The drug trade remains one of the main sources of income for the Taliban insurgent group (Amiri, 2010). There are a lot of young unemployed men who are hired by the Taliban insurgents to fight against the government of Afghanistan.
Economic/Environmental: The country faces scarcity of natural resources such as water, arable land, pastures and wood. Drought and other effects of global warming, the high rate of unemployment and corruption in government that significantly support the revenue from the drug economy are the important factors.
The economy of the country is dependent on agriculture. The country is suffering from increasing lack of natural resources such as arable land, water and forested areas. Afghanistan also has a very poor economy in terms of production industries. It gains some of its revenue from the exportation of cotton and dry fruits but due to the war it hasn’t been able to compete in the world’s market. It is noteworthy that the country is suffering from a high-level of poverty (Vigier, 2009, p.89).
The drug business provides financial resources to the insurgent groups and terrorists. It fuels the corruption in the government and also motivates the spoilers, who consider a strong government as a threat to their businesses. Two million people were involved in opium cultivation in 2005 (Brinkmann, 2006). This produces the highest income for the insurgents, and is closely linked to corruption and anti-government development.
Security Related: High proliferation of small arms, presence of illegal armed groups, the lack of proficiency in the national security force and national police, as well as lack of security for the local population have helped ignite the conflict.
The long history of war in the country increased the chance of small arms. Most of the people in the border and insecure areas own illicit arms for their protection purposes. There have been examples of illegal use of such arms by the insurgents for their insurgency activities.
Afghanistan has a long history of war crimes, which have never been addressed due to a culture of impunity in the country (Blood stained hand, 2005). This, not limited to, has boycotted the transitional justice and has led to mistrust between the people and the government.
Another challenge is low proficiency of the Afghan National Security Forces as well as the Afghan National Police. Over the past decades, the profession of a policeman has had a rather low social reputation rates. Corruption, numerous cases of drug abuse, and lack of discipline among today’s police force contribute to this low reputation (Vigier, 2009, p.91).
In addition to the lack of security provided by Afghan police, in some areas insurgents and criminal gangs offer “protection” to the local population in exchange for support or recognition. There have been some cases where people preferred to be under protection of the insurgent groups. The control of cross border movements of insurgent and criminal group especially between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is also an important factor. The corruption and small number of unqualified staff in the borders can also be a cause for the conflict.
Causes and factors related to source/effects from abroad: Afghanistan has a long history of serving as a battlefield for proxy wars involving international interventions including British Empire, the USSR, Iran, Pakistan, the USA and Saudi Arabia. This resulted in a legacy of defending oneself against the international aggressors. As a consequence, the agitators and recruiters from the insurgency group used the mobilization of people against international forces in the country.
Although the fighters in the wars were the Afghan men, international support provided majority of the funds and equipment that is helping prolonging of the conflict. For example, many have “safe havens” across the Pakistan border in areas beyond the control of Pakistan’s government. Also, given the increasing instability in Pakistan, there is the growing risk that unilateral attacks on these safe havens could have severe consequences for the stability of the region.
Causes and factors related to international actors or the international assistance forces: “According to some interviewees there is growing dissatisfaction about where international development funds are spent. On the one hand, there are voices saying that more development projects should take place ‘in the South’ where the security situation is worst” (Vigie, 2009, p.93). However, there are also a number of areas in the north and central Afghanistan that have a comparatively better security situation. Some of the people in insecure areas thinks that there may be “a need for a few explosions” in order to get noticed and get development funds (Vigie, 2009, p.93).
The air strikes and night raids conducted by the international assistance forces have escalated the tension among the Afghan populations in rural areas. The patrolling and searching houses without permission of the families tend to be the violation of the code of honor. This has increased the sense of revenge and hatred among the afghan families in tribal areas against the international forces. They believe that any action to fight against the international forces is deemed to be an opportunity for them to revenge.
Most of the people in tribal areas believe that the existence of the international forces is ruthless and not Islamic in the country. The establishment of civil-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) by international forces and the concept of combining military with civil approaches have been widely criticized for working outside of Afghan governmental structures, and even for creating a de-facto parallel structure (Vigie, 2009, p.93).
One other factor that may have an indirect negative effect is the large amount of stress for international staff. The international staffs’ movement is restricted and they cannot enjoy the leisure possibilities due to the security threats. This can leave psychological impression on them that can affect their behavior. This may lead to consequences such as losing their tempers, frustration, and making wrong decisions and worsening the situation in the country.
According to Kaldor (2006), each society has its special characteristics of war. The war in 20th century is more of multi-party and multi-national and the reason is mostly national and ideological. In order to identify the actors in the conflict of Afghanistan they are divided into three parts, namely: armed opposition groups, neutral or highly diverse actors, and pro-government actors.
Armed Opposition Groups (AOG)
The armed group opposition is consisting of a series of different organizations, in most of the cases, with different ideologies. They seek a greater autonomy from the government of Afghanistan and withdrawal of the international community from the country.
It is important to recognize different armed opposition groups in Afghanistan, which is divided among several groups. In provinces and villages the large number of unemployed youth who are not able to find job are targeted and recruited by these groups. Particularly the young returnees from Pakistan who grew up away from the influence of elders seem to be suitable for the recruitment into the radical opposition groups. To know more about these armed opposition groups, the following are the AOGs working in Afghanistan:
Taliban: The most significant part of the insurgency actions in Afghanistan is still organized by the Taliban. After the international military intervention in 2001 the member of this group fled to Pakistan and integrated within the southern part of Afghanistan. The current size of the Taliban insurgent group is estimated to be around 60,000 (Dawi, 2014). Mullah Omar leads the group and the goal of this group is to return to power within Afghanistan and overthrow the Afghan government and the international military forces. A fundamentalist Islamic Ideology, which compels them to impose radical interpretation of Sharia Law, motivates the Taliban group. The Taliban seek political power by using traditional identity, which is the politics of new war. (Kaldore, 2006)
Hizb-e-Islami: The second most significant insurgent group is Hizb-e Islami. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami fought both with the Mujahidin and then with the Taliban in whose government he played a part. At present, Hizb-e Islami is split into two separate factions, Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e Islami, operating in eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, and a branch initially created by Yunus Khalis in 2005, which is not officially affiliated to the Hekmatyar group but follows the same ideology. The latter have won the seats in the National Assembly and have strong hand in either stability or conflict in the country.
After the civil war in Afghanistan Hekmatyar was supported by Pakistan to fight against the Northern Alliances. The group has a large number of supporters even among university students. There are concerns that both Hizb-e Islami factions may be accepting funds or supplies from the Taliban, to supplement their already considerable control over poppy trafficking. Indeed, there are additional concerns that, due to the loss of its better educated and less fundamentalist members through death and attrition, Hizb-e Islami’s composition may now be largely indistinguishable from the original Taliban’s. This may lead to more insurgent actions in the country.
Jamiat-e Islami: There are also signs that the Jamiat-e-Islami party is turning to the opposition-armed group in western and northeast provinces of Afghanistan. These mobilizations are not very coordinated, and the underlying motivation for their actions is the feeling of marginalization, which affects many commanders of this political party.
Although the Jamiat-e-Islami party is a part of the northern alliances and has a visible power in the government of Afghanistan, it doesn’t mean the process is inclusive. They facilitate attacks not necessarily linked with Taliban, but to discredit the local government administration and seek high positions in district and provincial levels.
Haqqani Network: Jalaluddin Haqqani is the founder of the group and they fought for the Mujahidin under the the direction of Haqqani Network. When the Taliban came to power and the Mujahidin were largely defeated, many of the members, not Jalaluddin himself, changed sides. Jalaluddin’s son, Sirajuddin, now commands the Network’s field operations in support of and with financial backing from the Taliban.
Haqqani members recognize the Taliban’s Mullah Omar as their leader. Sarajuddin controls the fighters in Waziristan region of Pakistan. They have been involved in organized attacks in Afghanistan that demonstrates their high capability of insurgency.
Pakistani Insurgent Groups: The Pakistani Taliban party named as Tahreek-e- Taliban led by Baitullah Mahsud has close ties with Al-Qaeda but seems careful to give allegiance to Mullah Omar, he distanced himself from Mehsud whose acts have gone beyond what Omar accepts. Mehsud’s actions against the Pakistani security forces as well as his beheading of Muslim opponents have angered Omar.
Mehsud is a Wahhabi in practice and not a member of the Hannafi tradition as is much of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership. In February 2008, its members kidnapped the Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, who was released three months later. They possess a high level of support in border provinces. This group may find its political aims within Pakistan assisted by instability in Afghanistan or, more simply, may decide to join their fellow fundamentalists in their struggle on the other side of the Durand Line (the border-line between Afghanistan and Pakistan) out of anti-Western sentiments.
Al-Qaeda and Other Jihadist Groups: At present, there are 14 global jihadist groups operating within Afghanistan as well as Pakistan with the active involvement of Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks (Barakat et.al, 2008). The Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan are increasingly echoing al-Qaeda’s proclamation of a global jihad against the West. One key al-Qaeda contractor is Tahir Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan/Turkestan (IMU/T), currently based in Waziristan, which seeks the overthrow of Islam Karimov’s regime in Tashkent. This has affected the regional stability.
ISIS: the emergence of the Islamic State after the withdrawal of NATO forces in Afghanistan is a new threat to the security of Afghanistan and the region. Apparently this group has opposed the Taliban in many incidents and according to the ideology of this group the Taliban have been misled from their actual and expected ‘extreme ideology’ to fight against west in the country. This group has emerged recently in Afghanistan and according to some experts they are no one but the Taliban group who wants to make a new identity for themselves in order to enhance the fear among people. The group has committed several atrocities, and the most recent one was the video showing the murder of Afghan prisoners by detonating bombs.
Poppy Trafficking Networks: These networks are very broad and exist nearly in all provinces of Afghanistan. They are not only connected to the farmers, but also involved in highly complex structures compared to that of any organized crime. Narcotics have been of the biggest challenges during the past several years in Afghanistan, particularly from 2001 to now. Narcotics have been serving as the main sources of income for the insurgent groups in the country. The Taliban as well as other insurgent groups largely support these networks.
Neutral or highly diverse actors: Actors included within this category are either presently neutral or have no wider affiliation with either AOGs or the government:
Regional Warlords and Power Brokers: Natural resources are one of the main factors for the regional warlords to continue competition particularly in the North. These competitions over the natural resources and drug trafficking led to armed conflicts. They follow a dual policy, publicly supporting the state, while at the local level they tend to be loyal to the warlords.
Private Security Companies: The arrival of international civilian organizations in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s fall was coupled with a high level of insecurity. This was an opportunity for the private sectors to invest on security. It is difficult to determine the number of private security companies (PSCs) or individual contractors working in Afghanistan given that, until the recent promulgation of the Private Security Company Law, no regulatory framework existed to monitor and govern their activities.
Almost every category of international actor employs a security company in Afghanistan for their companies, NGO’s or offices. An estimate of the number of private security contractors working in Afghanistan is 10800 (McLeary, 2014). Variability between the private contractors and the government military forces has increased tensions.
Pro Government Actors: This section provides an overview of the international community as well as the Afghan government. Apparently, the international actors seek security in their countries through stability in Afghanistan. As a consequence the regional countries came to a consensus that security and stability in Afghanistan means security and stability in the whole region. Therefore they have agreed to establish the ‘Heart of Asia’-Istanbul Process for regional cooperation in Afghanistan and the region on November 2011. The pro-government actors consist of:
The International Community: The International community’s role in Afghanistan is as complex as the role of armed opposition groups. As discussed, the international community pursued numerous contradictory goals including counter terrorism, counter narcotics, regional security, re-invention of NATO alliances as well as stabilization and geo-strategic goals. Locke and Ladnier (2001) provide a research paper about the criteria to justify international intervention. They provide a list of criteria including widespread loss of human life, commitment of genocide, and deprivation of international human rights. Initially, the intervention of the international community can be categorized under substantial deprivation of human rights and the threat of the expansion of terrorism.
Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: The Afghan government, including its various branches and ministries, is primarily concerned with establishing a stable sovereign state. In order to do so, it requires security, territorial control, monopoly on the use of force and the ability to provide meaningful services to its citizens.
Afghan Security Services: The Afghan security services include the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Security Forces and a variety of other smaller forces including the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), the Afghan Border Police (ABP), the Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) and the National Directorate of Security. Each of these services has strengths and problems.
The Afghan National Security Forces is comprised of 373,400 personnel (Schroden et.al, 2014, p.5). The fact that the security of the government was transferred from the International Security Forces to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2014 increased the responsibility of the Afghan Security Forces. Although the withdrawal deadline for the international military forces from Afghanistan was the end of 2014, the international community including NATO is committed to support the Afghan National Security beyond 2014.
International Military Forces: The international military forces are comprised from 40 countries. The international military forces withdrawal process started early in 2014. According to the international community the international military forces were to totally withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Recently after the bilateral security agreement between the United States of America and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, President Obama extended the period of withdrawal of the American forces by one year. President Obama called for 9,800 U.S. troops to stay there after the end of 2014 (Acosta, Ellis, 2014).
Reconstruction and Development Agents: Reconstruction in Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban was one of the most important factors for economic development in the country. The donors such as the US, the UK, Canada, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the United Nations played an important role. The objective of these donations and investments was to win local support for international military intervention.
The motivation for United Nation and NGO’s are complex to describe, but most were motivated by the desire to improve the quality of life in Afghanistan and to provide the international community with a demonstration of the political and security-oriented significance of reconstruction.
The conflict in Afghanistan is derived from the aforementioned structures and actors. To address the conflict in Afghanistan working with local level, national actors as well as regional and international actors is of prominent importance.
The Afghan National Security Forces still lack sufficient training and logistics. President Ghani, sought slower withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan (Moosakhail, 2014). Recently President Obama signed a decree allowing 9800 additional soldiers in Afghanistan, but President Ghani says America needs to review their strategy (Moosakhail, 2014). Following a mission of nearly 13 years, the US and NATO International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) formally “cased their colors” on Monday December 8, 2014, symbolizing the end of the mission command in Afghanistan.. This will downsize the personnel of the ISAF forces by 13,000 personnel (Desk, 2014). ISAF is currently transitioning to a NATO- led mission which will focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan Security National Forces. This mission will commence on January 1, 2015. The transition process of security activity completed in 2014 and the Afghan national Security Forces is fully responsible for the security in the country. They have been successful in maintaining the security of the country. The Afghan president is keen to have a large number of foreign soldiers until the end of 2016. One of the significant contributions of the ANSF was maintenance and providing required security during the previous presidential elections.
The peace process initially started in 2008, when President Hamid Karzai said that he asked Saudi Arabia to facilitate the talks with Taliban. In 2009 a Jirga was established to discuss the invitation to Taliban for talks. In 2010, during the London Conference, a fund was created for demobilization and reintegration of the Taliban to the government. Peace and reconciliation could mean power in the central government to the Taliban, and on the other hand it means stability in Afghanistan and the region. In 2011, the government of Afghanistan and government of Pakistan agreed to create a joint commission to develop direct means of negotiation for peace with Taliban. Later Pakistan withdrew the dialogue as a sign of protest over the attack of US in their soil. In the same year, a suicide attack perpetrated by an envoy of the Taliban caused the death of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996, the leader of the Northern Alliance, and the Head of the High Peace Council, which is charged with promoting a reconciliation process in the country (2012, yearbook of peace process).
The Taliban are enjoying the safe havens in the region. Recently, President Ghani visited the People’s Republic of China and addressed the issue of terrorism and extremism in the region at the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia- Istanbul Process on October, 21, 2014. The regional countries agreed that peace in Afghanistan means peace in the region and they are committed to support any initiatives that lead to the peace in Afghanistan and the region. The Peace Council in Afghanistan believes that close relationships with neighboring countries are necessary, but that the government of Afghanistan needs to review its foreign policy (Moosakhail, 2014). They believe that peace in Afghanistan is complicated and needs patience.
The Pakistani government expressed their willingness to work together with the Afghan government for stability, peace and prosperity (Sharif Wants Close Ties, 2014). The fact that Pakistan has close relations with the Taliban in the region is a great opportunity for peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, but it needs a real political will. However, during the visit of President Ghani to Pakistan in the month of October 2014, the Pakistani Government expressed their willingness to work towards peace and stability. On November 17, Fazl-u-Rahman, the chief of the Islamic Council of Pakistan, said that “We do not justify the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan but we do justify the resistance against them” (Correspondent, 2014). The statement by the government of Pakistan and its Islamic Council contradict each other. A unanimous position towards the peace process in Afghanistan as well as in the region is required to move forward.
The new national unity government of Afghanistan seeks broader relations with the United States, NATO, the international community, and regional countries. On the other hand, the new government has also called upon the Taliban to join the peace process in October, but no progress is reported (President Ghani calls, 2014). The strategy of the new government to have closer ties with the regional and international players has enhanced the insurgent attacks in Afghanistan. During the past two months there have been more than fifteen suicides attacks in the country targeting the civilians and international military forces.
One of the most important issues in the peace process is legitimacy. According to Accord, issue 25 (2014) the legitimacy of the peace process refers to the extent of the public support. A survey shows that nearly 80 percent of respondents said they believe the Afghan government effectively controls the country. About 72 percent said they trust the national army and 64 percent said they trust the national police, but really how Afghans want to pursue peace is unclear (Waseem, 2014).
The nature of the peace talk with Taliban, after the establishment of the national unity government has changed. President Ghani involved Saudi Arabia and Peoples Republic of China as leverage to ask Pakistan for more cooperation in terms of peace talking with Taliban. In order to have a meaningful peace process, the new government will have to address a legacy of failed negotiations under the former president. The reasons for the failure of previous government for peace talks are: the president was not interested in reaching a comprehensive agreement with Taliban, the mistrust which existed between the US government and the president in his second term meant they were unable to cooperate, and the Taliban were divided among themselves (Smith, 2014). However, there is no unanimous definition of the Taliban in the national unity government (Maftoon, 2014). President Ghani calls the Taliban the political opponent, while Dr. Abdullah, the Chief Executive Officer, calls them enemies. The differences of opinions between the two leaders of the national unity government raise the question of where the peace talks with Taliban may lead. According to Muzhdah, the lack of a unanimous definition of the Taliban and the lack of peace talks, in addition to contradictory opinion of the leaders of the national unity government about the peace with the Taliban, may lead to war in the country (Maftoon, 2014).
Despite a stated desire for peace, the obstacles may be greater than the opportunities. There are certain issues that can challenge the peace talks with the Taliban. One of the most important challenges is the exclusion of the women from the peace talks. The peace talks with Taliban are a threat to women in Afghanistan. “The international community used women’s rights to help justify its presence in Afghanistan. Having brought about some improvements and invested more than $100bn[£638bn] in aid, it would be a tragedy if progress was reversed,” Said John Watt, Oxfam Country Director (Chonghaile, 2014).
The role of women in peace process is very important. Throughout the history, women have been involved to ensure that their families are always protected. Fitzduff in her article about the women in Northern Ireland writes, “Women in northern Ireland lacked neither courage nor ingenuity in ensuring that their families are protected”(2010). We can learn that the women have the high potential to contributing for peace.
In the case of Afghanistan, Women are amongst the most vulnerable victims of war and conflict situations, yet they are also often the ones that trigger peace mechanisms. The National Action Plan for Women was signed in October aimed to give women a larger role in peace negotiations with the Taliban (Newswire, 2014). Oxfam’s report details of 11 instances of direct or indirect peace talks between the international community and the Taliban or other insurgents since 2005, none of which had any confirmed participation by women. It also lists 16 such efforts carried out by the Afghan government, only three of which involved any female delegates, and those were fewer than 10 percent of the government representatives involved (Nordland, 2014).
The achievements of the Afghan government and the International Community in terms of women’s rights in Afghanistan are remarkable. Women now comprise 40% of primary school students and nearly 50% of health care workers. The maternal mortality rate – although still high – has dropped. Millions of Afghan women voted in the elections and they make up 28% of Afghan parliament. There is more to come; recently USAID launched the largest women’s empowerment program in the world in Afghanistan, proving up to $416 million dollars for education, training and promotion of Afghan women. Non-inclusiveness of women in the peace process in Afghanistan threatens the achievements of the government in 13 previous years. The importance of Afghan women role in peace process cannot be undermined. According to the Institute for Inclusive Security, Afghan women participated in peace and reconciliation as members of provincial peace councils, with many having worked directly with insurgent groups for the reconciliation process (Newswire, 2014). The women in Afghanistan who have worked for their rights and had significant achievement should be brought into the peace talk tables to ensure that their rights are not bargained away.
The new leadership of Afghan government led by Dr. Ashraf Ghani, in its first two month of leadership has taken important steps towards bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. The most significant steps taken by the new government of Afghanistan that affects the peace process in the country is the re-opening of the corruption case of $371 million by Kabul Bank, most of the stakeholders of which are the high ranking governmental authorities. It has also initiated the secret peace talks with the Taliban group. According to Fitzduff (2004), the peace talks are usually best conducted in secret. President Ghani believes that the suggestion by the parties should not be disclosed until the parties agree upon it. The first round of peace talks took place in Pakistan between the Afghan delegation and Taliban representatives. The outcomes of this peace talks are still questionable and not clear to people, but were regarded as a step forward towards reconciliation until the death of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who died two years ago in Pakistan, was leaked (BBC, 2015). This gave a new face to the peace talks and the second round of peace talks were postponed due to the lack of leadership as well as discrepancies among the Talibans.
The new government has also called upon the regional countries and organizations to support peace talks in Afghanistan. The role or regional organization in peace building is very important. Most of the regional organizations try to assist in bringing peace to the region. For example ASEAN worked for a long time to resolve the problem in Cambodia (Fitzduff, 2001). It also monitored the implementation of the peace agreement in the Aceh case of Indonesia. In the case of Afghanistan, regional organizations and processes such as SAARC, ECO, OSCE and the ‘Heart of Asia’- Istanbul Process as a regional platform have the potential to help the peace building process.
According to Fitzduff (2013), conflicts are never one-dimensional; the causes of the conflicts are always many, and the response should be strategic and prolonged. Therefore, bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan requires ensuring the inclusiveness of all the actors, identifying a party to facilitate the talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent groups, strengthening a regional long-term approach, strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption, inclusion of women in the peace process, and strengthening accountability as well as civil society. It is also noteworthy that peace in Afghanistan means peace in the region; therefore the regional countries and organizations can play a vital role in bringing peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.
After twenty-three years of war and violent conflicts and the international intervention against the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has had some success in the process of establishing a government. Important steps include the Bonn agreement, the establishment of a constitution by the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2004, the election of President Karzai, the election of national, provincial councils parliaments in 2005 and the political transition in 2014. Despite all the facts mentioned, Afghanistan is still suffering from lacking a stable peace.
Recently, the unity government has taken the attempts for peace talks seriously. Dr. Ghani has confirmed that peace will be maintained in Afghanistan. Despite an increase in insurgent attacks, the new government is optimistic about peace. The high peace council said that communication with armed insurgent groups are underway. The change in China’s diplomacy with Pakistan regarding the peace process in Afghanistan, the participation of Nawaz Sharif in the London Conference on Afghanistan, and the repatriation of Latif Mahsud, the Taliban commander to the Pakistani government by the US army in Afghanistan, are the green lights towards peace building. The challenges for the peace talks are not only regional, but also internal. Dr. Ghani needs to play a two-sided game, one with the regional players and the other with the internal oppositions. The peace talks will need more time and political willingness.
Key References & Further Readings:
Acosta, J., & Ellis, R. (2014, November 22). White House extends U.S. combat role in Afghanistan
into 2015. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/22/world/asia/obama-afghanistan-policy/
Barakat, S., Giustozzi, A., Langton, C., Murphy, M., Sedra, M., & Strand, A. (2008, November). Strategic Conflict Assessment. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/5292~v~Understanding_Afghanistan__Strategic_Conflict_Assessment.pdf
Breede, C. (2008). A Socio-economic Profile of Afghanistan. Canadian Army Journal, 11(3), 54.
Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/2517694/A_Socio-Economic_Profile_of_Afghanistan
Brinkmann, C. (2006, March 31). Afghanistan Conflict Areas, Challenges and Entry Points for Peace
Building. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.ziviler-friedensdienst.org/sites/ziviler-friedensdienst.org/files/anhang/publikation/zfd-conflict-areas-challenges-and-entry-points-peace-building-1353.pdf
Chonghaile, C. (2014, November 23). Taliban peace talks a threat to women’s rights in Afghanistan,
Oxfam warns. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/24/taliban-peace-talks-a-threat-to-womens-rights-in-afghanistan-oxfam-warns
Fitzduff, M. (2010). Women And War In Northern Ireland – A Slow Growth To Power. Peace Prints:
South Asian Journal of Peace building, 3(1), 9.
Peck, C. (2001, January 1). The Role of Regional Organizations in Preventing and Resolving
Conflicts. 573. Retrieved from latte session 9.
December 9, 2014, from http://theglobalobservatory.org/2014/11/prospects-peace-process-afghanistan-taliban/
Vigier, C. (2009, February 1). Conflict Assessment Afghanistan. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from
http://afsc.org/sites/afsc.civicactions.net/files/documents/Afghanistan – Conflict Assessment.pdf
Featured image is from southfront.org
A. Naveed Noormal is a Fulbright Scholar and a Foreign Service Officer. He has served as a Senior Diplomat at the Embassy of Afghanistan in London and was Policy Lead at the Office of Deputy Foreign Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Mr. Noormal is a reader and contributor on foreign and public policy, regional cooperation, international relations, conflict management and negotiation as well as peace process. He holds a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution from the US, an MBA from the United Kingdom and a degree of Law from India. He is a fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Asia Foundation Development Program.