Afghanistan: Reemergence of a State

Hamid Karzai
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai

by Reyko Huang, Col. Daniel Smith, and Rachel Stohl

In just over two months after the first U.S. bombs started falling, Afghanistan has undergone a seismic political and military shift. The strict Islamic Taliban regime that had controlled some 85 percent of the country on Oct. 7 has abandoned its last stronghold and spiritual center, Kandahar. Some Taliban members have surrendered, while others have melted away to their home villages and civilian occupations. A few, especially the non-Afghanis, may have been able to slip across the Iranian or Pakistani borders. The die-hard remnants have retreated into the hills east of Kandahar where they will try to survive both the weather and their pursuers.

Further to the east, in the White Mountains near Tora Bora, Afghan fighters aided by U.S. air strikes called in by Special Forces personnel have cleared the cave and tunnel labyrinth originally defended by an estimated 1,000-2,000 of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda loyalists. Other pockets of resistance remain, notably some 2,000-2,500 Taliban/al Qaeda east of Mazar-e Sharif, another 800-1,000 south of Kunduz, another 800-1,000 east of Kabul, and 300-500 near the Iranian border south of Herat.

As the fighting has become more localized and sporadic, the spotlight has shifted to the gigantic problems associated with creating a new political, economic, and socially viable state. The initial breakthrough came Dec. 6 near Bonn, Germany, where four main political/ethnic coalitions agreed on a three-step plan to reconstitute a national-level governmental structure.


The Bonn Agreement

The first step is the formation of an interim governing administration of 28 men and two women chaired by Hamid Karzai, a prominent Pashtun tribal leader and a distant relative of the deposed king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. The interim council assumed power on Dec. 22 as the "repository of Afghan sovereignty" and claimed Afghanistan's seat in the United Nations General Assembly.

Second, a special 21-person commission will be established to prepare for an emergency loya jirga, the traditional assembly of tribal elders, to be convened by June 2002. This body will select a transitional head of state and create a broad-based, representative interim government to rule for a period not to exceed 24 months, at which time elections for a permanent government will be held. Expectations are that the former king will preside over this group.

Third, not later than 18 months after the interim representative government assumes power, another loya jirga will be held to draw up a new constitution, hopefully to be ready by the time of the elections. The 1964 constitution under which the former king ruled will be reinstated until a new one is adopted.

Other organizations critical to any government that are established by the agreement include a central bank, a supreme court, and a judicial commission charged with rebuilding a justice system that incorporates "Islamic principles, international standards, the rule of law, and Afghan legal traditions."


Immediate Needs

The spread of fighting south as the Taliban retreated before the U.S. bombing and ground assaults of the Northern Alliance disrupted the work of international humanitarian relief organizations. A dire situation threatened to become worse as more Afghanis were displaced from their homes and winter set in. With no access across the Amu Darya River, either by barge from Tajikistan or by the Friendship Bridge from Uzbekistan, and with the roads from Pakistan under fire from bandits and petty warlords, the United States began air dropping humanitarian food packets using C-17 cargo aircraft. By the first part of December, more than two million packets had been dropped, but this was only one percent of the estimated need. As the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were forced out of the towns and into the mountains, aid shipments from Pakistan resumed and, on Dec. 9, Uzbekistan reopened the Friendship Bridge to traffic. Airfields, especially those near Mazar-e Sharif and at Bagram (near Kabul), were repaired and opened to cargo aircraft, which brought other supplies of clothing and materials for shelter.

The problems with keeping humanitarian aid flowing are but one example of a much more general challenge: how to ensure sufficient security for the new governmental structures.

The Taliban's evacuation of Kabul left a power vacuum in the capital. The Northern Alliance, which had agreed not to enter the city until an interim government could be created, said it was obliged to move to prevent a complete breakdown in law and order. Even so, most of the alliance forces remained outside Kabul, although the titular head of the pre-Taliban regime, Burhannudin Rabanni, occupied the presidential quarters.

While there has been some muted dissent, the alliance has finally agreed to allow an outside "peacekeeping force" to enter Kabul. But beyond this concession, there has been little agreement. The Afghanis called for a force not to exceed 1,000 troops, one that would remain in Kabul, protect government installations and escort aid workers, and leave after three to six months. The Western powers, led by Britain, France, and Germany contemplated a force of some 3,000-5,000 troops. (So far, Britain has committed 1,500 troops while Germany has offered 1,500, France 800, Spain 700, the Czech Republic 200, and Greece 100. Jordan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Argentina may supply troops later.) They also wanted the initial UN mandate to run for six months, be renewable up to another 18 months, and include cities other than Kabul.


The United Nations Act

The actual Security Council Resolution, 1386 (2001), unanimously adopted Dec. 20, calls for an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The resolution specifically calls for:

Another Security Council vote would be required to authorize peacekeepers to expand their mission beyond Kabul - e.g., to provide security in other Afghan cities or protect convoys of humanitarian assistance. The restriction of the ISAF to Kabul is a victory for the Northern Alliance, France, and Germany who had appealed for a limited role for the peacekeepers. The United States and Britain had wanted more flexibility and broad guidelines.

While the peacekeepers will be under day-to-day command of the British, the United States will have an "overwatch" role to ensure peacekeeping does not interfere with the continuing effort to eliminate pockets of armed resistance and to guarantee the ultimate safety of the peacekeepers. If a conflict arises between ISAF and U.S. forces, U.S. Central Command will have the final say. The United States also will provide logistics, airlift, and communications support but no ground forces. The peacekeeping troops will not have weapons other than personal arms and light vehicular-mounted weapons. British and French troops will likely pull out by April 30, 2002. Britain has asked the United Nations to find another country to lead the force after April. The leading candidate is Turkey.

As always, rules of engagement for the peacekeeping force proved contentious. Karzai and his foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, back the UN decision to allow peacekeepers to use force. But Defense Minister Gen. Muhammad Fahim, despite the UN resolution, insists that peacekeepers not interfere in Afghan affairs or use force to disarm belligerents. In part, the controversy reflects the general reluctance of Afghans to accept non-Muslims and even non-Afghan Muslims with arms.

A potentially serious pitfall - continued hostilities between anti-Taliban forces and Taliban/al Qaeda loyalists - may not materialize. While the United States insists that all the senior leadership of the Taliban and al Qaeda organizations must be caught or killed, it now appears that many have slipped out of Afghanistan or are in virtually inaccessible terrain. Moreover, the new Afghan authorities will be more concerned with reconstituting the nation than with scouring the countryside if they believe no high-ranking enemies remain within reach.


Creating a Sense of Nationhood

Unlike other areas of Asia, Afghanistan escaped the waves of 18th and 19th century European colonization that spurred the creation of nascent national identities that were critical in the formation of many modern Asian countries. Primary Afghan loyalties have been to tribe and local leaders who, when occasion demanded, participated in loya jirgas. Outside invaders could ignite wide-spread resistance, but it was often uncoordinated (which in part accounts for the lack of success against the Soviets until the mid-1980s). The only force that transcended these divisions was Islam.

Thus the task of the Karzai interim administration may be closer to creating rather than re-creating a country. Fundamental to the process will be the perception and the reality of an unbiased justice system, from police and prosecutors to the courts and the laws. The challenge is made more difficult by the absence of a national justice tradition as well as by the excesses of the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law (Shari'a). The Justice System
For the police, the Kosovo experience suggests that trainers from other nations might prove useful. But unlike Kosovo, with its ethnically and religiously divided communities, Afghanistan's religious unity and its desire (expressed in the Bonn accords) to incorporate Islamic law and principles into its system suggests that any international police trainers should be drawn from other Islamic nations.

Construction of the justice system will be complicated. Over the last 80 years, Afghanistan has had five constitutions. Under the 1923 and 1931 documents, the king wielded absolute power. This changed in 1964 when a constitutional monarchy was created with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Three coups between 1973 and 1979, together with the Soviet invasion in December 1979, threw Afghanistan's legal system into chaos. New constitutions were published in 1977 and 1987, with the latter amended in 1990 after the Soviet withdrawal. Then, in 1992, the rebel mujahidin overthrew the puppet communist regime, proclaimed an Islamic State, and called elections. Burhannudin Rabbani was named president of a transitional government that decreed it would follow Islamic law in legal matters.

On Sept. 27, 1996, the fundamentalist Taliban movement with its harsh interpretation of Shari'a replaced the Rabbani government. The Taliban created a special police organization to "encourage virtue and suppress vice." Laws were proclaimed that barred music, television, videos, and what elsewhere would be considered normal social exchanges between sexes. Women's rights were severely curtailed.

Using a mixture of Shari'a and Pashtun tribal law, Islamic courts in the Taliban era handled disputes and adjudicated criminal cases. The purpose of the justice system was said to be to "restrain the oppressor, help the oppressed, resolve disputes, enjoin good and forbid evil." The judicial structure itself consisted of a supreme court in Kabul, two levels of courts (local and high) in the provinces, and special religious courts. Judges were accountable only to the supreme leader of the nation who was Allah's direct representative one Earth.

The four-party post-Taliban agreement signed in December 2001 in Bonn does not go into detail about the new judicial structure and system. However, the new constitution to be drafted by the special loya jirga presumably will lay out both the structure below the supreme court and attempt to provide guidelines to integrate the four sources of legal procedures and standards mentioned in the Bonn document.

Of particular importance will be the disposition of those accused of the most serious violations of human rights and international law. With the judges under the Taliban regime discredited, Afghanistan may need international assistance - judges, investigators, prosecutors, and other officials - to help with criminal probes and trials. There have been some suggestions that a Rwanda or former Yugoslavia-style international court be used to try the worst offenders, but this might not be well received in a country in which non-Afghans with their rules and methods are not always welcome. An international court whose structure and conduct are Islamic in nature and which applies international standards of human rights and the law of nations might be better received.

Meanwhile, on the streets, the harsh Taliban restrictions prohibiting music and other forms of entertainment were immediately overturned. Barriers to education and employment for women were discarded as were the Taliban dress codes, although most women made only small (if any) modifications to their attire.

One of the problems of the Taliban judicial system was corruption, particularly in land ownership. It became so pervasive that supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar summoned judges to Kandahar in early 2001 to admonish them. The Karzai administration and the new court system will be closely watched by the international community for their responses to corruption. Children
Rebuilding Afghan society must be done with careful consideration of Afghanistan's children. Children were suffering long before the war began, but their situation deteriorated when United States bombing disrupted distribution of humanitarian relief supplies. UNICEF estimates that up 100,000 children could die over the winter without assistance and that an estimated 1.5 million children will need emergency assistance to make it through the winter.

More general estimates are that nearly one-quarter of Afghan children die before their fifth birthday, 2 million are refugees or internally displaced, and 250,000 die each year from malnutrition. The United Nations calculates that half of Afghanistan's population of 23 million are younger than 18. The majority of these are illiterate or educated only in survival and war-fighting. The country has only a 31.5 percent overall literacy rate, with the female population having only a 4.7 percent literacy rate. Less than one-third of boys and one-tenth of girls participate in some form of education.

An additional challenge for some children in Afghanistan stems from the fact that warring factions within and around Afghanistan used them as soldiers. Both the Taliban and Northern Alliance engaged in this practice. A significant number of these children came from Pakistan, which complicates the special demobilization and reintegration assistance that children normally require to smooth their transition back to civilian life. Many children will have physical as well as psychological disabilities to deal with as a result of the fighting. Subsistence and Health
Rebuilding Afghanistan will entail much long-term political, economic, and social restructuring. But Afghanistan faces severe immediate crises: millions are without food, clothing, and shelter. Even before the October bombing , the World Food Program (WFP) had estimated that nearly four million Afghans would face severe hunger during the 2000-2001 winter. During the bombing, food warehouses were raided, looted, and burned as service-providing organizations and institutions were forced to leave the country. Aid agencies returning to Afghanistan report they have enough food to feed approximately six million people for at least a month, but they are still having trouble distributing the food safely to those who are most desperate for it. Continued sporadic fighting, landmines, and the lack of usable roads make aid delivery increasingly difficult. With the WFP estimating that six million Afghans will require food assistance and that 1.5 million face a severe food shortage, a systematic food distribution infrastructure must be established.

The healthcare system in Afghanistan is almost non-existent. Basic health services, particularly for women, are absent. The UN Population Fund reports that 99 percent of births in Afghanistan are unattended and the maternal mortality rate is 17 per 1,000, the second highest in the world. Vaccination programs for children have to be reorganized, and basic medicines for the treatment of common illnesses must become more readily available. Hospitals and medical centers need to be rebuilt quickly to assist war wounded and handle other urgent medical conditions. Guns in Afghanistan
Nation-building will not be successful as long as Afghanistan remains flooded with weapons. For decades, the region has been saturated with weapons through the "Afghan pipeline." Today, Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. Before Sept. 11, the United Nations estimated that that there were approximately 10 million small arms in circulation throughout the country. That estimate is now much higher as additional weapons were sent to the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and vice-versa.

Many post-conflict interventions have a component that focuses on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. In Afghanistan, not only do ex-soldiers need to be demobilized, but the general population must be induced to surrender weapons. Early in the war against the former regime, the press reported rumors that the Taliban were providing weapons to every Afghan family. Even if an exaggeration, the fact remains that Afghanistan is full of weapons.

To promote internal security, as many weapons as possible must be collected and destroyed to ensure that former combatants do not have the means to violently disrupt the nation-building process should it take a course not to their liking and to prevent criminal violence from undermining the new political structure. The United Nations is currently examining possible weapons collection and turn-in programs. Estimates for the cost of such a program range from five billion to 10 billion dollars over a 10-year period (as a comparison, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP reports that Mozambique's five year reconstruction program cost approximately $6.5 billion).

Mark Malloch Brown, the administrator of UNDP, has argued that weapons collection programs - similar to those that were conducted in Mali, Albania, and Sierra Leone - are crucial for the long-term stability of Afghanistan. Brown also noted the importance of sustainable agriculture and the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, and other components of a country's infrastructure.

In addition, the physical remnants of war - landmines, cluster bombs, etc., must also be removed from the country to allow people to return to "normal" life. De-mining and clearance programs must be developed in advance and implemented as rapidly as possible to allow nation building to commence.

Finally, meaningful alternatives to war must be found for former combatants. In many cases these demobilized, severely under-educated fighters must be taught the necessary skills for reentering society as productive contributors. They must be given a place in the rebuilding of their country.


Paying for Nation-building

As Bosnia and Kosovo have demonstrated, nation-building is both long-term and expensive. A study prepared for the Nov. 27 Afghan donor's conference held in Islamabad estimated that $1 billion was needed for every one million people. Counting the Afghan diaspora, the total dollar cost to the international community could run between $25 billion and $30 billion.

So far, all the right words have been spoken. A preliminary donors meeting held Nov. 21 in Washington, hosted by the United States and Japan and attended by such institutional heavyweights as the World Bank, the European Union, and the Islamic Development Bank, identified Afghanistan's most urgent post-conflict needs: mine clearance, restarting non-opium poppy agriculture, potable water and sanitation, and education.

The UNDP is drafting a three-stage reconstruction plan addressing relief, recovery, and reconstruction. According to Brown, only the relief segment has been funded so far. As of Dec. 20, of the $662 million the United Nations wants for relief work, only $358 million has been received.

Recovery and reconstruction will be much more expensive. No official UN figures had been published as of the date the Karzai administration assumed its role. But at a third donors' conference held in Berlin at the same time the Afghan factions met in Bonn in early December, German authorities estimated reconstruction would cost $6 billion, a figure that seems optimistic especially in light of the fact that the UNDP reconstruction guidelines are said to run up to eight years and include hefty reconstruction projects, such as rebuilding whole cities and road networks. Brown, who is to present details of the UNDP plan at the next donors' conference (Jan. 20, 2002), expects a series of five-year commitments from countries attending the meeting.

The absence of a central banking authority, treasury (it was looted by the Taliban), and tax collecting structure present significant hurdles to getting aid flowing and curbing corruption and waste. The overall mechanism for controlling reconstruction aid features a trust fund administered by experts in financial affairs and development assistance operating in accordance with World Bank guidelines. At the next level down, an Afghanistan-based reconstruction organization staffed by Afghanis and foreign experts would receive and disburse funds.

Properly directed, aid will spur economic development. In addition to agricultural development, Afghanistan has significant gas and oil reserves, particularly in the north. The real concern now is that countries may seek to divert money already programmed or potentially pledged to relief and development programs outside of Afghanistan. At $25 billion for five years, expenditures for Afghan redevelopment would consume one-tenth of current global foreign aid.

The Bush administration has not revealed what it is willing to contribute. But in late November, Rep. Tom Lantos, (D-Calif.), proposed spending $1.6 billion over a four-year period. But this amount includes money for anti-dug programs and a new U.S. embassy.

Often overlooked as a source of seed money for rebuilding Afghanistan is the $250 million in al Qaeda funds frozen in American banks during the Clinton administration, the $34 million in Taliban/al Qaeda funds uncovered since Sept. 11, and another $27 million found in other countries. Moreover, at another pre-Jan. 20 donors' meeting held just before Christmas, the United States donated $1 million and the European Commission gave $2.25 million to get the Karzai administration off on the right foot. It is critical for long term success that early progress is apparent in many sectors of Afghan life.

As European Union Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, said, "We are dealing with a failed state... with no working institutions, its infrastructure in ruins, [and with] many of its best brains in exile."


The Role of Afghanistan's Neighbors

Unfortunately, for all the good intentions expressed by the United States, Japan, the European Union, and other donors, none border on or even near Afghanistan. As a land-locked country, Afghanistan is always beholden to at least one of its neighbors. In the 19th and 20th centuries it was the physical and ideological buffer and battleground between the British and Russian/Soviet Empires to the south and north. By the end of the 20th century, both empires were gone, as was the short-lived Persian monarchy to the west. Now, Afghanistan shares borders with six states: China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

During the five years the Taliban controlled most of the country, Afghanistan received support only from Pakistan. The confluence of a large Pashtun minority in Pakistan (the same tribe that dominated the Taliban movement) and the need to have a non-hostile neighbor to the north may have motivated Pakistan more than any direct concern for Afghanistan's position. Indeed, none of the three ex-Soviet republics on Afghanistan's north were friendly with Kabul; Uzbekistan had closed the only bridge spanning the Amu Darya river and Tajikistan had curtailed river traffic. China was wary of Taliban fundamentalism because of its own restive Muslim population in Xinjiang province. The Taliban's relations with Iran were also quite frayed.

The Karzai administration seems to be acceptable to all six of Afghanistan's neighbors. Aid is flowing in from the north and south. Russia has expressed support for the interim administration, and even Iran is at least passively supportive. But there is growing alarm among some of Afghanistan's neighbors about renewed poppy cultivation, most notably in Helmand province in the southwest. Border controls are being redoubled in an attempt to stave off a resurgence of drug trafficking and the violence that goes with it.

How long and to what extent this generally favorable atmosphere will prevail remains to be seen. In the end, like so much about this troubled nation, the future will be largely in the hands of the Afghan people themselves.