8/2010: Afghanistan: Reconstruction challenges and dilemmas


Published on

Paper by William Maley at CMIS 2010.

Published in: News & Politics
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

8/2010: Afghanistan: Reconstruction challenges and dilemmas

  1. 1. C I V I L - M I L I TA R YW O R K I N G PA P E R S8 / 2 010AFGHANISTAN: RECONSTRUCTIONCHALLENGES AND DILEMMASWilliam Maley w w w.c i v m i l co e . gov. au
  2. 2. Disclaimer:The views expressed in this Civil-Military Commentary/Civil Military Working Paper/Civil-Military Occasional Paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflectthe position of APCMCOE or of any government agency. Authors enjoy the academicfreedom to offer new and sometimes controversial perspectives in the interest offurthering debate on key issues.The content is published under a Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0 Australia(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/) licence. All parts of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, and transmitted by any means withoutthe written permission of the publisher.ISBN: 978-1-921933-07-3Published 2011.CIVIL-MILLITARY WORKING PAPERS ii
  3. 3. ABSTRACT This paper outlines the general context of reconstruction endeavours, identifies some of the specific roles that international actors have come to play, and concludes by discussing some of the challenges and dilemmas that the Afghanistan case has highlighted. If there is a key lesson for civil-military interaction from this case, it is surely that there is a huge difference between abstract commitment to ‘coordination’ as a good, and the practical achievement of coordination in an environment populated by a range of actors with diverse histories, interests, and time horizons. Key Words: Afghanistan, civil-military relations, reconstruction, conflict, peacebuilding Professor William Maley AM William Maley is Professor and Director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University. He is a Member of the Order of Australia (AM ), and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (FASSA). He is author of Rescuing Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Co., 2006), and The Afghanistan Wars (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, 2009); co-authored Regime Change in Afghanistan: Foreign Intervention and the Politics of Legitimacy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), and Political Order in Post-Communist Afghanistan (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992); edited Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban (New York: New York University Press, 1998, 2001); and co-edited The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); From Civil Strife to Civil Society: Civil and Military Responsibilities in Disrupted States (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2003); and Global Governance and Diplomacy: Worlds Apart? (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).Afghanistan: Reconstruction Challenges and Dilemmas 1
  4. 4. INTRODUCTIONAfghanistan offers a striking example of how complex the challenges of civil-military interaction can be.‘Postwar’ reconstruction in Afghanistan was always likely to be a taxing undertaking,1 but the persistence andthen the escalation of violence following the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001—truly creating anenvironment of ‘conflictual peacebuilding’2 —added significantly to the problems faced by both the new Afghangovernment and its international backers.SOME CONTEXTAt the outset, it is important to note that Afghanistan has now endured more than thirty years of conflict, andthe average Afghan—aged less than 30—has never known a truly peaceful environment. The traumas whichthe country has endured have been simply awful, whether measured by mortality, or forced migration, orsocial dislocation. In psychological terms, the Afghan population comprises millions of walking wounded, andwhile norms of solidarity within some lineage groups remain strong, levels of trust beyond the boundaries ofthese groups are often very low. This fosters a highly-competitive, ‘zero-sum’ mindset, especially at the upperechelons of the political elite. It would be easy to see this as a reflection of character or personality defects,but a more nuanced approach recognises that grasping or predatory behaviour in the here-and-now canreflect the bitter experiences of victim-hood and disempowerment in the past. Unfortunately, this also meansthat the raw material for building future social capital is severely damaged.Furthermore, given the almost total collapse of the state, the institutional inheritance of the InterimAdministration that was inaugurated in December 2001 was a grim one. There is no doubt that one ofthe principal undertakings of both Afghan and international actors in the intervening period have beenstate-building. However, it has been hampered by the lack of any overarching consensus on what thescope and the strength of the Afghan state should be–in other words, on what activities the state shouldbe undertaking, and what capacities it needs to do so. 3 This issue went unaddressed at Bonn, and has notbeen seriously addressed since. The state-building process has also been complicated by the controversialdecisions, embodied in the new 2004 Afghan Constitution, to have a formally very strong presidentialsystem, and a formally highly centralised system of government. There are strong grounds for arguing thatthese are exactly the structures to avoid in societies which are ethnically and socially fragmented, since theyleave large numbers of people feeling alienated from the formal structures of power.4 Finally, the bulk of thelocal political elite in the post-2001 era had grown up politically in a state-free environment, and had littlesense of what institutional development might involve or require.CIVIL-MILLITARY WORKING PAPERS 2
  5. 5. A further contextual factor relates to the problems of prioritisation and sequencing. On the one hand,Afghanistan’s problems in 2001 were manifestly enormous. But on the other hand, the internationalcommunity was not ready to fund a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, and the limited absorptive capacity ofa country in which the state had collapsed meant that any attempt at ‘quick impact’ reconstruction wouldlikely result in a range of unintended consequences, notably the empowerment and enrichment of thosewho happened to be best placed to offer themselves as ‘partners’ for such an undertaking. Prioritisation andsequencing were therefore activities of considerable importance. Yet behind this lay three further problems.One was that of ownership: who, exactly, would make key decisions about priorities and sequencing? Thedonors whose money was being spent? The new Afghan Interim Administration? Actors at the districtand provincial level? A second was that that of accountability5: how would those making key decisions beheld accountable for what they decided? A third was the tension between on the one hand the need forprioritisation in the light of resource scarcity, and on the other the practical reality of interconnectedness: thatprogress on one front might depend on simultaneous progress on a range of others. A good example was thejustice sector, where judicial reform would manifestly count for little if there were not progress in the areas ofpolicing, penal policy, and witness protection. 6An additional consideration, not relevant in 2001 but certainly relevant a decade later, is the questionablelegitimacy of the Afghan government. It is easy to be critical of Hamid Karzai and his performance, and atthe outset one should note that in many respects he has been poorly served by his international partners,most dramatically in their casual refocussing of attention from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003, but also in theirculpable failure to address in any effective manner the destructive effects on security in Afghanistan of theblatant sanctuary accorded to the Taliban by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).7 But thatsaid, the early hopes invested in Karzai have been largely disappointed, and the fraud on which he dependedfor re-election in 2009 left him in an unenviable position. As the anthropologist Thomas J. Barfield has putit, ‘Fearing any possibility of rejection at the polls, he committed such blatant fraud to ensure his reelectionthat his victory proved truly pyrrhic. At the end of the process, he was a ruler who met neither Afghan norinternational standards of legitimacy. Afghan history portents an unhappy end for such a ruler, whether at thehands of his foreign patrons or his own people. A tree whose roots are rotten may still stand, but it is only amatter of time before it crashes under its own weight or is blown over by a windstorm’. 8A final point to note, one unhappily relevant to many complex transitions, is that the time required to makea real difference is likely to exceed the attention span of donor elites and publics. The complications posedby electoral cycles in democratic states are easily overlooked, but one of the most significant relates to thelimited capacity of governments to commit funds for the truly long-term. This reflects the importance offinancial control in ensuring governmental accountability—the English Civil War, after all, was fought in largepart over the issue of who should have the power to tax and spend—but it means that governments may onlybe able to commit funds for short periods (even if the amounts committed are quite large). If funds cannot be‘rolled over’ for future use, the result may be intense pressure to spend in the short-run, and the risk is thatthis will militate against care and due diligence in contracting, and contribute to corrupt practices as a way ofcutting corners.Afghanistan: Reconstruction Challenges and Dilemmas 3
  6. 6. ROLES FOR INTERNATIONAL ACTORSIn reconstruction processes, there are a range of important ‘on-the-ground’ tasks that can be undertaken byinternational actors. Understanding the dimensions of these roles is important, for coordination can only beachieved if it is underpinned by real sensitivity to diverse understandings of what behaviours are appropriate.Military, police and civilian actors are typically the product of diverse socialisation processes and organisationalcultures, and do not necessarily have a good understanding of the concerns of those with whom they may betasked to cooperate. Yet cooperation can rarely be forced, and ‘non-cooperation’ may be much more difficultto handle that active opposition.Military roles are particularly complex. One role, of course, can be the direct pursuit of enemies by kineticmeans. This remains a major task in Afghanistan where members of the Australian SAS are deployed, andwill likely persist as long as insurgents can cross the border with Pakistan. But just as important may betraining and mentoring of local security forces, which is now a central focus of the activities in Uruzgan ofthe ADF Mentoring Task Force. The logic of such an approach is to build local security sector capability sothat international forces can eventually be withdrawn with minimal risk to stability. However, security sectorreform is a difficult endeavour 9 which entails the development of appropriate management structures andthe evolution of a culture in which the loyalty of the security sector to civilian authorities is ensured. Beyondthese two roles are several others. One can be the delivery of direct assistance to population groups: inmany different contexts, of which natural disaster is perhaps the most obvious, militaries can swiftly supplytransport, logistics, and construction capabilities that can be put to effective use. Another is symbolic: themere presence of a force can create an atmosphere of ambient security, perhaps even more when arms arenot put to use and the limits of a force’s capabilities remain unclear.Police roles are quite distinct from those of the military, although the significance of the distinction is oftenunderestimated.10 A real danger is that police can be despatched to a country such as Afghanistan as anapparently cheap substitute for more expensive troop contributions that a donor may be reluctant to undertake.Sworn police officers are community-based, endowed with discretion, and tasked with applying the law. Asa community asset they crucially fill the gap between on the one hand enforcement of social norms via themechanisms of general approval or disapproval by community groups themselves, and on the other the useof military force to ward off high-level threats. In a country such as Afghanistan, there is almost no scope forinternational actors to be effectively involved in direct policing of communities: their police typically lack thelanguage skills that would be required to perform such roles successfully. However, there is scope for police tobe involved in a range of other tasks. One is mentoring, although even the most effective mentoring is unlikelyto address the real problem faced by isolated police officers fully exposed to the pressures that local strongmencan apply. Another, potentially more promising although it may require a longer-term commitment is thedevelopment of up-to-date procedures and administrative systems to underpin the work of sworn officers.CIVIL-MILLITARY WORKING PAPERS 4
  7. 7. Civilian roles are potentially the most diverse of all. The flow of civilians into Afghanistan since 2001 hasbeen relentless, and was boosted in 2009 by President Obama’s acceptance of the idea of a civilian surge.Civilians come in many shapes and sizes. Some are bureaucrats, attached to foreign embassies and official(government) agencies such as USAID, AusAID, JAICA, and the British Department for InternationalDevelopment (DfID). Others are consultants attached to Afghan departments and agencies, with othersbeing employed by components of the UN system, or by institutions such as the World Bank and the AsianDevelopment Bank. There are then civilians attached to foreign military forces, or deployed in provincialreconstruction teams (PRTs). In addition, large numbers of civilians are attached to either international orlocal non-governmental organisations (NGOs), themselves extremely diverse in structure and ethos,11 and toprivate commercial contractors which are increasingly involved in project implementation. Finally, there arealso civilians to be found in private Afghan organisations and firms, media organisations, in research institutions,or simply as visitors to the country. The bulk of these actors are broadly concerned with ‘development’ issuesof various kinds. Particularly between foreign military personnel and foreign aid workers there is significantpotential for tension. A common refrain from the latter is that ‘humanitarian space’ has been narrowed by theintrusion of the military into areas which rightly belong to the aid community, and that aid personnel are atrisk of being confused with combatants as a result. This is often bolstered by a concern that militaries strivefor quick impact, at the expense of sustainable capacity-building. One obvious response is that if militaries atparticular times and in particular places can do things more effectively than aid agencies, what basis is there fordenying them the right to do so? This is a very complex and contested area, but it highlights the importance atthe very least of improving the parties’ understandings of each others’ concerns.Afghanistan: Reconstruction Challenges and Dilemmas 5
  8. 8. CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES ANDDILEMMAS IN AFGHANISTANThe story of post-2001 reconstruction endeavours in Afghanistan is a convoluted one, and cannot be easilysummarised. Nonetheless, there are a number of core dilemmas that have been exposed by this experience,and that reflect the difficulty of working in a landscape which is (inevitably) populated by actors of extremelydiverse kind.One endemic problem has been that of coordination. The need for coordination in Afghanistan ishuge: military-to-military, military-to-civilian, and international-to-Afghan. Achieving it has been far fromstraightforward. It is easy to forget that coordination is intimately connected to the dynamics of power: peopleoften prefer to take the lead in coordinating, rather than be coordinated by others. In principle, the Afghangovernment should play a central role on account of its sovereign status, but in many respects its ‘sovereignty’is more nominal than real, and its embryonic institutions not equal to some of the tasks involved. This hasallowed for open slather on the part of donors, which have blithely bypassed the Afghan state: an estimated77 per cent of aid entering Afghanistan between 2002 and 2009 bypassed the government entirely.12 Thecreation of an Afghanistan National Development Strategy, an Afghanistan Compact, and a Joint Coordinationand Monitoring Board might have seemed to be steps in the right direction, but in practice they wereundermined by grossly overoptimistic and unrealistic timelines, by a general unwillingness to press too hard onthe issue of non-performance, and by the disconnect between what was being mooted in Kabul and Westerncapitals, and what was actually occurring in Afghan provinces and districts.A second challenge relates to the management of perceptions. What Afghans think actually matters. Thisproblem relates not just to the activities that international actors pursue, but also to the company that theykeep in the process. For example, in an interview published in December 2010, a senior Australian officerreportedly referred to the Uruzgan-based Pushtun leader Matiullah Khan as ‘our guy’.13 This not only reflectedindifference to the wise adage that a Pushtun can be hired but never bought, but suggested little awarenessof the costs that could be associated with partnering with such a power-holder.14 As the distinguishedcommentator Martine van Bijlert has put it, actors of this kind ‘are essentially viewed by large parts of thepopulation as predatory tribal militias’.15 One of the tragedies of the situation in Afghanistan is that a hugereservoir of goodwill towards international forces that existed in 2001 has been substantially squandered,in part because of the perception that the internationals were unwise in their choice of friends. In Uruzgan,while Matiullah may indeed be useful in keeping open the road between Kandahar and Tarin Kowt, he iswidely perceived to be advancing the interests of the Popalzai tribe – at the expense of other Pushtuntribes and sub-tribes such as the Achekzai and the Noorzai, as well as of non-Pushtun groups such as theHazaras. When this happens, his international associates risk being tarred with the same brush. A particularlyserious problem is associated with the activities of sub-contractors. A June 2010 report prepared for the USCongress raised serious concerns about the use of logistics sub-contractors in Afghanistan, demonstrating that‘protection’ payments for safe passage were a potential source of funding for the Taliban, and that supply chainsecurity contractors undermined US counterinsurgency strategy.16 A broad problem here is that internationalactors often serve in Afghanistan for relatively short periods of time, as a result of which they may not fullyunderstand what is going on around them.CIVIL-MILLITARY WORKING PAPERS 6
  9. 9. A third challenge for international actors, related to the second, is to recognise the importance of psychologyin determining outcomes in a country such as Afghanistan. As Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn have recentlyput it, ‘The insurgency that emerged from 2003 onwards was not an inevitable response to the internationalintervention in Afghanistan’.17 However, the momentum of transition in Afghanistan began to be lost as earlyas March 2002, when the US Defense Department blocked the expansion beyond Kabul of the InternationalSecurity Assistance Force, and things started to unravel from then on. In Afghanistan, it pays to look like awinner, and creating the impression that one will come out on top is central to any workable strategy. Yetthis is not how humanitarian actors see their work, and there is very little evidence to support the viewthat hearts and minds are won with aid delivery.18 There is also far more to looking like a winner than meretroop numbers: President Obama, by linking an increase in US troop numbers to a commitment to beginwithdrawing troops by mid-2011, not only failed to signal a credible long-term commitment, but left himselfhostage to any unintended consequences of a heavy military footprint in areas where US troops might alreadyhave outstayed their welcome. None of this is to suggest that it is easy to strike the right balance, but at leastthe need to take account of the psychological effects of one’s actions should be recognised.A fourth challenge relates to the diverse cultures as well as roles of international actors.19 As the case of thePRT in Uruzgan has revealed, different militaries have their own distinct cultures. The Dutch military werefar warier about Matiullah Khan than the ADF, and the US military has a reputation at the platoon levelfor resorting rapidly to kinetic action (‘shooting first’). 20 Amongst civilians, private commercial contractorsare culturally very different from NGOs, and the UN has organisational cultures all of its own.21 Especiallyproblematic are private security firms, prominently on display in Afghanistan, and often a source of greatannoyance (or worse) to ordinary Afghans, for whom the personnel of at least some firms have shown littlerespect. This is a problem by no means limited to Afghanistan,22 but it is one of considerable weight, asPresident Karzai’s attempt to shut down such firms during 2010 made clear. These cultural differences meanthat coordination is not simply a matter of getting different individuals to work together; it is a matter ofcoordinating the activities of distinct complex systems.A fifth challenge relates to local capacity-building. This is an ideal to which almost all international actors pay lipservice, but which remains thin on the ground. International agencies offer salaries to Afghan staff that dwarfwhat the Afghan government can pay: the result is a drain of talent away from the state, contributing to thecreation of what the World Bank has called a second civil service.23 The result is that it is difficult to obtain topstaff even for central agencies of the Afghan state in Kabul, and very difficult indeed once one moves to thelevel of provincial administration, even though it is arguably there that it is most important to make (and to beseen to be making) progress. The danger is that at the local level, positions will be distributed by strongmento their clients, building corrupt and extractive patronage networks that will be very hard to displace. This issomething to avoid at all costs.All the issues discussed above are pertinent to the management of civil-military interactions in Afghanistan.But in conclusion, it is important to recognise one fundamental point. Better civil-military interaction is notthe key to solving Afghanistan’s core problem of insecurity. That core problem lies with the sanctuaries inPakistan from which the various components of the Taliban are allowed to operate. In August 2007, PresidentMusharraf of Pakistan stated during a visit to Kabul that ‘There is no doubt Afghan militants are supportedfrom Pakistani soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side’.24Addressing this problem is the responsibility not of soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan, but of politicalleaders in Western states. Unless and until this problem is addressed, action within the borders of Afghanistancan amount to no more than a holding operation.Afghanistan: Reconstruction Challenges and Dilemmas 7
  10. 10. ENDNOTES1 See William Maley, ‘Reconstructing Afghanistan: Opportunities and Challenges’, in Geoff Harris (ed.), Recovery from Armed Conflict in Developing Countries: An Economic and Political Analysis (London: Routledge, 1999) pp. 225–257; William Maley, ‘The Reconstruction of Afghanistan’, in Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds), Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future Global Order (London and New York: Palgrave, 2002) pp. 184–193.2 See Astri Suhrke and Arne Strand, ‘The Logic of Conflictual Peacebuilding’ in Sultan Barakat (ed.), After the Conflict: Reconstruction and Development in the Aftermath of War (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005) pp. 141–154.3 On the dimensions of scope and strength, see Francis Fukuyama, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004) pp.6–14.4 William Maley, Rescuing Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Co., 2006) p.46.5 On mechanisms of accountability, see Richard Mulgan, Holding Power to Account: Accountability in Modern Democracies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).6 See Whit Mason (ed.), The Rule of Law in Afghanistan: Missing in Inaction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).7 See Matt Waldman, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents (London: Discussion Paper no.18, Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science, June 2010).8 Thomas Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) p.342.9 See William Maley, ‘International force and political reconstruction: Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan’, in Albrecht Schnabel and Hans-Georg Ehrhart (eds), Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2005) pp.297–312.10 For background, see Alice E. Hills, ‘The policing of fragmented states’, Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement, vol.5, no.3, Winter 1996, pp 334–354.11 See Jonathan Goodhand, Aiding Peace? The Role of NGOs in Armed Conflict (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2006) p.188.12 Colin Cookman and Caroline Wadhams, Governance in Afghanistan: Looking Ahead to What We Leave Behind (Washington DC: Center for American Progress, May 2010) p.22.13 Dan Oakes, ‘It’s a war zone out there’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 2010. For more detailed discussion of Australian involvement in Afghanistan, see William Maley, ‘PRT Activity in Afghanistan: The Australian Experience’, in Nik Hynek and Péter Marton (eds), Statebuilding in Afghanistan: Multinational Contributions to Reconstruction (New York: Routledge, 2011).14 See Dexter Filkins, ‘With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire’, The New York Times, 5 June 2010.15 Martine van Bijlert, The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Zabul and Uruzgan (Washington DC: Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative Policy Paper, New America Foundation, 2010) p.16.16 Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan (Washington DC: Report of the Majority Staff, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, June 2010) pp.34, 44.17 Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan (New York: Center on International Cooperation, New York University, February 2011) p.6.18 See Andrew Wilder, ‘A “weapons system” based on wishful thinking’, The Boston Globe, 16 September 2009.CIVIL-MILLITARY WORKING PAPERS 8
  11. 11. 19 See Francis Kofi Abiew, ‘NGO-Military Relations in Peace Operations’, International Peacekeeping, vol.10, no.1, 2007, pp.24–39 at p.30.20 For a careful discission, see Robert D. Kaplan, Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground (New York: Random House, 2005), pp 185–25521 See Mark Walkup, ‘Policy Dysfunction in Humanitarian Organizations: The Role of Coping Strategies, Institutions, and Organizational Culture’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol.10, no.1, March 1997, pp. 37–60.22 See P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); Deborah D. Avant, The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).23 See Afghanistan—State Building, Sustaining Growth, and Reducing Poverty (Washington DC: The World Bank, 2005) p.47.24 See Taimoor Shah and Carlotta Gall, ‘Afghan Rebels Find Aid in Pakistan, Musharraf Admits’, The New York Times, 13 August 2007.Afghanistan: Reconstruction Challenges and Dilemmas 9