A Roadmap for Afghanistan

As the war in Afghanistan nears its end, and formerly warring Afghan factions work on a future order for the country, the signals are both good and bad. On the positive side, Afghan leaders meeting in Bonn have inched towards a broad-based government that will place humanitarian aid, stabilization and reconstruction at the top of the agenda. On the negative side, negotiations for a government are taking place while the war continues, there have been horrible massacres as well as infighting during some of the takeovers, and a mounting toll of civilian deaths due to the air campaign. Different factions might still use facts on the ground to bolster claims for power.

The Bonn Agreement

By and large, the Bonn proposals have got Afghanistan’s peace process off to a good start. Instead of pushing a once and for all settlement, which in current conditions would have proved even more vulnerable to internecine conflict over facts on the ground than, for example, Bosnia’s Dayton agreement, the UN and Afghan leaders have opted to begin with an interim council of 29 people. Ironically, this promising fallout was the result of a flaw in the Bonn meeting – Pashtuns from the east and south were largely absent. Acutely aware of their absence, in part because of international pressure, the delegates at Bonn gave the UN negotiators greater flexibility than had their counterparts in other negotiations. Thus the Bonn agreement focuses on a process through which a stable Afghan government can emerge. Alongside the interim council, it sets up an independent commission to organize an all-Afghan assembly, the Loya Jirga, in spring 2002, when it will be easier to travel across the country. The Loya Jirga, an assembly of tribal elders and local representatives, will nominate a transitional government to take over from the interim council, as well as a parliament or legislative council that will draft a future constitution for the country. The constitution will be ratified by a second Loya Jirga, and followed by elections.

In other words, we are talking about a three-stage process with a time frame. The interim council will administer for roughly six months. The transitional administration will govern for roughly eighteen months. After that Afghanistan will have a constitutionally-mandated government.

The advantage of this three-stage process is that it allows the international community and the more democratic Afghan leaders to prevent facts on the ground from being turned into political power. Instead, it seeks to provide Afghanistan’s coming government with national legitimacy and a public mandate to reintegrate the country. The Bonn negotiators have provided some important safeguards. Rather than letting ethnic allocations dominate ruling government, legislative and administrative structures, as so many other peace agreements have done (the 1960 Cyprus constitution, the 1990 Ta’if accord, the 1995 Dayton Agreement), they have also focused on tasks and skills. The council that has been named is, therefore, broad-based in more ways than one. While its membership is drawn from Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups (Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek, and one religious minority, Shia), and it is led by the southern Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, the focus has been on getting moderate and untainted leaders. Several ministers have a track record in their allocated responsibility: for example, one of the two women on the council, Suhaila Seddiqi, minister of public health, is Kabul’s most famous surgeon. The other, Sima Samar, the vice-chair of the council, runs health programs in the refugee camps in Quetta, Pakistan, and so could bring in-depth knowledge to refugee returns.

Equally important, the independent commission for an emergency Loya Jirga to be held after the spring is completely separate from the interim council, and acts as a guarantee of the council’s interim nature. It has the responsibility of ensuring that all Afghanistan’s regions, localities and communities send representatives to the Jirga. Hopefully its membership will draw heavily on independent figures with wide credibility amongst Afghanistan’s different tribes, rather than be formed of the major parties in the council (17 of whose 29 members belong to the Northern Alliance). The commission also seeks to modernize governance: it writes in an important role for women’s groups, human rights and civil society, both in the assembly and in Afghanistan’s future government.

To this extent, the Bonn agreement provides a framework within which more stable governing structures can be built, drawing on recent experiences – of what not to do as much as what to do – in Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor, and Kosovo. But in order for it to work – as these other stabilization initiatives have shown – it is important for the goals of each stage to be clearly demarcated, and to lay the foundations for the next stage. In the case of Afghanistan, the interim council’s role will be short lived but key. It will plug the immediate power vacuum in Kabul – and as such could fall prey to the worst horse-trading. It is especially important, therefore, to both limit and focus its tasks.

Though the interim council comprises a formidable list of twenty-three ministers, it should not attempt to function as a regular government in normal times. First, because its role is to begin stabilizing Afghanistan, and second, because to act as an established government would be to second-guess the Loya Jirga. Given that the war has not ended, key portfolios such as defense, interior, trade, or foreign affairs – not to mention religious affairs or the rehabilitation of war veterans – could be used as another way of consolidating rival power bases. Three of these positions (trade is split between several ministries) have been allocated to the Northern Alliance’s new and younger leaders, General Fahim for defense, Yunus Qanooni for interior and Abdullah Abdullah for foreign affairs. Much will depend on whether they follow through on their stated desires to put the past behind them. More will depend on whether they, and the council as a whole, concentrate on the immediate tasks at hand rather than jockeying for place. In the six-month term that the council will administer, the chief tasks are to:

• provide aid (including housing materials) healthcare and education on an emergency footing with the emphasis on reaching remote areas;

• open transport routes and take mine action;

• establish basic security in cities, as they are the lifelines of the country;

• draw up exhaustive plans for reconstruction, which again is likely to start in a major way only after spring 2002 (this task alone will keep the bulk of the ministers busy);

• work with the UN to develop a civil service, judiciary and police force.

Multinational Troops

Clearly, substantial international support – including troops – is required for these efforts to begin immediately. After initial opposition, the Northern Alliance has agreed to a multinational force. Though its size and mandate are still to be finalized, it would appear that the force’s three major goals would be to deliver aid, stabilize Kabul, and train an all-Afghan security force. In other words, it will not have the scope of the Bosnian and Kosovo stabilization forces – Afghanistan is not going to be a protectorate because the bulk of Afghans do not want it to be. Nevertheless, the force will have to be larger than the 2,000-minus figures that various Northern Alliance leaders have bandied about. The current figure being discussed is between 5-6,000 troops, but it is difficult to arrive at an accurate figure as this might swell if troops are required to help stabilize other cities. As humanitarian considerations require that first contingents be deployed urgently, some troops’ contributions could be kept in reserve.

The composition of the force is a more tricky issue than its size. There are already US, British, French, Italian and Russian troops in Afghanistan, a small contingent of Australian commandos (and now, Pakistani commandos), and a commitment from Germany, while Japan is providing logistical support. Meanwhile, the debate over whether the core of the force should be made up of troops from “moderate Muslim countries” such as Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and Bangladesh, has ended with the decision that Britain will lead the force with a substantial European contribution as well as Turkish and Jordanian troops. And just as well. The attempt to project a Muslim force could have backfired, and still could. Turkey, which has volunteered to lead the force after Britain’s three-month term comes to an end, can hardly be called a moderate Muslim country. Its government, army and courts more often brutally enforce secularism than tolerate Islam. Nor is Indonesia particularly respected amongst Muslim countries, and its military, as human rights organizations stressed, is hardly a force for peace or stabilization. U. S. support for these countries’ participation in, or, as in Turkey’s case, leadership of, the multinational force could be construed by cynics as instrumental – that is, as a way of getting out cheaply while paying lip service to “Muslim sentiments,” and adding insult to injury by picking military allies that have shown scant concern for Muslim grievances.

Indeed, a better criterion for putting together the multinational force ought to base troops’ contribution on the role the force will play. Britain, which will lead the force, has gained valuable experience in both aid delivery and stabilization in Kosovo. And Britain’s self-reference to its disastrous colonial rout by Afghans two centuries earlier will keep the force low-profile, which is important in a region famously suspicious of foreigners. Jordan and Bangladesh have gained experience in peacekeeping over the past decade, though Bangladesh appears to have receded from the troops’ contributing horizon. Sadly, the two countries that would have been ideally placed to join the force, with considerable humanitarian and peacekeeping experience, Pakistan and India, are temporarily ruled out: Pakistan because of its erstwhile links to the Taliban and the volatile situation amongst the Pashtuns on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; and India because of the hostility between it and Pakistan.

While the force that is being constituted will work jointly on humanitarian aid and stabilizing Kabul, it is not clear which among them will train the all-Afghan security force. The latter is a particularly sensitive task when we recall that Bosnia’s warring parties have still not been integrated into a reliable force, five years after the Dayton agreement brought peace to the country. Quite apart from the difficulties of bringing the factions together there is the problem of how to decommission those factions that might not be incorporated into the security force. This may be an even greater problem for cities like Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz than for Kabul, and in all likelihood will have to involve combined teams of defense ministry negotiators and local or provincial forces with multinational ones. Turkey’s army, we are told, is tough and so should be able to lick recalcitrant armed factions into shape. But this argument misses the point. Bringing the factions together is chiefly an Afghan role, and the troops working with Afghans will have to understand their diversity as well as their tradition of agglomeration rather than centralization. An overweening and centralizing military, such as Turkey’s army, is about as inappropriate a model for an Afghan security force as can be imagined.

We also need to keep in mind that the number of multinational troops that will be required to help with both the immediate tasks of aid and demilitarization, and the longer-term tasks of training security, border and police forces, is going to grow fairly quickly. It is, therefore, important to start planning for these tasks now, and to recognize that as far as borders go, the cooperation of Afghanistan’s six neighbors, and their troops, will be vital. Cooperative border security is especially important along the long Afghanistan-Pakistan border that remains a zone of ongoing conflict as well as an important set of routes for humanitarian aid and refugee returns.

Aid and Reconstruction

There are two vital lessons from the former Yugoslavia and East Timor for aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan. First, aid and reconstruction have to target local capacity within an overall frame of nation building. Second, aid and reconstruction have to be timely, so that wartime divisions and a black market economy are not allowed to take over the peace. As far as the first goes, the Bonn agreement has two inbuilt advantages: the interim and transitional administrations will be Afghan, and will therefore have familiarity and local access in a way in which international administrations do not. And Afghan refugees and the Diaspora, in which most Afghan professionals are concentrated, having been part of the political negotiations from the beginning, will play an important role in the Loya Jirga and the transitional administration, and are readying to involve themselves in reconstruction. As we know from Bosnia, the failure of the Bosnian government(s) to involve local communities and independent professionals in reconstruction planning as well as implementation delegitimized governing parties and impeded the development of institutions and infrastructure. And the involvement of local communities in post-war reconstruction in Germany played an important role in stabilizing the country. Afghanistan has two potential resources in returning refugees: the Afghan Diaspora in Iran, which could play an especially valuable role as an educated labor force with wide experience in construction; and the Afghan Diaspora in Pakistan, whose prolonged stay in refugee camps has led to NGO development in a range of social sectors, from education and health to women’s microcredit.

Most important of all, the Afghan groups and communities want an integrated country. No faction, including of Pashtuns, has demanded either partition or cantonization.

These advantages, however, depend on the volume of aid and the speed with which aid is made available, as well as its co-ordination. While humanitarian aid (in which I would include mine action) and essential services are the most pressing and immediate needs for the winter, so are resources to build a civil service and police force. For any administration to function, both are necessary, and if they are not organized with international aid, including training, armed and/or criminal networks may fill the vacuum. Afghanistan has subsisted on smuggling for the past five years in any case, and a resource- and cash-strapped administration might be tempted to turn to “interested” donors, whether neighbors or co-religionists, thus encouraging the kind of regional power play that fragmented Afghanistan in the first place. Aid for a civil service and police force will directly help to reduce the grip of armed factions; give the Loya Jirga an enormous incentive to nominate the most broad-based as well as result-oriented transitional government; and indirectly help demilitarization at a much wider level (more individuals will put away their guns). Indeed, the creation of a civil service alone will act as an immense unifying force in the country.

The international community held out the carrot of over $10 billion dollars in aid for an agreement to the Bonn delegates. Other sources suggest as much as $25 billion might be required over the next five to ten years. In the light of experience, when there was a gap between pledges and financial transfers it led to increased fragmentation. It is especially important, therefore, to get money up front while the window of concern for Afghanistan is still open.

Finally, the best way to infuse a little life into Afghanistan’s defunct economy is to employ as large a number of local people as possible in aid, reconstruction and allied sectors. As earlier stabilization efforts have shown, it is important that aid programs involve local resources and local planning, both to provide a lifeline to the economy and to lay its foundations. Afghan groups are already worrying that donors will allow some of the funds to be used for a wider regional stabilization program (in Pakistan and the Central Asian states), and need to be reassured that donors understand that an Afghanistan first policy will yield better results for longer-term regional stabilization.

The U. S. Role

The U. S. launched the war in Afghanistan with two express goals: to destroy Al Qa’eda and dislodge their hosts, the Taliban. With the latter came a further task, to ensure that Afghanistan could not again become a host to terrorist groups. Inadvertently, however, the U. S. is in danger of undermining this goal. In its pursuit of the war, the U. S. has had to make deals with local forces wherever it could without being able to ensure that they would respect the transfer of power arrangements that were often being negotiated at the same time. As a result factional clashes have broken out in parts of the south and east, where the war has been at its heaviest. The U. S. now needs to use its influence with the factions it has worked with to gain commitments to the Bonn agreement, and, most important, to an all-Afghan security force. In the longer-term, the U. S. needs to consider what help it can offer in training (through IMET, for example) or equipping the security force, and especially in cooperative security with its neighbors. (Speaking of which, it is important to note that before the Soviet invasion Afghanistan and Pakistan managed the Durand line dividing Pashtuns by letting it be a soft border).

Though the U. S. has said it will not participate in the multinational force, it is well placed to offer substantial logistical support for humanitarian aid. Given the U.S.’s reiteration of concern for Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, now is the time to show that this means more than food drops, and that the U. S. will not only contribute major funds to the humanitarian effort but will work with the multinational force on aid delivery rather than apart from it.

The U. S. could also help in setting up Afghanistan’s central bank and advising on transparency practices that would help in tracking criminal or terrorist funds. And it could help Afghans set up border control and customs posts. Afghanistan’s transit trade is an important potential resource in terms of volume, and the U. S. has valuable technology and technical know-how to offer Afghans on managing the movement of goods. Additionally, customs would bring cash into the administration’s empty coffers.

But above and beyond these proposals, the U. S. has a key role to play in mobilizing funds for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Having put together the coalition against terrorism, the U. S. is best placed to mobilize resources for Afghanistan from its members, starting of course with the U. S. itself. The U. S. is also best placed to see that donors co-ordinate their policy, especially donors with a history of counterproductive funding, like Saudi Arabia.

Summing up, the Bonn agreement has charted a political course for Afghanistan’s future. But its proposals will have little chance of success if stabilization and Afghan nation building are not a top priority. Luckily this means backing up Afghan and international initiatives for nation building rather than engaging directly in the task. But this advantage could be frittered away if it is not quickly built on. The U. S. walked away once from Afghanistan, to their peril, and the Bush administration has repeated its commitment to stay the course this time. That means contributing towards the stabilization of Afghanistan now.

Paper presented to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Ad Hoc Round Table on Afghanistan, December 13, 2001. I would like to thank Ashraf Ghani and the members of the Round Table for the valuable suggestions and amendments they made on this paper.