Taliban Pakistan: A Tentative Recipe for Change"
Kamran Asdar Ali, Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin
for Regional Integration in Central Asia"
Alisher Ilkhamov, Sociology, Expert Center for Social Research,
Roadmap for Afghanistan"
Radha Kumar, Peace and Conflict Studies, Council on Foreign
Relations, New York City
Size Doesn't Fit All: Addressing Diversity in the Needs and
Development Capacities of Afghan Women, Short and Long-Term"
Margaret Mills, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Ohio
of Dissent: Islamism and Reform in Saudi Arabia"
Gwenn Okruhlik, Political Science, University of Arkansas
and Threats to Human Security"
Barnett Rubin, Political Science, New York University
War and Peace-Building: Unfinished Legacy of the 1990s"
Susan Woodward, Political Science, The City University of
Attack on Humanity: Conflict and Management"
New World Order?
Afghanistan and Threats to Human Security
Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies, Center on International
New York University
The concept of human security unifies fields of policy and
analysis that have conventionally been kept separate: humanitarianism
and development on the one hand, and international security
on the other. For years, those concerned with the suffering
and ordeals of the people of Afghanistan found it hard to
gain a hearing in the precincts of so-called "high politics,"
where security dominated. Afghanistan was defined largely
as a "humanitarian emergency" to be treated with charity.
Regional states, especially some Central Asian leaders, argued
repeatedly that the failure to rebuild Afghanistan and provide
its people with security and livelihoods threatened its neighbors.
Since 1998, an increase in what we may, in retrospect, call
relatively small acts of terror traced to the al-Qa'ida organization,
did place Afghanistan on the global security agenda. But the
means chosen to address that threat -- sanctions against the
Taliban, combined with humanitarian exceptions, with no reference
to the reconstruction of the country -- showed that those
setting the international security agenda had not drawn the
connection between the terrorist threats to their own security
and the threats to human security faced daily by the people
The people of Afghanistan have for twenty years faced violence,
lawlessness, torture, killing, rape, expulsions, displacement,
looting, and every other part of the litany of suffering that
characterizes today's transnational wars. Groups one after
another, aided by foreign powers, have destroyed the irrigation
systems, mined the pastures, leveled the cities, cratered
the roads, blasted the schools, and arrested, tortured, killed,
and expelled the educated. Statistics are few and far between,
but one study estimated that "excess mortality," in the demographer's
phrase, had amounted to nearly one tenth of Afghanistan's
population between 1979 and 1987.
Some of the results of this destruction are
summarized in the table reproduced here (see end) from a previous
publication. It shows that whatever measure of human welfare
or security one chooses -- life expectancy, the mortality
of women and children, health, literacy, access to clean water,
nutrition -- Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of the human
family. But this table shows something else as well. The figures
in it are all rough guesses compiled by international organizations.
Afghanistan is no longer even listed in the tables of the
World Development Report published yearly by the UN
Development Program, because it has no national institutions
capable of compiling such data.
Click here for the
World Bank's World Development Report page
In a lecture published years ago, Professor
Amartya Sen compared the records of China and India in food
security, particularly in the prevention of famine, and he
demonstrated a fundamental result: access to information is
one of the chief guarantors of human security. Professor Sen
showed that the restrictions placed on freedom of expression
by the Chinese government allowed famine to rage unchecked
during the Great Leap Forward, whereas India's freer system
more easily halted such disasters.
Afghanistan also faces a challenge of information, but an
even more fundamental one than China: it has no institutions
capable even of generating information about the society that
could be used to govern it. Over the past two decades Afghanistan
has been ruled, in whole or in part, at times badly and at
times atrociously, but it has not been governed. Above all,
the crisis of human security in Afghanistan is due to the
destruction of institutions of legitimate governance. It is
as much an institutional emergency as a humanitarian emergency.
Accountable institutions of governance that use information
to design policies to build the human capital of their citizens
and support their citizens' economic and social efforts, and
that allow others to monitor them through free exchange of
information, are the keys to human security.
The insecurity due to the absence of such institutions and
the effect on the population accounts for many of the threats
that Afghanistan has posed. The rise and fall of one warlord
or armed group after another is largely accounted for by the
ease with which a leader can raise an army in such an impoverished,
ungoverned society. One meal a day can recruit a soldier.
No authorities impede arms trafficking, and no one with power
has enough stake in the international order to pay it heed.
The expansion of the cultivation and trafficking of opium
poppy constituted a survival strategy for the peasantry in
this high-risk environment. Opium cultivation supplied not
only income and employment, but cash for food security. Afghanistan
used to be self-sufficient in food production, but it now
produces less than two thirds of its needs. Futures contracts
for poppy constituted the only source of rural credit, and
only the cash derived from these futures contracts enabled
many rural families to buy food and other necessities through
The lack of border control, legitimate economic activity,
and normal legal relations with neighbors, combined with disparities
in trade policy between the free port of Dubai and the protectionist
regimes elsewhere in the region, made Afghanistan into a center
of contraband in all sorts of goods. This smuggling economy
provided livelihoods to a sector of the population while undermining
institutions in Afghanistan's neighbors.
The lack of any transparency or accountability in monetary
policy since the mid-1980s has both resulted from and intensified
the crisis of institutions. Governments or factions posing
as governments received -- and continue to receive -- containers
of newly printed currency, which they transfer to militia
leaders or other clients to buy their loyalty. They need not
bother with the inconvenience of taxation or nurturing productive
economic activity. The resultant hyperinflation has driven
wealth out of the country and contributed to the already bleak
prospects for investment. It has virtually wiped out the value
of salaries paid to government workers, including teachers,
undermining the last vestiges of administration and public
service, except where international organizations pay incentives
to keep people on the job.
This is the context in which Afghanistan became a haven for
international terrorism. The origins of the problem go back
to the creation of armed Islamic groups to fight the Soviet
troops and the government they had installed. Islamist radicals,
mainly from the Arab world, were recruited to join the ranks
of the mujahidin. But the Afghans, by and large, did not want
these fighters to stay after the Soviet troops left. If the
people of Afghanistan had been able to rebuild their country
and establish institutions of governance, they would have
expelled the terrorists, as they are doing today. But in the
atmosphere of anarchy and lawlessness, the armed militants
were useful to both some Afghan groups and their foreign supporters.
The money that could be mobilized by Usama bin Ladin and his
networks also played a role. As the Taliban, in particular,
became increasingly alienated from the official international
aid community, with its various strictures and demands about
women and other matters, they increasingly turned to this
alternative, unofficial international community. The financial
and military support they received helped cement the ideological
and personal ties that grew between the top leadership of
the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. In an impoverished, unpoliced,
ungoverned state, with no stake in international society,
al-Qa'ida could establish bases from which it strengthened
and trained its global networks.
That network's most spectacular act of terrorism, on September
11, finally revealed how dangerous it can be, not only to
neighboring countries but also to the whole world, to allow
so-called humanitarian emergencies or failed states to fester.
A US administration that came to power denouncing efforts
at "nation-building" and criticizing reliance on international
organizations and agreements, has now proclaimed that it needs
to assure a "stable Afghanistan" to prevent that country from
ever again becoming a haven for terrorists. The US, along
with every other major country, has committed itself to supporting
the reconstruction of Afghanistan within a framework designed
by the United Nations.
for Sen's speech, "Public Action to Remedy Hunger"
The recent Agreement on provisional arrangements
in Afghanistan pending the re-establishment of permanent government
institutions -- to give the Bonn Agreement its full and accurate
title -- resulted directly from this new level of commitment
and political will by both Afghans and major powers. Most
reports on this agreement treat it as a peace agreement, like
those that have ended armed conflicts elsewhere. But in Bonn
the UN did not bring together warring parties to make peace.
The international community has defined one side of the ongoing
war in Afghanistan -- the alliance of al-Qa'ida and the Taliban
-- as an outlaw formation that must be defeated. In Bonn the
UN brought together Afghan groups opposed to the Taliban and
al-Qa'ida, some possessing power and others various forms
of legitimacy, notably through the person of the former king
of Afghanistan. The task they set themselves was the central
one of protecting human security: starting the process of
establishing -- or, as the Afghans insisted, in recognition
of their long history, re-establishing -- permanent
This agreement thus differs from many others, which, as critics
have noted, sometimes amounted to the codification of de facto
power relations, no matter how illegitimate. This agreement
does recognize power, especially in the allocation of key
ministries to the relatively small group that already controls
them in Kabul. In most respects, however, this agreement attempts
to lay a foundation for transcending the current rather fragile
power relations through building institutions.
The Interim Authority of Afghanistan established by this agreement
will include three elements: an administration, a supreme
court, and a special commission to convene the Emergency Loya
Jirga at the end of the six-month interim period. It also
provides for an international security force, one of whose
major purposes is to ensure the independence of the administration
from military pressure by power-holding factions.
The Bonn Agreement does not contain a Supreme or Leadership
Council composed of prominent persons. Such institutions in
past Afghan agreements gave legitimacy to de facto power holders,
including those whom some call warlords, as well as leaders
of organizations supported by foreign countries. Some of the
discontent with the agreement derives from the fact that it
does not give recognition to such leaders. Many Afghans seem
to consider this a positive step.
Instead the agreement emphasizes the administration. The term
"administration" rather than "government" indicates its temporary
and limited nature, but it also emphasizes that the role of
this institution is actually to administer -- to provide services.
The presence of the supreme court as well as measures defining
an interim legal system, require this administration is to
work according to law, and the incoming chair of this administration,
Hamid Karzai, has also emphasized this in his public statements.
Some had hoped that this administration would be largely professional
and technocratic in character, and that is certainly true
at least of its women members. In Afghanistan as elsewhere
women can usually obtain high positions only by being qualified,
whereas men have other options for advancement.
Some little noticed elements in the agreement are designed
to strengthen the ability of this administration to govern
through laws and rules and provide for transitions to successively
more institutionalized and representative arrangements. The
international security force should insulate the administration
from pressure by factional armed forces. At the insistence
of the participants, the judicial power is described as "independent."
The Special Commission for the Preparation of the Loya Jirga
has a number of features to protect it from pressure by the
administration, including a prohibition on membership in both.
The SRSG is also given special responsibility for insuring
The agreement confronts the country's monetary crisis by authorizing
the establishment of a new central bank and requiring transparent
and accountable procedures for the issuance of currency. This
measure is partly aimed at ensuring that the authorities will
be able to pay meaningful salaries to officials throughout
the country, thus re-establishing the administrative structure
that has been overwhelmed by warlordism. Appointments to the
administration are to be monitored by an independent Civil
Service Commission. While this body will face severe constraints,
it is aimed at curtailing arbitrary appointments, whether
for personal corruption or to assure factional power. The
Civil Service Commission will be supplemented with a formal
Code of Conduct, with sanctions against those who violate
it. For the first time, the Afghan authorities will establish
a human rights commission, which will not only monitor current
practice but also become the focal point for the extremely
sensitive discussion about accountability for past wrongs.
The SRSG also has the right to investigate human rights violations
and recommend corrective actions.
The Agreement provides for the integration of all armed groups
into official security forces. Though this is not what specialists
refer to as a "self-executing provision," a number of other
measures will reinforce it. The international security force
will assist in the formation of all-Afghan security forces.
Monetary reforms and foreign assistance to the authorities
will enable the latter to pay meaningful salaries to soldiers
and police, providing an incentive for them to shift their
loyalties from warlords. The latter may become generals, governors,
politicians, or businessman, as institutions are built and
the economy revives.
Building these Afghan institutions will constitute the core
task of protecting human security in Afghanistan. The Agreement
provides a framework. But implementation in such a war-torn
and devastated society will largely depend on how the international
donors and the UN system approach the task of reconstruction.
As donors, agencies, and NGOs rush in, they risk losing sight
of the central task: building Afghan institutions owned by
and accountable to the people of Afghanistan. The Bonn Agreement
states that the SRSG "shall monitor and assist in the implementation"
of the agreement, but it does not establish a UN transitional
administration in Afghanistan. It vests sovereignty in the
Interim Authority. The Afghan participants at the meeting
scrutinized every provision that provided for international
monitoring or involvement to assure that the new authority
would be fully sovereign. The lessons of the past two decades
in Afghanistan and elsewhere are that only accountable and
legitimate national institutions, though open to the outside
world and subject to international standards, can protect
There is a real risk that, as the actors in the reconstruction
market bid for locations in the bazaar that is opening in
Afghanistan, they may harm, hinder, or even destroy the effort
to build Afghan institutions. Donors and agencies seeking
to establish programs need to find clients, and it is often
easier to do so by linking up directly with a de facto power
on the ground. Such uncoordinated efforts have reinforced
clientelism and warlordism in Afghanistan for years in the
absence of a legitimate authority, but they will now have
to come to an end. Programs will have to be coordinated to
assure that they work together to reinforce the capacities
and priorities of Afghan institutions.
Establishing a large international presence, with more white
Toyota Land Cruisers than staff, with high salaries and big
houses, will overwhelm the new administration and distort
the economy. When the mujahidin took power in Herat in 1992,
I was told, the city had ten qualified Afghan engineers working
in the municipality. Before long it had only one, as the other
nine went to work as drivers for UN agencies, where they earned
much higher salaries. This is just one example of how the
normal operation of the international aid system can actually
deprive countries of the capacities they need.
If the vast sums that seem to be flowing toward Afghanistan
are to help reinforce rather than undermine the fragile institutions
established in the Bonn Agreement, international actors must
also establish new institutions, to monitor and control the
disbursements in partnership with the Afghan authorities.
The expenditures must follow the priorities they set in consultation
with the SRSG, not the multiple priorities set by the agendas
of various countries or agencies. We in the international
community may have to sacrifice some of our immediate interests,
but as we have learned only too bitterly, it is worth paying
a modest price to protect the self-determination and human
security of the people of Afghanistan. Our own security depends
This essay was adapted from a speech delivered in Tokyo on
December 15, 2001, at the International Symposium on Human Security:
"Human Security and Terrorism - Diversifying Threats under Globalization"---from
Afghanistan to the Future of the World.
Table: Measures of Human Security in
Index Rank (out of 174)a
|Pop. % with access to:
Health Care (1985-93)a
Safe water (1990-95)b
12(rural 5, urban 39)
|Daily calorie supply
per capita (1992) b
|Infant mortality per 1,000
live births (1993) b
|Under five mortality per
1,000 live births (1993)c
|Maternal mortality per
100,000 live births (1993)
|1,700d or 640e
|Life expectancy at birth
in years (1993)a
|Adult literacy rate
(%, 1993) a, b
|28 (men 45,
a. UNOCHA, 1996, p. 4; citing UNDP, Human Development Report
b. UNOCHA, 1997, p. 4; citing UNDP, Human Development Report
c. Ibid.; citing UNICEF, State of the World's Children Report
d. Ibid.; citing Study by UNICEF/World Health Organization,
e. UNDP, 1997.
Note: All comparative data from other regions are from source
(a) above. One indicator of humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan
is the collapse of institutions able to produce such statistics.
Hence, unlike such presumably better governed countries as Sierra
Leone and Burundi, Afghanistan has not been listed in the standard
source for such data, UNDP's Human Development Report,