Afghanistan: Getting Disarmament Back on Track
Afghanistan: Getting Disarmament Back on Track
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Briefing 35 / Asia

Afghanistan: Getting Disarmament Back on Track

The process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of forces is crucial to creating the conditions for the Karzai government to extend its authority throughout the country and for establishing the rule of law, but its ultimate fate is still very uncertain.

I. Overview

The process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of forces is crucial to creating the conditions for the Karzai government to extend its authority throughout the country and for establishing the rule of law, but its ultimate fate is still very uncertain. Thus far it has helped decommission or reduce most of the officially recognised militia units in Afghanistan, and with the support of the Coalition and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has collected the bulk of their heavy weaponry.[fn]See Crisis Group Asia Report N°65, Disarmament and Reintegration in Afghanistan, 30 September 2003.Hide Footnote But it has failed:

  • to make significant inroads in disarming the powerful Tajik-dominated units in Kabul and the Panjshir;
     
  • to keep pace with the evolving nature of Afghanistan's militia structures, many of which have found a new lease on life as police forces or private militias associated with governors or district administrators; and
     
  • to tackle the threat posed by unofficial militias, which are outside the mandate of the current DDR program and are maintained by most contending regional and local forces, including registered political parties.

Unless the DDR program, known as the Afghanistan New Beginnings Program (ANBP) and managed by the UN Development Program (UNDP), tackles these realities, its legacy is likely to prove more cosmetic than substantive, and militia networks will remain a central and destructive element in Afghanistan's politics and economy.

The central government and its international supporters have, to some extent, been complicit in the maintenance of power by militia commanders. The U.S.-led Coalition has relied on militia commanders in its military operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, empowering its local allies militarily and economically and helping them to resist central government control.

For its part, that central government has, in a limited number of cases, backed military actions against high profile regional strongmen, notably former Herat governor Ismail Khan. These have earned the plaudits of much of the international community but have obscured the government's continued accommodation with mid- and lower-level commanders, often with the acquiescence of external donors. One major haven for these commanders has been the highway police, with responsibility for securing the ring road linking the country's four major cities as well as the main roads connecting Afghanistan with its neighbours.

This arrangement is fraught with risks, not least because it facilitates narcotics trafficking by commanders. A private American security company, U.S. Protection and Investigations (USPI), has been paying high wages to highway police commanders for guarding the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Kabul-Kandahar road project without imposing any apparent accountability on them. The result of these relationships has been to strengthen the commanders politically, militarily, and economically, thus undermining DDR.

Political and military analysts in Afghanistan increasingly recognise that there has been a fundamental change in the commanders' priorities during the past three years. Most no longer see the need to maintain large stocks of heavy weaponry, since the Coalition presence precludes the waging of open warfare. Instead, they have opted to maintain leaner, lightly armed forces adequate to protect their political, military and economic interests, including narcotics trafficking.

These forces often fall outside the ANBP's remit because they are either technically civilian or they are unofficial militias. What is required to counter them are more far-reaching security sector reforms and enforcement of President Karzai's 2004 decree criminalising the maintenance of unofficial militias. Still tentative plans are being discussed to address the problem of these unofficial militias at long last in the third phase of the current program, which begins in March 2005 and is expected to conclude in June 2006.

Such enforcement is crucial but requires a much greater commitment to intelligence gathering and law enforcement than has been seen to date and a shift in focus from soldiers to the commanders, however minor, who are the principal agents of recruitment and mobilisation. The Coalition, too, must refrain from extending political, military and economic support to commanders who are unwilling to accept the authority of the central government.

Kabul/Brussels, 23 February 2005

Podcast / Asia

The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s foreign relations and what the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul says about the threat from transnational militants in Afghanistan a year into Taliban rule.

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

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