Security First: Afghanistan’s Security Sector Reform Process

Tasneem Jamal

Mark Sedra

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2003 Volume 24 Issue 4

Mark Sedra is a research associate at the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) in Germany.

Insecurity in Afghanistan has reached alarming levels in the past six months. The situation has become so dire that high-ranking government ministers have resorted to delivering cataclysmic warnings while on overseas visits, as Foreign Minister Abdullah did on a trip to Washington in July 2003. He stated that if urgent action were not taken to address Afghanistan’s security dilemma the country would once again become “a failed state … ruled by drug lords, warlords, by forces of darkness, unstabilized by terrorism.” This warning alludes to the “security first” premise upon which the Afghan state-building enterprise is rooted: before a meaningful level of reconstruction can be achieved the country’s security dilemma must be resolved.

The costs of insecurity

The causes of Afghan insecurity are numerous, including warlordism, the resurgence of spoiler groups such as the Taliban, the burgeoning drug trade, the interference of neighbouring states, and rampant criminality. The Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA), while having made many remarkable strides since its inception in June 2002, has virtually no authority outside the capital; territory outside Kabul remains the domain of warlords, militias, and criminal gangs.

In addition to the direct human and material costs of insecurity, the indirect impacts on humanitarian and development work have been immense. According to the UN, over one-third of the country is off-limits to its personnel, and many high-profile international humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross (ICRC), Doctors Without Borders, and the World Food Program (WFP) have withdrawn their international staff from high-risk areas in the country. The WFP estimates that up to 1.3-million vulnerable Afghans will be deprived of urgently needed support due to these retrenchments.

Moreover, the curtailment of humanitarian assistance and the slow pace of reconstruction have engendered growing resentment among Afghans, particularly within the majority Pashtun community. This frustration has been directed at the ATA and in some cases has found expression by supporting anti-government spoiler groups. Although few Afghans mourn the fall of the Taliban regime, it is not difficult to find those who would speak nostalgically of the security and stability that it provided. After all, the Taliban’s most popular policy was to rid the country of warlordism.

The five pillars of security sector reform

The international community’s previous reluctance to commit to a significant expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeeping mission beyond the confines of Kabul – this position is shifting – has placed the onus to address the current security vacuum on the security sector reform (SSR) process, which aims to create efficient, effective, and accountable state security institutions. Afghan stakeholders are acutely aware of the heightened significance of this process. “Security Sector Reform, in short, is the basic prerequisite to recreating the nation that today’s parents hope to leave to future generations,” President Hamid Karzai declared at the opening session of an international conference dedicated to the issue of Afghan SSR, held on 30 July 2003 in Kabul. SSR has been touted as a veritable panacea for the country’s security woes, placing undue stress and unreasonable expectations on a process that typically takes up to a decade to show tangible results.

Formally established in April 2002 at a security donors conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Afghanistan’s SSR agenda consists of five pillars, each supported by a different donor state: military reform (US); police reform (Germany); the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combatants (DDR) (Japan); judicial reform (Italy); and counter-narcotics (UK). Yet, while achieving this agenda is critical, achievements so far have been limited. The military and police reform programs are severely behind schedule; a DDR program has yet to be implemented; and judicial reform and counter-narcotics initiatives have been slowed by organizational problems, poor planning, and shortfalls in resources.

The lack of progress on SSR can be attributed to a number of factors, most notably insufficient donor attention and support; the inherent deficiencies of the multi-sectoral donor support scheme, in which individual donor states have been allocated the task of overseeing each pillar of the process; a lack of institutional reform in the Ministries of Interior and Defense; and the absence of a third-party military force to facilitate the process. However, recently steps have been taken by both the ATA and the international donor community to address these shortcomings.

These steps include the announcement of a new US aid package of $1.2-billion for 2004, over half of which will be dedicated to SSR; the implementation of reforms in the Ministry of Defense, replacing 22 senior figures with new appointees – a move that will inject a greater degree of diversity into the Ministry; and the recent announcement that NATO, which assumed command of ISAF in August 2003, has agreed “in principle” to expand the force. Taken together, these measures, if fully implemented, could represent a breakthrough for the SSR process, but a number of mitigating factors will likely limit their impact.

The US aid package – part of the Bush administration’s massive $87-billion funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan – is conditional on the Afghan government’s acceptance of over 100 US ‘advisors’ into key ministries, a policy that will stifle Afghan initiative and foster a relationship of dependency. It has yet to be seen whether the new Defense Ministry appointments will be given meaningful authority or whether they will serve to weaken the grip of the Shura-i-Nezar faction of the United Front (Northern Alliance) that dominates the Ministry. And NATO’s tentative decision to expand ISAF will likely be limited to the alliance’s assumption of control over the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) program – civil-military hybrid units composed of soldiers, civil affairs officers, and humanitarian workers (60-100 members) mandated to carry out small-scale reconstruction projects and provide a security umbrella for reconstruction and humanitarian work in targeted areas – hardly the wholesale expansion of the force requested by UN, ATA, and NGO officials.

Implementing SSR

Implementing SSR in a country with such a long legacy of internecine conflict and strife is no mean task. The process requires both significant time and the unwavering resolve of all parties involved. The latter condition has not been met in Afghanistan. Flaws in the overall strategy of the SSR process, compounded by counterproductive policy decisions of donor states and the ATA, have hindered, and at times derailed, the process. It is important that a number of steps be taken in the months ahead to address these problems. Such steps should include:

1. ISAF expansion

Irrespective of the amount of money and support allocated to the military and police reform processes, there will inevitably be a security gap until Afghan security forces reach their full capacity. In light of the current rate at which the training process for the police and army is proceeding, this gap will likely persist for another three to five years. Without the expansion of international security forces throughout the country during this period, to provide a minimum level of security and facilitate the SSR process, the political process set out in the Bonn Agreement of 5 December 2001 risks collapse. This deployment should consist of 2,000-2,500 troops for up to ten key urban centres and transportation arteries, which have suffered from high levels of insecurity. Such a force, not exceeding 25,000 troops, would be sufficient to provide the humanitarian and political space needed to stimulate the flagging state-building process.

2. The Afghan Military Force (AMF)

At the current rate of graduation from the training course for the Afghan National Army (ANA), the army will take up to five years to meet its maximum force size of 70,000. This means that the Afghan Military Force (AMF), an amalgamation of tribal militia groups under the command of the Ministry of Defence, will remain a factor for a longer period than previously anticipated. With the AMF at the frontline in the fight against the Taliban, it must be given more scrutiny and support.

3. Warlord economies

In many cases, the power of the warlords in Afghanistan has an economic rather than a military basis. Accordingly, more attention should be paid to undermining the economic foundations of warlordism and strengthening the economic base of the Karzai regime. Serious efforts are required to eradicate the vibrant shadow economy, of which the narcotics trade is a central element, and to foster the transition to a legitimate civilian economy.

4. Address gender and human rights issues

An effective litmus test of the security environment in any society is the status of its most vulnerable groups, which in the Afghan context includes women, children, and the disabled. Thus, issues of gender and human rights are security issues. To build confidence in the new regime, protect vulnerable and marginalized groups, and initiate a process of national reconciliation, human rights must be integrated into the larger reconstruction and SSR processes.

5. Increase and more effectively disburse economic aid

Current levels of aid and support to security sector reform, and the reconstruction process for that matter, are simply not commensurate with the scale of the task at hand. At the January 2001 Tokyo donors conference, the international community pledged $5.2-billion for Afghan reconstruction over a five-year period. However, the World Bank has since estimated that during that time Afghanistan will require $30-billion. Of the $2.1-billion earmarked for 2002, $1.84-billion (88 per cent) was actually delivered. Although these amounts are all quite high relative to other post-conflict countries, the disparity becomes apparent when aid levels are viewed on a per capita basis. Per capita external assistance to Kosovo from 1999-2001 was $288; to Bosnia from 1996-99, $326; and to Rwanda in 1994, $193. In contrast, per capita aid disbursed in Afghanistan in 2002 was $63, and this figure will decline to $42 by 2006.

It is clear that more support must be provided and it must be disbursed more effectively. This means channeling more aid to trust funds responsible for meeting the recurrent budgetary expenses of line ministries and security institutions. Unfortunately, the trust funds have not proved attractive to many donors, who tend to support highly visible projects with tangible outputs, such as the building of schools, bridges, and irrigation networks. But if a government cannot buy textbooks or pay teachers an adequate wage, refurbishing schools is useless. Emblematic of this problem is the current state of the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA), established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to cover recurrent budgetary expenditures for the police, and the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), intended to fund major ATA development projects. To date, only $27.5-million of the $114-million targeted for the LOTFA has been raised and only $300-million of the ARTF’s $600-million funding goal has been secured.

6. Accelerate and harmonize the Security Sector Reform process

With the prospect of a large-scale expansion of ISAF remote it is vital that the SSR process be accelerated significantly, an objective that will require a serious increase in donor funding and support. In addition to accelerating the process it is also important to harmonize its five pillars. The success of the current strategy is contingent on parallel progress in each of its constituent parts. Uneven progress, caused by differing levels of donor support, has served to stall the process. For instance, the lack of progress on DDR and judicial reform has seriously hindered police reform and counter-narcotics efforts. To address this problem of coordination, it is advisable that an influential stakeholder, such as the UN or US, assume a more authoritative role in the process.

Building a state

With a constitutional Loya Jirga (Grand Council) and national elections scheduled to take place no later than June 10, 2004, Afghanistan is entering a vital phase of its state-building process. The drafting of the Constitution has already been delayed by three months because of a deteriorating security situation. With confidence in the ATA waning, further setbacks to the Bonn process could create a major crisis of confidence in the new political order. The international community must act immediately to shore up the government, stabilize the security situation, and accelerate the development process.

Security sector reform is the principal vehicle to address Afghanistan’s security dilemma. However, this vehicle has veered off course. To set the process in the right direction difficult decisions will have to be made by both the donor governments and the ATA, decisions that will invariably involve increased funding commitments from donors and a firmer resolve to implement reforms on the part of the Afghan government. Failure to take such steps, and so address the rising wave of insecurity, will ensure the deterioration of the Bonn process.

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