3 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The preamble of the "Afghanistan Compact" notes the "full implementation of the Bonn Agreement," listing the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of presidential, National Assembly, and Provincial Council elections. Those are steps that, according to the document, "have enabled Afghanistan to regain its rightful place in the international community."
The "Afghanistan Compact" acknowledges that the country's "transition to peace and security is not yet assured" and requires "strong international engagement."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in London that his country was committed to a compact based on four pillars: security; governance, rule of law, and human rights; economic and social development; and counternarcotics.
According to the Compact, the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should promote security and stability "in all regions of Afghanistan" through the end of 2010, while the Afghan National Army reaches its target ceiling of 70,000 personnel.
The Afghan government is tasked by the Compact with disbanding all illegal armed groups throughout the country by the end of 2007.
The Compact, without specifically naming any of Afghanistan's neighboring countries, calls for "full respect of Afghanistan's sovereignty and strengthening dialogue and cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors."
On paper, the prospects for Afghanistan beginning to gradually assume more responsibility for its own security within a five-year period look promising. However, there are major questions to which the $10.5 billion pledged during the London meeting for the five-year plan may not be the only answer.
Military And Police Forces
The Afghan National Army (ANA) offers perhaps the brightest ray of hope from among all of the domestic security organizations being reformed and reorganized in Afghanistan. The ANA has around 24,000 personnel who are well trained and have actively and ably -- albeit in limited engagements -- participated in counterterrorism operations alongside international-coalition troops. The target date for the ANA to achieve its full strength of five corps with a total of 70,000 troops is 2009. This is an achievable task in view if the current rate of progress in ANA's enlargement and training.
The ANA arguably needs to become more active in both counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations in the country, however, giving Afghanistan more ownership of its security management chores.
Unfortunately, the relative success of the ANA is not duplicated by the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP -- which includes the National Police, Border Police, Highway Police, and Counternarcotics Police -- was to have had a combined force of 62,000 by the end of 2005. On that target date, around 40,000 ANP personnel were trained; but most possessed minimal skills and high levels of corruption are reported. Informal statistics suggest that some 70 percent of ANP personnel are illiterate, and most are poorly paid. As such, they are susceptible to bribes and high desertion rates.
If Afghanistan is to assume more responsibility for maintain its internal security, the plan for the establishment of the ANP needs serious redrafting -- with increased funding along with a realistic timetable for training a police force that can truly become the backbone of the country's internal security and order, not just a task to be checked off.
Prior to achieving its target strength -- not only on paper but in terms of active and successful participation in executing its mandate -- Afghanistan's international backers may have to decide on temporary measures to help the country maintain day-to-day security.
With Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces engaged primarily in counterterrorism, the burdens of policing Afghanistan's borders and combating narcotics fall to the ISAF. However, NATO has thus far been reluctant to engage itself in counternarcotics operations, and the alliance has steered clear of border control. Despite the expansion of the ISAF to volatile southern Afghanistan, NATO's overall policy is to conduct stabilization management tasks rather than managing crisis.
The dual command between OEF and the ISAF with a third element -- that is, with ANA and ANP forces that have engaged in armed hostilities in the past -- in areas such as southern Afghanistan, where there the situation is critical, could create murky areas of responsibility to the benefit of domestic or foreign spoilers.
The Compact places the responsibility for disarmament of the hundreds of militia units squarely on the shoulders of the Afghan government. Kabul estimates that there are some 10,000 "illegal" militias and has launched a new plan with Japan as the lead country disarm these people.
The Compact states that "the Afghan government will consolidate peace by disbanding all illegal armed groups." In its timelines, it states, "All illegal armed groups will be disbanded by end-2007 in all provinces."
Some militias might indeed beat their swords into plowshares, with members returning to lives in agriculture or other vocations. There are, however, militia units that are loyal to powerful warlords -- known in Kabul as "regional leaders" -- who control large swaths of Afghanistan. Some of these warlords are currently members of the National Assembly. It seems unlikely that Kabul will be able to shepherd such flocks without access to a powerful stick. Incentives so far have yielded only temporary results, and in some occasions have provided warlords increased legitimacy and funds to increase their respective power bases. Past examples of warlords accepting Kabul's supremacy have been effected through overt displays of force by Operation Enduring Freedom troops or threats of force.
To achieve genuine sovereignty over the all of its territory, the Afghan state needs to rid itself of militias. Kabul has been tasked with doing so in two years, but the tools and the political will from all sides for completing this task have proven elusive.
A crucial element in ensuring Afghanistan's security that is addressed only vaguely within the Compact is the role of the country's neighbors, in particular Pakistan and Iran.
Much of the terrorism and armed opposition directed against the Kabul government has supporters, access to resources, and bases of operation in Pakistan. President Karzai charged in January that "a neighbor" has had a hand in the recent upsurge of violence in southern Afghanistan. Pointing to a series of deadly suicide attacks in Kandahar Province, Karzai said that "the reason for these attacks is the continuation of subversive endeavors" by foreigners whose aim is "to dominate" Afghanistan. The former Taliban regime was part of a "hidden invasion" of Afghanistan "for a second time by a neighbor" after the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, Karzai said. While clearly pointing to -- but refraining from identifying -- Pakistan, Karzai added that since the collapse of the Taliban regime following the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, those "who controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime have not altered their intentions." Karzai went on to say that the unnamed neighboring country has continued to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs and, for "this reason, terrorism and attacks [are] still prevailing in Afghanistan."
Iran has been more cooperative vis-a-vis Afghanistan, however, there are signs that issues outside Kabul-Tehran relations -- namely international pressure on Iran regarding that country's nuclear program -- could lead to a hardening of Iran's stance with respect to its neighbor to the east. In mid-January, President Karzai canceled a planned trip to Tehran, citing technical difficulties (specifically, preparations for the London conference). While both Kabul and Tehran have tried to put a good face on the indefinite postponement of that meeting between Karzai and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, observers in both countries have linked the cancellation to external pressure on Karzai.
On the sidelines of the London Conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said his country wants a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan. He also said he regretted that his country's proposals on the issue of security in Afghanistan were not included in the Compact. Mottaki did not elaborate on those proposals.
While not setting a precise timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from his country, Karzai has indicated that he expects such forces will be required for about a decade. That is years longer than acknowledged within the Compact signed in London.
Perhaps Afghanistan will require the presence of international forces beyond 2010. If that is the case, the Compact represents a positive beginning for the post-Bonn phase of Afghanistan. But in the coming years, both Afghanistan and its international supporters should -- in view of the realities on the ground and inherent limitations on a massive state- and nation-building project -- draw up plans that are achievable. They should avoid Potemkin villages and lay the foundations for a nation-state capable of standing on its own.