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Project on Defense Alternatives
The Project on Defense Alternatives
Copyright ©The Commonwealth Institute.
Are U.S. nation-building reforms of Afghan internal security apparatus improving human rights, accountability and effectiveness in the forces? A recent RAND study and several other reports, taken together, suggest a disheartening answer to that question.
The January RAND report "Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform? U.S. Internal Security Assistance to Repressive and Transition Regimes," examines whether U.S. assistance to internal security forces in repressive regimes and in nations transitioning to democracy has helped improve effectiveness, human rights, and accountability.
This study, sponsored by the Open Society Institute, finds no significant progress in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, where a disregard for human rights is embedded in the culture of security forces and interior ministries.
In Afghanistan and El Salvador, the U.S. embarked on nation-building projects, where it could dismantle and rebuild the key ministries and security forces from scratch. The study concludes that this "leverage" contributed to better human rights and accountability, but effectiveness suffered as an insurgency grew in Afghanistan and crime rates skyrocketed in El Salvador.
This study is interesting in trying to deduce whether US assistance contributed to normative changes as a fringe benefit -- improving human rights and accountability were not stated goals for most of the counterterrorism aid programs and not prioritized or even tracked. However, its World Bank data set is largely comprised of public perception (of security, crime rates, judiciary, human rights practices, corruption) as benchmarks of effectiveness and accountability. The authors acknowledge this shortcoming and present the findings as a "first cut."
RAND's Afghanistan profile seems painted with too broad a brush. The study finds that while the human rights atmosphere remains appalling, the Taliban and warlords' militias commit most of the abuses, whereas the police forces' share of the abuses is minimal.
RAND discounts studies such as Amnesty International's 2003 report "Police Reconstruction Essential for the Protection of Human Rights" which documented numerous cases of torture, random arrests and extortion, by claiming those incidents occurred before the start of US assistance in 2002.
However, a 2005 State Department human rights report on Afghanistan finds continued extrajudicial killings and torture by security forces in the name of fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda. It quotes a 2005 Human Rights Watch report that found security forces "arbitrarily detained civilians and committed cruel, inhumane and degrading acts." This could feed the ranks of insurgents as some Afghans turn to the Taliban to avenge their or their family or tribe's abuse at the hands of security forces.
Moreover, there are links between these forces and non-governmental militias (including the Taliban) -- police personnel, including the auxiliary force, are often former or current members of warlords' militias, according to the State Department and a November 2006 International Crisis Group report, "Countering Afghanistan's Insurgency: No Quick Fixes."
ICG finds that rather than purveyors of human rights and security, the Afghan security forces are viewed with fear and people are alienated by their "often-predatory behavior". In fact, American trainers say that almost 10 percent of the new auxiliary police recruits are actually Taliban agents.1
The question of loyalty of these forces also arises -- whether they see themselves as guardians of the people, answering to the central government, or tools of their former warlord bosses. And because of their low pay -- often less than half what Taliban fighters make -- corruption and bribe-taking are rife, which delegitimizes the government.2
Related Resources from PDA:
Strange Victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war by Carl Conetta, PDA Research Monograph #6, 30 January 2002.
Should high-ranking Taliban officials be brought into the fold of governance? The ICG report argues that peace-minded Taliban have had enough chance at amnesty and now trying to engage the remaining Taliban would actually alienate the majority of the population and result in lost popular confidence and support
On the other hand, a recent look at the need to resolve Afghan-Pakistan border issues before the insurgency, narcotics and smuggling can be successfully addressed, strongly recommends Taliban participation in peace and reconciliation programs. Authors Peter Middlebrook and Sharon Miller argue that leaving them out would only fuel future discontent and hinder progress towards a democratic society that respects human rights.
More than 1,000 among the 4,000 killed in 2006 in the Taliban comeback were civilians as the insurgents used them to shield themselves from NATO air strikes, according to Human Rights Watch estimates3 -- a record that drove President Hamid Karzai to tears.4
Of those casualties, Human Rights Watch estimated at least 100 civilians were killed in NATO and U.S.-led operations, which also ruined homes and livelihoods of hundreds of families.5 A particularly egregious NATO attack in October 2006 in the Panjwai district in Kandahar killed 31 civilians, and attracted strong condemnation from Afghan and international officials and human rights organizations -- a week after 22 others were killed in the same region.6
These incidents only contribute to increased support for the Taliban and insurgency. Lt. Gen. David Richards, British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, estimated that 70 percent of the southern population is "on the fence." 7
W. Andrew Terrill, in a Strategic Studies Institute report "Regional Fears of Western Primacy and the Future of U.S. Middle Eastern Basing Policy," studies the best way to conduct basing activities in the Middle East while respecting regional and historic concerns. An intriguing aspect tucked away in this 103-page report is how a potential spillover from the Iraqi civil war could affect U.S. basing operations especially in the small Persian Gulf countries.
He highlights Bahrain which, unusually among neighboring Arab states, has a majority Shi'ite population (70 percent) with a dominant Sunni monarchy. Bahrain is of particular concern, because it hosts a big US naval base and its support of the U.S. has designated it a "major non-NATO US ally."
But political tumult has disrupted US military operations before. In June 2004, the U.S. evacuated all American family members and non-emergency personnel due to Sunni terrorist concerns.
Terrill argues that the US should have more faith in its Arab allies and not immediately withdraw if a "limited and containable civil unrest" breaks out in Bahrain -- this would only ossify the American image in the Middle East as a fair weather friend.
1. Benjamin Sand. "Afghan government recruiting thousands of auxiliary police to battle insurgents," Voice of America, 10 January 2007.
2. "Interagency Assessment of Afghanistan Police Training and Readiness," Joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department, 04 December 2006.
4. Jason Straziuso. "Tearful Karzai says Afghan children are dying from terrorism and NATO bombs," The Associated Press, 20 December 2006.
6. "Afghanistan: Letter to NATO Secretary General Regarding Summit in Latvia," Human Rights Watch, 28 November 2006.