pdf No Shortcut to Stability: Justice, Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan

Author: Carter, S. and Clark, K.
Institution: Chatham House
Publication Date: 2010
Keywords: Security and Justice, Afghanistan


Using the case of Afghanistan, this paper explains the importance of placing a strategic emphasis on delivering broad-based justice when trying to stabilise a country after conflict.  Neglecting to deliver broad-based justice and rule of law in favour of buying the patronage of local strongmen and using the security services for counterinsurgency (COIN) can deliver short-term stability but ultimately undermines lasting, long-term stability.  The paper provides a reasoned analysis of the political aspects of the justice sector, especially after conflict, and based on recent, relevant research makes pragmatic recommendations on how to use justice to deliver better security and lasting stability.

Key Issues:

Perceived injustice is an immediate cause of grievance that, in Afghanistan, alienates ordinary people from the government and pushes many to join or support the insurgency.  Afghans commonly talk of people joining the Taliban because they are naraz (dissatisfied) or majbur (obliged or forced), which broadly relate to political marginalisation and abuses by those in power.

The importance of justice has been widely acknowledged on earlier occasions by senior international policy-makers, not least in the international military.  But in practice the recurring pattern since 2001 has been to prioritise short-term expediency over justice and the long-term demands of state-building. This short-term approach may have immediate attractions, but it has undermined any COIN strategy based on building up effective, legitimate and accountable government, and neutered international protest about corrupt or predatory actions.

Actual efforts at reforming justice institutions have focussed on fighting the insurgency rather than on substantive justice: the judiciary has been neglected and until recently the police have been set up as a paramilitary force rather than a tool to support the rule of law.  Moreover, the Afghan government itself has taken policy decisions which actively undermine the rule of law and accountability; for example, by pardoning well-connected drug smugglers, rapists and Taliban Commanders.  In terms of reform, both the government and international donors have preferred technical support which side-steps the political aspects of the problem.  However, without addressing the political challenges of reform however painful and tiring this may seem, only limited progress can be made. 

The case of Afghanistan demonstrates that justice and governance are not just a matter of idealism: they are a matter of self-interested realism and strategic calculation.  It is suggested that the lack of a clear strategy to address these issues is almost equivalent to the lack of a strategy for the internal political aspects of the insurgency.  Even though the lesson is not new, stabilisation practitioners need to recognise that there are “no shortcuts to stability”.  In policy terms this means ensuring short-term stabilisation objectives are balanced with a long-term strategy for building sustainable stability through delivering broad-based justice that acknowledges the political realities of the sector.

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