Global Policy Forum

Reintegration of Factional Armies a Priority


By Erich Marquardt

Power and Interest News Report
May 20, 2004

At the start of 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that Afghanistan's future lay in the hands of the international community. Speaking about his concern over the national elections scheduled for June, Annan said, "Critical challenges now face the [peace] process, and Afghanistan and the international community will need to take further steps, expeditiously, if the process is to be successfully concluded."

Annan's words have not been heeded, as instability continues to rock Afghanistan, delaying the June elections until at least the end of September. Attempts to create a general level of national stability before these elections largely failed, and it is doubtful that, without a major increase in support from the international community, much will change before the newly established election date arrives.

A primary U.N. initiative that is intended to be a major keystone to Afghanistan's stability is the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (D.D.R.) program. Started as a pilot program in October of 2003, the initiative's goal is to disarm the various militias in the country and then to reintegrate former fighters from these clans into the regular workforce. Under the pilot phase of the program, which was executed in five provinces, approximately 6,000 men were disarmed and reintegrated. The plan aims at disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating 40,000 fighters by the end of June.

Nevertheless, the very instability that has made the D.D.R. program a primary priority of the U.N. also explains why it is highly unlikely that the country's many militias will volunteer to disarm and demobilize. If Afghanistan were firmly on the road to recovery, and a strong central government backed by a powerful military were in place, the D.D.R. program would have an excellent chance at success. Under this positive scenario, the country's various warlords would see that resisting an internationally supported and powerful central government would be pointless; therefore, warlords would instead choose a path of integrating their own forces under the command of the central government in exchange for a powerful role in that government. This course of action would best achieve each warlord's interests.

This state of affairs, however, is not the case in Afghanistan. Ever since the fall of the Taliban, the country has been plagued by lawlessness and instability, as various power groups clash with each other for territorial control. These power groups include regional warlords, Taliban loyalists, and the national army commanded by Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-appointed leader.

These three power groups all have diverging interests. The warlords seek territorial control and the preservation of their dictatorial power. Taliban loyalists, who receive support in the Pashtun areas, have been waging a guerrilla war against U.S. forces, the central government and often times outside aid organizations that cooperate with the government in Kabul. The central government hopes to consolidate its power nationally by dismantling the country's warlords and their militias, while at the same time destroying the Taliban loyalist insurgency.

With so many different power bases within the country, it is no wonder why the U.N. and supporters of the Karzai-led central government want to consolidate authority and neuter the power of potential obstacles to central rule. Yet, the many different bases of power explain why it is extremely difficult to consolidate power in the country: no one group wants to give up their power when the chance exists that their interests will be irreparably damaged in the process.

Indeed, due to the limited U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, in addition to the small U.N. force that really only patrols the capital city, there is a very real possibility that the central government could collapse in the coming years. If this were to occur, the country could quickly fall into anarchy, and that power vacuum would be filled by whichever warlord faction is able to mobilize and establish control over the country. Until there is more confidence in the central government, and less fear (or hope) that such a development will occur, the various warlords will be hesitant to relinquish too much control.

The tenuous situation in Afghanistan is best described by Jean Arnault, the U.N. special envoy to the country. Recently speaking with the news organization A.F.P., Arnault said that it "is completely clear that the progress which has been made so far is insufficient." He continued, cautioning of the danger posed by Taliban loyalists, "The security situation has clearly deteriorated in the south, where there is an intensification of the Taliban's military campaign."

The intensification of insurgent activity is not only taking place in the south, but all across the long border that Afghanistan shares with Pakistan. Due to the mountainous terrain that the border falls on, it has served as an ideal location for militants seeking refuge from the approximately 15,000 U.S. forces who have been attempting to rout them out. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden himself is thought to be hiding in this area.

Lack of security is the reason why Afghanistan's national elections, which were scheduled to take place in June, have been pushed back until at least the end of September. And it is this delay that has caused much concern within the United Nations and within other parties interested in creating a stable and prosperous post-Taliban Afghanistan. The fact that elections have been pushed back due to security concerns has created doubts over whether Afghanistan will ever be able to stabilize with the present level of support it has been receiving from the international community.

Arnault, the U.N. special envoy, iterated this concern, warning, "For Afghans, as for the international community, there is nothing that has greater priority … than fair and steady demilitarization ahead of the elections." He continued, "For a short transition, certain conditions had to be fulfilled, notably disarmament, the creation of a professional and independent police force and the formation of a single army." Unless these conditions are met, Arnault advised, "we will not have peace" and will instead face "the return of civil war caused by factional armies."

This is the primary quandary facing Afghanistan. The country's factional armies will not disarm provided that the international community does not offer serious assistance to the central government in Kabul. By disarming under the current unstable conditions, the various warlords have more to lose than to gain. Furthermore, the integration of the country's warlords is necessary to properly destroy the Taliban insurgency. It is up for the international community, most notably the United States, to provide the Karzai government with the resources and support necessary to demonstrate to the country's warlords that only one future exists in Afghanistan, and that involves integration with the central government in Kabul.

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