The Failure of Justice Reform in Afghanistan: Implications for Peace and Stability

The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Failure of Justice Reform in Afghanistan: Implications for Peace and Stability


A Conversation with Norah Niland

Norah Niland met with students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy this winter. The following is a synopsis of the discussion, which highlighted the importance of addressing the need for justice in Afghanistan and its relevance to stabilization efforts.

Even with the attention of much of the world turned toward Afghanistan and its multi-faceted crisis, the overall situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent months. As the international focus has remained on stabilizing the security situation, the tactics of conflict resolution and post-conflict planning have largely ignored the need for justice. Such tactics have instead promoted the immunity of many parties and individuals directly involved in the fighting or in widespread human rights violations. Justice is an essential component for peace, it must not be relegated to a secondary position. Policy maneuvers that ignore this will continue to exert negative ramifications on the people of Afghanistan.

THE CURRENT SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan has been unraveling for quite some time, but with two unsettling recent events-the disputed elections and the October 28, 2009 attack on United Nations personnel in Kabul that left eight dead-it is clear that the country's disintegration has accelerated and deepened in the last few months. Armed opposition groups, such as the Taliban, monopolize momentum and are shaping events on the ground.

The proposals put forth by President Obama, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and the U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal to deal with the Taliban threat are a little too late. These proposals call for more allied troops to stall and counter the momentum of the armed groups. However, the solution to Afghanistan's instability cannot be just a military one: more troops will neither eliminate the Taliban threat nor change the overall picture. Actors are entrenched, and so stakeholders must find a political solution that will help solve the conflict, rather than deepen it.

Afghanistan also cannot be viewed in isolation from regional dynamics. Geopolitically, Afghanistan is situated in a tough neighborhood, and a political solution in Afghanistan must take regional dynamics and issues into account and gauge potential spillover effects.

The presidential elections held on August 20 dominated the political horizon in 2009 and yet turned out to be a huge fiasco. President Karzai draws much of his support from the Pashtun belt in the south; given that the war is most pronounced in the south, it was not surprising to find widespread election fraud or high rates of intimidation leading to low voter turnout. Neither is it surprising that Karzai remains in office given the well-known corruption and brutality of his regime. Many Afghans, human rights groups, and external actors acknowledge that the circumstances surrounding the elections have dealt a great disservice to the state-building process, democratization, and the human rights movement across Afghanistan.

To many Afghans, it is unclear why these elections were so important for international community stakeholders. Notwithstanding the political discussion in Kabul and abroad about the proposed nature of governance for a new and reformed Afghanistan, the reality is that the models of governance put forward by diverse stakeholders, including the armed opposition, are not very appealing to a large number of Afghans. The vast majority of Afghans live in the rural countryside, where local governance mechanisms, long dominated by tribal and feudal realities, have been greatly disrupted and weakened by militant Islam and local commanders, with their brand of AK-47 politics. Afghanistan needs a system of governance, at the central and local level, that is inclusive and just.

Over the last few years, the failure of the Bonn Agreement of 2001 has underpinned the failures of governance and military strategy to resolve the conflict or rebuild the state.

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