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Former Peace Corps Director Mark L. Schneider testifies before Congress on Situation in Afghanistan
Former Peace Corps Director Mark L. Schneider testifies before Congress on Situation in Afghanistan
Testimony of Mark L. Schneider, Sr. Vice President, International Crisis Group to the House International Relations Committee Hearing on Afghanistan
Wednesday, 19 November 2003
I want to express my appreciation to the Subcommittees on the Middle East and Central Asia and on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the International Crisis Group (ICG) on current conditions in Afghanistan and the status of the effort to construct a democratic government after 23 years of war.
ICG has been in Afghanistan since 2001, publishing our first report on “Priorities for Reconstruction and Development” a few weeks before the Bonn Conference. Since then we have published eight additional reports, including the last two on “Peacebuilding in Afghanistan” and “Disarmament and Reintegration” over the past few weeks, and an earlier report on “Afghanistan’s Flawed Constitutional Process”.
On eve of the Constitutional Loya Jirga, we continue to believe that the major failure of the post conflict effort in Afghanistan was the refusal to support the extension of the International Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul – as ICG , the UN and the Government of Hamid Karzai pushed for from the outset. The Bush Administration did not relent on their opposition to a broader security force until this summer, and such a policy has yet to be fully implemented.
By failing to get security right, the international community has had its hands tied in trying to bring about reconstruction, humanitarian relief, disarmament and reintegration (DR) and the broader political transition. I met with USAID and State Department officials in Kabul last week. They live and work in a tightly restricted and heavily guarded compound. Security concerns have limited the number and mobility of aid officials, NGOs, and contractors and slowed Afghanistan’s attempt to get back on its feet.
The Afghan government, the UN and the U.S. and coalition forces all are committed to the Bonn schedule and to building democratic institutions. Dedicated soldiers, diplomats, USAID, UN and non-governmental aid workers are risking their lives trying to help Afghans build a nation free of Al Qaeda, Taliban, and renegade warlords. The murder of a young UN refugee worker this past weekend in Ghazni, a car bomb last week outside the UN office in Kandahar and a rocket attack on the UN disarmament event days after I left Gardez are some of the latest examples of the terror strategy Taliban and al Qaeda have used to attack the soft target of international civilian agencies and NGOs and derail reconstruction and the political transition.
Nevertheless, much has been accomplished: more than 2 million refugees have returned since 2001 (although several million more still remain outside Afghanistan); the Karzai government has established basic administration and ended flagrant government abuse of human rights (although abuses by warlords still persist); and immunizations have reached some 90% of children, many of whom have the chance to go to school for the first time.
However, a lack of security has made more sweeping progress impossible. It forced postponement of the Constitutional Loya Jirga (the traditional national assembly) from September to December 10. Even that date is extremely tenuous since the copies of the draft Constitution still had not reached all provinces until a week ago. Holding Presidential elections next June will likely prove even more challenging. The election of a Parliament, crucial to establishing a functioning democracy, is likely to slip until 2005. Democracy requires participation, open campaigning without intimidation and public discussion, all of which require a minimum of stability.
Nearly two years after Bonn, Afghanistan remains beset by three fundamental threats to its security and stability.
--First the Taliban and al Qaeda still are able to strike at coalition forces, Afghan civilians, and international aid workers on a daily basis. The frequency of such attacks has spiked upward in recent months. Attacks on aid agencies rose from one per month earlier in the year to one every other day. In September, six aid workers were killed, more than in any month since Bonn. The NATO/ISAF deputy military commander stated that more attacks had occurred in the previous ninety days than in the entire prior period since Bonn. The most recent deaths resulted in the UNHCR pulling its entire staff from southeastern Afghanistan.
The US military and its allies brought a speedy end to Taliban and al Qaeda control over the state apparatus in November 2001; but plans for postwar Afghanistan stalled as Taliban forces and significant elements of al Qaeda escaped to Pakistan. Although Pakistan law enforcement has acted against al Qaeda, the Pakistan military government – whose security service have long and deep ties to the Taliban – remains passive or negligent when it comes to the Taliban. There is virtual consensus among diplomats, press and others that the Pakistan government of President Pervez Musharraf maintains an “insurance” policy of sorts with the Taliban in the event the west were to abandon the country as it did a decade ago, and a radical Taliban government were to return to power.
It is these same religious extremists who govern the Northwest Frontier Province and rule, in coalition with the pro-Musharraf central government, in Baluchistan. These are the two provinces bordering Afghanistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda operate. The former are visible in the key cities of those provinces. With $3 billion aid being sought by the Bush Administration for the Musharraf government in Pakistan, it is clear that the Administration has enormous leverage to demand that Pakistan put an end to de facto sanctuary for Taliban leaders. Hopefully the recent roundup of extremist Islamic forces also will be followed by a more aggressive move against both Taliban and al Qaeda encampments along the border.
Secondly, warlords and regional militia pose an immediate threat. Some originally were financed and allied with US forces in the fight against al Qaeda after 9/11. A few have appeared willing to identify their futures with a new national Afghan government; but most have claimed land, resources and property and used their armed militias to maintain those claims. They also have used those forces to intimidate, threaten and pursue their own stake in the process leading up to the constitutional Loya Jirga.
President Karzai only recently has been able to change governors and military commanders in Kandahar and to dampen at least temporarily the battles in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan between local commanders loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum and Muhammad Atta. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, is head of the National Islamic Movement and was awarded a military adviser role by Karzai. Atta, his regional challenger, is an ethnic Tajik and a commander of the Islamic Society group, aligned with the Panjshiris in Karzai’s administration who have their eyes set on national power.
NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson, in his letter to Kofi Annan of October 2, asserted NATO’s willingness to play an expanded role in Afghanistan. He noted that one of the crucial tests for an exit strategy for NATO/ISAF would be the “removal or significant modification of the behavior of warlords.” Until that happens, the path forward will be littered with grave obstacles.
Finally, the entire nation-building endeavor in Afghanistan—and make no mistake—it is a nation-building venture, is threatened by the appearance of a hyra-headed narcotics industry. President Karzai should be commended for identifying the threat from drugs more than a year ago, but thus far the international response has been minimal.
A coherent, concerted international strategy for helping the Afghans control narcotics is desperately needed. Although the UK is the titular leader, its alternative development program has had severe problems. But without law enforcement, interdiction, eradication and military muscle, even an effective alternative development program is unlikely to succeed. Since Europe is the market for most Afghan heroin, the US has willingly taken a back seat on the issue.
The UNODC identified $1.2 billion going to farmers for their poppies and a similar amount going to traffickers, nearly equal to half Afghanistan’s legal economy. This means that there is an enormous amount of money available to corrupt the political process. More than 3,600 metric tons of opium poppies were produced last year, and it is estimated that the yield will rise to 3800 tons in 2004. Drugs also threaten efforts to produce a functioning judicial system.
In a too close approximation to Colombia, it is the warlords and mid-level regional commanders in particular who are acquiring the revenues from the narcotics trade. That financial windfall inevitably makes them spoilers to counterdrug programs or attempts to political stability based on effective law enforcement institutions.
Despite these three security challenges, only 6,500 new soldiers have graduated into the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). Barely 10,000 new police are in uniform. The judicial system remains in the hands of the most conservative sectors of society. The disarmament and demobilization process has just begun, and in Konduz and Gardez, where some 1,200 soldiers and officers have started a DR process, there were Lee Enfields from the l9th century turned in by some as their “weapons” and some of the heavy weapons looked like World War I vintage.
The real tests are whether the military forces of General Fahim and his Northern Alliance colleagues in Kabul will be removed and begin to disarm before the Constitutional Loya Jirga, whether DR will be fully completed in the provinces before registration and the Presidential and Parliamentary electoral campaigns begin and whether NATO/ISAF will be deployed fast enough and have the mandate to guarantee the success of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Currently the DR process is called “voluntary.” That is largely because there is no one to force reluctant warlords to accept involuntary disarmament. It is remarkable that the UN has been able to negotiate even the start of disarmament—at times with the careful assistance of international military forces, which just happen to be around.
The good news is that the Administration has shifted its policy to support extending ISAF beyond the Afghan capital and the UN Security Council has authorized its expansion. How NATO will implement its new mandate remains undecided. The United States appears to believe that simply increasing the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), small combined military and civil affairs units, with embedded USAID and State advisors, now working in four areas, will suffice. This plan would include other governments, and under US planning some 12 international PRTs could be in place by next year. However, the ICG, CARE and the IRC have talked with NATO’s supreme northern European commander as well as the field commanders in Afghanistan about this issue. All believe it would be unwise to limit the ISAF expansion to simply multiplying the PRTs.
NATO military commanders believe a much larger force is needed than the one there today. They look for a force level between 12-20,000 when fully deployed. It would include one PRT in each province, operating under ISAF. At least three battalion-sized quick strike forces also would be located regionally to let local militia commanders know that this fighting force will be deployed against them if they continue to force farmers to grow poppies, refuse to disarm and demobilize when told, and impede free and fair elections.
Those forces are required to carry out the scenario Lord Robertson envisioned for NATO if it wants to count its ISAF role a success—from dealing with warlords, to assisting DR, to helping build the Afghan National Army and the police, to supporting reconstruction.
NATO sees what needs to be done. The bad news is that the member countries have not begun to offer troops or the resources to do the job. If they do not produce a robust NATO force to be deployed beyond Kabul quickly, then NATO will fail and so too will Afghanistan.
Lord Robertson said on Nov. 11, “First, Afghanistan must be a success. If we fail, we will find Afghanistan on all our doorsteps. Worse still, NATO’s credibility will be shattered, along with that of every NATO government. Who will stand with us in the war against terror if we take on a commitment such as this and then fail to deliver?”
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