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Law and Order Give Peace a Chance

Authors: Arthur C. Helton, and Rachel Bronson, Former Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
December 18, 2001


WITH THE RECENT agreement in Bonn for the re-establishment of a permanent government in Afghanistan, significant resources will begin pouring into Afghanistan. The formal turnover date for the new Kabul regime is Saturday.

There is an almost limitless need in areas such as health care, refugee return, food distribution and education. Debate is now focusing on how to comprise a British-led force to be deployed in and around Kabul.

What is missing is a serious plan for how to provide basic law and order across Afghanistan. This is surprising, given that many of the Taliban's original supporters were willing to overlook the organization's religious excesses because the Taliban offered a system of laws - and a commitment to enforcing them - that had eluded the country for nearly 20 years of civil war.

What the Afghan people have learned, at a terrible price, is that when basic individual security is not provided, other things such as economic recovery and refugee return are impossible. Without a depoliticized police force to apprehend criminals, courts to try them and jails to confine them, efforts at societal recovery are futile.

Ensuring public security in Afghanistan will require a huge investment of time and money from the international community. But history warns against trying to do it on the cheap. In Haiti, Somalia and East Timor, establishment of the rule of law took a back seat to military and political considerations, costing each mission dearly.

In the Balkans, the need for a law-and-order initiative was recognized in the 1995 Dayton Accord, but plans were slow to develop and international forces excruciatingly slow to arrive. The result has been that traditional combat forces continue to operate throughout the region, with no end in sight. This is what happens when a robust public security plan is not established up-front.

Failure promises to rear its ugly head in Afghanistan unless a rigorous public security plan is put into place, before the interim authority takes power this weekend. Nearly 4 million Afghan refugees are hosted in nearby states. Returning these refugees will be high on the agenda in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, but without basic public security Afghans will resist going back.

A lack of security will also undermine economic projects that might lure them back. All the well- intentioned resources devoted to Afghanistan may simply be wasted. Goals such as the establishment of an "independent human-rights commission," and a "gender-sensitive" government will be undermined.

There is some reason to hope that Afghanistan might prove different from past debacles. First, UN efforts for Afghanistan are being overseen by Lakhdar Brahimi, who, in August 2000, authored a well-received UN report outlining steps to improve the agency's efforts at public security. Brahimi is more attuned than most to the importance of the rule of law in trouble spots. Second, Jordan is one of the world's largest contributors of civilian police officers to the United Nations, and it could contribute such resources in Afghanistan. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Afghan diaspora in the United States and Europe includes people with the right skills. The UN should scour these groups for legal experts who can ensure that the 1964 Afghan constitution is followed, and amended if necessary.

The first step in Afghanistan's recovery must be to ensure that the international security force has the authority to prevent the extra-judicial killings and wanton banditry that is likely to occur. This measure of security will be necessary to deliver humanitarian aid and to provide basic recovery assistance. The U.S. military should assist these efforts, a role it does not relish, but one that is necessary, as the Balkans have shown.

The international force must also bring with it police, courts and lawyers to maintain its own credibility in the eyes of both local people and the world. There is no mention of these functions in the UN document agreed upon in Bonn. Diplomatic efforts are required now to make sure the proper capabilities are developed. Finally, development planners must begin a process, working closely with Afghan experts, to integrate international and local legal standards and institutions in order to ensure the rule of law in a future Afghanistan. This kind of deliberate plan is the only way to minimize the likelihood of a prolonged stay by American troops.

Public-security issues must be moved to the planning forefront of what needs to be done in Afghanistan. Basic agreements to welcome the "assistance of the international community" and "the early deployment to Afghanistan of a United Nations mandated force," in the words of the agreement, are not enough. The killing of journalists and the slow distribution of humanitarian aid, show how insecure the country remains.

The United States does not need to be front and center in all efforts, but it should be an active player. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's reluctance to commit U.S. forces to peacekeeping is worrisome. A premature U.S. departure will allow Afghanistan to revert to its pre-war chaos. Unless a serious plan for public security is developed and implemented quickly, we will have expended a lot of effort for a hollow, and reversible, victory.

Copyright © 2001, Newsday, Inc.

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