D4.2 IECEU Afghanistan review
Lead beneficiary: Kennedy Institute
Delivery date: 14/02/2017
Afghanistan is categorised as an irregular war, a phenomenon in which insurgency and counterinsurgency are the main and opposite elements. Insurgency is terrorism and subversion designed to wear down the resolve of the state over a protracted period for political profit, usually with the aim of overthrowing the existing government. Insurgency is hit and run guerrilla tactics by a network hidden in a community that supports it. The state’s security and political response is counterinsurgency. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, other militias and extreme Islamist groups are the insurgency, and remain as much a threat today as they did at the time of the US-led intervention in 2001. Leaders and some group names have changed but the intent to destabilise the country to gain political power has not. Killing police is a key part of the insurgent strategy in Afghanistan.
Undermining the rule of law is a central objective of the Taliban, the main insurgent network, and crucial to projecting themselves as a credible alternative to the police in areas they control and seek to control. To counter this, Afghan police strive to provide effective security – protecting civilians, preventing terrorist attacks, increased detection and prosecution of offenders and recovery of munitions. These are tangible outcomes that increase public support for the police. As the police are such a visible manifestation of the state, public support for them is a barometer of public support for the state. As security improves civil or normal policing gains ground. The aim is to have civil policing in as many areas as possible. This is what police professionalisation programmes are about. And few would disagree with that objective. The problem arises in the practicalities of how this is done and how long it takes.
In Afghanistan, the rule of law has the police central to criminalising the insurgency – treating the Taliban as terrorist criminals to be placed before the courts. This is in line with the Whole of Government strategy and Afghan-based ‘sustainable’ way forward drafted by a US-dominated coalition. Understanding the threat underpins this thinking. Good police work is effective security. Successful rule of law approaches in previous irregular wars illustrate that security policing and civil policing combine to form a tougher police approach to that typically found in the West. It is a style of policing conceived for an irregular war, with opaque qualities and a hard edge more inclined to upset modernity’s liberal sensitivities than police models designed for a stable, peaceful society.
Policing somewhere such as the US or Germany is totally different to Afghanistan. It is a distinction seldom embraced by international actors in identifying ‘best practice,’ where human rights, gender equality (emphasising women) and compliance with international standards are commonly promoted. Yet, delivering on these is wholly dependent on effective security. Just in the same way developing politics, economics and governance also depend on effective security. As long as terrorists routinely kill and destroy security is the priority. Without effective security, hospitals and schools cannot be built or jobs created, the lights cannot be kept on and the water kept running, neither can corruption and narcotics be properly countered. Everything that will progress Afghanistan is contingent on effective security.
In a rule of law approach in an irregular war the police are required to perform security and normal policing roles. Conflicting views on what constitutes this and what generates public support and trust in the police, as well as different expectations of what the police can deliver, shows confusion in the international community on the policing issue, and supports claims of poor coordination between military and civil actors at the strategic level.
Insurgency is a complex social movement and an enormous challenge to a police organisation. Compounding the challenge in Afghanistan is a tribal culture, corruption and a legacy of military control. Due to constant conflict since 1979, for many Afghans a police officer upholding the rule of law as the means of providing security is a distant or unfamiliar concept. Afghanistan’s failure to modernise has left it a long way behind minimum western standards on policing, criminal justice, health, education, housing and social welfare. There is much to fix. Catching up takes time, something the European Union Police (EUPOL) mission in Afghanistan did not have. It started in 2007, seven years into the conflict, and ends December 2016. Yet it is widely accepted that Afghanistan’s police need support beyond 2016.
EUPOL Afghanistan was approximately eight per cent of the police reconstruction effort and was largely based in Kabul and some northern provinces. It also had a small presence in the south. Since 2014 the mission has been confined to Kabul. The limited geographic coverage and its steady reduction make for a partial first-hand picture of the insurgent threat and capacity of the police to counter it.
Many see Europe as uniquely positioned to lead a unified police mission in an armed conflict, as opposed to the fragmented approach by various EU Member States that happened in Afghanistan. There is a sense of enthusiasm about the EUPOL concept in the relevant literature but also frustration that the mission in Afghanistan has underachieved, mostly due to reasons outside the control of those on the ground. In a disparate approach to building capacity in an array of Afghan police organisations by multiple international actors, there are concerns about duplication and contradictory guidance. There are also concerns about the quality of personnel recruited for the EUPOL mission and what best practice is for a police organisation in an irregular war context.
Kabul today is more dangerous than when EUPOL arrived. EUPOL Afghanistan operates in an irregular war. The difficulties it faces are immense and plentiful. The real value may not be what the mission actually delivers but in a critical analysis of the areas it focused on and the challenges it faced for the benefit of similar missions in the future.