Monday, March 15, 2010

Afghanistan in the 90s

Here is a piece from the last class. The tone of this piece might seem like I'm accusing a certain country or set of countries for failing to act in the 90s. That is true, but that does not mean I am blaming them. There are enough circumstances in history that in retrospect inaction or minimal action by those who could have done more resulted in bad situations. It is a common thread, but I don't think blame is the correct word. Instead we should remember these lessons and pay attention. I think we often miss what's in our periphery vision because we focus too much on what's directly in front of us.

Afghanistan in the 90s: Where Were We?
"Into the political vacuum left by 20 years of war and the collapse of stable government has marched a new generation of violent fundamentalists, nurtured and inspired by the Taliban's unique Islamist model" Ahmed Rashid, 1999
Afghanistan has been referred to by several scholars and pundits as the "Graveyard of Empires."It is a land that has trapped many would be conquerors. Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter give this description (2009):
From its invasion by Genghis Khan and his two-million strong Mongol hordes to the superpower proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Afghanistan's trade routes and land-locked position in the middle of the region have for centuries rendered it vulnerable to invasion by external powers. (p. 1)
In their study for the Cato Institute, Innocent and Carpenter map out a plan for the United States to escape from this graveyard, unlike the Soviets who did not escape (Innocent & Carpenter, 2009). It is from the aforementioned backdrop that one might wonder, how can this place be such a vacuum for societies? Similar descriptions give it the impression of being a black hole on earth. Is peace possible in this place so void of it? Given its track record the answer is doubtful. Why?
Today NATO forces continue to engage in a protracted war for peace. Brought on by the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, waging peace has been no simple task. Into the ninth year, the world watches again as nations pour their militaries into Afghanistan in an effort to topple an insurgency that ceases to disappear. Names such as Gulbeddin Hekmatyar, Mullah Omar, and Osama bin Ladin are at the front of a target list of enemies. Finding and bringing these leaders of extremist organizations to justice is a primary objective in the long war. Yet they are not new names.
Their cause is not new, and their intentions are not new. These same names and many more surfaced during the 80s and 90s. It was during the 90s that many of them and their organizations such as Hizb-i-Islami, Taliban, and al Qaeda became prevalent. And, it was during this period that conditions were perfect for their ideologies to ripen. How did it happen? Could the world have seen them and their intentions coming? Could the world have prevented a rise of extremist ideology in Afghanistan? More importantly, did it try? We have to wonder in retrospect if effective efforts of peace were made during this decade? We should also wonder if more could have been done and would more have made any difference?
Afghanistan has run the gamut of peacekeeping operations. Throughout the 80s and 90s and the turn of the century, the international community has been engaged in peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peace enforcement operations. Between 1990 and 2000 Afghanistan underwent a transformation that resulted in the present day battle to eliminate Taliban control. After the Soviet Union was forced out of the country, Afghanistan experienced more than just a shift in power. Immediately after the Soviet defeat, power was virtually non-existent. It was during this non-existent period between 1989 and 1992 that groups maneuvered for a position to claim hold of the country. Ultimately one group, the Taliban, prevailed.
Their brand of extreme, fundamentalist and ultra-conservative Islam proved to be oppressive and threatening. They enacted a form of law that engaged in extreme forms of punishment. They pushed a system of rule that was strict and harsh. Their continued pursuit of power resulted in a massive exodus of refugees and a violent loss of civilian life. Internally the Taliban caused nothing but problems for the Afghan people. Internationally, the Taliban caused nothing but problems for security. It was their harboring of other extremist groups that warranted an even greater appreciation for the gravity of their threat. In a Foreign Affairs piece in 2000, Peter Tomsen pointed out that (2000), "Afghanistan is the documented training and inspirational base for worldwide militant Islamist operations ranging from American soil to the Middle East…" (p. 181). It was no secret who the Taliban were and what their intentions were. Yet, there is little evidence suggesting western states were interested in preventing a failed state's further demise. As a result of the Soviet defeat in 1989 and the withdrawal of U.S. interest in the region, a vacuum was created.
This gets to the heart of the issue in the 90s, and that is, given a void, what remained to fill the void? Was it rogue elements or the international community vis-à-vis peace measures? Clearly rogue elements filled that void. Could something have taken their place? The preferred option would have measures of peace.
In a similarly conflicted region of the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Darfur region of Sudan offer examples of minimally effective intervention by the international community. Francois Grignon and Daniela Kroslak point out that (2008), "Once a vacuum is created, it has to be filled by agreed state structures. If not, the same or other armed groups will quickly regain or expand their territorial control" (p. 187). Regarding African states, genocide and extreme ethnic cleansing resulted from those vacuums being filled with violent regimes. Indeed peace operations existed in those African states and they continue today. But to what end? Recently the question was asked as to the success or failure of MONUC, the UN mission in Congo. Given that Grignon and Kroslak suggest (2008), "its efforts over the past five years to save lives in eastern Congo, it has performed abysmally" (p. 186), many agree that UN efforts have in fact been a failure. So what about Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, NGOs, the UN, the U.S. and even the USSR had been dealing with many issues to preserve and protect the civilian population. Going into the 90s it was a severe refugee problem that afflicted the Afghan population. Helga Baitenmann points out that (1990), "The combined efforts of the [UNHCR] and the governments of Pakistan and the USA could not alone take care of the 3.5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan" (p. 62). The Soviets had wreaked such havoc in the country that many citizens fled. The international response was relatively significant. Prior to the end of the Soviet conflict there were over 200 NGOs operating in and around Afghanistan (Baitenmann, 1990). Even the U.S. interest in aid support was significant. A proxy war with the USSR through Afghanistan meant the U.S. would influence efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and destabilize the Soviets. At one point, as Baitenmann pointed out (1990), "The US government has had ties to all major NGOs" (p. 69).
While NGO operations were significant going into the 90s, they were not without difficulties. The country was very much a war torn state, and as such continued to be very hostile. What is interesting about the hostility going into 1990 is that it may not have been entirely a function of fighting. True, despite forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan, Afghanis themselves waged a civil war as factions fought for power. And, intrastate infighting made it difficult for NGOs to deliver their services. But, what may have been even more difficult as Baitenmann suggests is the political atmosphere of east versus west (Baitenmann, 1990).
The vast NGO effort in Afghanistan was largely linked to elements of U.S. interest with intended goals of influencing Soviet imbalance (Baitenmann, 1990). Groups that supported similar campaigns in Central America's communist struggle, supported advocacy campaigns in Afghanistan. These kinds of aid operations could be considered to have been part of a larger strategic, political campaign. In effect, their interest may not have been entirely for Afghanistan. Rather there may have been more interest against the Soviets, i.e. against communism. The effect? Once the Soviets were run out of Afghanistan and communist ties were no longer an influence, what purpose would those NGOs continue to serve?


As interest in the region faded, Afghanistan was left to fend for itself. One of the first orders of business was to reestablish its central government. But, having been a war-torn country for so long, Afghanistan was out of practice governing itself. What happened instead was the creation of an ineffective and often inept council of former mujahedeen representatives. The UN, moderately involved in the building process sought to help create a "power-sharing arrangement…from various mujahideen parties and the Wattan Party, the former Communists" (p. 165-166) as Shah Tarzi points out in his Asian Survey essay. This may have been one of the first missteps in the 90s to prevent the rise of Taliban extremism. In a piece for Third World Quarterly, Ian Spears' observations about power-sharing in Africa conclude that (2000), "The central weakness of power-sharing is not that it fails as an idea, but that it runs into so many obstacles when put into practice" (p. 116).
As indicated by Spears observation of power-sharing, what further complicated the formation of a central governing body was the increasing pressure of Gulbeddin Hekmatyar, an extreme Islamic fundamentalist whose desire it was to gain some kind of control in the country's capital. His menacing of Kabul went so far as to assail Kabul with rockets and threaten officials with some initially failed military coups (Tarzi, 1993). Hekmatyar was an inescapable obstacle to progress with respect to forming an effective central government. His hard line approach to insisting on a position within the government would prove to be a fatal blow to legitimate governance.
It was at this specific point, that the UN should have increased influence in the building process. But little evidence exists to suggest the UN did anything more. As Afghanistan's constitution was being constructed, relatively few indications suggest any state involved themselves further in Afghanistan's developing process. In his 1993 essay, Tarzi points out that (1993), "the interim government, ineptly conceived and organized, was a constitutional monstrosity" (p. 166). Peacemaking efforts by either the UN, the U.S. or even neighboring Pakistan, China and Iran seem to have been non-existent during the period between 1990 and 1992. This may have something to do with why Afghanistan created such an inept government. This condition of ineptitude, coupled with a lack of international support through any kind of peace intervention meant that specific individuals such as Hekmatyar could continue to harass the fledgling state.
By the end of 1992, Hekmatyar's menacing resulted in (1992), "some 3000 deaths, and many of the 9000 wounded were women and children [figures for August alone]" (p. 174). Yet, the UN and the international community did little more than watch as Afghanistan earned a spot at the "top of the list of indices of misery and deprivation" (p. 174). Their previous refugee problem only grew. Pakistan could be considered the most helpful state in terms of aid and assistance because they had no choice. Approx 3.5 million Afghanis (Tarzi, 1993) sought refuge in the border country. As reported by Tarzi, the world was watching and witnessing the deterioration of a state badly in need of help. So where was it?
    By 1994 a paradox of international support emerged. On the one hand, the UN sought to be more involved in Afghanistan and to insist upon a peace agreement. On the other hand, major UN players, namely the United States, withdrew support for a variety of reasons. An essay in Asian Survey by Zalmay Khalilzad concludes (1995), "The decline in American assistance has been the most dramatic, amounting to around $6 million in 1993-1994" (p. 152). In terms of the world agenda, Khalilzad indicated Afghanistan was a very low priority (Khalilzad, 1995).
Yet, again it was during this period that attention should have been great because the fractured government continued to fight amongst itself. More importantly it was during this period that the Taliban really started to emerge. Khalilzad pointed out that (1995), "The Taliban, a movement composed mainly of religious students, emerged as a major new power center late in the year" (p. 148). Although hindsight is always 20-20, failing to recognize the potential threat of Taliban control was a critical error of the international community. It may not have been so much a failure to recognize as a failure to act that spurred the Taliban's rapid rise to control.
The UN had in fact initiated a special mission during this period with the intent to bring about a peace arrangement. But, UN efforts fell short of accomplishing anything as Hekmatyar and others battled for control of Kabul. Afghanistan without a doubt was in an all out civil war. With Kabul under attack, little by way of peace negotiation took place. Moreover, Khalilzad said (1995), "Because of the attacks in Kabul, U.N. staff members left and U.N. humanitarian aid declined – while the need for it increased" (p. 149). In defense, however, it is fair to say that the UN had a responsibility to protect its people and its interests.
What one should wonder today is whether withdrawing aid and support may have only exacerbated the problem. This author believes that the lack of international aid at that time may have contributed to the problem in so much as non-intervention was akin to the non-intervention in Rwanda during the same time period. In effect, the UN was quite concerned with protecting a positive image and less concerned with protecting states' citizens. The UN is not entirely to blame, though for limiting aid support. As mentioned before, the world was watching and witnessing the deterioration of Afghanistan but doing little to help.
One might get the impression that no peace initiatives existed at all. That is not true. While characterizing the UN and the international community as non-existent is a fair characterization, many efforts did exist to push peace plans and programs. They were just haphazard and ultimately ineffective. In a 1995 article for Disaster Prevention and Management, Sultan Barakat and Arne Strand described the situation as this (1995), "Despite the fact that there are more than 200 NGOs working for the people of Afghanistan…there is very little to show for their efforts in terms of reconstruction and people's return to normality" (para. 2). Adding to the problem of ineffective NGO efforts is what Barakat and Strand refer to as "donor fatigue" meaning that as the civil war continued states reassessed the value of their investment in aid projects and programs (Barakat & Strand, 1995).
What is interesting about the role of NGOs as opposed to UN and other state specific aid is that NGOs seem to have been the most active agent engaged in any form peace operations. Yet by the mid 90s with a variety of NGOs and a removed UN, there existed little to no coordination of aid efforts. The UN was encouraging NGO support from local Afghan communities (Afghan NGOs) while limiting other international agencies (Barakat & Strand, 1995). The problem was there was too much work to be done. NGOs alone could not have done all the work, and the UN alone could not have done all the work. There needed to be a unified effort of aid and peace initiatives which simply did not happen. Barakat and Strand concluded that (1995), "Developing a co-ordinated (sic) and common policy between UN and the NGOs…is actually the greatest challenge for all those involved in the rehabilitation process" (para. 38). Evidently a second, rather oxymoronic battle had been ongoing in Afghanistan which was for control of peace initiatives.
While the peace battle continued, the battle for control of Kabul intensified. The Taliban grew more determined to control Afghanistan. By the end of 1996 they controlled nearly two thirds of the country. Even more remarkable was by June of 1996, Hekmatyar had finally earned his spot in government as the Prime Minister. This new government became known for its strict and harsh social rule. Ralph Magnus, referring to 1996 as the "Year of the Taliban" revealed that (1997), "Hekmatyar announced a strict Islamic regime in Kabul, closing cinemas, banning music broadcasts on radio and television, advising women to follow Islamic dress codes, and calling for the dismissal of all communist officials" (p. 112). Although it had been six to seven years in the making, this new, extremist government was suddenly cause for alarm by the international community.
In the US, interest suddenly grew, but according to Magnus, their concern may have been more self interested. He notes the following exchange in Washington (1997):
In Senate testimony…Robin L. Raphel stated that U.S. interests remained constant: regional stability, since stability prevented the opening of trade routes for Central Asia; terrorism and drug problems, whose solution required an effective government; and humanitarian concern with the plight of the Afghan people. (p. 116)
The US position regarding Afghanistan really had not changed except to say they were more aware of the situation regarding the Taliban. Furthermore, the Taliban, now assuming control of Afghanistan meant a form of government was finally in power. One should not conclude, however, that the US was in favor of a Taliban government. Rather, Magnus implies that with Taliban control came opportunity (Magnus, 1997). Coincidentally he pointed out that a major oil and gas pipeline that had been previously negotiated was scheduled to be built through Afghanistan. Allegedly an official associated with the American company building the pipeline suggested Taliban control "was a positive development" (p. 116). Whether any US official regarded the Taliban as a positive thing is speculative. The real point was that having ignored Afghanistan for at least six years, suddenly there was a new found interest in the region.
Unfortunately that new interest did not translate any further into more peace operations. Instead the state of Afghanistan continued to worsen through the end of the decade. The Taliban continued to gain more control of the country. And, they encouraged other breeds of extremism to flourish, namely Al Qaeda. Simply recognizing that a problem existed was about the extent to which the UN went to deal with this threat.
The end of the decade brought about little by way of constructive efforts to end the Taliban violence. In a few measures to deal with the Taliban, the UN passed several resolutions. One such resolution agreed upon in February of 1998 was aptly subtitled, Emergency International Assistance for Peace, Normalcy and Reconstruction of War-stricken Afghanistan. As is the case with many resolutions, this one attempted to express concern over the loss of life and the well being of Afghanistan's citizens. It denounced the oppressive practices of the Taliban against women for instance. And it urged participation by the international community to assist with aid and reconstruction, so long as it was practical (UN Resolution 52/211 , 1998).
A subsequent resolution later that year, Resolution 1214, further condemned the Taliban for their continued violence and harsh governance. Yet, it is likely that the UN's "reiterating its deep concern at the continuing discrimination against girls and women [etc.]" did nothing more than appease the international community's desire for someone to do something (UN Resolution 1214, 1998). Unfortunately, little evidence exists to indicate that anybody did anything of real value to encourage peace.
1998 saw the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It was Osama bin Ladin, the head of the Al Qaida organization, that the U.S. blamed. Ahmed Rashid points out in a Foreign Affairs piece that (1999) "Washington demanded bin Ladin's extradition; the Taliban refused to comply" (p. 32). It is little wonder then that strongly worded resolutions had minimal effect. In terms of peace enforcement, the UN's efforts could be construed as having been wanting.
The rest of the story needs no elaboration. After 9/11, the U.S. and NATO did something about the Taliban and toppled the regime. But, the world watches now, nine years later, as the U.S. and NATO continue to fight a resistant insurgency. Undoubtedly the interest of those that were previously uninterested is sharply more acute.
    One question that should be asked and analyzed is would more aggressive peacekeeping intervention have done any good? There is anecdotal evidence in terms of peacekeeping efforts that suggest peace operations do not always help the people. The African continent provides plenty of case studies for example. In their brief but pointed article "The Problem with Peacekeeping", Grignon and Kroslak illustrate this very point. They say:
Recent peacekeeping operations have indeed achieved notable success in Africa. Yet, paradoxically, their success has not been in the area of civilian protection. The UN mission in Congo (Monuc) (sic) efficiently supported the peace process in the DRC and deserves considerable credit for the successful organization of Congo's 2005 constitutional referendum and 2006 general elections. Yet in its efforts over the past five years to save lives in eastern Congo, it has performed abysmally. (p. 186)
The idea here is that the UN was and still is insufficient to either ensure or enforce peace. Similarly Michael Barnett, writing about the atrocities in Rwanda, suggests that the UN invests more interest in protecting itself than protecting the people of stricken countries (Barnett, 2002).
This unfortunate illustration suggests that quite possibly had the UN or other members of the international community done more by way of peacekeeping, the outcome would likely not have changed with one exception. It was an indifference and not entirely an incompetence in Afghanistan that denied Afghanistan a better chance at peace. As Barnett says (2002), "The UN's indifference, in short, is the sum of the individual indifferences of member states" (p. 175).
The clues regarding the rise of an extremist organization threatening U.S. and international security was not a secret. There is no shortage of research and discussion pointing to the imminent threat to the west. In a response to Ahmed Rashid's writing about the Taliban, Tomsen warned (2000), "The chief danger to U.S. interests is the rising tide of Islamist militancy and international terrorism emanating from bases in Afghanistan" (p. 181).
What role then did humanitarian and other peace operations play during the 90s? Did peace operations help prevent or at least stall the rise of the Taliban? Unfortunately they did not. One might wonder then if the international community is at fault for Afghanistan's condition leading into the 21st century. That kind of characterization would require a further analysis of deliberate ignorance. In this analysis it would be an unfair leap to conclude such culpability. But, in many respects the international community did abandon Afghanistan or at least leave Afghanistan without much help. Such a void may have been avoidable. But, we only know what history has proved which, as Michael Chege reiterated of British foreign secretary Jack Straw, "when we allow governments to fail, warlords, drug barrons, or terrorists fill the vacuum" (p. 147).

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Barnett, M. (2002). Eyewitness to a Genocide. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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Grignon, F., & Kroslak, D. (2008, April). The Problem with Peacekeeping. Current History , pp. 186-187.
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Rashid, A. (1999, November/December). The Taliban: Exporting Extremism. Foreign Affairs , 22-35.
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