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Sidelining of justice fuelling the Afghan insurgency

The sidelining of justice by the Afghan government and its international backers is fuelling the insurgency in Afghanistan and presents a serious strategic risk, says a new report. The report, published ahead of President Obama's statement on the review of the US war strategy in Afghanistan, argues that any strategy to create long-term stability in Afghanistan must place justice at its core.

No Shortcut to Stability: Justice, Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan documents how illegal land grabs, the political marginalisation of tribal and factional rivals and arbitrary detention have motivated Afghans to join or support the Taliban. Other factors - money, drugs and foreign interference - also drive the insurgency but case studies of Helmand, Kandahar and Badghis provinces demonstrate the central role of injustice in the growth of the insurgency. The report shows how justice issues are also implicated in the insurgency's spread outside its southern Pashtun base.

The report found that the Afghan government continues to disregard accountability - passing an amnesty law for war criminals, issuing presidential pardons for well-connected drug smugglers, criminals and Taliban commanders and undermining key anti-corruption bodies and electoral monitoring bodies. The international response is almost invariably weak. Talks with the Taliban at the table, putting justice at the heart of policy is more crucial than ever.

The report's co-author, Stephen Carter, says: 'The insurgency's rise over the last nine years, fuelled in large part by injustice and abuse of power, requires the Afghan government and its international partners to address these issues as essential to long-term stability. Justice and rule of law cannot be dismissed as just matters of morality and human rights. They are critical issues of strategic self-interest.'

The Taliban have exploited the justice deficit of the Karzai administration and its foreign backers to the full - a clear indicator of the strategic importance of the issue to insurgents. Justice features heavily in the insurgents' campaign both in propaganda condemning the current government and the foreign occupation as corrupt and oppressive, and in the provision of courts as the first and often only service to populations under their control.

'The Taliban have played on the deep desire of Afghans for security and rule of law, and nostalgia in some quarters for the 'harsh, but just' period of Taliban rule - a nostalgia which exists despite the Taliban's many abuses,' said Kate Clark, the report's co-author.

The report examines how short-term fixes have repeatedly trumped justice, playing into the hands of insurgents and fostering the development of a 'mafia' state in Afghanistan. NATO's close cooperation with local strongmen, the build-up of the Afghan police as a paramilitary rather than civilian force and weak judicial reform efforts coupled with unchecked corruption have undermined any counter-insurgency strategy based on building an effective, legitimate and accountable government.

Notes to Editors

Read No Shortcut to Stability: Justice, Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan >>

This report is based on approximately 40 interviews carried out between December 2009 and August 2010 in Afghanistan, with a wide range of Afghan and international interlocutors.

About the authors

Stephen Carter is an independent consultant and policy analyst based in Kabul and London. He is an advisor to UK parliamentarians on Afghan issues, and has also worked extensively wit hin the UK parliament on conflict issues in central Africa.

Kate Clark was the BBC Kabul correspondent from 1999 to 2002 - and until 2001 was the only Western journalist based in Afghanistan. She is now working in Kabul as the senior analyst at the independent research organization, Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Contact

To contact the authors, please contact the Press Office at: pressoffice@chathamhouse.org.uk / +44 (0)20 7957 5739.

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