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Afghanistan: New Model Army

A new, integrated Afghan army is needed to boost prospects of peace in the country.
By Zahir Tanin

A UN-mandated peacekeeping force is deploying in Afghanistan this month to support the fledgling interim administration, but the country will eventually need a new integrated national army to secure long-term stability for the country.


The international contingent is expected to swell to around 4,500 men by the end of the month. The force will be responsible for patrolling Kabul and its surroundings, but it's hoped its remit will be expanded to cover other urban centres and regions.


At the moment, the Interim Administration, set up last year in Bonn, relies on a range of military forces, dominated by the troops of the United Front. Outside Kabul, forces loyal to various warlords control security. They have only nominal ties to the defence ministry and are primarily loyal to their own commanders. In some areas, elements of the Taleban still pose a threat.


The establishment of a new Afghan army, therefore, is essential for the stabilisation and reconstruction efforts in the country.Such a national security structure will boost the chances of achieving a durable peace, and of promoting the fight against terrorism, the drugs trade and organised crime.


After ten years of factional fighting, resulting in the fragmentation of the country and the collapse of law and order, this will not be an easy task. Like the creation of other state institutions in Afghanistan, it requires time. A transition period will probably be needed for a new united armed force to replace the existing military fiefdoms.


The creation of an inclusive army also requires the sincere backing of the United Front ministers now in charge of military affairs. Any attempts by them, or by other factions, to dominate a future national army will inevitably undermine the coalition government.


New force commanders must not be seen as nominees of the former resistance chiefs, most of whom had no professional training and remain closely affiliated to one or other faction. It is vital that all military units come under the Interim Administration's command, even if most of the warlords are reluctant to allow the centre to take control of their forces, seeing it as a move to strip them of their powers.


Although political concessions to some of the more influential warlords may be in order, the Interim Administration must be prepared to deal with such resistance. Building up a new professional security force is inconceivable without the disarmament of thousands of militia and paramilitary forces. As the Bonn agreement requires only voluntary disarmament, moves towards disbanding the militias will have to be sweetened by the creation of alternative sources of income for the thousands of demobilised soldiers.


The role of the international community in this process remains unclear. At the moment, the tasks of the International Security Assistance Forces, ISAF, are limited. A Military Technical Agreement signed on January 4 in Kabul defines ISAF's mission as assisting the Interim Administration in the maintenance of security in their area of responsibility, defined as Kabul and the surrounding area. ISAF's role in developing future security structures depends upon further mutual agreements between the ISAF commanders and the Interim Administration.


The business of building a new security force will have to take into account the experience of the army prior to the soviet occupation of the country in the late Seventies and incorporate some of the lessons learnt from the international campaign against terror. The army will need to be based on a defensive doctrine.


Although some military figures disagree, many people do not want the new military structure to exceed the 110,000-man force in place prior to the soviet occupation, as there is no obvious external threat to the country's sovereignty.


The force will have to be truly representative and multi-ethnic, as only an inclusive military institution will enable all Afghan groups and factions to trust the national government and to cooperate with it.


Zahir Tanin is an Afghan analyst based in London.


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