Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Political Theatre around PRTs

Barbara Stapleton 2 min

President Hamed Karzai wants to close down the PRTs and some other unspecified ‘unnecessary international institutions’ the presence of which he sees as ‘major barriers against our efforts for state building'(*). This is what he said when opening the newly elected Afghan parliament on 26 January. He repeated this at his 6 February speech at the Munich Security Conference. What is behind these manoeuvres and how right is he on this subject? Questions answered by AAN member Barbara Stapleton (London).

President Karzai’s call for the immediate dissolution of PRTs at the Munich Security Conference on 6 February should come as no surprise. The continuing public focus led by international media on the Kabul Bank scandal has substantiated deepening concerns that corruption may pose a fatal threat to the viability of the Afghan state bringing into question the viability of the planned transition (intiqal) of responsibility for security to the Afghan government. Karzai’s diversionary tactics at Munich constituted political theatre, though his critique, that PRTs and Private Security Companies constitute parallel structures that weaken the authority of the state, was correct.

The rhetoric from international actors over transition, honed at the London and Kabul conferences, aimed in part to smooth over the immense challenges that the (official but increasingly fudged) 2014 timeline presents. But the fundamental problem of a significant capacity gap regarding local governance at district and some provincial levels remains, while time pressures to reverse this mount to unprecedented levels.

As domestic publics tire of the sacrifice involved in shoring up a government perceived to be overwhelmingly corrupt combined with the financial crisis affecting many Western countries, the focus of international donors is on enabling a transition that allows the Afghan government to survive in the short term at least.

The role of PRTs, which have been brought under increasing civilian control, will be central to attempts to build rudimentary governance structures at local levels capable of basic service delivery and project development. Plans to ‘transform’ PRTs in terms of increasing civilian expertise will no doubt result in the PRT role to build local governance being presented as ‘developmental’ and in partnership with the Afghan government. However, as in many previous instances since the inception of the PRT plan under the Coalition in late 2002(**), the contribution of PRTs will mainly be a political one – to help keep the transition timetable on track.

The key question, (which the PRTs have never been resourced to address), is the continuing absence of an enabling environment for the development of the bottom up processes that are widely recognised to be axiomatic for the establishment of transparency and accountability. Given the very real time constraints now at play, the overselling of the role of Afghan ‘civil society’ and the example of NSP in bridging this inconvenient gap should be expected.

For more detail on this subject see the author’s 2007 article ‘A Means To What End? Why PRTs are Peripheral to the Bigger Political Challenges in Afghanistan’ in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Vol 10, No 1 (2007) here.


(*) Read the full speech here. Karzai’s Munich statement can be found here.

(**) PRTs were not started under NATO as asserted by some commentators (see for instance Joshua Foust on the AfPakChannel here). They began life termed Joint Regional Teams with the title being changed to Provincial Reconstruction Teams at President Karzai’s insistence not long afterwards.


Government PRT


Barbara Stapleton

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