Thematic Dossier XII: Background Reading for the 2016 Brussels Conference
The Brussels conference will be the eleventh donor conference since the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan.
On 5 October 2016, the Government of Afghanistan and the European Union will co-host the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. At the conference, governments and international organisations will scrutinise both the Afghan reform efforts and the efficiency and sustainability of international support to Afghanistan. There are several controversial topics set to be discussed at the conference itself and beyond, including: the “Joint Way Forward” agreement on migration issues between Afghanistan and the EU and the complications surrounding the National Unity Government’s commitments and achievements, including with regard to delayed parliamentary elections and flailing anti-corruption efforts, and the peace deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. This thematic dossier brings together some of AAN’s recent reporting on the main conference topics.
The Brussels conference will be the eleventh donor conference since the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan, which will bring together the Afghan government and a wide range of international actors (see also AAN five-question dispatch about the Brussels conference on Afghanistan here). The conference has an additional weight, as it is a pledging conference, which means that the next cycle of funding for Afghanistan will be discussed at the main event on 5 October 2016. Other topics will include Afghan reform and anti-corruption efforts, the effectiveness of international aid, and international support for a political process towards peace. The Afghan government will present its new five-year strategy, titled Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) 2017–2020, which includes its plans and vision on fiscal strategy, budget reform, development priorities, poverty reduction and social inclusion.
There will also be high-level side events, including a dialogue on the Joint Way Forward, which focuses on the main migration issues between Afghanistan and the EU on 3 October 2016, and events relating to Afghan women (where the Afghan government will present its main plans), civil society and regional economic cooperation, on 4 October (for details see here)
To provide background to the main themes and discussions that will be debated at the Brussels Conference, the AAN team has gathered some of its key reporting on: governance and reform, security and the peace process, women’s rights and justice and migration.
Part I: Governance and reform
For the theme Governance and reform, we have selected four recent dispatches that provide background and insight into what is going on with the National Unity Government (NUG); the Afghan Parliament; and the possible shift towards a more ‘technocratic’ government.
Afghanistan’s National Unity Government Rift (1): Crisis averted (for now), back to appointing commissions (Ali Yawar Adili, Lenny Linke and Martine van Bijlert):
Date: 6 September 2016
Just weeks before the donor conference in Brussels on 5 October 2016, the two leaders of Afghanistan’s National Unity Government erupted into a fierce, public argument. Chief Executive Abdullah accused President Ghani of unilateralism, and called him “unfit” for his office; the president hit back implying that the rival camp was merely trying to block government reforms. The core of the argument, however, was a last minute push by the Abdullah camp to put the full implementation of the 2014 National Unity Government agreement back on the agenda, in the face of discussions on its possible imminent ‘expiry’.
Afghanistan’s National Unity Government Rift (2): The problems that will not go away (Martine van Bijlert):
Date: 6 September 2016
The core of the rift lies in the different views both sides have on why the National Unity Government came into being and what this means for the balance of power and legitimacy within the partnership. This was brought to a boil in the face of the looming second anniversary of the National Unity Government (on 19 September 2016) – considered by some to be its ‘expiry date’ – and a wish on the part of the Abdullah camp to revive rather than dissolve the political agreement.
Pushing the Parliament to Accept a Decree: Another Election without Reform? (Martine van Bijlert and Ali Yawar Adili):
Date: 10 June 2016
Afghanistan’s electoral reform process that was supposed to be a precondition for the next ballot, has been excruciatingly slow and has culminated in a watered-down version of its original mandate. The delays mean that it has by now become practically impossible to hold elections this year. The presidential palace, however, continues to insist that both elections – for Wolesi Jirga and district councils – will take place in mid-October, as planned, and has increased pressure on parliament to pass a crucial decree. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert, who has closely monitored all Afghan elections since 2004 and done extensive analysis of Afghan elections for AAN, does in this dispatch put the current electoral reform process in context.
Young Technocrats Taking Over: Who are the new Afghan governors and what can they achieve? (Christine Roehrs and Qayoom Suroush):
Date: 18 September 2015
Political appointments and, not the least, the appointment of governors was a hot topic for previous Afghan administration and has remained one for this. Political appointments can be a mechanism for promoting government policies – and ensuring reform – but they can also remain mainly a vehicle for extending personal political networks and power bases. In this dispatch, AAN’s Christine Roehrs and Qayoom Suroush have been looking into the mechanisms of the appointment process and found that the current administration seems to be able to tackle only one ‘appointment project’ at a time, instead of solving them simultaneously in a consorted manner.. They have also been looking into who the new governors are and found that the unity government, particularly the president’s side, seems to be trying to ‘juvenate’ sub-national governance. Many governors have ‘modern’ skill-sets and assets, are younger and lack one of the main credentials of the past: fighting experience. The latter, however, may not play out in their favour.
Part II: Security and peace process
On the theme security and peace process, we have selected six dispatches that provide insight into the possible effects of the peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami; the latest attacks in Kabul; the situation of the Taleban in the north and the Islamic State in the east; the role of NATO in Afghanistan, the Afghan government’s attempts towards peace with the Taleban; and a case study of the Afghan Local Police at the district level.
Peace With Hekmatyar: What does it mean for battlefield and politics? (Borhan Osman):
Date: 29 September 2016
The peace deal signed today by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-e Islami, and President Ashraf Ghani, has been hailed by the Afghan government as the first major peace achievement of the last fifteen years. However, expectations should be tempered. Given Hezb-e Islami’s almost total absence on the battlefield, the deal is unlikely to significantly lower the current levels of violence. It is also unlikely to inspire the Taleban to follow Hezb’s example, considering the completely different trajectories and aims of the two groups. Even so, says AAN’s Borhan Osman, Hekmatyar’s outsized ‘jihadi credentials’ could present a challenge to the legitimacy of the Taleban insurgency and his eventual return to civilian life can only be expected to leave its mark on Afghanistan’s politics.
The Attack on the American University in Kabul (2): Who did it and why? (Borhan Osman):
Date: 5 September 2016
The attack on the American University in Kabul on 24 August 2016 was unprecedented in many respects. For the first time, a ‘complex attack’ – often reserved for high-profile and well-guarded targets – hit an educational institution. It also came in the wake of an ideological campaign by circles in the Taleban movement that had demonised the American University Afghanistan (AUAF) as a centre of hostile ‘Western’ efforts. No group – including the Taleban – has officially claimed responsibility for this attack, leaving a lot of ambiguity. AAN’s Borhan Osman looks into the insurgency’s internal dynamics – the rise of new ideologues and young ultra-radicals influenced by them and their influence on Taleban decision-making – for clues about the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of the assault.
Taleban in the North: Gaining ground along the Ring Road in Baghlan (Obaid Ali):
Date: 15 August 2016
The Taleban have made significant inroads in a number of strategic areas in the northern province of Baghlan over the past two years. They now pose a greater threat than ever to the Baghlan-Balkh highway, part of the Ring Road which here links Kabul to the north. The Taleban know that by blocking highways, they can effectively undermine the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), both psychologically and physically. In response, the ANSF have conducted several military operations, beginning in late 2015 and continuing throughout 2016. AAN’s Obaid Ali examines the current security situation along this crucial highway, while also looking at the insurgents’ shift in tactics and the impact of ANSF operations. One such operation resulted in the displacement of hundreds of families and the erosion of local communities’ trust in the government.
The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How it began and where it stands now in Nangarhar (Borhan Osman):
Date: 27 July 2016
The Islamic State’s local franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the TUTAP protests in Kabul on 23 July 2016. The attack killed more than 80 people and injured over 230 others in Deh Mazang Square in western Kabul. The target of the attack [on 23 July], a peaceful, civilian protest of Shia Hazaras unrelated to the war and of no military importance, would seem to suggest that this was indeed an IS attack. AAN’s Borhan Osman looks at the emergence and subsequent development of ISKP and its relationship to the Taleban and the Afghan government. Judging by the group’s turbulent past, which saw it cornered in Nangarhar (in contrast to its ambitions of a nationwide expansion), it seems ISKP is now possibly more bent on striking in places like Kabul for the sake of gaining attention and boosting its fighters’ morale.
Afghanistan at the Warsaw Summit: Looking for sustained support (Jelena Bjelica, Martine van Bijlert, Sudhanshu Verma and Kate Clark):
Date: 6 July 2016 (with an update from 11 July)
On 8 July 2016, in Warsaw, NATO held a two-day heads of state summit for its member countries. Afghanistan was the first item on the agenda on day two. From an Afghan point of view this was an important event, the means by which Kabul could secure funding for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and troop commitments for NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. However, for NATO, Afghanistan is no longer the top priority, but it is politically sidelined by the many other security problems facing the alliance. Ahead of the summit, AAN answered some of the key questions for Afghanistan (with an 11 July 2016 update on the results).
In Search of a Peace Process: A ‘new’ HPC and an ultimatum for the Taleban (Thomas Ruttig):
Date: 26 February 2016
There have been many pushes towards a peace processes in Afghanistan over the past years, some of them paper tigers and some real efforts to move the parties to the conflict closer to the negotiation table. Early this year, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US – the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) pushed to open a new chapter in the ongoing search for a peace process for Afghanistan. The group also issued an ultimatum to the Taleban to come to the negotiating table with the Afghan government by early March 2016, or face the military heat. Around the same time, the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) was revamped so that it could ‘more effectively’ support the envisaged process. AAN co-director Thomas Ruttig, who over the years has reported on many of the pushes towards a peace process took a closer look at the initiative.
How to replace a bad ALP commander: in Shajoy, success and now calamity (Fazal Muzhary):
Date: 21 September 2016
The Afghan Local Police (ALP) commander in Shajoy district, Zabul province, Haji Gul Agha, has been killed in a Taleban ambush, along with four of his men. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary had been researching Gul Agha’s record as his was an interesting example of locals managing, with great difficulty, to get rid of an abusive ALP commander and replace him with a man who was capable and respected. This was to be a dispatch on how they managed to do this. It became something of an obituary for Haji Gul Agha. However, it is also an example of the importance resonance between national strategies and local realities, and the difficulties of effectuating real and sustainable change on security.
Part III: Economy and development
For the economy and development theme we selected a discussion of Norway’s evaluation of its military and development involvement in Afghanistan; a dispatch describing attacks on education and health care facilities as reported by UNAMA; an interesting case study in the political economy of Andar district in Ghazni province and a discussion of Afghanistan’s revenue growth.
To Say It Like It Is: Norway’s evaluation of its part in the international intervention (Ann Wilkens):
Date: 23 August 2016
Norway has published the first comprehensive evaluation of one country’s contribution to the international intervention in Afghanistan. The evaluation was conducted by a government-appointed commission led by Bjørn Tore Godal, a former foreign and defence minister. However, most commissioners were independent researchers. The ‘Godal report’, as it has become known, is a candid and sharp assessment, says AAN advisory board member Ann Wilkens. The report is also interesting and instructive reading for other key donors to Afghanistan. It finds that only the domestic goal of the mission, to prove Norway a trustworthy US and NATO ally, was fully achieved. It was far less successful in its ‘Afghan’ goals – preventing Afghanistan from lapsing back into being a haven of international terrorism and contributing to state-building. The report includes the first, comprehensive account of Norway’s early talking to the Taleban and its role in peace diplomacy, as well as important insights into applying the Laws of War.
Clinics under fire? Health workers caught up in the Afghan conflict (Kate Clark)
Date: 15 March 2016
Those providing health care in contested areas in Afghanistan say they are feeling under increasing pressure from all sides in the war. There have been two egregious attacks on medical facilities in the last six months: the summary execution of two patients and a carer taken from a clinic in Wardak by Afghan special forces in mid-February – a clear war crime – and the United States’ bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz in October 2015, which left dozens dead and injured – an alleged war crime. Health professionals have told AAN of other violations, by both pro and anti-government forces. Perhaps most worryingly, were comments by government officials, backing or defending the attacks on the MSF hospital and Wardak clinic.
Finding Business Opportunity in Conflict: Shopkeepers, Taleban and the political economy of Andar district (Fazal Muzhary):
Date: 2 December 2015
Even in times of war, people still need to buy food and other essentials and shopkeepers still need to sell. But when frontlines shift and military masters change – due to insurgency, uprising or rising government power – how can shopkeepers react to try to survive the situation? Indeed, how can they try to find benefit or manipulate frontlines and road closures to their advantage? AAN researcher Fazal Muzhary has been collecting the stories of shoppers and shopkeepers in the Andar district of Ghazni, especially those living in Taleban-controlled territory, and finding how the political economy of a district can shift during conflict.
Afghanistan’s Government Revenue: Continuing robust growth in the face of economic weakness (Bill Byrd and M Khalid Payenda)
Date: 1 September 2016
The Afghan government has continued to increase the amount it collects in revenue – by 22 per cent last year and 33 per cent in the first six months of this year. This revenue growth well exceeded expectations and projections. Thirty-seven per cent of the total revenue increase in the first half of 2016 was due to the greater revenue mobilisation efforts of the government and new or higher tax rates imposed in the latter half of last year, as opposed to one-off windfalls or currency depreciation – indicating robust underlying revenue growth estimated at 12.4 per cent. The continuing high revenue growth, however, is not due to any significant improvement in the economy, raising significant issues for the future.
Part IV: Women’s rights and justice
On the theme women’s rights and justice we have selected our latest reporting on the International Criminal Court, 13 years after the country signed the Rome Statute; a dispatch on how President Ghani lifted the informal moratorium on capital punishment that had been in place for the past fifteen years; an overview on the trial of a young woman Farkhunda murdered in the centre of Kabul questioning its fairness and highlighting its failure to find out how and why the police let the savage murder happen; and a dispatch on how violence against women and girls has been reported in the Afghan media and whether the violence is indeed becoming more brutal.
The ICC’s Planned Visit to Afghanistan: Crimes, capacities and the willingness to prosecute (Ehsan Qaane):
Date: 30 June 2016
Afghanistan signed the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC), 13 years ago – much before it adopted the amnesty law. Seven years ago, the ICC started its preliminary analysis into possible crimes in Afghanistan committed after 2003 in Afghanistan. According to the analysis crimes have been committed in Afghanistan that meet the ICC threshold, and the focus of the analysis has now shifted to deciding if Afghanistan is willing and able to prosecute these crimes within its national jurisdiction; A delegation from the International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning to visit Afghanistan in 2016, but the government has hesitated about receiving it. It has established an inter-ministerial committee to ensure the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC, is finally translated into local languages and published in the official gazette so that the public can read it. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane takes a closer look at where Afghanistan and the ICC are on prosecuting war crimes.
Afghanistan’s Latest Executions: Responding to calls for capital punishment (Jelena Bjelica and Ehsan Qaane):
Date: 11 May 2016
On the president’s order, six convicts sentenced to death were executed by hanging in Pol-e Charkhi prison on the morning of 8 May 2016. The executions came after the president’s speech at the joint session of both houses of Parliament on 25 April 2016, in which he announced that the time for unjustified amnesty was over. Although the death penalty is legal in Afghanistan, according to both the criminal code and Islamic law, actual executions have been rare post-2001.. The recent executions, however, may signal an end to the informal moratorium on capital punishment that has been in place for the past fifteen years, partially at the urging of the international community. The public’s increasing impatience with insurgent violence and the desire of the Afghan government to present itself as acting decisively seem to point in that direction. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane and Jelena Bjelica take a closer look at the issue.
Police Treated With Kid Gloves: The many flaws of the Farkhunda trial (Kate Clark and Ehsan Qaane):
Date: 21 May 2015
An Afghan court has found 11 policemen guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to prevent the murder of religious student Farkhunda by a mob in the centre of Kabul on 19 March 2015. They were all sentenced to one year, the absolute minimum, which means also they may not have to go to jail at all and indeed could stay working in the area of the murder. This follows earlier verdicts which sentenced four men to death and eight others to 16 year prison terms for her murder. The remaining 31 people on trial, including eight policemen, have been acquitted for lack of evidence. AAN’s Kate Clark, Ehsan Qaane and Naheed Esar consider the trial as a whole, questioning its fairness and its failure to find out how and why the police let Farkhunda’s savage murder happen.
Shame and Impunity: Is violence against women becoming more brutal? (Wazhma Samandary):
Date: 30 November 2014
A father raping his daughter over almost ten years without the family daring to intervene (except to help with abortions); a woman burnt after a family fight; another woman mutilated because her husband enjoyed doing so – these are just some of the cases of extreme violence against women and girls that have been reported in Afghan media over the past months. AAN’s Wazhma Samandary (with input by Ehsan Qaane and Christine Roehrs) has gathered the most prominent cases and ponders the role of the media, women’s activists claims that violence is becoming more brutal and the fact that women victims of violence receive limited support.
Part V: Migration
Migration was an important theme for AAN in 2016. For this dossier, we have selected several highlights from our ongoing research on Afghan migration to Europe. This includes a closer look at decision-making at the family level, based on a series of in-depth interviews with the families of Afghans who had recently travelled to Europe; a case study of a group of friends from Herat province, showing the importance of the influence of peers, in addition to major security and economic considerations, on deciding to leave; analysis based on field-research carried out in the Balkans describing the re-emergence of smuggling networks following the closure of the Balkan corridor; and a dispatch about Afghans in Turkey, exploring the practical implications of Turkish and UN refugee policies and uncovering how the migrant smuggling economy works.
Deciding To Leave Afghanistan (1): Motives for migration (Lenny Linke):
Date: 8 May 2016
AAN has done a series of twelve in-depth interviews with families of Afghans who recently travelled to Europe. The conversations provided a fascinating insight into the practicalities of both the decision making processes and the journey, the complex interplay between economic and security considerations and the mixed feelings families often have once their loved ones have finally, safely, reached Europe. In this dispatch Lenny Linke takes a closer look at the reasons families gave for either sending or allowing their sons or brothers to leave for Europe.
Afghan Exodus: Maruf’s tale of an emerging transnational community between Herat and Europe (S Reza Kazemi)
Date: 22 July 2016
Between 2014 and mid-2016, thousands of people left Herat – a major urban centre in western Afghanistan – for various European countries. Since August 2014, Said Reza Kazemi has been tracking Maruf and 24 of his friends and acquaintances, who have made the trip. The case of this young Afghan and his network shows the importance of friends’ influence on each other to migrate, in addition to major security and economic considerations. It highlights how the risks they take – both physical and financial – determine their resolve not to return. More importantly, it reveals the formation of a burgeoning and socioeconomically significant transnational community, even at a local level, that not only travels but also lives between Herat and Europe.
Afghan Exodus: The re-emergence of smugglers along the Balkan route (Jelena Bjelica and Martine van Bijlert):
Date: 10 August 2016
When the Balkan corridor closed in March 2016, Afghans trying to reach Europe found themselves stranded, once again at the mercy of smugglers’ networks. Many are still slowly making their way towards the outer fringes of the European Union at the Serbian-Hungarian border. Almost everyone transits through Belgrade, which has become an important hub for the Afghan-linked smuggling networks. In this dispatch, we discuss the nature of these networks and describe how the situation for many Afghans currently in transit has become increasingly desperate.
Afghan Exodus: Smuggling networks, migration and settlement patterns in Turkey (Noah Arjomand):
Date: 10 September 2016
Turkey is both a means and an end for Afghan migrants. Many thousands of Afghans seeking better lives have come to Istanbul, the bridge between east and west, on their way to the European Union. Many thousands have stayed on and built an expatriate community that both aids and exploits those passing through. In this dispatch, AAN guest author Noah Arjomand tells stories about life for Afghans in Turkey, explains the practical implications of Turkish and United Nations refugee policies and how the migrant smuggling economy works. Together, the stories show the networks of Afghans that include single men, families and the occasional lone woman, legal residents, asylum seekers, undocumented workers, smugglers and those who have already left Turkey for Europe.