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Formation of Local Force, Prelude to Division, Ethnic Rivalry And Human Rights Abuses

By: Zeerak Yousofi

According to some credible sources, the government of Afghanistan and the United states as a main supporter of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) are planning to create a new local force within the framework of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Main recruits for this force will be former army soldiers who may not require as much military training as fresh civilian recruits may need. Through this new mechanism, as the name of this force indicates, locals will be hired and deployed in their areas of origin. Though the exact number of these troops is yet to be decided, but on the basis of some initial reports, the number will be around 20,000. According to the ministry of defense, the Afghan local force will be working under the direct command of the ANA and the ministry of defence with specific military uniform to be differentiated from other local groups who also carry weapons, such as Afghan Local Police (ALP) and those armed civilians who are members of local uprisings against Taliban and Daesh (ISIL).

Unlike Afghanistan National Army, the local force will not be deployed into different areas to conduct military operations, but rather will stay in the areas cleared after military operations conducted by ANSDF. The real purpose of creating such a force is to hold communities and prevent the Taliban and other groups from recapturing the areas that remain unprotected after successful operations and subsequent withdrawal of offensive ANDSF troops.

Forming a locally recruited and trained security force is not a new experience for the Afghan government. In 2010, Afghan Local Police (ALP) began as a strong force to ensure security, law and order at the community levels. Though in some areas the ALP proved to have played a very positive role in securing their respective communities, but serious allegations of human rights abuses have also been reported about their conduct.  This village-level force was accused of instigating racial and ethnic divisions, torturing people on the basis of false reporting, robbery and banditry, corruption and extra-judicial killings by siding with local power-holders.  No doubt, the mixed result of the ALP’s operations in the past will largely contribute in shaping the mindset of the people and their reaction to this newly emerging force. In other words, some may welcome this initiative and some will see it as an additional challenge to local people’s suffering.  Coincidently, as planned for the local force, the current number of ALP also stands at 20,000.

Looking to the ground realities, thus far, the line between the duties and responsibilities of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police has for years remained blurry due to serious security challenges and continuation of violence in both rural and urban areas. There are numerous examples where in addition to ensuring law and order, police has taken arms to directly engage in combat as a fighting force. At the same time, in many cases, the Afghan army has assumed the role of policing and law enforcement agency.  In the case of local police and local force, it will also be very difficult for the Afghan government to draw a clear line and avoid overlaps of responsibilities between these two local security forces. In some cases, this confusion of boundaries may create a sense of competition instead of complementing each other, which will directly affect local population.

The government of Afghanistan may be resorting to creating local force under the assumptions that local residents are able to play a vital role in holding and protecting their localities because of their full knowledge of geography, tribal affiliation and dynamics, local politics and their ability of identifying infiltrators who may want to disrupt local security. Additionally, the government may be of the view that former soldiers in their localities may suffer from high rate of unemployment and enrolling them into the local force will not only address the challenge of their employment but will, at the same time, prevent them from joining the insurgency or any other criminal groups. It is, however, obvious that securing trust and confidence of the communities is an essentials element of success and local forces who belong to the communities they serve can easily engage local people for trust building purposes.

On the contrary, in a situation where ethnic, sectarian and tribal rivalries are at their peak and rural areas suffer from a huge number of political, social and economic problems, deploying locals in their own communities for security purposes will surely pave the ground for human rights abuses and irregularities that could further deteriorate security situation on the ground. Besides other armed local groups, those who newly receive weapons and arms – in case not properly overseen – will also engage in a number of illegal activities, such as provoking local feuds, practicing extortion and racketeering, engaging in oppressive behavior, siding with local warlords as well as certain insurgent groups with whom they have ethnic, partisan or tribal affiliation. Additionally, due to the existence of a large number of newly distributed weapons and ammunitions, the level of criminality including drug trafficking, smuggling, kidnapping and other types of violations will increase multifold.

Furthermore, arming more people will be perceived as a plan for creating local-militias and rearming population after years of collecting weapons and dissolving illegal armed groups through costly programs, such as DDR and DIAG in the country.  Historically, such types of militias played a divisive role and turned people against each other on the basis of ethnic, sectarian and tribal lines by committing unspeakable atrocities. Repeating such a mistake will have dire consequences.  Creating local forces, on the other hand, will result in the emergence of local or regional centers of powers. Multiplicity of these power centers will increase the incidences of disobedience and noncompliance among security and defence forces which will not only weaken these forces, but will also pave the way for further division and dissension among people.

To fill the security gaps in the local communities, the government of Afghanistan and its international supporters should focus its utmost efforts on investing and developing the capacity and capability of the Afghan National Army. Additionally, instead of creating local forces, the leadership of the government and the international community should not only agree on increasing the number of formal ANA soldiers and officers to be deployed across the country, but should also concentrate on equipping and arming them to sufficiently meet operational requirements  and growing combat demands. Moreover, to avoid repetition of the recent history of dissolution of armies in Afghanistan, reforms at all levels, especially the leadership level of the entire security apparatus should be taken very seriously.  This way, lots of challenges, such as concerns of human rights abuses, misuse of power, division among people at rural and urban areas, fears of ethnic and tribal rivalries and animosity, concerns over the increase of the incidence of criminality, fears of the security forces being politicized and other problems that mentioned above will be effectively and efficiently addressed.

The writer (twitter:@ayubi987) is an independent analyst with focus on international political affairs as well as peace and security in Afghanistan. He writes both in English and local languages Pashto/Dari.

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