Justice is fundamental to stability in Afghanistan, yet the Afghan government and its international partners have generally treated it as a secondary issue, according to a new Chatham House report.
No Shortcut to Stability: Justice, Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan by Stephen Carter and Kate Clark argues that lack of justice is the key common element underlying much of the weakness of the Afghan state and is the most important political driver of the conflict.
They cite a Taliban supporter in Wardak province, who tells them: "Imagine: a district police chief was assigned by Kabul – and the police under him were robbers. They plundered and looted and raided people’s houses ... People became angry and, to take revenge, they stood against him and his group. The Taliban used this opportunity …Our district is all Taliban now. The people support them."
While other factors such as money, drugs and foreign interference also drive the insurgency, case studies from several provinces illustrate the centrality of justice in determining attitudes towards the state.
Carter and Clark say that the Taliban has exploited the justice deficit to the full, playing on the deep desire of Afghans for security and the rule of law, even for the "harsh, but just" Taliban justice that existed prior to 2001. And while the military pay lip service to the need for justice, it was the decisions taken in 2001 to finance and arm factional militias to defeat the Taliban that layed the ground for the judicial abuses that have become rampant since then.
Ordinary Afghans have watched as these warlords have received valuable contracts for security and logistics and have blamed the foreigners as much as the strongmen for their woes.
While the military forces have seen it as expedient to ignore injustice, the Afghan government has taken decisions which actively undermine the rule of law and accountability, including pardoning drug dealers, rapists and Taliban commanders, neutering anti-corruption bodies and watering down electoral monitoring: "President Karzai appears to accept that injustice at the hands of the government has driven many to fight, but not, it seems, the extent of his own responsibility as head of state."
As with several other important reports published recently, the authors make it clear that there is no shortcut to stability, which requires making justice an issue of core interests. That is there one and only recommendation: "The impact of justice and rule of law is real: arguably it is the key battleground of the insurgency".