The international community never tires of committing to not abandoning Afghanistan, usually with a reference to preventing a repeat of the post-Soviet Afghanistan that slid into chaos and civil war in the 1990s. Efforts are taken at every possible opportunity to show commitment beyond 2014 and into the transition phase (until 2017) described in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework to demonstrate the prolonged partnership between Afghanistan and the international community. Perhaps the best example of this are recent reports that indicate that international support in funding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is likely to be maintained at its current level.

Security Sector Reform in Afghanistan has, since the beginning, been an issue that was handled in a fragmented fashion. While the North-Americans were responsible for building up the Afghan National Army, first Germany and later the EU were tasked with building up the national police. After the 2006 London Conference, the US started to also support the ANP through paramilitary training. Within the context of the 2014 withdrawal of international troops, initial plans were made to reduce the amount of funding and therefore the size of the ANSF – a plan which was heavily criticized. Reacting to this pressure, the plan changed to something with a longer term focus – it now seems likely that sustained military attention in form of advisors, trainers, special forces and aircraft will be upheld until 2024.

A NYTimes article reports the estimated budget for the maintenance of the ANSF at US $6.5 billion, of which 500 million will be paid by the Afghan government, 300 million by international partners, and the remaining 5.7 billion by the United States.

Right on cue, success stories are starting to appear stating that ANSF is increasingly capable of taking on the task of securing the country, while other reports maintain that the security forces are likely to struggle after 2014. The transition process, we’re told, is proceeding as scheduled, with international forces transmitting almost all of their responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 in order to return home after more than a decade of war. Criticism about tailoring the intervention to homeland voters instead of Afghan needs has been voiced since the beginning of the intervention and became vocal again in the context of the withdrawal process.

Expectations about the transition are mixed on all sides, with speculations ranging from an immediate return of the Taliban, to civil war, or to the consolidation of the current (democratic) governmental system.

Irrespective of this, it is a fact that after the transition process has been ‘finalized’, the major aim of the international military presence in Afghanistan will be the training and support of ANSF (despite an undecided number of ISAF troops remaining after 2014). For this reason the NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan (NTM-A) and the Combined Security Transition Command for Afghanistan (CSTC-a) have been set up to succeed ISAF.

In the race to strengthen the Afghan security sector, however, international efforts have been diverging. For example, within the contributions to rebuilding the Afghan National Police (ANP), two competing agendas have emerged.

The first agenda focused on civil policing, built up first through Germany and then replaced by EUPOL, who have been the lead nation in the reconstruction of the police (Germany from 2003 to 2006 and EUPOL from 2007 to present). The German Police Project Office initially only provided equipment and training, but eventually set up a police academy with a three-year training program for police officers (saran) and a nine-month program for non-commissioned police officers at group leader level (satanman) respectively. Since taking over in 2007, EUPOL has focused on conducting training focused on educating police officers with a strong emphasis on effective civil and community policing.

The second agenda is the paramilitary police level, supported most notably by through the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) / NATO Training and Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) and dedicated to building up a police force to fight an insurgency. Through a strong focus on counterterrorism, the mission of CSTC-a/NTM-A is geared towards protecting the structure of the current government, rather than direct protection of its citizens. Summarizing this dichotomy is a common saying in Kabul about the international contributions towards rebuilding the police: Americans teach you how to shoot and Europeans teach you when not to.

The parallel structure of pursuing both state and civilian security does not need to be a contradiction in terms. It would be counter-productive to think that in Afghanistan, the police act in a highly secure environment, and according to the Afghan National Police Strategy (ANPS), police officers are more frequently targeted than Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers. This makes counterinsurgency elements a crucial part of effective policing in Afghanistan.

ANPS states:

…decades of war and political instability in Afghanistan have contributed to the development of interconnected subversive threats such as terrorism, insurrection [and insurgencies], illegal armed groups and large scale trafficking. To create peace and stability in Afghanistan the policies, capacity and capability to fight Afghan specific threats must be enhanced.

However, the different approaches and lack of communication have led to inconsistencies. One example is the introduction of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) campaign, conducted shortly after the return of representative government to the country. The DDR campaign, conducted from 2003 to 2006 under Japanese lead, aimed to disarm the population, and more than 63,000 people were. This program placed a strong focus on reintegrating those with guns into society and encouraging them to accept peace. Throughout its implementation and in the aftermath the program, it was criticised for contributing to a power vacuum.

As of 2010 however, the thinking had clearly changed, and the ALP (arbakai) suddenly became an integral part of the international transition strategy. Under this program, community members that are identified by a local council are equipped with weapons by the Afghan government in order to maintain stability at the local level and fight insurgents. Though the traditional understanding of arbakai is one of impartiality, the current version that is supported by international forces as well as the government takes form as a government militia and is increasingly criticized as not sustaining and expanding stability, but on the contrary, contributing to instability and at times committing atrocities.

As one of APPRO’s Afghan partners put it in a recent meeting: “it simply makes little sense to my why one would first spend a lot of money on first disarming society and now on rearming it.”

ALP and DDR were (and remain) conceptualized by different nations and stakeholders in Afghanistan and aim to serve the stabilization of the security situation. But there is increasing concern that having raced to disarm Afghan society, the foreigners are racing to rearm Afghan society – but, given the set deadline of 2014, are doing so without the kind of proper checks to make sure they are not arming the wrong people.

What is clear is that the frontline of the battle between the international forces and insurgents will be decided at the ANSF level, as it is the strength or weakness of the ANSF that will decide whether Afghanistan will descend into chaos once more. It remains to be seen throughout the coming years (and that means well beyond 2014) what the fruits of the international efforts will be and where the frontline will settle. Clearly, unstructured and uncoordinated efforts in reforming the security sector and different (and at times contradictory) policies and agendas on on how to stabilize the country and its security forces will most likely harm rather than help a smooth and stable transition into the post-2014 Afghanistan.

Maira Kuppers is a Researcher at Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO) @APPROCenter. Maira is on Twitter at @Maira Kuppers.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of APPRO.

Photo credit: Lizette Potgieter /