WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2011 — To stop the Taliban and terrorists, Afghans must have confidence in their government’s ability to deliver justice and resolve civil disputes, the commander of a “rule of law” force in Afghanistan said today.
Speaking with Pentagon reporters via video teleconference, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said the Afghan government must deliver on establishing the rule of law in Afghan provinces, districts and subdistricts.
Afghan officials need to craft “sound governance that will enable an enduring transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces and deny this rugged country as a sanctuary for global threats,” the general said.
Failure, he said, could duplicate conditions found in Afghanistan after the fall of the communist government in 1991.
“It’s worth recalling that there were core grievances 20 years ago in the Afghanistan of the early 1990s that spawned and subsequently empowered the Taliban, leading to the opening of this land as a safe haven for al-Qaida,” Martins said. “One of these grievances was the inability of the post-communist Afghan governments to establish a foundation at the subnational level.”
The government dissolved, and local warlords fought desperately for control. The fighting fueled hatred as the warlords sought to compel obedience through the use of force in support of blatant self-interest, Martins noted. “Under such conditions,” he said, “even the harsh and repressive forms of dispute resolution and discipline, advertised by the Taliban as justice, seemed a tolerable alternative.”
Afghanistan has 34 provinces and 369 districts, and the local and provincial governments are weak. Martins said his rule of law field force helps Afghan officials establish rule-of-law “green zones” in recently cleared areas in Afghanistan. The command works with coalition and Afghan military and police units, as well as coalition civilian officials from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations and other committed international donors.
The Afghan government is in the lead, Martins said, and the command falls under the aegis of the United Nations.
Martins focused on the unit’s efforts in Kandahar City. Coalition and Afghan forces, he said, cleared the western part of the city of Taliban fighters. Now, they’re working to hold the area, which houses the Afghan government’s Saraposa detention facility, often held up by critics as a symbol of the government’s ineffectiveness.
“In 2008, some 400 Taliban prisoners escaped in a daring daylight attack,” Martins said. “Assassinations of investigators, bribery of prosecutors, intimidation of justices and attacks upon witnesses have corrupted the system and obscured both evidence and law.”
The detention facility now is part of a rule-of-law green zone, Martins said. The secure area is “projecting criminal justice, as well as mediation and civil-dispute resolution, to outlying districts” as the Chel Zeena Criminal Investigative Center, he added.
“The immediate goal of Chel Zeena is to conduct professional, evidence-based investigations, and independent, law-governed prosecutions of the individuals detained in the newly refurbished Saraposa pretrial detention facility adjacent to it,” Martins said.
The Chel Zeena Center features efficient offices, around-the-clock lighting and utilities, administrative facilities, evidence and hearing rooms, as well as protective housing for investigators, prosecutors, guards and clerical personnel. These people are constantly in danger, the general said, and the complex gives them the chance to do their jobs safely. Afghanistan is establishing rule of law green zones in other provincial centers, he said, with linkage to protective zones for outlying districts.
“This hub-and-spoke linkage between green zones in key provinces and districts is helping to create a system of justice at the subnational level,” Martins said.
“It takes a network to defeat a network,” he continued. “The resulting improvements in district governance can help displace the Taliban and prevent their return by offering less arbitrary dispute resolution and dispelling fear among the population.”
The efforts don’t cost much and are achievable and sustainable, the general said.
“The strengthening of traditional dispute resolution at the local level is one of the most efficient and effective ways to achieve the kind of security and stability that can enable transition of responsibility to the Afghan government and its forces, and protect our own core national security interests,” Martins said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)