A Special Current Issues Briefing on Capitol Hill.

In the aftermath of successive wars, Afghanistan has just adopted a new Constitution that lays the foundation for a system of democratic governance. On January 22 the Institute organized a special Current Issues Briefing on Capitol Hill to explore the challenges of governance and the rule of law in a new Afghanistan. Assembled experts discussed current challenges and other issues related to the establishment of the rule of law within Afghanistan, such as:

  • Challenges associated with implementation of the Constitution approved January 4; and
  • Prospects for the development of rule of law in Afghanistan, including the creation of a functioning judiciary, police force, and prison system, and the impact of the burgeoning drug trade.

The presentations were followed by questions from the floor.


  • Said Tayeb Jawad
    Ambassador, Embassy of Afghanistan
  • Barnett Rubin
    Center on International Cooperation, New York University


  • Laurel Miller
    Rule of Law Program, United States Institute of Peace
  • Robert Perito
    Rule of Law Program, United States Institute of Peace


Afghanistan's Constitution
Without greater Western investment in Afghanistan's infrastructure and judicial system, the new constitution may offer little more than hollow promises.

June 2004

Afghanistan's Loya Jirga passed the most liberal constitution in the region stretching from Syria to Pakistan late last year. In addition to guaranteeing freedom of speech, faith, movement, and a host of other civil rights, the constitution also provides for the equality of the sexes and requires that 25 percent of the seats in the legislative branch be set aside for women.

Yet the Constitution's protections may prove illusory—unless quick action is taken to restore Afghanistan's infrastructure and judicial system. So concluded a panel of experts convened by the Institute for a briefing held on Capitol Hill in late January.

The panelists were Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States; Barnett Rubin, director of studies at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University; Laurel Miller, a program officer in the Institute's Rule of Law Program; and Robert Perito, a special adviser to the Rule of Law Program.

Of the panelists, the ambassador was perhaps the most sanguine, lauding the outcome of the constitutional process and expressing hope that the remaining challenges could be met. He identified three of these challenges as particularly important: first, that Afghanistan's state develop the capacity to provide local and regional services; second, that the state properly prepare for national and regional elections currently scheduled for mid-year; and third, that the state expand its jurisdiction and administrative control over the full extent of its territory. These are daunting challenges, he said, but he was optimistic they could be met.

The remaining panelists also viewed the constitutional Loya Jirga as a milestone in rebuilding Afghanistan. But they were less hopeful about the national reconstruction project. Rubin noted that early disbursements of aid went mostly to emergency humanitarian needs rather than to reconstruction, and argued forcefully that much more aid—on the order of $15–20 billion—was needed to build an Afghanistan that contributes to rather than threatens global security.

Laurel Miller and Robert Perito provided a generally pessimistic overview of current security conditions in Afghanistan and the absence of an even nominally adequate judicial system. "The rule of law was never strong in Afghanistan," Miller said, "but after 23 years of warfare it has been displaced almost completely by the 'rule of the gun.'"

In most of the country outside of Kabul, regional power-holders—or, less politely, warlords—exercise political, police, and judicial authority. Indeed, the most powerful warlords continue to exercise influence over key ministries and institutions, including the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the opium trade is flourishing, earning an amount equal to half the nation's legitimate gross national product and nearly five times the government's budget. It will take years—and an enormous investment—before the Afghan government can put in place a counter-narcotics capacity robust enough to make a dent in the drug trade.

Despite the growing danger, said Miller and Perito, little is being done by Western nations to address these problems, aside from some work in police training. No strategy has been developed for reforming and rebuilding the justice sector; few legal training programs are underway; virtually nothing has been done to update the court system or repair the courts' physical infrastructure. The vast needs of the corrections systems have been almost entirely ignored.

The slow pace of reform stems from a number of factors, Miller and Perito said, including the inherent difficulties of conducting post-conflict reconstruction in a country that has suffered two decades of warfare. But they also criticized the United States and the United Nations for abdicating their responsibilities and placing an unrealistic burden on Afghans to provide for their own security and reconstruction—jobs, they said, that Afghans have little capacity to execute.


Archived Audio

Related Publications

How can Afghans make peace AND protect women? Meet Ayesha Aziz.

How can Afghans make peace AND protect women? Meet Ayesha Aziz.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

By: Palwasha L. Kakar

After nearly 40 years of war, Afghanistan and the international community are urgently seeking paths for a peace process. But amid the tentative efforts—a three-day ceasefire in June, the peace march across the country by hundreds of Afghans and talks by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad—a somber question hangs for women and human rights advocates. How can Afghanistan make peace with the Taliban while protecting democracy and women’s rights?

Gender; Religion; Peace Processes

How to Secure Afghanistan’s Future

How to Secure Afghanistan’s Future

Monday, December 10, 2018

By: William Byrd

From a diplomatic and process standpoint, Geneva Conference on Afghanistan was generally seen as a success by participants (though some countries were not represented at the minister level), and the Afghan government showcased the progress it made in implementing reforms and national priority programs over the past two years. But what did the GCA accomplish substantively, what was left undone, and what questions were left unanswered?

Democracy & Governance; Economics & Environment

Johnny Walsh on Election Season in Afghanistan

Johnny Walsh on Election Season in Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

By: Johnny Walsh

As Afghans wait for official results from the parliamentary polls, Johnny Walsh says that the country is already entering “high political season” in preparation for the critical April 2019 presidential election. Although the Taliban continues to carry out high-profile attacks across the country, Walsh says that many Afghans are focused on the presidential polls and its implications for the peace process.

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications