Afghanistan’s war is fueled by support from within Pakistan for Taliban insurgents, and by poor governance within Afghanistan, including entrenched patronage systems and corruption, and a weak rule of law. The withdrawal of international combat troops between 2011 and 2014 left a fragile security environment and a struggling national economy. Since the disputed 2014 presidential election, friction between the two halves of the “National Unity Government” has prevented the government from implementing widely supported reforms, notably against corruption. This has deepened public discontent and questions over the government’s legitimacy.
USIP works with local and international partners, both in government and from civil society, to address the immediate political crisis and underlying drivers of conflict. The Institute supports Afghan government agencies to strengthen the rule of law, reduce violent extremism, and build peacemaking skills across the country. The Institute strengthens the capacity of Afghan civil society organizations to advocate for good governance, people’s access to justice, an end to violent extremism and insurgency. USIP supports programs and research on constitutional reform and elections that promote effective governance, a sustainable economy, and credible elections. USIP’s work in Afghanistan includes:
Mobilizing Local Communities to Counter Violent Extremism. USIP works with Afghan civil society and other leaders to build or revive peaceful methods to redress grievances in local communities that otherwise could lead to violence. Through small grants and pilot projects, the Institute and its partners engage local religious actors, develop local anti-extremism messages, and build dialogue across communal divides. One project bridges a cultural gap and reduces intolerance between students of public schools and religious madrassas. USIP works with radio stations that use entertainment and educational programs with local, credible voices to counter extremism.
Teaching Peace with Afghan Universities. National violence that makes headlines in Afghanistan often begins with small, community-level disputes over property, water or status. With unprecedented numbers of Afghans attending universities, USIP joined with Kabul’s Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education, a private university, to create a peacebuilding and conflict resolution curriculum that would empower young Afghan leaders to address small conflicts before they are exploited by warlords or the Taliban. Gawharshad undergraduates have since begun local mediation, education and other peacebuilding projects in their villages and neighborhoods. Public universities at Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east have sought USIP’s help in establishing their own peace studies programs, a step that would open such courses to public universities nationwide.
Land Conflict Resolution. Land disputes are one of the most common types of violent conflict in Afghanistan. USIP and ARAZI, the Afghan government’s independent land authority, built a pilot system to register land disputes resolved through tribal or customary law. USIP is now supporting ARAZI’s capacity to develop a regulatory and legislative framework on land issues. This includes the creation of councils that partner ARAZI with tribal or other traditional authorities to resolve land disputes. ARAZI’s priorities are fighting corruption, preventing land grabs, and arranging restitution for usurped land.
Consolidating the Rule of Law. Sustainable peace requires a justice system that is capable, accessible, fair, and credible to the public. USIP works to improve coordination between state and non-state (traditional and tribal) systems for resolving disputes. Also, often working with state institutions, USIP promotes greater transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in judicial and legislative processes, as well as more robust legal debate. These steps promote a stronger application of Afghan laws and a more just and responsive Afghan state.
Research and Discussion to Inform Government Policies. An oft-cited lesson from U.S. engagement with Afghanistan is that bad policies and programs result from a failure to understand local context. Because the international community has drawn down its military forces and field programs for development work, data and information with which to shape smart policies are reduced. With its broad network of Afghan partners and international experts, USIP publishes research, including field studies, to inform policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners. Recent topics include the dynamics of youth radicalization, the state’s fiscal crisis, land-ownership conflicts, and barriers to disarmament among local groups. In Washington, USIP convenes Afghan and U.S. officials, scholars and practitioners in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, including a 2015 address by President Ashraf Ghani in his first official visit to Washington as head of state.