Afghanistan Outlook Dec 1999

The United Nations Office of the Co-ordinator for Afghanistan
Table of Contents

Political Development By UNSMA

Conflict and peace in Afghanistan

Food security in Afghanistan By Paul Clarke


As the peace process stalled again in 1999, the Afghan parties to the conflict began to take the war to scale, assisted by outside actors who provided military, political, and financial support. Although large parts of the country remained relatively peaceful, the stakes increased as the United Front initially lost ground in the battles in Bamiyan, Shomali, and northeastern Afghanistan. Desperate to keep supply lines open, the United Front succeeded in regaining their most crucial territories by the time of this writing and gained ground in Darra Souf. In all of these battles this year, civilians were the real losers. While loss of life has been contained, loss of assets and livelihoods has been enormous. Both parties are responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, with the Taliban being responsible for the worst abuses.

With growing concern, the world has watched the Afghan conflict affect countries beyond its borders: unrest in Central and South Asia, refugees in Iran and Pakistan and an international diaspora, a mushrooming narcotics trade and Osama bin Laden. The United Nations sanctions slapped onto Afghanistan, although mild, are an attempt to rein in the spill over of transnational violence. Widely recognised as the single most important outside supporter, Pakistan began distancing itself from the Taliban in the autumn while Nawaz Sharif was still in power. While it is not clear whether Pakistan was acting because of internal or external compulsions, this public pull back marked a shift in Pakistan's perception of its national interest.

This shift in Pakistani policy seems to have continued when the military assumed power in Pakistan in mid-October. Despite a few calm and relatively non-committal public statements on Afghanistan by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan began to exercise an unusual degree of control over the flow of goods from and to Afghanistan. Exports to Afghanistan are traditionally regulated through route permits that specify the quantity and kind of items transported. Items not covered by the permits such as wheat flour were, nevertheless, making their way across the border in significant amounts. However, the Pakistani government has both restricted the number of route permits, and increased border controls. Under pressure to increase tax revenues, limping from loan to loan, losing significant amounts of sales tax and customs duties, Pakistan began discussions with Afghanistan on the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA).

While the sanctions against Ariana airlines are not expected to have a profound or devastating effect on the economic situation in Afghanistan, or on the vulnerable population, the slow down in the transit trade, which is worth billions of dollars each year, will affect a wider range of people. WFP field staff based in Kabul recorded a 70% decrease in the number of commercial trucks unloading there during October and November. This decrease in trade will also diminish the coffers of the Taliban, who tax smuggling as well as the drug trade. Shortly after the sanctions came into effect, Iran opened its border for the first time in a year. Some observers believe that Afghans will find alternate routes (e.g. Iran, Central Asia) to make up for losses if the curtailment of the ATTA continues, but it is doubtful whether these alternate routes would fully compensate.

Since Afghanistan is a cereal deficit country, one of the most essential cross border commodities it receives from Pakistan is wheat. The steady flow of wheat from Pakistan is the reason why wheat prices in Afghanistan, although high, retain any semblance of stability. Cities, especially Kabul and Kandahar, are especially dependent on Pakistani wheat, which constitutes 40 to 50% of the supply. In short, in addition to the military aid Pakistan reportedly provides to the Taliban, as well as the enormous economic benefit to Afghanistan derived from the transit trade and narcotics trade through Pakistan, Afghanistan is dependent on Pakistan to be able to feed its population.

As pointed out in this issue of Outlook, food security depends on both availability of and access to food. Given Afghanistan's dependence on imports from Pakistan, border controls can affect both. First, Pakistan may choose to limit the amount of wheat going into Afghanistan, which would decrease availability, and second, the curtailment of the transit trade could mean a reduction in income for workers associated with the trade, and hence inflation and restricted access to food. The Taliban are reportedly attempting to buy wheat elsewhere (e.g. Central Asia), which is not likely to completely offset this reduction of imports from Pakistan. If this situation does not improve, the proportion of the population vulnerable to food insecuriy is likely to increase dramatically.

A quarter of a million people have been displaced in the course of 1999. Sixteen thousand of them--the population of a small town--are still sheltering in the ex-Soviet compound in Kabul. Some of the displaced in various areas have returned, but others have not been able to or have not dared to do so. Many of them have lost almost everything they owned: rebuilding must begin anew. Whatever the outcome of the current Afghanistan-Pakistan trade discussions, it is clear that the Afghan people have another hard winter ahead, especially in Kabul and the areas affected by this year's fighting

Political Development

Despite talks in Tashkent, and mediation by the Government of Pakistan and other actors, fighting in Afghanistan continued in 1999--and became even more brutal than before. The stakes increased when the United Nations declared that sanctions would be imposed unless Osama bin Laden were handed over to the appropriate authorities. The chance of a negotiated end to the conflict before the year 2000 appears slim.

The "Six plus Two" Group convenes in Tashkent

On 19/20 July, the "Six plus Two" Group, meeting at the Deputy Foreign Minister level, convened in Tashkent. The Secretary- General's Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, flew to the region to participate. For the first time in the group's two-year history, the warring parties were invited to attend the meeting as observers. Although nothing substantial was achieved in their talks, the two parties sat together for the first time since March when they met at Ashghabad.

...adopts the Declaration and agrees on withdrawal of support...

The Group adopted the Tashkent Declaration, which called on the warring parties to resume peace talks. However, the Taliban argued that the United Front should accept the Islamic Emirate as the basis of power sharing. In addition, the "Six plus Two" agreed to withdraw support for the Afghan warring parties.

...while the SESG tours the region to prevent a major offensive...

After Tashkent, in an effort to maintain the momentum of intra-Afghan talks, Mr. Brahimi met the Taliban leadership in Kabul. He voiced the concern of the international community that the Taliban were about to initiate a summer offensive, aimed at crushing their remaining opponents inside Afghanistan. Sporadic artillery shelling on Kabul continued while the Special Envoy was in the city.

The Taliban face an uprising by the Hazaras in Bamiyan

Under the control of the Taliban for several months, Bamiyan fell on 21 April to the mainly Shia Hazara population of the region. The misbehaviour of the Taliban local authorities had fuelled the traditional sectarian dislike of the predominantly Sunni Pashtun Taliban. Since the Hazaras lacked strong leadership and co-ordination with and the support of other anti-Taliban groups, the Taliban were able to retake ground lost in Bamiyan by the following month.

...and the initial plans for the Taliban summer offensive were disrupted...

Although it was only for a short period of time, the fall of Bamiyan disrupted one of the strategic supply routes for the northern provinces of Afghanistan and caused serious delay in the Taliban's preparations for a summer offensive.

The Taliban launch an offensive north of Kabul

One week after the Tashkent meeting, and only three days after the Special Envoy's departure from Kabul, the Taliban began a major offensive against the United Front in the Shomali plains north of Kabul. As in previous years, the alleged involvement of foreign nationals with the Taliban, especially Pakistanis and Arabs, raised concern when the Taliban started receiving reinforcements openly from madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were closed for the remainder of the summer.

...but the United Front strikes back...

Their initial military success in the Shomali plains enabled the Taliban to move close to the entrance of the Panjshir Valley, capturing the strategically important Bagram airbase. However, on 5 August the United Front launched a counter-offensive in the Shomali plains, causing heavy casualties among the rank and file of the Taliban forces and pushing back the front line more or less to the original positions prior to the launch of the Taliban offensive.

...leaving the Taliban to attack more brutally than ever before...

Defeat in the Shomali plains encouraged the Taliban to adopt more brutal tactics. By 11 August, they launched a new offensive, this time advancing steadily and cautiously, while forcing the population to leave their homes and thoroughly demolishing the agricultural infrastructure and homes along the front line. The scorched earth policy of the Taliban, widely condemned by the international community, generated a large number of internally displaced persons, who moved to Kabul, into the Panjshir Valley, and even further north.

Fighting continues in northern Afghanistan

Northern areas of Kunduz province were captured by the Taliban in early August and then retaken by the United Front. There, the Taliban's aim was to cut the remaining narrow surface supply routes to the Panjshir Valley. Successive sorties of aerial bombardment against Taloqan since 25 September caused a high number of civilian casualties. Taliban forces managed to recapture the port city of Shir Khan Bandar and advance towards Taloqan. However, in late October, the balance shifted again as the United Front regained territory in Takhar, Kunduz, and Darra Suf, a move that preserved United Front supply lines. well as in eastern provinces...

In an attempt to draw off Taliban forces in the Shomali plains, the United Front opened new front lines in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Laghman. Despite gains in some areas, they were unable to maintain control over the region.

The presence of Osama bin Laden increases pressure on the Taliban

On 5 July, United States President Bill Clinton signed an executive order to impose unilateral sanctions on economic and financial transactions with the Taliban because of their harbouring of Osama bin Laden. The decision was followed in August by the freezing of Ariana Airlines' assets in US banks. The Taliban leadership condemned the US for its actions, while asserting that the effect on the Afghan economy would be minimal. By September, India terminated the air link between Kabul and Amritsar. Ariana then had only one international destination--Dubai.

...but the Taliban stand up to the United States...

In late August, the Taliban Chief Justice announced that the case against bin Laden had been closed for lack of supporting evidence. The Taliban repeatedly stated that, as a guest of the Afghan people, bin Laden was prohibited from operating from Afghan soil against any country, and that they would not extradite him to a third country.

...while the UN announces sanctions will be imposed...

In October, the United Nations declared that sanctions would be imposed on the Taliban by November 14, if Osama bin Laden were not handed over to the appropriate authorities and terrorist camps shut down. Although limited in scope, the UN sanctions would close down the last international route of Ariana Airlines, freeze Taliban funds outside Afghanistan, and further ostracise the Taliban among the international community, shattering its hopes for eventual UN recognition. In late October, the Taliban searched for an honourable way out of the impasse.

Pakistan tries to promote peace talks

To the surprise of the "Six plus Two" Group and the United Nations, Pakistan launched a peace initiative of its own. In August, a Pakistani delegation twice met representatives of the United Front in Dushanbe, interspersed with a visit to Kandahar to meet Mullah Mohammad Omar. While the United Front remained sceptical of Pakistan's role as a mediator, the Taliban also did not respond positively. A second round in September also produced no concrete results.

...while a strong bomb blast rocks Kandahar...

A strong bomb blast, apparently designed to kill Mullah Omar, occurred in the vicinity of his residence on August 24. Although the culprits have not been named or arrested to date, the Taliban have pointed an accusing finger at the 'enemies of the Islamic Emirate.' The blast effectively delayed the Taliban's response to Pakistan's peace initiative and also reduced the level of trust between the Taliban and the United Front.

Zahir Shah calls on Afghans to convene a Loya Jirga

In late June, the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, met in Rome with a group of Afghan intellectuals and political leaders who support the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) process. This group suggested that the ex-King call for an emergency meeting of the Loya Jirga. On 26 September, Zahir Shah, through a radio broadcast, called on all Afghans, living inside and outside of Afghanistan, to accept this emergency meeting as the only means to solve the Afghan crisis.

...while others are on their own...

Other gatherings of Afghans, such as that in Cyprus in the second half of September, were convened outside Afghanistan. In an effort to sabotage and disrupt the peace efforts by these Afghans, assassinations and assassination attempts against key political figures were carried out in Pakistan. Ahad Karzai, once a deputy-speaker of the Parliament and supporter of the ex-King, was assassinated in July while visiting Quetta.

The United Front announces a cabinet reshuffle

On the verge of the opening of the 54th General Assembly of the UN, the United Front announced the formation of its ten-member political committee and a cabinet reshuffle. Both bodies were designed to have a broader scope of representation drawn from the four major ethnic groups of Afghanistan, which made the appointments unique.

...with little success in broadening domestic support...

Nevertheless, with their limited political activity and lack of territorial control inside Afghanistan, the United Front was unable to gain the attention and support of the Afghan masses. Moreover, statements of discontent arose from within its own political camp. Arguing that they control over 90% of Afghanistan, the Taliban reasserted their right to be recognised and criticised the UN for its continued recognition of the Islamic State of Afghanistan.

A military coup in Pakistan

In reaction to sectarian violence in Pakistan, the government of Nawaz Sharif for the first time pointed the finger at elements in Afghanistan for de-stabilising Pakistan. This change in the Pakistani position to Afghanistan was followed rapidly by a military coup on October 12 in which Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf seized control of the country, deposing Nawaz Sharif and dismissing the Parliament. Setting no time limit on his intended tenure, the new Chief Executive called for a representative broad-based government in Afghanistan. In addition, the new administration began to exercise firmer control over cross border commercial transactions. followed by a shake-up in the Taliban command structure...

Mullah Omar continued to hold the reins of power while effecting major changes in virtually all portfolios. The key appointment was the posting of Mawlawi Mutawakkel, former spokesman for Mullah Omar, as foreign minister. Coming about two months after the attempt on Mullah Omar's life, the changes are clearly an attempt by the Taliban leader to consolidate and ensure his continued authority and the unity of the Taliban movement.

Negotiations are unlikely to resume before winter

So far, the Taliban are determined to win the war, which they assume would gain them recognition and a representative seat in the UN. The United Front, on the other hand, are not ready to give up their struggle. The chances of bringing the Taliban and the United Front to the negotiation table appear to be extremely unlikely before the end of autumn, unless the inflow of arms and support could be brought under control. the Secretary-General talks of reviewing the peace formula for Afghanistan...

At the 54th General Assembly, the Secretary- General raised questions over the usefulness of the “Six plus Two” Group, pointing out that they have been unable to halt some of its own members' involvement in Afghan affairs. By the turn of the century, the formula for bringing peace to Afghanistan will have to be reviewed again.

...where sources of instability for the region are deeply rooted...

The Afghan civil war is gradually affecting countries beyond Afghanistan's borders. Issues such as drug trafficking, the network of international terrorism and the spread of extremism are at the core of these concerns. Events in the Central Asian Republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as Daghestan and Chechenya in the Russian Federation, are symptoms of this regional instability.

The absence of a responsible central government in Afghanistan, at present and for the foreseeable future, indicates that these problems are unlikely to be dealt with. Afghanistan will continue as the source of instability in the region.

Conflict and peace in Afghanistan By Barnett R. Rubin

The war in Afghanistan is a transnational war. The Afghan protagonists in the apparently "civil" war are all linked outwardly to state and non-state actors in the region and the world and inwardly to a variety of social actors in Afghanistan.

These links are strategic, ethnic, economic, religious, and opportunistic. The logic of such a war differs from both interstate wars and traditional civil wars (a government versus an insurgency fighting for revolution, autonomy, or secession). Ending such a war includes elements of three sets of problems: ending a civil war, ending an international conflict, and constructing the institutions of a national state.

The three problems

It includes the problems of ending a civil war, because the direct combatants are citizens of the same state. Peace can come only when they agree (voluntarily or otherwise) to live under the same authority. But ending such a war is more difficult than ending a classic civil war. The combatants are less likely to become exhausted, as access to external resources through both aid from states and movements and participation in economic networks is virtually open-ended, as Afghanistan has a smaller population and is poorer than the surrounding countries.

Ending such a war partakes of the problems of ending an interstate war, because regional states and great powers have competing or antagonistic interests in the conduct and outcome of the conflict. Fortunately, these do not involve territorial claims against Afghanistan (there appears to be a firm international consensus in favour of maintaining the country's juridical existence in its current boundaries), but they do involve security, economic interest, ethnic ties, and ideology.

The states involved include Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russia, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia. Others are involved but a bit more peripherally (India, Turkey), economically (United Arab Emirates), or as donors (Japan and several European countries as well as the EU). Furthermore, the region centred on Afghanistan has little multilateral or security architecture and has been transformed in the last decade by the independence of the Central Asian and Trans-Caucasian former Soviet republics.

Afghanistan is at the intersection of three regions with distinct security and economic problems: the Middle East/Persian Gulf; South Asia; and Central Asia/Caucasus. Each of these regions is also affected by US global strategy. The interaction among these three regional formations has had very damaging consequences for Afghanistan. Pakistan's security dilemma in relation to India leads it to seek connections to Central Asia through Afghanistan, putting it in conflict with Russia and Iran. The latter has seen access to Central Asia as leverage against US sanctions and its isolation in the Persian Gulf. Thus, their attempts to solve dilemmas in South Asia and the Persian Gulf and in relation to the U.S. lead Iran and Pakistan to clash over access to Central Asia in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's relations to these three regions have also made it the centre of a regional conflict formation. Conflicts and civil unrest in Kashmir, Pakistan (Karachi and sectarian conflict), Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (with spillover into Kyrgyzstan), as well as the domestic political struggle in Iran, are all linked to Afghanistan in various ways. It has also, of course, become a haven for members of armed groups from Algeria to the Philippines and the Comoros. As these various conflicts become more tightly linked, it becomes more difficult to resolve any of them separately. Note that the Dayton Accords had the effect of increasing the incentives for Kosovar Albanians to use violence. Such perverse regional effects can occur in any regional conflict formation.

Ending such a war partakes of the problem of constructing the institutions of a national state,

because only an Afghan state with minimal capacities and legitimacy (domestic and international) will be able to provide enough security to its inhabitants and neighbours that they will forego armed struggle. Despite the consensus on maintaining Afghanistan's formal juridical integrity, most of the institutions of the nation-state built up by the royal regime have collapsed. As discussed below, this means that the protagonists in the war are not political parties who can negotiate power sharing but armed movements with differing state (or anti-state) projects. The problems of constructing a state that will be at peace with its neighbours and population requires attention not only to political and military issues but also to ethnic, economic, and social ones, including gender. The state in the region (not only in Afghanistan) competes with alternative forms of organisations such as religious networks, long-distance trading leagues (contraband and otherwise), trans-border diasporas or military groups, rogue agencies, and local solidarity networks of various types. The state lacks hegemony not only domestically but also internationally.

Ending a civil war

Ending a civil war is exceedingly difficult, and ending a transnational conflict of this sort is even more difficult. One of the most robust results in the study of conflict is that interstate wars are far more likely than others to end in negotiated solutions. Depending on some definitional questions, one study estimated the share of "civil wars" ending through negotiations rather than victory of one party was much lower than the comparable figure for interstate wars. Fifteen to 30 percent of civil wars end through negotiated settlements (the higher figure includes some marginal and special cases). Another study found that no civil war ended through negotiations without the presence of a third party (peacekeepers). There are several reasons adduced in the literature for these findings:

The issues at stake in civil wars tend to be indivisible, such as who is to be sovereign over a territory. These are winner-take-all issues, impossible to negotiate. (This surfaced in the Taliban's insistence after the Ashqabad talks that "leadership," i.e. the rule of Mulla Muhammad 'Umar as Amir al-Mu'minin, was non-negotiable.) Others have noted that civil wars can be over divisible and negotiable issues, such as ethnic power sharing.

Fighters agree to negotiate when they believe they cannot achieve more through war, i.e. when they reach a "hurting stalemate." In closed civil wars, the parties may in fact become exhausted. In transnational wars, however, access to external aid and international markets (drugs, gems, smuggled consumer goods) and even international volunteers or recruits from refugees, a diaspora, or allied states provide replenishable resources. The Taliban are linked to the Pakistan (and formerly Saudi) governments and intelligence agencies; they are also connected to Deobandi parties and madrasas, the Afghan Pashtun refugee diaspora, the Afghan trading network that extends from the Persian Gulf to Pakistan via Iran and Central Asia, local authorities in Pakistan, the drug trade, and some international Islamists. Massoud has a base in Tajikistan and receives Russian and Iranian aid. He is tied to different trading networks in gems, possibly to the Badakhshan drug trade, and other commerce. Dostum has commercial links to Central Asia and probably Turkey and co-operates with Karimov in training and basing militias for operations in Tajikistan. The Shia parties are linked to religious networks in Iran and receive aid from that country, but do not have an Iranian recruiting base as the Taliban have a Pakistani one.

The parties may not want to end the war. Many actors ("spoilers") can become rich and powerful by exercising violence in a lawless environment, and they will attempt to subvert any peace process. They may even oppose full-scale victory by "their own" side, since that might lead to some reassertion of legality or marginalisation of actors depending on violence. Those benefiting from the drug trade and smuggling could fall into this category.

Even when the parties sign an agreement sincerely, it is very difficult to implement without third-party guarantees of security. Any negotiated settlement to a civil war involves some disarmament and integration of formerly hostile armed forces and the participation by former combatants in a common political space (e.g. in institutions located in the capital city). That is, the two sides must undertake a transition from a situation where each is responsible for its own security in separate areas to one where that responsibility is shared or exercised by forces of the other side in all areas. Without third party guarantees (usually armed peacekeepers), no one is willing to risk such a transition. Where judicial, police, and legal systems are weak or non-existent, it is even more difficult to undertake such a transition. For instance, try to imagine Massoud taking up a position in a coalition government with the Taliban. Who is responsible for his security in Kabul?

Interstate aspects

In principle it should be easier to resolve the interstate aspects of the conflict, which in turn would affect some of the obstacles to resolution of the civil war, as mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the characteristics of the interstate system around Afghanistan fail to live up to the ideal type of interstate relations. States theoretically find it easier to reach agreements because they mutually agree on their boundaries, and they are hierarchically organised sovereign entities that can take decisions and implement them. In addition, the issues at stake in interstate wars, such as borders or control over resources, are often negotiable. Finally, international society has developed a set of norms and even laws regulating interstate relations, which, even if there is no sovereign to enforce them, strongly regulate the relations among states (e.g. the Vienna Convention). In this region, however, there are a number of obstacles to "normal" interstate relations.

No other state in the region has decayed as much as Afghanistan, but many regional states are extremely unstable, incoherent, and insecure. The presence of Afghanistan's porous borders means, given the nature of borders, that all of its neighbours also have porous borders and exercise indirect control or influence over ill-defined zones in Afghanistan. Afghanistan as a closed buffer state was a stabilising factor for its neighbours; Afghanistan as an open failed state undermines the statehood of its neighbours. Much could be said about Russia and Uzbekistan's fears of the effect of Islamic militancy ("Wahhabism") on their internal stability, Iran's competing elites and cross-border ties to Afghan Shiites, Tajikistan's civil war and its relationship to Afghanistan, or Turkmenistan's desperate search for an outlet to the world market for its natural gas in order to avert the collapse of its fragile dictatorship. Pakistan, however, remains the core of the problem.

The role of Pakistan

Pakistan is a fundamentally and existentially insecure state that feels the need to achieve military parity with its neighbour India, with seven times its population and economy. The resultant excessive military expenditures, along with massive corruption and mismanagement, have left the state bankrupt and major political institutions discredited.

Insecurity about India has also led to Pakistan's search for "strategic depth" to the west and north, in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Since the country itself has few resources, these operations have tended to be foreign-funded, by the US and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War, by Saudi Arabia afterwards (until the crisis over Usama bin Ladin), and by other Arab contributions and drug trade and smuggling income.

There appears to be little if any hierarchical political control over Pakistan's security policy, including its policy on the ground in Afghanistan. It is questionable whether that policy is even run by the regular military or intelligence apparatus through official channels or whether it is a quasi-rogue operation that is more or less authorised but not controlled. It is not clear who if anyone would have the power to change it.

The government appears powerless to control sectarian (Sunni-Shi'a) and ethno-political (muhajirs vs. others in Karachi) violence. Much of the violence is linked to Afghanistan through groups that have bases there.

Political parties such as Harakat-ul-Ansar use Afghan territory as a staging ground for operations in Kashmir, in co-operation, at least in the past, with Usama bin Ladin and his colleagues. These organisations collaborate, at least at the operational level, with the ISI in Kashmir.

Important Pakistani elites (that support political parties) have become rich on the drug trade and smuggling operations that depend for their success on continued disorder in Afghanistan and the growth of illicit transnational networks.

Paradoxically, while pressure against Pakistan is necessary, a strategy to stabilise and reform it and increase its security is essential to any peace process. Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan could continue, but in a positive way through economic participation in reconstruction, for instance. A policy that is solely based on threats and pressure without taking into account some of Pakistan's legitimate needs is less likely to succeed. Afghanistan cannot be stabilised by destabilising Pakistan.

Iran and Russia

Iran and Russia's policies appear to be mainly reactive. They are determined to prevent Taliban consolidation in Afghanistan because of the range of threats they believe this would pose to them. Their position virtually rules out the possibility of war termination through a stable Taliban victory. Both deeply distrust Pakistan. To the extent that India makes Pakistan feel less secure, that also increases Pakistan's determination to persevere in eliminating Afghan national forces that might co-operate with India. Iran also wishes to prevent the development of access to Central Asia through Afghanistan in order to assure that the price of continued U.S. economic sanctions is continued blockage of Central Asia's access to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. This is an important source of leverage for Iran. Russia similarly prefers to keep the Afghan route closed.

Collapse of the state

The collapse of the national state in Afghanistan conditions the strategies of all actors, though the actions of particular agents also brought about and perpetuated the collapse of the state. Rebuilding the state-- which is a different problem from sharing power in a government-- is the fundamental task of any peace settlement. This has consequences for what kind of peace process is possible or desirable.

State-like structures are not completely absent in Afghanistan. The Taliban have reconstructed some rudiments of a centralised military and administration in the territories under their control. They have disarmed populations (relatively) and reintroduced the distinction between military and policing functions in the cities under their control. They are reportedly about to introduce a written constitution. Massoud appears to have done something similar in the territories he controls directly, but, despite several plans, there is no United Front ("Northern Alliance") centralised administration, military, or legal structure. One hears of administrative offices and courts functioning fragmentarily in various parts of the country on the basis of laws and regulations left over from various old regimes. Despite much talk of "revolution," it appears that the basic functioning of state offices, where these continued to exist, did not change much under either the PDPA-Watan Party regime or the Islamic State of Afghanistan. I heard such talk, for instance, in Farah in 1998 and in Taluqan in 1996 but could not verify it. UNDP carried out a rough survey of such institutions in 1997, but I have not seen it.

Nonetheless, the basic elements of a state are absent. There is no professional army with even a modicum of professionalism or autonomy from a particular political leadership. There is no civil service. There is no national police. There is no constitution. There is no legal code (shari'a is not a code, though it can be codified). There is no national revenue system. Various taxes and tributes are collected, but there is no budgeting, or at least the major expenditures (the war) have nothing to do with any budget. Mulla 'Umar reportedly keeps a chest near his charpai that he treats like a seventh-century bait al-mal, doling out wads of cash to those who find favour in his eyes. The Taliban tax the drug trade and the transit trade from Dubai to Pakistan. They are, of course, still hoping for the Turkmenistan-Pakistan gas pipeline, though prospects for financing seem slim. Massoud is developing gem exports with the help of a Polish company.

Strangely enough, the sense of common nationhood does not seem to have eroded. I do not know through what means it has been maintained (BBC?-- the usual explanation for the unexplained), but I hear not much more talk of ethnic separatism than I did 15 years ago, when I started working on Afghanistan. Hazaras are demanding autonomy, but they also want a share in central power, not separation from it. Despite the ethnic origin of the term, Afghans of all ethnic groups still insist, as far as I can tell, that they are Afghans and that the solution or the war will take place within an Afghan framework.

Obstacles to the state

While there are many obstacles to the construction of an Afghan state, let me list just a few of the principal ones.

Domestic legitimacy

There is no consensus on the source of domestic legitimacy of state power. The Taliban have a rather circular definition: it comes from the selection of (technically bay'a to) the amir by ahl al-hal-u-'aqd, which they define as a group of ulama selected and recognised by the amir. I am not sure if this is a Deobandi idea, a Salafi practice, or of some other origin, but it differs from both more traditional Hanafi practice of recognising any de facto Muslim ruler who enforces shari'a and the modern Islamist ideologies, which do not accord such a role to ulama (in Iran the clergy-based power of the leader, courts, and Council of Experts is balanced by the elected president and parliament).

In insisting on ruling directly themselves, the Taliban also differ from the traditional Pashtun conjunction of charismatic ulama legitimating a jihad carried out by tribal forces, whose victory they subsequently consecrate. Their legitimacy formula allows no room for political participation by Afghans who are not Taliban-approved ulama, which also virtually precludes political negotiations.

The other groups seem less concerned with legitimacy. Rabbani also experimented with an appointed ahl al-hal-u-'aqd while he was in power, but the discourse of a national-Islamic legitimisation of power Loya Jirga plus shari'a seems to be gaining ground in the public statements of Massoud and others in the UF. The Loya Jirga, though a theoretically attractive way to legitimate power by popular (or at least national) sovereignty without demanding impossible elections, was always a state institution, not a spontaneous emanation of an "Afghan society" that never existed. It depended on national leadership to convene it, which does not now exist. With belated US support, Zahir Shah is now trying to revive the tradition of the emergency Loya Jirga for situations when the state is contested or illegitimate.

International legitimacy

International legitimacy would also be required for a reconstructed Afghan state. Pakistan is the only significant state now actively advocating recognition of the Taliban. Taliban practices such as banning (or severely limiting) women's education, full access to health care, and employment on principle preclude such legitimacy. The state will not receive de jure recognition and aid unless certain minimal conditions are fulfilled. Those have not, moreover, been clearly defined by the international community, and the gradual increase in pragmatic dealing with the Taliban could start to accord them a kind of de facto legitimacy.

That phenomenon, of course, results from some of the Taliban's genuine achievements, namely the provision of more public security and less corruption than most of the other groups, making humanitarian access and economic activities somewhat easier.

The US has set forth a list of conditions on which ceasing support for terrorism occupies first place, and formation of a broad-based government is part of the 6+2 formula. Measures to reduce production and sale of opium are also usually included on this list, though this has to be treated in large measure as a development problem rather than one of law enforcement.

Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan have more direct interests in opposing recognition of the Taliban. Turkmenistan and the UAE have strong economic interests in improving the Taliban's international profile.

The army

A unified state will require a unified army. At present in Afghanistan and the surrounding region, there are a range of armed groups at various points along the spectrum from political to criminal. Each is closely linked to a particular leadership. State reconstruction will require an army linked to state power and recruited nationally.

There are also issues to be settled concerning the size and doctrine of such an army. The doctrine of the army is closely linked to the structure of the state. The highly centralised model favoured by the Taliban (similar to that of Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan) requires a large army with a mission focused on domestic control. A more decentralised model (see below) would require a smaller army and more focus on local police and self-defence forces.


A reconstructed state will have to define the degree of centralisation, the relationship of administration to representation, and in particular the role of regions, localities, solidarity groups, and ethnic groups in governance.

The pre-war Afghan state was weak but highly centralised, with all local officials appointed from the centre and consultative representative bodies convened only at the national level. Amanullah Khan's constitution, however, called for shuras at all levels of government, and this model appears to be popular with the Afghan public and even some Taliban. In the past twenty years local solidarity groups and regional-ethnic coalitions have become armed and mobilised (though the Taliban have disarmed and demobilised some). The alternatives are conquest, disarming, and centralisation (the Taliban model) or integration, disarming, and decentralisation

Afghan Pashtun and Tajik political-military leaders tend to oppose schemes for decentralisation. When they were in power Massoud and Rabbani espoused a centralised model but de facto recognised the local power-holders in Jalalabad, Herat, and Mazar. Massoud has spoken of an officially decentralised system since losing Kabul.

The Taliban and some others see decentralisation or federalism as legitimating warlordism (or at limiting their power once they control the government). Uzbek and Hazara leaders, who know they will never control the government, favour decentralisation, by which, unfortunately, many of them seem to mean warlordism. True decentralisation, of course, must be part of a state building strategy, not a form of resistance to it.

Civil service

A state will require a civil service and other trained cadres, who are mostly dead or in exile and, in any case, enjoy little status or autonomy (not to mention pay) under any of the groups. A revived education system would be needed to rebuild such a group.

Local power

The war and political relations have become entangled with many local conflicts among sub-ethnic solidarity groups (qawm), always the building blocks of Afghan politics. These involve conflicts over land, pasturage, trade, and other matters. Any change of power in Kabul, now as always, involves a shift in local power structures as the new power tries to root itself in local alliances that may bear little if any relation to the ostensible legitimisation formula of the regime (but may reveal much about the real source of its power). The Taliban have also intervened far more than recent rulers in relations between the sexes as well as relations among qawms.

Re-establishing stable state power and public order will also require finding a way to settle these conflicts. At present no single actor appears to know much about them; such knowledge is dispersed among many actors if it exists at all, and it would be worth an attempt to try to gather it on the district level, for instance.

The citizenry

In general, the concept of Afghan people as citizens of Afghanistan has been lost. This is the case de jure for women under Taliban rule, but it is true for anyone who is not commanding an armed group. Reconstruction of the state will have to include reconstructing a basis on which Afghans can participate in that state, which will require some form of legitimacy linked to the concept of an Afghan nation and gender and ethnic legal equality.

A peace process must address each of these sets of issues: ending the civil war, ending the international conflict, and rebuilding the state and state-society relations. Up until now, the means deployed have been far less than what would be required. The intensity, depth, scope, and breadth of the conflict will require a commensurate peace process, involving the entire society of Afghanistan, neighbouring states and societies, and other international actors. The UN has an important political role to play, but the UN's other roles (humanitarian aid, development, human rights) are also involved. Other actors are also needed, including powerful states, donor states, regional states, international financial institutions, and NGOs of various types.

Food security in Afghanistan
By Paul Clarke

The idea of 'food security‘

Food security is easier to describe than it is to measure. The generally accepted definition of 'food security' is access by all people, at all times, to enough food of sufficient quality to ensure a healthy, active life. This definition is acceptable largely because it is comprehensive, and it is comprehensive because it is made up of a mixture of several ideas. Within the definition there are references to food quantity, food quality, health status, differential access to food as a result of poverty, age or gender, food production and seasonality--all these ingredients have been thrown into this one pot. To understand the whole idea of food security we need first to separate the different ingredients. We can begin this process by differentiating between two basic criteria: availability of food and access to food.

The idea of food availability is simple: in order for everyone in an area to be food secure, there has to be enough food available for them to eat, either through local food production or through efficient import mechanisms. The measurement of food security must begin with an assessment of the availability of food; is there enough for everyone to eat? This sort of analysis--the analysis of availability--tends to be carried out on a geographical basis, looking at the whole country, or regions within the country.

However, the fact that there is sufficient food for everyone in the market or the fields is not, in itself, enough to guarantee that a population is food secure. Elements of the local population might be too poor to afford food, or lack the resources to grow food, even in areas that have food surpluses. So, in addition to looking at availability of food, we have to consider the ability of all the individuals within the population to get this food. This ability to get food can be referred to (in shorthand) as 'access' to food.1

The question of access occurs in several ways, as several factors contribute to the ability of an individual to get food. The first of these factors is the economic strength of the household to which the individual belongs: the resources, such as land, labour power, livestock, and social alliances, which the household has at its command. Generally speaking, richer households have more and better quality food, and are better able to cope with emergencies. At this level, food security is about 'livelihoods', and not just about food, as the quantity and quality of food that a household consumes is part of the wider set of economic decisions and activities that the household undertakes. Whereas questions about availability tend to look at production and importation of food by geographic area, these questions are more concerned with differences between different types of households within a geographic area. The axis of analysis changes from geographical to social, from production to consumption, and from a 'food based' to a more rounded 'livelihood' approach.

The geographical location of an individual affects the amount of food that is available to them. The economic status of the household within which the individual lives affects the ability of that individual to get food. But even within those households that get enough food for the needs of all their members, there is no guarantee that all members of the household receive enough food to enjoy a healthy and active life. Food may not be shared equitably between different household members. Where this is the result of cultural beliefs about food rather than individual choices, this can be understood by looking into the cultural practices of the area. Again, the locus of our study has shifted, from economics to culture, and from the community (which is divided by household types) to the household, and its divisions by gender and age.

A final factor which might prevent an individual gaining access to sufficient food is the health status of the individual: many illnesses prevent efficient uptake of calories and nutrients from food, and the prevalence of disease needs to be understood in any comprehensive study of food security.

In sum, understanding food security means looking at the relationship between people and food. This relationship is mediated by the amount of food available, the nature and success of the economic activities households undertake to access food, the way food is shared within the household, and the uptake of energy and nutritive elements in the food by the individual. Within the UN system, FAO tends to concentrate on the issue of food availability, WFP on the issue of access, and UNICEF and WHO on the issue of uptake.

Food availability in Afghanistan

A poor harvest in 1999 reverses a general trend of increased Afghan cereal production over the last decade. However, the national harvest figures hide extreme regional variations. To maintain national food security, imports will have to take up the slack. Recent events suggest a danger of imports being less readily available than in 1998. Even if imports are available, certain areas are at high risk of cereal availability problems.

The study of food availability in Afghanistan normally reduces to a study of cereal availability. Cereals dominate the Afghan diet 2 and figures for cereal production and importation are easier to come by than figures for other commodities. For Afghanistan as a whole, the quantity of cereal produced within the country rose throughout the 1970s, largely as a result of improved agricultural technology, fell dramatically through the 1980s,3 and began to increase again from the early 1990s. This year (1999 to 2000) is the first year since 1995 to show a decrease in total cereal production. 4

Wheat production in 1977 was recorded at 2.9 million tonnes.5 By 1992, production had fallen to around 1.6 million tonnes. By 1998, the best year since the conflict in Afghanistan began, production had risen steadily to 2.8 million tonnes, only to fall this year to 2.5 million tonnes.6 Over the period 1979 to 1999, the population has also increased significantly, although reliable population figures are not available. Consequently, while cereal production levels are moving towards those recorded before the conflict began, the amount of cereal available per person has lagged behind. In 1977, Afghanistan was almost cereal self-sufficient, importing only around 2,500 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat.7 This year, although wheat production is only a little over 10% below 1977 levels, the FAO/WFP mission estimated cereal import requirement at 1,123,000 MT.

Of course, this year's decrease in the availability of locally produced food will not be spread evenly across Afghanistan. There are several reasons for this. First, the decrease in production is largely a consequence of lower than average rainfall and snowfall over the growing season. While this was a general trend in Afghanistan, there seem to have been differences in the level of drought from one area to another, and in some areas, there may not have been any significant reduction in rainfall at all.8 Secondly, even in areas that have been hit by drought, the effects of the drought on cereal production will differ depending on the local system of cultivation. Irrigated cultivation fed by glacier streams did not see great decreases in production, as the water source was unaffected by drought. Rainfed areas (those dependent on precipitation, rather than irrigation, to supply water to the crop) which suffered drought were badly affected. While 1999 cereal production, nationally, was down by 16% compared to 1998,9 production actually increased in much of Badghis district, a rainfed area that did not suffer particularly badly from drought.10 Production decreased by an average of around 25% in Dai Kundi,11 a highland district largely dependent upon karez irrigation, and by 60% to 70% across most of rainfed Sari Pul province.12

Decreased cereal production does not necessarily mean decreased cereal availability. Normally, in an area where production declines, we can expect the commercial sector to make up any shortfall. Under certain unusual conditions, though, the commercial sector fails to make enough food available for the needs of the population of an area. The most brutal cause of this market failure is blockade, where traders are prevented from supplying an area by force. A more complex, but equally devastating failure of the market mechanism can occur when the profit to be had from supplying an area with food becomes too low for traders to think it worth doing. This can happen when an area is a long distance from possible areas of supply, making transport costs unreasonably high. It may also be a result of low population density or extreme poverty in the food deficit area, making the return to investment too low for the trader to consider transporting food. This is especially the case where traders are setting up new lines of supply to areas where they have not previously operated.

At the time of writing, the picture concerning cereal imports to Afghanistan in 1999/2000 is unclear. As a cereal deficit country, Afghanistan imports food grains even in good agricultural years. The bulk of this imported cereal comes from, or through, Pakistan. In 1999/2000, Pakistan appears to be relatively food secure in terms of national availability of cereals, and should have no need of curtailing exports. The Government of Pakistan is reported to have around five million MT of cereals in store, and to have set aside 600,000 MT of wheat for purchase by Afghanistan. However, since mid-October traders in Kabul, Kandahar and Peshawar have reported that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get permits for legal importation of cereal from Pakistan, and that the border is being more rigorously controlled to prevent smuggling. Because of decreased supply, compounded by devaluation of the Afghani, the price of cereal has increased by over 30% in Kabul and Kandahar over the last month. This situation is worryingly similar to the cereal crisis of 1997, when the Pakistani border was closed for several months. The border remained, over this time, relatively porous, but even so, cereal became difficult to find in Kabul, and prices increased by over 100%. If this situation were to repeat itself in 1999, it could have extremely serious consequences for cereal availability in Afghanistan. Increased cereal prices would cause problems of access for the poor in urban areas and those parts of rural Afghanistan that are cereal deficit. (In 1997, the ripple effect of price increases spread to areas that are not normally reliant on imports from Pakistan, as traders from Kabul turned to other markets within Afghanistan.) WFP, the World Bank, and other agencies are following this situation with concern. WFP intends to import 115,000 MT of commodities (mostly wheat) into Afghanistan over the coming year, but this quantity would be dwarfed by the requirement if the border were to be closed successfully for any length of time. We do not know much, now, about alternative sources of cereal supply, although there are reports that the Taleban have imported 60,000 MT of cereals from Kazakhstan. Continued closure of the Iranian border is unlikely to have any large-scale effect on imports, as Iran does not seem to have been a large-scale supplier of cereals.

If the border remains open, cereal availability problems will probably occur in those higher risk areas: regions which are normally cereal deficit and which have been blockaded, regions which have seen substantial decreases in agricultural production and are unable to attract traders, or cereal deficit regions which are closed off by natural disasters.

At the time of writing, the only area suffering from military blockade is the Panjshir valley and northern Shomali plains. Following military offensives in August 1999, the pre-existing restrictions on movement into the area from the south have been tightened. In addition, a large civilian population has been displaced into an area that was already partially dependent upon imports to achieve food sufficiency. Northern supply routes to the valley, via Taloqan, are now threatened with closure by military action, and will, in any event, be closed by snow with the onset of winter in November/December. Because of increased population in the Panjshir valley, and static or decreased levels of trade, there is a real danger that not enough food will be available in the valley for consumption over the winter period. An inter-agency team based in the Panjshir valley is currently monitoring the situation.13

Other areas of Afghanistan remain vulnerable to blockade: in particular, the population of Faizabad town, who are estimated to receive around 85% of their cereal supply from the irrigated areas of Takhar province.14 Much of this supply passes along one road, which is close to the front line, and so vulnerable to obstruction. The central highlands of Afghanistan, which suffered from blockade in 1997 and 1998, are also vulnerable to closure of roads by military action or deliberate policy, in the event of renewed conflict breaking out in the area.

Other parts of Afghanistan are vulnerable to failure of cereal import for commercial, rather than military, reasons. In particular, the highland districts of Badakhshan province and the more inaccessible parts of the central highlands (particularly Sharestan, Dai Kundi, and Waras districts)15 have low population densities and are expensive to access. These areas are always vulnerable to cereal supply failure. If cereal prices rise across the country, it can become uneconomical for all but those traders based in these districts to supply cereal to their markets. Poor harvests in 1999 make this a distinct possibility. In addition, because of the 1998/9 drought, there are concerns about areas which are not chronically vulnerable, but which might become vulnerable to supply failure in 1999/2000. One area of particular concern is the province of Ghor, where initial reports indicated a 75% reduction in rainfed wheat.16 Subsequent estimates put production (combined rainfed and irrigated) at 50% of 1998 levels. Under normal circumstances, Ghor is almost cereal self-sufficient.17 This means that marketing links for cereal import are weak, and Ghor province (including Lal and Sarjangal districts) may find it difficult to attract sufficient supplies from outside. The same situation could occur, for similar reasons, in more remote parts of Sari Pul, Faryab, Samangan, and Balkh provinces over the next year.

WFP, FAO and several NGOs are currently collaborating to improve our knowledge of the situation in these at risk areas.

Access to food in Afghanistan

Food insecurity--because of limited ability to buy or grow food--is a chronic problem for many Afghans. Large sections of the urban population--the urban poor--are food insecure, although the level of food insecurity differs markedly from one city to another. Rural poverty, while more difficult to measure, also leads to chronic food insecurity, and again, some areas are more affected than others. In 1999 and 2000, these areas of chronic food insecurity will be worst affected by the effects of poor harvests, but populations who were previously food secure will become food insecure as a result of displacement.

In Afghanistan there are some groups of people who every day find it difficult to get enough food, even though food is available in the markets or fields around them. These people are termed the chronically food insecure.

The highest concentrations of chronically food insecure people live in urban environments. There are several reasons for this: as urban environments have higher population density, it makes sense that they should have higher numbers of all types of households, but this does not fully explain why there are so many food insecure persons in Kabul, Faizabad and Mazar-e-Sharif. In these three cities, and particularly in Kabul, not only is the total number of food insecure persons high, but the proportion of the population who are food insecure is also higher than it would be in most rural areas. Two recent surveys have suggested that the chronically food insecure form over 10% of the population of Kabul,18 as opposed to less than 5% in the poor rural areas of central Ghor19 or Bamiyan.20 There is, of course, a tendency for displaced persons and other groups who have lost assets and capital (including human capital) to move to urban environments, and this movement is greatly accelerated in time of war. So, cities contain a higher proportion of poor people. At the same time, these urban poor tend to receive less charity than do poor households in a village. This may be because of competition for charity between the large numbers of poor and destitute persons in the cities, or simply because of the anomie of city life.21 A further explanation for the high levels of food insecurity in urban areas is that restrictions on women taking part in economic activities are more strictly enforced in urban environments than in rural ones, and so households dependent upon female labour find it harder to survive in the city.22

In an urban environment, chronic food insecurity is almost invariably the result of income poverty, and to a lesser extent, of weak social links. People get almost all of their food through the market. If a household doesn't have enough money to enter the market, or wealthy friends and relatives prepared to assist them, they will find it difficult to get enough food and particularly difficult to get the more nutritious (and generally expensive) items.

This makes the analysis of food insecurity (from the point of view of access to food) relatively simple in the cities of Afghanistan. The food insecure are those with the lowest incomes. The lowest incomes, in most cities in Afghanistan, are those earned by women and children performing paid work.23 Where households are reliant upon the work of women and children for their income, they tend to be very poor indeed.24

Better-paid, but still low-income work for men tends to be as unskilled casual labourers or low and middle level government servants. Within these low-income categories, the poorest will be those with the highest dependency ratio: the households with the fewest people working relative to the number of mouths to feed. Where WFP has studied the income generating activities of IDPs in urban settings, they have found that the activities and income levels of IDPs (after a period of transition) are very similar to those of residents with households of the same demographic composition. WFP's Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) unit is attempting to measure and compare food insecurity from one city to another, from one economic group to another, and from city to country. The VAM unit is doing this by calculating the total income (including the income that comes as own-produced food, or as gifts) of households in different economic groups and different geographical areas. These incomes are then compared to a common expenditure basket. The items in the expenditure basket are the same in all locations, although the prices of these items, and so of the whole basket, change over time, and from one place to another.25 In Jalalabad, the basket cost around US $ 7.60 per person per month in 1998. In Faizabad, over the same period, it cost US $ 8.00 per person per month, and in the northern rainfed areas, US $ 6.60. These are the minimum incomes per person per month required in each area. At the same time, incomes differed from one place to another: average monthly income, per person, for a labouring family would be US $ 7.30 in Jalalabad, US $ 6.40 in Faizabad, and US $ 4.50 in the northern rainfed areas.26

Using these figures, we can compare levels of poverty (and so food insecurity, for in the urban environment they amount to almost the same thing) from one urban area to another.

For the poorest group -- those households without an able bodied man -- the situation appears to be worst in Kabul: on average, households in this category earned around 30% of the minimum income figure.27 In Mazar and Faizabad, households in the same category earned around 40% of minimum income. Slightly better off were the poorest in Jalalabad and Kandahar: in Jalalabad, households in this category earned 70% of minimum income; in Kandahar, they earned 75%.

For the larger vulnerable group households with one male worker the relative poverty in the different cities was similar. Income poverty, and so food insecurity, was worst in Kabul, Faizabad, and Mazar: in all three cities, households with one able bodied casual labourer were earning around 70% of minimum income.28In Jalalabad, households of the same type earned over 80% of minimum income needs, and in Kandahar, 118%.

Failure to meet minimum income needs does not mean that these households were starving. In all the cities surveyed, the labouring poor group could meet their minimum energy needs by spending the vast bulk of what they earned just on buying cereal, and buying very little else. Failure to meet minimum income thresholds means that poor households have to make choices about how they spend their scant resources: between filling (but non-nutritious) foodstuffs and expensive vegetables, milk, meat or pulses, or between food and medicine. It means that poor households live in fear of the wage earner falling sick, and are often forced to beg or take part in other activities that are dangerous or 'shameful'. The urban poor, and especially the poor of Kabul, Faizabad and Mazar, cannot be sure of where their next meal is coming from, which is surely as good a definition of food insecurity as any. The poorest households in these cities were reliant on begging and international assistance to survive.

The information above relates to 1998, the baseline year for the VAM urban surveys. The situation has not improved, however, in 1999, and there are no signs of improvement for 2000. Since April 1998, WFP in Afghanistan has made a monthly record of the terms of trade between casual labour and wheat flour, as the food security of the poor (although not, as we have seen, of the very poorest) is dependent upon working to buy wheat flour. Over the entire period, Kabul has consistently recorded the worst terms of trade, and the situation has deteriorated in 1999: in August 1998, one day's labour would buy 5.6 kg of flour. In August 1999, the same labour would buy only 4.5 kg.

Action contre le Faim (ACF) nutritional surveys show a slight but steady decline in the nutritional status of the under-five population of Kabul from November 1995 to February 1999,29 and this decline seems to correlate with a general trend of decreased purchasing power and increased difficulties of accessing food in the city. In Faizabad and Mazar, terms of trade are also worse in late 1999 than they were in 1998: in August 1999, a day's casual labour bought 30% less flour in both cities than it had one year previously.30

As these urban centres decline, external investment and central revenue decreases, infrastructure deteriorates and population increases, wages and purchasing power seem set to continue to fall. Urban food insecurity is largely a consequence of urban poverty, and so food security cannot be assured without investment in economic change. Until this becomes practicable, WFP expects to address the consequences of poverty (as they relate to food) through subsidised bakeries in Kabul and Mazar and through periodic food distributions.

Chronic food insecurity is less easily identified and defined in rural areas of Afghanistan than in urban areas. This is partly because rural populations have so many more options for obtaining food than their urban compatriots: they can buy food, but they can also grow food, slaughter it, gather it or hunt it. In the countryside, we cannot simply say that high prices, combined with low cash incomes, will lead to food insecurity: the market is almost irrelevant to the food security of many cereal farmers, while to Kuchi pastoralists, the price of livestock is more important than the price of wheat. However, we can crudely say that areas that have low agricultural productivity, low levels of livestock ownership, high cereal prices and low levels of cash income will tend to be chronically food insecure.

Places where access to food is likely to be difficult for a sizeable proportion of the population are often the same areas where supply of cereals is also vulnerable to disruption: highlands with poor access, low population density, little pasture, and low crop yields. So as with cereal availability, the areas which are always of concern are the central highlands (particularly the southern part of Bamiyan province and northern Uruzgan province), Badakhshan (particularly highland Badakhshan) and possibly parts of Nuristan province. In addition, the rainfed plains north of the Hindu Kush chain, stretching from Baghlan to Faryab provinces, the rainfed highlands of Ghor, Kandahar and Zabul provinces, and some pastoralist groups may be chronically food insecure.

Much more work is required to quantify levels of food insecurity in these areas. Recently, the WFP VAM team has begun work on total income in some of these areas, and the picture is not encouraging. In 1998, the "poor" group (landless labourers or small landowners, depending upon area) was earning only 65% of total income needs in Badakhshan; this means that they were poorer than urban casual labourers in Kabul. In rainfed areas of Faryab, this group was earning around 70% of income needs, in Ghor, 85% of income needs, and in Badghis a little over 100% of income needs. Unfortunately, the VAM unit does not have figures available for the central highlands, which were surveyed before this method of analysis was introduced.

In most of these chronically food insecure areas, the 1998/9 drought will increase food insecurity, either directly, through reduction of yields, or indirectly, through increased cereal prices. WFP is currently collaborating with several UN agencies and NGOs to determine how bad food insecurity in these areas will be over the coming year. SpecificallyWFP needs to know whether there will be sections of the population who are unable to meet their minimum food energy requirement. Under these circumstances, a household is not only unable to meet minimum income (as defined by the expenditure basket) but cannot achieve even their minimum energy needs through buying only cheap cereals. Already, the information collected points to a need for emergency intervention to mitigate the effects of drought (in some cases, compounded by last year's blockade) in parts of Sharestan, Dai Kundi, Lal and Sarjangal, and Ghor.31 WFP and partners are also analysing the need for drought-related intervention in Panjao and Waras (Bamiyan province), Beshud (Wardak province), Badakhshan province, and the rainfed areas of Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Kandahar, and Zabul provinces.

Preliminary results suggest that no life-saving intervention is required in Kandahar and Zabul.

In addition, there are areas which were previously relatively food secure, which in 1999 have become food insecure as a result of conflict or population movement. These include the Panjshir valley in Kapisa province and the districts of Bamiyan, Saighan and Shibar in Bamiyan province. In both areas, the problem is not solely one of food availability; even if sufficient food reaches these areas, there are large sections of the population who, because of displacement and loss of assets and livelihoods, will not be able to afford it. At the time of writing, WFP has begun emergency operations in these areas, and remains concerned about the future food security of the Shomali plains (Kabul, Parwan and Kapisa provinces). As the conflict in Afghanistan continues into 2000, WFP will have to remain prepared to respond to acute food insecurity caused by war and population displacement.

Because access to food involves a more complex set of activities in rural than in urban areas, it is also more difficult to point out what sort of people within an area are likely to be food insecure. Chronic food insecurity at household level is usually a consequence of poverty, it is true. But poverty in the countryside is about more than just low cash incomes: it is a compound of lack of rights to land, animals, traction, labour and off-farm income generating activities. In each area, poverty takes on a subtly different shape. For example, in parts of Ghor district, poverty seems to be less a result of landlessness (which is very uncommon) than a result of low livestock holdings: the scarce commodity in this area is animal traction. In the central highlands, poverty is again not simply a consequence of landlessness, but of landlessness compounded by a lack of social connections.32 WFP has found it instructive to attempt to understand poverty and chronic food insecurity better and to work with communities and operating partners in their targeting of the food insecure.

This difficulty in defining what sort of households are food insecure in emergencies is even greater than in long-term, chronic situations. In emergencies, it is not only the poor who are affected: if a prosperous and a poor household are suddenly displaced, and do not have time to take anything with them, they are liable to be equally food insecure. Under certain circumstances, the poor may actually fare better than the better off in an emergency. Acute food insecurity can strike in seemingly capricious ways, and to understand the effects of an emergency on access to food, we need to understand how food was obtained by different sorts of household before the emergency, and how this access has been changed. In conducting emergency food needs assessments, WFP will continue to look not only at the total needs, but also at the type of households who are most in need.33

Access to food inside the household

Even rich households can have food insecure members. Just as we need to avoid making assumptions about what sort of households are most food insecure, so it is important not to assume that, just because a household is food secure, all of the members of that household have access to enough food.

This is perhaps particularly important in a culture such as that of Afghanistan, where gender and age are so closely linked to behaviour related to food. It is quite normal in much of Afghanistan for women and children to eat after the men have finished, and in many parts of the country there seem to be taboos as to what sort of food young children should eat.

At present, there is no conclusive evidence to link this type of behaviour to higher levels of food insecurity among certain age groups or among women. Nutritional surveys in Kabul of the under-five age group, where disaggregated by gender, have not presented a consistent picture. In some surveys, female children have higher levels of malnutrition than male children do,34 but in others the position is reversed.35 A relatively recent nutritional survey of parts of the central highlands found higher levels of acute malnutrition among boys than among girls.36

If our understanding of food insecurity in Afghanistan is to be at all comprehensive, we need to pin down the facts of intra-household distribution. WFP is currently preparing terms of reference for a consultant to investigate these issues.


Food security in Afghanistan is multi-faceted. Food security, in terms of the availability of food for eating and the ability of households to access this food, is a part of the economy. Food security, in terms of the ability of people within households to get a "fair share" of this food, is part of culture. Afghanistan in 1999 is still not economically integrated, but rather is composed of a series of linked economies, some of which cross state boundaries into Pakistan or Iran. Afghanistan is not now, nor has it ever been, culturally homogenous. Under these circumstances, it is much more effective to think about food security on a local, rather than a national, scale.

At the same time, we can make some broad generalisations. The majority of chronically food insecure people in Afghanistan live in one of two extremes: cities (and particularly Kabul, Faizabad and Mazar-e-Sharif) or low population density, remote and relatively unproductive highland areas. In the cities, the food insecure are those with the lowest cash incomes relative to commodity prices. For these populations, 1999 seems likely to see increased food insecurity, as competition for employment grows, food prices rise and incomes fall in real terms. In many (but not all) of the isolated rural areas in the centre and north of the country, decreased crop production in the 1999 harvest will also lead to increased levels of impoverishment and debt, which in turn builds up chronic food insecurity in the future.

While it is still too early to say with confidence, the 1998/9 drought, if taken alone, seems unlikely to lead to acute food insecurity over most of the areas affected. In most places, farmers and sharecroppers will sell assets, take out loans, send family members to work in the more prosperous cities or neighbouring countries, and rely on patronage to survive this lean year. People will get poorer, and hope for a bumper harvests next year to recoup their losses. Only in areas where assets are exhausted and patronage links stretched to their utmost might people find themselves unable to survive. These include the central highlands, blockaded from May 1997 until September of last year; Badakhshan, where extremely poor people are reliant upon grain that passes along one vulnerable road; the Panjshir valley, also blockaded, and now sheltering a large number of almost destitute displaced families; and central Ghor, where poor harvest, high cereal prices and decreased livestock prices have simultaneously increased the income requirement of poor households and decreased their income-earning capacity.

The spectre of border closure, and subsequent decreased availability and increased cereal prices, is more worrying. Were prices to rise as they did in 1997, over one-third of the population of Kabul, Mazar and Faizabad would find it difficult or impossible to meet their minimum food needs without increased levels of assistance from the international community.

The problem would also affect other urban centres, such as Kandahar and Ghazni, where the population is currently relatively food secure. Prices would also rise in the countryside, particularly in rural cereal deficit areas, and this would seriously compound the food insecurity of the areas mentioned above, and possibly make certain other areas food insecure. This situation will require careful monitoring in the weeks and months to come.

The United Nations and the international assistance community has begun supplying food to some of these areas, and is assessing needs in others. This emergency assistance should save lives, but it cannot guarantee food security. What is needed to assure food security in Afghanistan is a commitment, not least by the leaders of the Afghan people, to infrastructure development, to agricultural support and support to marketing, and to urban employment creation (and specifically employment creation for women). Much of this could be achieved now. Even more could be achieved given peace.


1The whole issue of access to food, as opposed to availability of food, as the basis of food security, was opened by Amartya Sen in the seminal 'Poverty and famines' (1983).

2 In all thirteen food security baseline surveys conducted by the WFP VAM unit to date, cereals, predominantly wheat, have formed 75% or more of total energy intake for all socio-economic groups surveyed. Other sources of energy found in most places include vegetable oil, milk and milk products, meat, fruit and nuts and pulses.

3A 50% decrease in agricultural production between 1978 and 1987 is recorded in the 'Agricultural survey of Afghanistan, 1st report,' SCA 1988.

4FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, Special Report, ‘FAO/WFP June 1999.

5 In 'Afghanistan, the journey to economic development, Vol. II,' World Bank 1978.

6‘FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, Special Report, ‘FAO/WFP June 1999.

7Ministry of Planning, Govt. of Afghanistan, 1978. Note that this figure is for official imports only, but unofficial imports are unlikely to have been very much higher.

8For a broader discussion of the 1998 drought, rainfall patterns in Afghanistan, and the difficulties of measuring precipitation in Afghanistan, see: 'Rainfall trends in Afghanistan, 1958 to 1998, 'WFP/VAM (Afghanistan).

9 'FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, Special Report, ’FAO/WFP June 1999.

10Personal communication from WFP VAM survey team to Badghis, August 1999.

11 'Dai Kundi yield survey, ‘ACF, August 1999.

12Debriefing report of WFP VAM survey team to northern rainfed areas, August 1999.

13See 'Food needs in the Panjshir Valley: report on debriefing of Panjshir food needs assessment team,‘ WFP/VAM (Afghanistan), September 1999. See also 'Panjshir valley/Shomali IDP assessment mission report,‘UNDP/UNOCHA, September 1999. The situation is currently evolving, and further reports are expected.

14Food security baseline report, Faizabad, WFP VAM (Afghanistan) 1999.

15There is a wealth of recent reports and surveys on problems of access and availability of food in these districts. Issues of the marketing and availability of food are considered in, 'Discussion of possible interventions in the Hazarajat, ‘ WFP VAM (Afghanistan) September 1998, 'Recommendations for Assistance to the Hazarajat,‘ WFP VAM Afghanistan October 1998 and updates; 'Update on the situation in Sharesta,' ACF June 1999; 'Update on the situation in Dai Kundi, 'ACF August 1999, 'Food security case study Shirdosh /Sareqol, ‘RCO Central Highlands, 'UNOCHA June 1999. However, as this last report notes, we are still a long way from understanding how the cereal trade functions in these areas.

16 'FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Afghanistan, 'Special Report, ‘FAO/ WFP June 1999.

17 'Report on WFP's assessment mission to Ghor province, ‘WFP 1997; 'Food security baseline report, Ghor central area, ‘WFP/VAM (Afghanistan).

18 ‘Food security baseline report, Kabul, ‘WFP VAM (Afghanistan) 1999, which used PRA techniques, and ACF 1999, which used a sampled questionnaire survey.

19 ‘Food security baseline report, Central Ghor, ‘WFP/VAM (Afghanistan) 1999.

20 ‘Strategies for support of sustainable rural livelihoods for the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, ‘Pattan Development Organisation, 1998.

21 In Mazar, the most food insecure households receive around 30% of their minimum food needs from the charity of others. In rural areas, of Sari Pul, 100 kilometres away, the most food insecure receive up to 70% of their minimum food needs from their neighbours.

22Although the ability of women to work differs largely from area to area, recent VAM surveys in Ghor and Badghis provinces have both recorded many instances of women owning and working land. This seems to be less prevalent in other areas.

23For urban women, examples of paid labour include: processing agricultural produce, performing domestic tasks, baking, needlework and tailoring and handicraft manufacture.

24Many of these households are 'female headed! It is important to remember, however, that many of them are not female headed; but rather are headed by (male) children or disabled adults.

25The basket contains modest quantities of: wheat flour, rice, pulses, vegetable oil, potatoes, vegetables, meat, salt, matches, soap, clothing and fuel.

26All figures in this and subsequent paragraphs are from the WFP/VAM food security baseline reports, unless otherwise attributed.

27To allow for a valid comparison, all figures quoted here do not include the income gained from begging or from WFP or other external interventions, but do include other forms of redistribution (from family and mosques, etc.). As the figures given in baseline reports include begging, they are uniformly higher (except in Jalalabad, where begging doesn't occur on as large a scale).

28Note that the figure for Kabul is lower than in the original baseline report: this is the result of subsequent changes in the expenditure basket, to bring it into line with other parts of Afghanistan.

29'Nutrition, vaccination coverage and mortality survey, Kabul city,' ACF, February 1999.

30’Key price indicators for Afghanistan, August 1999, WFP Afghanistan, September 1999.

31See: 'Food security in Dai Kundi,' WFP/VAM September 1999, 'Dai Khundi quick assessment, ‘ACF August 1999, 'Dai Kundi mission report, ‘Oxfam, August 1999, 'Food security baseline, Shahrestan, ‘ WFP/ VAM June 1998, 'Monitoring report Shahrestan, 'WFP/VAM July 1998, 'Shahrestan quick assessment, 'ACF August 1999, 'Emergency Assessment, Lal and Sarjangal, ‘WFP/VAM September 1999.

32 'Strategies for support of sustainable rural livelihoods for the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, ‘Pattan Development Organisation, 1998.

33See: 'Emergency food needs assessment guidelines for Afghanistan,' WFP/VAM, May 1999.

34For example the KEP survey of Kabul in 'Afghanistan health profile,' ACBAR 1997.

35CIET MICS, 1997.

36ACF, 1998.


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