Afghanistan: Peacekeepers needed to facilitate northern disarmament, say NGOs

KABUL, 10 March (IRIN) - Analysts and aid workers have told IRIN ongoing disarmament and demilitarisation efforts in northern Afghanistan need to be supported by a political process as well as improved security.
"So long as the political competition there is not resolved, there is not going to be any incentive for a fair disarmament, demobilisation and demilitarisation process," Vikram Parekh, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, told IRIN from the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday.

His comments follow a UN statement on Sunday hailing the departure of 200 rival fighters from Nasari village in the northern Jowzjan Province following the resolution of a land dispute.

"Last week reports of tension led to a security commission delegation, backed by the UN. They reached a resolution; according to that resolution no armed people or military posts are allowed in Nasari," the spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told reporters in Kabul.

In another incident, the commission successfully intervened in a land dispute between nomads and local farmers in the Sholgara District of Balkh Province, and brought about an amicable agreement between the two sides.

Meanwhile, the UN is upbeat about improved security initiatives in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, where the commission secured a total of 1,600 extra troops from the main military faction loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum and from that of Ata Mohammad to police the city during celebrations to mark Nowruz, the Afghan New Year, on 21 March. An estimated 200,000 people are expected to attend the event.

But without more muscle at its disposal, the commission may have difficulties in overcoming regional rivalries, say observers. "The security commission has ultimately limited ability to address the larger political rivalry in the north or to compel compliance from the top leadership of the northern factions, as well as commanders at the local level," Parekh noted.

The UN-backed security commission was formed in May last year to undertake disarmament and demilitarisation of thousands of fighters - one of the most pressing tasks facing Kabul if security is to be improved throughout the country.

According to Parekh, disarmament efforts failed twice in the Sholgara District because with small arms still plentiful, rival groups simply rearmed their supporters. Ever since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, the three principal military factions, these being the ethnic Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat-e Eslami, the Uzbek Jonbesh-e Melli-ye Eslami headed by Dostum, and the largely Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Eslami, headed by Ata Mohammad, have jostled for control in different areas of northern Afghanistan. Violent clashes among such groups have left scores of fighters dead.

"For disarmament to begin in the north or anywhere in Afghanistan, a peace agreement between various militias is the starting point," Parekh asserted, adding that the presence of some international security force was necessary to give incentives to the warlords to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.

Many aid agencies have repeatedly demanded the extension of the International Security and Assistance Force, presently guarding only Kabul, to other parts of the country. "An international force will also be very useful in trying to monitor and collect weapons as part of any demobilisation exercise," Parekh said.

Experts believe that international assistance is a prerequisite to integrating demobilised fighters into a peacetime economy by providing jobs and support in agriculture. At a recent donor conference in Tokyo, Afghanistan was promised more than US $51 million for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

Meanwhile, NGOs remain cautious. Arnau Ferra, a field coordinator with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told IRIN from Mazar-e Sharif: "I won't say that it's a normal situation. We are careful. We don't expect to stop our work, and we are not particularly worried about what can happen in the future." IRC has been providing assistance to communities in Balkh over the past year.


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