Foreign Policy Blogs

The Risks of Local Defense

On Wednesday, NATO and the Karzai government struck a deal to arm Afghan locals for defense against the Taliban.  It’s a temporary measure devised to make up for the slowness of training permanent security forces.  The local forces will be paid for and supervised by the Afghan Interior Ministry.  But, of course, there are risks.  The New York Times has the goods:

1) It could get out of hand.

In fact, the program runs the risk of becoming too popular — it will create a demand in poor communities around the nation that could turn it into an unwieldy and ineffective job creation program.

2) It could get out of hand.

Questions remain, too, about whether the Interior Ministry will be able to manage the forces. While the ministry’s leadership in Kabul has been working recently to reduce graft, the police at every level are widely viewed as corrupt and, in many places, incompetent.

3) It could duplicate the Soviet mistake.

Another worry was creating any government structures reminiscent of the period of Communist rule here, when Muhammad Najibullah, then the president, created local armed forces to help bolster the government’s fight against rebels — a move that alienated many Afghans.

4) It could get out of hand.

One major risk of the program, which all sides tacitly acknowledge, is that it will multiply the number of well-armed people in Afghanistan, which even with safeguards could foster fighting rather than quell it.

Let’s keep our eyes on this.