Any international intervention in Iraq will require not just the winning of a war, but the building of a peace and the rebuilding of a nation as well. Sadako Ogata, the former UN high commissioner for refugees, looks at the record in Afghanistan to see how military action, humanitarian aims and nation-building can be linked more effectively –

The emergence of nation-building, reconstruction and post-conflict peace-building as issues in the public domain is a welcome development. A decade ago, when the US-led coalition took action to establish safe havens for the Kurds in northern Iraq, it was hailed as the start of international military intervention for humanitarian purposes. The policy was challenged when it was attempted elsewhere, particularly in Somalia, and failed to materialize in the Great Lakes region of Africa. What had not been understood was the importance of following up military intervention with rebuilding efforts, if only for the sake of ensuring peace.

When war ends with the conclusion of a peace agreement, or when the UN is given an interim mandate to administer the transition from war to peace – as happened in Cambodia, Mozambique and Kosovo – programmes are introduced which range from the repatriation of refugees to political, social and economic rehabilitation. The most recent case of Afghanistan merits particular attention, as it involves novel attempts to link military action more directly with reconstruction from an early phase.

To begin with, the military action against Afghanistan took place in reaction to terrorist attacks on the mainland of the US. The source of the terror was the Al-Qaeda network, which had its base in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and a network of activists from all over the world.

Their grouping was the product of a globalizing world of advanced transportation and communications, the free flow of information technology and the accelerated movement of people across borders.

The immediate military objective of defeating the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda network was quickly achieved with the support of the Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan. Conclusive victory, however, is yet to come.

It is only by reconstructing Afghanistan at all levels – the state as well as society – that threats to the Afghan people and the region can be contained. It is in this context that the policy of linking military action with reconstruction has emerged.

It was no coincidence that Japan decided to take the initiative over the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Although Japan was relatively quick to join the US-led military action, its contribution was necessarily limited. Japan enacted a special legal provision to engage in support activities by means of Self-Defence Forces vessels in the Indian Ocean and by sending humanitarian assistance by Air Force C-130 Hercules transports to Pakistan.

The Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, decided to make major contributions to the reconstruction project and reached agreement with president George W Bush on the division of work between them. One outcome was the co-hosting of the Senior Officials Meeting on Afghan Reconstruction in Washington on November 22. At the time, the Bonn Agreement had not been reached and the political future of the country was still in question. The political road map for the establishment of a legitimate government was still unclear.

Due credit should be given for the prompt convening of the Washington meeting because the early linking of military action with reconstruction efforts stands as a precedent-breaking initiative.

The reconstruction conference was intended to send out the political message that the international community would be forthcoming with significant assistance, once the Afghans had agreed on peace.

The Afghan reconstruction agenda unfolded internationally. Japan hosted the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in Tokyo on January 21-22 last year. With 61 countries and 21 international agencies attending, the conference received more than $4.5 billion in pledges and more than $1.8 billion for 2002 alone.

Koizumi asked me to co-chair the conference, and in preparation I visited Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran in early January. I had been to these countries several times before in my capacity as UN high commissioner for refugees.

The Afghans were the largest single group of refugees when I assumed office in 1991 – some 6.2 million of them – and were still the largest when I left at the end of 2000.

The refugee-hosting countries, Pakistan and Iran, faced serious difficulties because of dwindling international aid. Repatriation to Afghanistan was considered virtually out of the question by the donor countries, which decided that no one should go back and live under the Taliban regime.

At the time Afghanistan was an abandoned and forgotten country, living on international charity. It was September 11, with its terrible human cost in the US, that opened up opportunities for Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

I made a second visit to Afghanistan during the Loya Jirga in June and went on a field trip to Kandahar province in the south. The reconstruction needs of Afghanistan exist at two levels – state and society.

First, at the level of the state, there are two pressing tasks: to establish nationwide security and to strengthen the administrative capacity of the government.

While the US continues military action against the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the International Security Assistance Force which covers Kabul has been providing security. But there are still worrying signs of insecurity in parts of the north and southeast.

President Hamid Karzai and many others have asked the UN Security Council to authorize an extension and expansion of the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force. Two related endeavours are the establishment of the Afghan national defence and police forces.

Demobilization and the reintegration of former combatants into civilian life are also called for. All these efforts are interrelated undertakings which must produce rapid results. Nationwide security is the basic condition for humanitarian and reconstruction work to make progress.

The need for the government to develop administrative capacity is also urgent. When I called on the president in Kabul a year ago and asked what his priority needs were, he gave an interesting answer. He said that, when he had not been heading the government, he had thought that the first priority was education, followed by road repair and health. Now that he was in government, he realized the absolute importance of setting up a functioning administration.

He has to have money to pay salaries to civil servants, buildings to house ministers, telephones to communicate. He has to restore the Supreme Court, establish a new central bank, issue currency and build various other governing institutions to strengthen the administrative capacity to work in accordance with the law.

In many post-conflict situations governments have had to start from scratch, but Afghanistan’s needs seem vast and dense. It is the legacy of more than 23 years of war and devastation, and of the recent military action to end the war.

The international community has been mobilizing resources to cover basic salaries for civil servants for the first year. Various states have volunteered to take lead roles in certain sectors. The US and France are rebuilding the Afghan national army. Germany is training the police. The UK is in charge of anti-narcotics operations. Japan has opted for the demobilization and registration of former combatants, and for comprehensive development programmes in several provincial areas.

It is important to note that the UN has not taken up any administrative role but provides an assistance mission to the Afghan government to cover all areas – political affairs, humanitarian issues and reconstruction.

Undoubtedly the construction of the Afghan state is a priority. But at the level of society people have to be assisted in recovering their normal lives together. They face enormous difficulties in all aspects of their daily existence.

Refugees and internally displaced people are returning in large numbers. More than 1.8 million have come back from Pakistan and Iran. It is a good sign that people are banking on peace, but it is an enormous challenge for the Afghan administration and the international community to gear up their assistance from emergency humanitarian aid to reintegration programmes and longer-term reconstruction.

Children are going back to school. More than 2 million are attending lessons in shifts, using classrooms that require urgent repair. Shelter, water, schools, health clinics and supplies of seeds have to be put in place. How do you build functioning communities in both rural and urban areas?

The challenge for reconstruction is to maintain sufficient pace to give hope to the people that conditions will be better tomorrow. In Afghanistan it is imperative to show that things have definitely improved since the Taliban days.

Last January, when people were beginning to trek home, I visited the Shomali Plains. I have seen with my own eyes the big difference between the devastation then and only five months later, in June, when the grapevines were green again and people were rebuilding their homes.

One initiative that should be noted is the $180 million grant from the US, Japan and Saudi Arabia to repair and rebuild the main roads connecting Kabul, Kandahar and Herat.

Road reconstruction provides employment opportunities for local people but also for returning refugees and demobilized soldiers. It facilitates the transport of people and goods. Roads are crucial to economic and social rehabilitation. It is good that the US, aside from its military engagement, has changed its policy and begun to move more positively on roads and other reconstruction work.

The prompt and extensive reconstruction efforts seen in Afghanistan, if sustained, could be a model that might be emulated elsewhere. There are many countries today which are trying to resolve their conflicts and move forward into post-conflict reconstruction – Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Sri Lanka, to name a few.

Personally, I have always worked for humanitarian causes. Saving the lives of people, especially the victims of conflict and violence, has always been uppermost in my mind.

I have also witnessed military interventions. There have been times, whether in the Balkans or in central Africa, when I have felt that early military action might save the people from greater danger and misery. As we face the prospect of imminent war against Iraq, we should carefully weigh its objectives against the devastation and casualties that military action would inevitably bring.

Above all, it is important to realize that military action alone cannot remove the fundamental causes underlying the threats and conflicts. In the wake of September 11, the US-led military action in Afghanistan received broad international support because there was widely shared agreement on the need to eliminate the terrorist haven that had developed there.

There was also a recognition that the international community had to reconstruct the Afghan state and society. As yet, such a consensus has not emerged over Iraq.

At times, building peace might require decisive military action. However, such action would have to be linked with effective humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.

Ultimately, international interventions are judged not by the war they give rise to but by the quality of the peace they leave behind.

Sadako Ogata
Sadako Ogata is Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s special representative for Afghan assistance. She is also a scholar in residence at the Ford Foundation and co-chair of the Commission on Human Security. Between 1991 and 2000 she was the UN high commissioner for refugees.