Afghanistan: A case study in the changing nature of armed conflict


Discussion & Conclusion

The discussion particularly outlined the extremely complex nature of the situation in Afghanistan. While these types of conflicts are not new, perhaps they have increasingly come into focus because of the near absence of interstate warfare. Technology and the lack of control over information (like the videos of beheadings) radically change the dynamic of conflict. Finally, 9-11 was a defining moment in bringing non-state actors under the spotlight.

Afghanistan may be the most forward-looking of these new types of conflict; while the same issues are seen in more conventional conflicts, the institutional responses in Afghanistan are unique. The presence of NGOs and the private sector are a very new innovation. As a panellist noted there were no NGOs in the war in Vietnam. “A generation ago, NGOs did not attempt this type of work.” However, Afghanistan is not just a military operation Afghanistan is the fourth poorest country in the world, and one of the largest high intensity development projects on the list of most western states foreign policy.

In this challenging context the classical approach of Defence, Diplomacy and Development (3D) it put to the test. In practice it seems that the experience in Afghanistan has also pushed towards the integration of the classic 3 D approach. With the new Representative of Canada in Kandahar (RoCK) there has been a move to prioritize integration in the Canadian government, resulting in institutional changes. This has brought about more joint planning with partners and one can see a difference on the ground. The military have been driving the push towards integration, because of their experience on the ground.

However, it was noted that integration of this approach can have its pitfalls. Moreover in Afghanistan there is an added challenge to neutrality and the protection of humanitarian workers because Western governments are also engaged in the war. This has led agencies such as CIDA to avoid having a pre-conceived notion of how their relationships with NGOs will work and how to be responsive to NGO requests. Panellists pointed out that, although frustrating, the Canadian military was careful to not do the work of civilians and Canadian civilians were careful to not do the work of the Afghan government. Rather, they prioritized capacity building.

he panel was quite effective in outlining and highlighting the major themes of the Edges of Conflict conference through the case study, notably the integration of military operations with aid and the rise of non-state actors.

Articles and Reports:

United Nations. General Assembly and Security Council. Report of the Secretary-General: The situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security. A/63/751–S/2009/135, 10 March 2009.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, ANSO Quarterly Data Report (Q. 2-07): Dec. 22nd 2006 – June 30th 2007.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office and CARE, NGO Insecurity in Afghanistan, May 2005.

Government of Canada, Canada’s Engagement In Afghanistan, Report to Parliament September 2008.


Canada’s Engagement in Afghanistan

Rule of Law in Armed Conflict: Afghanistan

CARE: Afghanistan Special Report
International Committee of the Red Cross: Afghanistan

Médecins Sans Frontières: Afghanistan

Save the Children: Afghanistan

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