Conferences

Rule of Law in Afghanistan
Boston, Massachusetts
September 23-24, 2010

One of the most significant defects of state building in Afghanistan has been its failure to achieve rule of law after almost a decade of effort.  Despite intense efforts made by the international community to build the Afghan government's capacity, the formal system of justice fails to meet the country’s needs. Indeed, the government’s incapacity and corruption are often cited as reasons for popular support of the Taliban, who have touted their ability to resolve the disputes that government-appointed officials cannot.  In September 2010, the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies convened a conference to examine the rule of law in Afghanistan.  Conference participants included lawyers, social scientists, diplomats and practitioners. Most had considerable on-the-ground experience in Afghanistan, but the group also included those familiar with rule of law issues in other countries. 

Participants agreed that too many plans for institution building in Afghanistan failed to account for historical and cultural implications, or consider how alternate systems of dispute resolution maintain social order in the absence of formal government institutions.  For this reason, the conference first focused on the relationship between state and society in Afghanistan.  It then examined traditional, local dispute resolution systems and their implications on the government's formal system of justice.  Due to the international community’s financing and support of the formal justice system, the conference next examined the tensions between Afghan cultural values and internationally accepted legal norms and standards. Finally, the conference proposed a set of policy options better designed to meet Afghanistan’s needs.  However, a number of participants warned that plans for achieving the rule of law cannot be divorced from the political environment where impunity from legal consequences benefits those with political power. 

To dowload the conference report, please click here.


Fundamentals of Governance in Afghanistan
Istanbul, Turkey
June 18-20, 2009

Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitution created a highly centralized government with a strong presidency.  This model was endorsed by the international community on the grounds that Afghanistan needed a strong leader and that the previous governments in Afghanistan had employed such structures.  Five years on, it is apparent that the Kabul government has been unable to bring stability to the country.  While most critics have focused on failures of leadership and endemic corruption as root causes, too little attention has been paid to the structure of government itself.  It may well be that a highly centralized government, the goal of the Kabul political elite for more than a century, was in fact always a dubious proposition for a country with so many distinct regions and ethnic groups.

In late June 2009, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue and the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) convened leading experts from Afghanistan, Europe, Turkey, and the United States in Istanbul for a three-day conference, entitled “Fundamentals of Governance in Afghanistan,” to explore governance, widely seen as central to Afghanistan’s progress. The conference focused on three crucial areas: central government capacity; the rule of law; and subnational governance.

To dowload the short report, please click here. A longer report will be available soon.


Afghanistan's Other Neighbors: Iran, Central Asia, and China
Istanbul, Turkey
July 24-26, 2008

Landlocked Afghanistan lies in the heart of Asia. It links three major cultural and geographic regions: the Indian subcontinent to the southeast, Central Asia to the north, and the Iranian Plateau in the west. Geography may not be destiny, but it has set the course of Afghan history for millennia. Even today Afghanistan continues to share cross-border populations, trade links, labor migrations, and cultural ties that transcend current nation-state boundaries. Although Afghanistan’s relationship with its southeastern neighbor, Pakistan, receives considerable scrutiny, its relationship with its other neighbors to the west and north—China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—has received much less attention.

Durand Conference

To address this issue, the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue cosponsored a seminar in Istanbul in July 2008 entitled “Afghanistan’s Other Neighbors: Iran, Central Asia, and China.” Building on a path-breaking July 2007 AIAS-Hollings Center conference on the Durand Line, the contested border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the seminar brought together a diverse and interdisciplinary group of 26 prominent scholars, diplomats, former government officials, and NGO representatives from Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, the European Union, Turkey, and the United States. Discussions explored the past, present, and future connections between Afghanistan and its northern and western neighbors. The seminar concluded that Afghanistan’s long-term prospects for political stability and economic prosperity depend on strengthening its links with these neighbors. Both the Afghan government and the international community therefore must give far greater attention to the structure of these relationships, their present status, and their future prospects when creating development and security policies for Afghanistan. A report of this conference was released in February 2009 to summarize the key discussion points and conclusions.

To read a full report of the conference, please click here.


The Durand Line: History, Consequences and Future
Istanbul, Turkey
July 11-13, 2007

The demarcation of the frontier between British India and Afghanistan was made explicit by the Durand Agreement of 1893.  Imposed over Afghan objections it divided the Pashtun tribes and gave the British control of those in what would become the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).  From the very beginning the line caused controversy by dividing communities and creating a set of territories within the NWFP that remained under British sovereignty but outside of its colonial administration.  No Afghan government ever accepted the Durand line as an international border.  This refusal has continued for more than a century under regimes of all political stripes, some of which called for the reincorporation of the territory into Afghanistan or the creation of a new state of Pashtunistan.  Pakistan by contrast has always insisted the Durand Line constitutes its recognized international border with Afghanistan.  However, following the practice of the British, it continued to recognize the autonomy of the tribes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in which the writ of normal Pakistani law and government did not run.  This has created problems for both countries.  FATA is the major transit route for large scale smuggling operations into Pakistan from Afghan territory.  But the FATA also serves as both a haven for al Qaeda leaders and a base for Afghan Taliban to conduct cross-border attacks on the Government of Afghanistan and the international forces assisting it.  Disagreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan over who has responsibility for dealing with such forces has soured relations between the two neighbors and heightened their distrust of one another.

Durand Conference

Durand Conference

Because the Durand Line remains such a significant issue today, the conference examined its impact by focusing panels on four areas.  The first examined the history and politics of the agreement, including disputes about the international status of the line, its applicability to successor governments, and problems of self-determination.  The second focused on the social, political and economic impact the line has had on the Pashtun tribes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The third panel examined the current political and military situation in the trans-border region with a particular focus on FATA where major conflicts have erupted between Islamist groups, traditional tribal leaders and the Pakistani government.  The fourth panel examined the future of the Durand Line and suggested possible resolutions for this seemingly intractable issue.  The conference is designed to combine academic perspectives with policy relevant analysis to throw light on an issue that may grow old but never grows quiet.

To read a full report of the conference, please click here.


New Perspectives on Nuristan: Culture, History, Politics, and Economy
Argelaguer, Spain
July 26-29, 2006

Nestled in wooded valleys of the Hindu Kush, Nuristan - "the Land of Light" - is Afghanistan's newest and most remote province. It combines special history (the last pre-Muslim enclave in Central Asia, converted only in 1896) and current significance (a sometime hideout of militant Islamists, perhaps including Osama bin Laden).

Between July 26 and 29, 2006, AIAS hosted an international conference on Nuristan. The conference site near Barcelona was chosen to facilitate travel by nearly two dozen specialists from Afghanistan, Europe, and the US. While primarily academic in focus, the conference attracted not only university professors but also diplomats, security analysts, and representatives of NGOs working in Nuristan.

Topics ranged from ethno-genesis, linguistics, and material culture to modern issues of governance, ecology, and logistics. Fundamental questions quickly arose: To what extent is Nuristan culturally distinct and unified? If, as scholars agreed, the largest functional unit of Nuristan society is the village community, how best to tailor development earmarked for the entire province? And is Nuristan, like other Himalaya-Hindu Kush regions, doomed to depopulation as its people are lured to cities by modern opportunities?

For more information on Nuristan, please go to Richard Strand's Nuristan Site.


Afghanistan and Pakistan: Cultural Heritage and Current Reality
Istanbul, Turkey
May 7-8, 2005

Tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan are a source of concern to the two neighboring countries as well as to the entire Southwest Asia region and the United States. In May 2005, Afghan, Pakistani and American scholars met in Istanbul for discussions that helped to illuminate the basis of misunderstandings between the two neighboring countries and to develop strategies for dispute resolution. The meeting generated proposals for reducing tensions, such as launching a collaborative tariff restructuring; establishing a joint agency to monitor opium growth and promote alternatives to it; organizing seminars to bring together representatives of different localities and livelihoods in each country to discuss issues of common interest; and conducting joint television programming.

This conference was held in conjunction with the American Institute for Pakistan Studies (AIPS) and the Hollings Center. To read the full final report of the conference, please click here.

AIPS Conference

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