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Righting the course? Humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the future of Afghanistan

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The US-led post 9/11 ‘intervention’ in Afghanistan was, by definition, not a humanitarian intervention. The intervention in Afghanistan was defined as an act of self-defence by the US and it was one of the first steps in the ‘war on terror’ by the US and its allies: it had no intention or clear strategies for long-term stabilization, state-building or development. The US-led international coalition failed to ‘find’ Al-Qaeda in the short term and new arguments had to be made to justify continued international presence. The initial agenda was quickly blurred by a mismatch of intentions including those of long-term stabilization and state-building. The ideas developed through the Bonn Agreement (2001–5) and continued through the Afghanistan Compact (2006–10) have focused on building a centrally governed state (sometimes defined as democratic) that has a monopoly on the use of force. Their shortcomings are already well-documented: the urgency of the Bonn Conference and of the adoption of the Bonn Agreement ostensibly meant trading expediency and stability for accountability and a clean slate, which is not to say that there were no good intentions at Bonn from stakeholders, but that Afghans and the international community put power-sharing before progress. The choices made at Bonn may have contributed to the culture of impunity and the entrenched poverty that is gripping Afghanistan today. This article responds to the claims that state-building and all that goes with it are not the responsibility of the ‘international community’ by addressing the accountability and humanitarian paradoxes. The question remains, however, about who should be responsible for reform and politically accountable in the aftermath of non-humanitarian (and indeed even humanitarian) interventions?
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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