Trading Crime for Conflict
I’ve been reading over the Afghan NGO Safety Office’s report on violence data for the first quarter of 2009 (kindly sent over to me by Jeni). They mention that one feature of the significant growth in violence in the past few months has been a growth in the number of ‘criminal actors’ conducting violence on behalf of ‘conflict actors’. Criminal violence has been a sustained trend in Afghanistan but now they are increasingly operating on an apparently sub-contracted basis for the macro-conflict groups. This echoes previous cases of militant groups hiring adept criminal organisations to carry out their armed operations, which the Italian Red Brigades were suspected of doing with the Mafia in the 70s.
However, we don’t really know how these criminal actors have ended up fighting on behalf of Afgan insurgents. We might assume that they have been ‘contracted’ on a business basis, but their involvement, and the negotiations and deals leading to it, is likely to be far more complex and nuanced. What this does tell us is that the insurgents in Afghanistan are highly skilled in acquiring allies that expand their reach and capabilities, allowing them to increase their grip over the initiative in their area of operations. Others (including contributors to this blog) may disagree, but I would say the implication is that there are many opportunities for the Afghan government and coalition to do the same that are being missed. Making deals with shady organisations is, well, shady, but state-building/stabilisation is about knitting together a society, bringing disparate authority structures into a peaceful set of relationships. Furthermore, as previous posts here have suggested, there is a spectrum of criminal actors, with some exhibiting far more palatable and even desirable governance traits than others. But either way, not getting out and about and leading the way in conducting negotiations with representatives of local authority structures (of all kinds) can be akin to leaving an arsenal door ajar for the insurgents.