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The search for common ground: civil–military relations in Afghanistan, 2002–13 - Policy Brief

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Ashley Jackson

While the belief that development and reconstruction activities are central to security is by no means novel ‘stabilisation’ has assumed significantly greater prominence in the post-9/11 period. It has increasingly become a central component of western involvement in conflict-affected or fragile states. Yet such approaches have been highly contentious among aid agencies, perhaps nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.

This policy brief summarises research on civil-military dialogue between aid agencies and military forces in Afghanistan from 2002 through 2012. It aims to contribute to the understanding of the challenges of civil-military dialogue in the context of international and national military forces pursuing development and reconstruction activities – traditionally the domain of aid agencies – as a central component of its military strategy. 

Key messages:

  • Stabilisation approaches are likely to continue to present challenges to the aid community’s ability to act according to humanitarian principles in conflict-affected, fragile and post-conflict environments. Experiences in Afghanistan highlight significant tension, if not conflict, between stabilisation and internationally recognised guidelines and principles governing civil–military interaction.
  • Civil–military dialogue was markedly more effective when it was rooted in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and strategic argumentation, as with advocacy focused on reducing harm to civilians.

  • Aid agencies need to invest more in capacity and training for engaging in civil–military dialogue and, together with donors, seek to generate more objective evidence on the impact of stabilisation approaches.

This Policy Brief is based on research from a HPG Working Paper: “The search for common ground: civil–military relations in Afghanistan, 2002–12”.

Ashley Jackson and Simone Haysom