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The Killid Group

Call (Up) To Duty

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 11:50

Call (Up) To Duty

President Hamid Karzai has recently announced that he is considering putting forth a law that would require all young, able-bodied Afghan men to serve in the Afghan security forces. Reactions to the proposal have been strong on both sides, with critics saying that it would weaken the army, while proponents say that compulsory military service might give the legions of unemployed Afghan youth discipline and skills.

But many Afghans feel that if military service were compulsory, the burden to serve would disproportionally fall on Afghanistan’s poorest young men.

“If military service is obligatory,” says Nassraullah Akhtar, an NGO worker [TKWHICH NGO?], “Will rich and powerful families send their children to war or will only poor boys be forced to serve?”

Afghanistan has a long history of compulsory military service, but that trend ended in 1979, when the Khalq Democratic Party took power. When the Soviet Union invaded, few Afghans joined the national army, reasoning that fighting in it would be akin to fighting in service of a foreign ruled government. Young Afghan men, instead, joined the Mujahedeen insurgency.

Today’s military experts believe that if the government were to force conscription, young men would flee the country en mass.

Karzai has claimed that the idea was pressed upon him by foreign leaders at the Munich conference [TKWHEN] as a way to give young Afghan’s jobs, discipline and skills. Whether this is true or not, NATO has been pressuring Karzai to increase the numbers of the ANA to over 300,000 men. The US has made plans to begin withdrawing the first of its more than 60,000 soldiers from Afghanistan in 2011, while at the recent London Conference on Afghanistan, Karzai made clear that he would like Afghan security forces to take full responsibility for security within five years.

In short, Karzai desperately needs warm bodies--and soon--to man the ramparts.

This is somewhat at odds with what his Defense Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, has implied publically. Recently, Wardak told a group of reporters that there was not any shortage of ANA soldiers and that military service would remain voluntary for the foreseeable future.

But it seems that at least some Afghans are onboard with Karzai’s conscription plan.

Hasht-e-Sohb daily newspaper recently ran an editorial saying that obligatory military service would provide Afghan youth with an opportunity to take responsibility for their nation’s security. The piece was qualified, however, calling for balance between service and treating conscripts fairly.

Part of this has to do with restoring people’s faith in their government. When asking a young man to give his life, or at least a few years of it, in the service of a president and parliament, it helps if the young man trusts that those leaders will make decisions in the nation’s interests. Mohammad Arif Husseini [TK WHO IS HE?] says that rooting out corruption will go a long way toward instilling loyalty and confidence in Afghan youth who may be forced to fight.

“Afghan youth will not put their lives at risk for something they do not believe in,” he says.

The conscript plan must take the Afghan National Police into account. If men are being pressed into military service, it is likely that fewer will volunteer for police duty, a job critical for the security of Afghan cities.

The recent Operation Mushtarak, which involves a combined force of US, British and Afghan soldiers is thought to be the first big step of the Afghan army proving itself as able to handle whatever comes its way.

Though thousands of US and British marines are taking part in the operation, NATO says it is only in a support role and that the majority of planning and execution have come from the ANA side.

The Helmand governor and ANA General in charge of the operation say that Afghan forces now in Helmand have already accomplished 13 of their fifteen tactical objectives and Marja residents have reported that as much as 70 percent of the area is now free of Taliban groups.

But if the ANA wants to execute such a mission ten years from now, they will likely be doing so without the support of foreign allies, and the helicopters, laser guided missile systems and jety-fighters they bring with them.

Though it was once widely the norm, most nations have done away with required military service.

One reason is that today’s modern armies often employ high-tech weapons systems and have complex training standards that are not suited for the average civilian. Those who volunteer for the armed services must usually pass physical and mental fitness exams and weaker candidates are weeded out.

But as in a country where even the weakest must serve it could bring down the overall performance of the army, nations ranging from the US to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have done away with involuntary military service.

The average Afghan for the most part wants nothing to do with conscription.

Ali Sharistani, a young man from Kabul says that given the difficult nature of the current war, conscription is something he fears.

“I do love my country” he says, “but I don’t want to give my life for it in this way.”



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