Afghanistan and the Legacy of Srebrenica Massacre

December 17, 2005

It is a sad day when a country that has been destroyed with weapons, accepts weapons donations.

IN JULY of 1995 Special Forces of the Serbian army of Republika Srpska (dubbed “Scorpions” for their ferocity and brutality) massacred 8,000 Bosniaks in the Srebrenica region of Eastern Bosnia.
This open attempt at ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims marked the largest loss of life in European history since World War II, and the man who commandeered the Scorpions in their bloodletting, Ratko Mladić, was indicted as a war criminal and is currently in hiding.

Thanks to international intervention, today the Balkan region enjoys relative peace and quiet. Much of this can be credited to the new institutional setup that allows for regional autonomy and decentralization of power. The Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation are tied together by weak central institutions that guarantee regional autonomy, and freedom from strong-handed and exploitative central governments. This setup also allows for significant downsizing of the regional armies, because the rule of law is understood as the best guarantor of security, and not the size of armies and the number of armaments.

The case of Balkans should be instructive to Afghanistan. Both are multi-ethnic societies with long histories of violence and ethnic strife. Both have experienced internecine conflict in recent times. And in both societies ethnic loyalties trump national identity. Lastly, both have had tragic experiences with attempts at ethnic cleansing: Mazar-i Sharif of 1998 parallels Srebrenica of 1995.
In the aftermath of its own civil war, however, Afghanistan has unfortunately chosen to stick with othe same failed centralization of power that has been the long-standing root of instability in the country. The international community has gone along with this, and accepted the Myth of ‘One Afghanistan’.

Now, the legacy of Srebrenica is about to make its way into Afghanistan. On December 15, 2005 the Serb government of Republika Srpska announced that it “would donate to Afghanistan part of its surplus weapons remaining from Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, instead of destroying them.” This gift, which is donated to the new government of Afghanistan at the behest of the United States, reportedly includes “4,500 machine-guns, 400 howitzers and one million 7.62-caliber bullets.” The government of Afghanistan, in accepting this donation, will be inheriting more than just old weapons and leftover ammunition. It shall inherit the legacy of Srebrenica massacres that those same weapons partly made happen.

History has shown that as long as peoples are marginalized and disenfranchised, no amount of weapons can provide security or stability. It is through accepting the realities of ethnic diversity and building institutions that reflect them that societies find peace and through away their weapons. More particularly, the Balkan lesson has shown that long-lasting peace can be achieved through devolution of power and decentralization of the government. In Balkans Afghanistan should see more than just a weapons depot: it should see its own mirror image.

(© December 17, 2005 Hamesha )