ArticlePDF Available

Securing distant places? Practices of protection in contemporary peace-support operations



This article explores the dynamics and implications of practices of protection enacted within the framework of the UN-sponsored International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It examines the ways in which those practices challenge established categories in the field of security, and discusses the problems and dilemmas they generate. The article demonstrates that the role played by North Atlantic Treaty Organization – as the lead actor in ISAF – reflects the Alliance's reconceptualisation of the relevant space of security. An analysis of security practices employed by ISAF in Afghanistan reveals that, in spite of statements that stress the unique situation of stabilisation and reconstruction in Afghanistan, ISAF's dual emphasis on inclusion/exclusion (i.e. defeating radical Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters while also winning the hearts and minds of the other Afghans) echoes in interesting ways of colonial practices of counter-insurgency. Conceptually, one of the most interesting features of ISAF's security practices has been a blurring of multiple boundaries that have long been at the heart of thinking about international politics: domestic/international, military/policing and public/private actors. By shedding light on that process of blurring boundaries, this article provides further evidence in support of the claim made in this special issue: that we are now living in a world in which many of the distinctions that once appeared to be clearly defined and fairly rigid are fast breaking down.
Global Crime
Vol. 13, No. 4, November 2012, 293–311
Securing distant places? Practices of protection in contemporary
peace-support operations
Alexandra Gheciu*
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Centre for International Policy Studies,
University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
This article explores the dynamics and implications of practices of protection enacted
within the framework of the UN-sponsored International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF) in Afghanistan. It examines the ways in which those practices challenge estab-
lished categories in the field of security, and discusses the problems and dilemmas
they generate. The article demonstrates that the role played by North Atlantic Treaty
Organization – as the lead actor in ISAF – reflects the Alliance’s reconceptualisation
of the relevant space of security. An analysis of security practices employed by ISAF in
Afghanistan reveals that, in spite of statements that stress the unique situation of stabili-
sation and reconstruction in Afghanistan, ISAF’s dual emphasis on inclusion/exclusion
(i.e. defeating radical Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters while also winning the hearts
and minds of the other Afghans) echoes in interesting ways of colonial practices of
counter-insurgency. Conceptually, one of the most interesting features of ISAF’s secu-
rity practices has been a blurring of multiple boundaries that have long been at the heart
of thinking about international politics: domestic/international, military/policing and
public/private actors. By shedding light on that process of blurring boundaries, this
article provides further evidence in support of the claim made in this special issue: that
we are now living in a world in which many of the distinctions that once appeared to be
clearly defined and fairly rigid are fast breaking down.
Keywords: Afghanistan; peace-building; police; security; war
Over the past few years, and particularly following the 9/11 attacks on US soil, a host
of practitioners and scholars of international relations have argued that we are witnessing
a significant transformation in the field of security. In the twenty-first century, they
have suggested that one of the most dangerous developments is the growing ability of
non-state – often transnationally organised – actors to use the territories of failed or
fragile states in order to plan acts of violence that could result in catastrophic destruction
anywhere in the world. Geography, we are told, is becoming increasingly irrelevant,
as developments that occur in such fragile states can and often do generate security
problems that cannot be contained in time or in space. This (re)conceptualisation of the
nature of the security environment has been repeatedly invoked – particularly, although
not exclusively, by Western policy-makers – to justify a series of complex practices
aimed at stabilising and reconstructing, and building good governance in vulnerable or
problematic countries. These practices, which are enacted by hybrid networks of public
ISSN 1744-0572 print/ISSN 1744-0580 online
© 2012 Taylor & Francis
294 A. Gheciu
and private, local and international actors, often involve a combination of military and law
enforcement tools. Thus, practices of protection conventionally associated with domestic
policing have come to be included in the repertoire of international missions and identified
as central to stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction. Some of the most interesting
examples of such practices can be found in the contemporary international mission in
Afghanistan. This article explores the dynamics and implications of practices of protection
enacted within the framework of the UN-sponsored International Security Assistance
Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. I analyse the ways in which those practices challenge
established categories in the field of security, and examine the problems and dilemmas
they generate. The article proceeds as follows: the following section briefly highlights
the key goals of the ISAF-led mission in Afghanistan, and argues that the role played
by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – as the lead actor in ISAF – reflects the
alliance’s reconceptualisation of the relevant space of security. I then move on to examine
some of the specific security practices employed by ISAF in Afghanistan, and argue that,
in spite of statements that stress the unique situation of stabilisation and reconstruction
in Afghanistan, ISAF’s dual emphasis on inclusion/exclusion (i.e. defeating radical
Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters while also winning the hearts and minds of the other
Afghans) echoes in interesting ways of colonial practices of counter-insurgency. As I
seek to demonstrate, one of the most interesting features of ISAF’s security practices
has been a blurring of multiple boundaries: domestic/international, military/policing and
public/private actors. Thus, this article provides further evidence in support of the claim
made in this special issue – that we are now living in a world in which some once hard and
fast distinctions appear to be fast breaking down.
The international dream of modern order in Afghanistan
The international mission aimed at the reconstruction of Afghanistan is an extremely
complex operation carried out in pursuit of two (allegedly inter-linked) goals: protect-
ing Afghans and helping them rebuild their war-torn country and minimising the risk
of regional and international instability, most especially by reducing the ability of radi-
cal Islamist groups to use the Afghan territory to plan international terrorist attacks. The
UN-sponsored mission launched in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban regime
was, from the start, quite ambitious. While in the eyes of many the immediate aim was
to eliminate and prevent the re-emergence of terrorist safe-havens, the mission was given
a far broader mandate: to help build a modern state in Afghanistan, modernise Afghan
society and promote economic development.1As Astri Suhrke has pointed out, the project,
which was to be carried out with the assistance of foreign troops and international funding,
was conceptualised as a project of social engineering – amounting to the transformation
of a fragmented, conflict-ridden space into a modern state – complete with benchmarks
designed to enable international agencies to monitor progress.
In a broader perspective, the post-conflict reconstruction project in Afghanistan can be
seen as yet another example in a series of complex rebuilding missions that reflect a vision
of progress, peace and good (liberal-democratic) governance.2That vision, in turn, reflects
1. See A. Suhrke, ‘Reconstruction as Modernisation: The “Post-conflict” Project in Afghanistan.’
Third World Quarterly 28, no. 7 (2007): 1291–308.
2. See, for instance, R. Paris, At War’s End (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and
R. Caplan, International Governance of War-Torn Territories (New York: Oxford University Press,
Global Crime 295
a significant post-Cold War change in the field of security. Specifically, following the col-
lapse of communism, the field of security was marked by a shift away from a reliance
on military capital and geo-strategic arrangements, and towards an unprecedented empha-
sis on cultural foundations of security, as the establishment of stable liberal-democratic
norms and institutions came to be identified as the key source of domestic and international
stability and progress.3This was accompanied by a series of practices of international
democracy-promotion, including in the context of post-conflict reconstruction.
In the case of Afghanistan, the framework for the reconstruction effort was established
as part of the UN-sponsored Bonn Agreement of December 2001. The Agreement, which
affirms the principles of ‘Islam, democracy, pluralism and social justice’, can be seen as
a script for transition to a liberal, constitutional democracy supported by a modern state
apparatus characterised by competence and integrity, and committed to the principle of
respect for human rights – including ‘sensitivity’ to the rights of women. The economic
agenda was defined in subsequent documents, which amounted to comprehensive plans
presented to the donors (the 2004 Securing Afghanistan’s Future), or as a contract between
the Afghan government and the donors.4The Afghanistan Compact, signed in London in
2006, identified goals and specific time frames for implementation and authorised a joint
monitoring board to follow progress. These documents, together with the 2005 plan for a
10-year legal reform project (Justice for All), indicate that the aim of the reconstruction
effort was a fundamental transformation of the country’s political, economic and social
With plans to reconstruct war-torn Afghanistan, a special emphasis was placed on
the provision of security, and the NATO-led ISAF acquired the leading role in that area.
ISAF was established by the UN Security Council on 20 December 2001, and consists
of about 47,000 military and civilian personnel (from 40 different nations) as of May
2008. ISAF was initially charged with securing Kabul and surrounding areas from the
Taliban, Al-Qaeda and factional warlords, so as to allow for the establishment of the
Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. In October 2003, the UN
Security Council authorised the expansion of the ISAF mission throughout Afghanistan,
and ISAF subsequently expanded the mission in four main stages over the whole of the
country. The idea underpinning NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan is that only a compre-
hensive operation, combining military and non-military dimensions, can keep the country
from (re)emerging as a safe haven for terrorism. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs),
small teams of military and civilian personnel, are meant to be the leading edge of NATO–
ISAF’s presence in Afghanistan. The PRT concept marries the presence of a military force
to provide security (primarily by helping government forces to fight insurgents and extend
its authority and control over territory), with direct involvement in post-conflict recon-
struction tasks, such as the construction of schools and hospitals and the digging of wells.
They are meant to be a key component of a three-part strategy for Afghanistan – security,
governance and development – seeking to help spread stability across the country. As part
3. A. Gheciu, NATO in the ‘New Europe’ (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005) and M. C.
Williams, Culture and Security (London: Routledge, 2007).
4. See Suhrke, ‘Reconstruction as Modernisation’.
5. As Suhrke (ibid.) notes, there were, however, a couple of significant exemptions: due deference
was made to Islam (as Afghanistan was recognised as an Islamic republic in the Bonn Agreement
and the Constitution), and there was no attempt to reform property or credit relations in the rural
area. Even with these exceptions, however, the reform plan stipulated in the Bonn Agreement and
related documents clearly aimed to fundamentally transform Afghanistan.
296 A. Gheciu
of its mission, NATO is also involved in training the Afghan army, and providing guid-
ance in the process of defence reform and institution building (ostensibly around norms of
transparency and democratic accountability).
NATO’s involvement in the stabilisation and reconstruction of an ‘out-of-area’ territory
like Afghanistan reflects the strong emphasis currently placed by the alliance on combating
non-conventional threats and enemies. In particular, the notion involved here – and repeat-
edly stressed in contemporary documents issued by the alliance – is that, in a highly fluid
security environment, it is increasingly important to find methods and technologies that
enable the allies to identify and defeat those individuals and groups that, through a combi-
nation of access to recent modern technology and commitment to anti-Western ideas and
values, can inflict upon allied societies the kind of damage that was previously available
only to states.
The contemporary concern with non-conventional enemies can be seen as a reflec-
tion of the alliance’s (re)conceptualisation of the relevant space of security: conventional
images of geo-strategic rivalry between blocs and containment of (communist) enemies
have been replaced by images of multiple risks posed by fluid transnationally organised
groups that can operate on a global scale.6According to the NATO Defence Ministers,
in the twenty-first century, the alliance must adapt in order to meet new challenges in
an ‘uncertain world’, in which many of its enemies are hard to identify.7The notion
involved here is that, in the new context, NATO must be prepared to deal with an
enemy that is ‘like cancer’, operating anywhere and, potentially, everywhere, simulta-
neously attacking the West in different ways and on multiple fronts. The ‘enemy’, in
other words, consists of ‘those groups that threaten our social order, blurring the bound-
aries between war and non-war.’8In fact, NATO’s post-9/11 security documents reflect a
vision of security that assumes – what Zygmunt Bauman called – ‘the end to the era of
Under these circumstances, according to the alliance’s discourse, NATO must be
increasingly able and willing to adopt a preventive approach to security, ‘preventing insta-
bility from growing into crises and managing crises before they get too out of hand ...
if we wish to prevent ...[the problems] spawned by these conflicts from darkening our
doorsteps.’10 What is more, there is no end in sight to this new preventive approach, for
it is not clear when or how there might be a definite end to the struggle against the new
enemies.11 Thus:
6. For a more detailed discussion, see A. Gheciu and J. Welsh, ‘Introduction’. Ethics & International
Affairs 23 (2009): 115–20.
7. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Informal NATO Defence Ministers Meeting (Warsaw,
September 24–25, 2002). (accessed May 17,
8. C. Donnelly, ‘Security in the 21st Century’ (2003),
s030605a.htm (accessed August 27, 2009).
9. Z. Bauman, ‘Reconnaissance Wars of the Planetary Frontierland’. Theory, Culture and Society 19,
no. 4 (2002): 81–90, 81.
10. NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, Opening Statement by Lord Robertson at
the NATO Defence Ministers Meeting (Warsaw, September 24–25, 2002), www.Acronym.Org.
uk/docs/0209/doc1htm (accessed September 1, 2009).
11. See NATO, ‘Military Concept for Defence Against Terrorism, Endorsed by the NATO Heads
of State and Government at the Prague Summit’, November 2002,
htm#c (accessed May 18, 2009).
Global Crime 297
What has changed – and what has changed dramatically – is the way in which [our] common
values are threatened, and the manner in which we have to defend them. In the face of threats
from terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and failing states, a reactive
approach is simply no longer good enough. These new and complex threats call for much more
active engagement, including well away from our own borders – and that is what the NATO
Alliance is very much geared towards these days.12
The stabilisation and reconstruction of Afghanistan around democratic norms and institu-
tions was not only identified by NATO but also by the Security Council as a key ingredient
in the promotion of regional and international security. And, as a perceived pre-condition
for the establishment of stable institutions of good governance, ISAF has become involved
in a series of practices of ‘mentoring’ Afghans, aimed at helping to construct the kind of
self-disciplined actors that can be governed by – and can be trusted to reproduce – such
(democratic) institutions. Simultaneously, ISAF commanders have stressed the importance
of developing adequate methods for identifying, containing and defeating those individuals
and groups that refuse to be governed by norms and rules of good (democratic) governance.
Revealingly, Lt.Gen. Richards, the former NATO commander in Afghanistan, repeatedly
pointed out that the alliance put great emphasis on improving cooperation with Afghan
actors, and that could only be achieved by winning the hearts and minds of the local
population.13 At the same time, he pointed out that he did ‘not hesitate to use appropri-
ate measures against those disruptive elements opposed to democracy and the rule of law
in Afghanistan, including military force.’14 Indeed, as it turned out, the fight that erupted
between, on the one hand, NATO and Afghan government forces, and, on the other hand,
Taliban fighters and their supporters, is the most intense that the alliance has known in its
In essence, NATO-led ISAF has sought to adopt a dual approach to the pursuit of secu-
rity. This involves a set of practices of inclusion – conventionally associated with domestic
agencies rather than military alliances – aimed at educating and working with those local
actors who support the agenda of establishing institutions and norms of ‘good’ governance.
The idea behind this is that international actors need to train and include in practices of
security governance pro-reform Afghans, as part of a broader process of helping Afghans
to turn their country into the kind of modern, peaceful, well-governed state that would
deserve the respect and trust of the community of established democracies. At the same
time, however, ISAF has also stressed the importance of practices of exclusion, involv-
ing the identification, exclusion from Afghan political and socio-economic activities, and
defeat of those groups that oppose the agenda for change inscribed in the Bonn Agreement
and related documents. In the words of a senior NATO official: ‘of course we must continue
to nourish and spread democratic norms. That is at the heart of our security strategy. But
we have also become more aware of the fact that, no matter what we do, certain individuals
and groups will try to destroy those norms and those who support them. These [individuals
and groups] continue to pose a serious threat to us, and we must act in a determined way
to root them out, to keep them from harming us.’15
12. NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (Speech at the Albanian Parliament, Tirana,
July 6, 2006), (accessed August 28, 2009).
13. NATO, New Chapter for NATO in Afghanistan, May 4, 2006,
05-may/e0504a.htm (accessed September 1, 2009).
14. Ibid.
15. Communication to the author, June 15, 2005.
298 A. Gheciu
As I argued elsewhere,16 NATO’s contemporary concern to differentiate between those
subjects deemed as socialisable – individuals who, with the right guidance, can evolve into
self-disciplined actors – and (anti-liberal) ‘dangerous others’ can be understood as one par-
ticular instantiation of a broader liberal view concerning the different treatments to which
different types of actors should be subjected. From a liberal perspective, different types of
relations – based on different forms of respect – should exist among actors who embody
liberal ideas of rationality, as compared to relations between liberal selves and others,who
allegedly still live in an unlawful state of nature.17 According to the contemporary NATO
discourse, in the context of the ‘fight against international terrorism’, it has become partic-
ularly important to differentiate between diverse categories of subjects. Thus, the concern
is that, given the complexities of the technology now available to small groups and even
individuals, and the willingness of groups like Al-Qaeda to carry out suicide missions in
the name of extremist religious principles, even a handful of such elusive enemies could
inflict catastrophic damage upon Western societies and their allies.18
In essence, in a situation in which individuals and groups who refuse to accept the
law of reason are seen as no longer just a domestic law enforcement problem but, impor-
tantly, also a threat to international security, NATO has sought to redefine its mandate
to include not only the education of vulnerable-but-still-socialisable individuals, but also
practices aimed at identifying and defeating dangerous individuals, wherever they might
be located. In the particular context of post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan, this
has translated into a series of ISAF practices that blur conventional boundaries between
military defence/policing, security/development and public/private spheres.
In a broader perspective, these developments can be seen as part of a larger trend in the
Euro-Atlantic area, a trend that involves the process of breaking down the modern bound-
aries between internal and external security agencies and their respective functions. This
evolution challenges mainstream categories for thinking about and enacting international
security, which rely on assumptions of a rigid separation between inside and outside, and,
as a corollary to that, the view of a clear boundary between domestic security and, on the
other hand, apparatuses and practices targeting external enemies. Didier Bigo’s treatment
of this development is particularly cogent. As he pointed out, ‘Now, particularly after the
end of bipolarity, external security agencies (the army, secret service) are looking inside
the borders in search of an enemy from outside ...Internal security agencies (national
police forces, police with military status, border guards, customs) are looking to find their
internal enemies beyond the borders and speak of networks of crime (migrants, asylum
seekers, diasporas, Islamic people who supposedly have links with crime, terrorism, drug
trafficking, transnational organized crime).’19
16. See Gheciu, NATO in the ‘New Europe’.
17. For an excellent recent analysis, see B. Hindess, ‘Liberalism: What Is in a Name?’, in Global
Governmentality: Governing International Spaces, ed. Wendy Larner and William Walters (London:
Routledge, 2004), 23–39 and I examine this issue at greater length in A. Gheciu, Securing
Civilization? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
18. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ‘Statement by the North Atlantic Council’, NATO
Press Release PR/CP(2001)122 (September 11, Brussels, 2001).
19. D. Bigo, ‘When Two Become One: Internal and External Securitisations in Europe’, in
International Relations Theory and the Politics of European Integration, ed. Morten Kelstrup and
Michael C. Williams (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 171. In a similar vein, Peter Andreas
and Ethan Nadelman have noted that, at the EU level, there has been a post-Cold War ideological
merging, an instrumental merging and an institutional merging (with law enforcement and security
institutions having increasingly overlapping missions). See P. Andreas and E. Nadelman, Policing the
Global Crime 299
There is an interesting parallel between the argument developed in this article and
the analyses provided by a series of criminologists, including contributors to this vol-
ume. For example, Katja Franko Aas has demonstrated that there has been a progressive
de-bounding of social risks and a blurring of boundaries between internal and external
notions of security. The emerging security landscape, as portrayed by Aas, is one in which
previously local and national phenomena are transformed by new forms of transnational
connectivity. Through these new forms of globalism, criminal justice is plugging into trans-
border circuits of circulation of people, social and political action where, ultimately, crime
control can become an export.20 From a criminological perspective, this is a significant
development, as it transcends conventional disciplinary boundaries – according to which
criminology remained contained within the boundaries of the territorial state. The analysis
developed in this article reinforces Aas’ claim that we are witnessing a progressive blur-
ring of boundaries between internal and external notions of security. For example, as noted
above, some of the practices enacted by ISAF in Afghanistan are similar to the practices
of socialisation of ‘responsible citizens’ conventionally associated with domestic agencies.
In a broader theoretical perspective, this suggests that, just as criminologists must now
learn to widen the analytical, epistemological and methodological scope of their analy-
ses by paying closer attention to global processes, so, too, International Relations scholars
must learn to cross conventional disciplinary boundaries by including into their analyses
questions and issues traditionally regarded as pertaining to domestic politics. The analysis
developed in this article seeks to take a step in this direction.
Fighting insurgents: (re)inventing the politics of inclusion/exclusion and co-optation
in a war-torn territory
In many ways, and in spite of statements that stress the unique situation of post-conflict
stabilisation and reconstruction in Afghanistan, the dual emphasis of inclusion/exclusion,
defeating (‘anti-modern’) Taliban and Al-Qaeda/winning the hearts and minds of the other
Afghans, echoes in interesting ways of colonial practices of counter-insurgency. In the
colonial context, international forces frequently co-opted certain local actors, and with
their aid enacted specific practices of policing/law enforcement in an effort to stabilise the
colony. Indeed, several senior NATO officers have clearly indicated that, in their efforts to
‘win hearts and minds’ and at the same time defeat Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda groups
operating in Afghanistan, ISAF should learn from the experience in counter-insurgency
gained by colonial powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.21 According to
those officers, one key lesson to be learned from a long history of counter-insurgency is that
it is never enough to adopt violent means; opponents (generally identified as ‘anti-modern’,
and ‘enemies of civilisation’) can only be defeated if the population at large refuses to
protect them.22 Thus, the battle for ‘hearts and minds’ has traditionally sought to educate
Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2006).
20. K. A. Aas, H. O. Gundhus, and H. M. Lomell, eds., Technologies of Insecurity: The Surveillance
of Everyday Life (Oxford: Routledge Cavendish, 2009).
21. Author’s communications with NATO officers involved in ISAF, January–May 2007, Oxford,
London, Brussels.
22. Colonial counter-insurgency practices were, of course, very diverse, but for the most part, in
spite of those differences there was a recurrent emphasis on the need to use a combination of ‘sticks’
and ‘carrots’ in order to gain the support of the population, and mobilise at least some members of
300 A. Gheciu
the public, to gain their support for a particular vision of political and socio-economic
order and a particular version of good governance. More pragmatically, such practices of
mentoring, coupled with direct incentives to collaborate with international forces, were
aimed at physically and symbolically isolating insurgents, cutting them off from potential
sources of support among the local population. In these practices of identification and
exclusion, Western-educated local actors were an important source of information about
the identity and activities of (suspected) insurgents, just as they were important participants
in the violent confrontations with those groups.
Not surprisingly, in the contemporary, post-colonial context, the international actors
involved in the UN-mandated mission in Afghanistan have been very keen to stress that
their involvement in the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country is very different
from colonial exercises of power. Most notably, as stipulated in Security Council resolu-
tions, the Bonn Agreement and related documents, the international security force operates
strictly in support of the Afghan government. As repeatedly stated in those documents, the
process of stabilisation and reconstruction is and should remain an Afghan-led process: in
contrast to the colonial and Soviet occupations, the international force is there purely to
support the government of Hamid Karzai to rebuild its war-torn country. In addition, from
the very start the agreements between international actors and Afghanistan made it clear
that the international mission has no more than a strictly temporary mandate. While a host
of international actors may remain involved in aiding Afghanistan for a long time to come,
in the domain of security, at least, the expectation is that international troops will leave
the country as soon as Afghanistan has acquired the capacity to adequately perform key
security functions, and in so doing to not only secure Afghans but also protect the inter-
national community from the dangers that might emerge should Afghanistan re-become a
safe haven for radical Islamist groups.23
In the domain of security, this has translated into ISAF efforts to mentor and train
Afghan security forces, with the explicit aim of guiding them towards creating a modern,
efficient national army and police. The extensive mentoring and training programmes car-
ried out in Afghanistan involve not just the teaching of combat and policing skills, but also
socialising Afghans into norms of responsible use of force, especially respect for human
rights in the course of policing activities, and the protection of civilians during military
operations.24 One of the key priorities for ISAF has been to teach Afghans to act as self-
disciplined actors – that is, to respect the Afghan constitutional order, and use force in a
restrained manner, strictly on government orders (as opposed, for instance, to acting on the
orders of local warlords or engaging in private acts of revenge).25
At the same time, ISAF has been systematically involved in the construction of security
networks that comprise international and Afghan actors. Those networks have conducted
a series of operations, including in areas of policing/law enforcement (for instance, via
ISAF involvement in the protection of Afghan forces who seek to eradicate poppy crops,
that population in order to identify, contain and defeat insurgents. On colonial counter-insurgency
practices see, for instance, T.R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency: 1919–1960 (New York:
St. Martin’s Press, 1990).
23. Author’s communication with ISAF officers, January–May 2007. See also the provisions of the
Bonn Agreement.
24. For a description of activities conducted by ISAF, see the Force’s website:
ISAF/index.html. ISAF officers interviewed by the author have repeatedly stressed that ISAF men-
toring and training activities place a strong emphasis on respect for human rights in the course of
security operations.
25. Author’s communication with ISAF officers, January 2007.
Global Crime 301
and via joint ISAF/Afghan operations aimed at identifying and apprehending individuals
involved in the production of improvised explosive devices). In a move that reveals a blur-
ring of boundaries between (conventionally distinct) practices of security and development,
in parallel to conducting security operations ISAF military and civilian personnel have led
operations aimed at ‘winning hearts and minds’ by helping to reconstruct civilian infras-
tructure, protecting vulnerable schools and offering free health care to civilians. ISAF-led
counter-insurgency operations routinely include relief operations in targeted areas. To give
just one example, in counter-insurgency operations carried out in 2008 in the southern
Zabul province, the fight against suspected Taliban fighters went hand in hand with a
public relations campaign targeting villagers in the affected area, and an effort to fur-
ther secure the support of the locals via the provision of humanitarian aid and medical
assistance to civilians.26 Teams from Zabul PRT, Regional Command South, participated
in counter-insurgency and relief operations in the Shinkay district, which were led by the
101st Airborne Division and conducted with the Afghan National Army (ANA). Once the
fighting had ended, doctors, physician assistants and medics from both the Zabul PRT and
101st Airborne provided free health care to villagers, while civil affairs representatives
distributed humanitarian aid.27
From ISAF’s perspective, the inclusion of (NATO-trained) Afghan contingents in
ISAF-led security and reconstruction practices can have multiple beneficial effects.
Thus, in addition – and in part as a corollary – to contributing to the effectiveness of
security/rebuilding operations, systematic cooperation between Afghan and international
actors has the potential to enhance the legitimacy of President Karzai’s government in the
eyes of its citizens. The notion involved here is that, by acting (and being seen) as key
players in effective practices of security, Afghan forces will send a clear message that the
government of Afghanistan is in a privileged position (compared to other Afghan actors)
to protect its citizens. On this logic, in addition to its own capabilities, the Afghan gov-
ernment enjoys the trust and support of the international community, and can draw on that
support in order to address the problems faced by the war-torn country.
But if ISAF is to succeed, through its security activities, in helping to enhance the
legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the Afghan population, its vision of secu-
rity governance carried out by a combination of international and national forces must be
interpreted in a particular way by the Afghan population. That is, ordinary Afghans must
accept that model of partnership in the performance of security functions as a model that is
consistent with the attributes of the government of a modern sovereign state. The problem,
however, is that preliminary empirical evidence seems to suggest that this model of security
provision has not been fully accepted by the majority of Afghans. Indeed, multiple surveys
indicate that, arguably influenced by a long history of foreign invasion and occupation,
Afghans tend to draw a clear distinction between domestic and international actors. As a
consequence, even in those situations in which PRTs and ISAF more broadly have played a
moderately successful role in stabilising some parts of Afghanistan and preventing attacks
on civilians, which has been perceived by most Afghans as a positive contribution by for-
eign actors, but certainly not as a successful contribution by the government with the aid of
international forces.28 In those particular cases of success, the result, it would appear, has
26. See ISAF, ‘ISAF conducts counterinsurgency and relief operation’, ISAF News, May 23, 2008, (accessed September 15, 2009).
27. Ibid.
28. C. Zurcher, ‘Governing Fragile States’ (Presentations given at University of Ottawa, February 25,
2008 and October 15, 2010). Zurcher was drawing on recent surveys conducted in Afghanistan.
302 A. Gheciu
been growing public support for the presence (albeit temporary presence) of international
troops, but not growing support for the Afghan government. In that sense, international
efforts to enhance the legitimacy of the government by helping it perform basic functions,
especially the function of providing security for its citizens, appear to have failed. The
international vision of security governance enacted by a network of domestic and interna-
tional actors appears to have clashed with (and, in the public imagination been defeated by)
a popular vision of a clear distinction between domestic and international actors, in which
successful acts by the latter are perceived as signs of weakness – and thus undermine the
authority – of the Afghan government.
The credibility of the government has been further undermined by the fact that inter-
national peacebuilders have often cooperated with – and sought to co-opt – local elites,
including powerful warlords. The consequence has been a reinforcement of the ability of
those local actors to act as (in)security providers in Afghanistan, thereby further undermin-
ing the authority of the central government. One of the most significant – and problematic –
developments in this area was the decision by the US29 to cooperate with regional warlords
seen as ‘on the right side in the war on terror’, seeking to co-opt them in the fight against
the extremists associated with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.30 As the US preferred routing the
Taliban over regionalisation, regional warlords who declared their willingness to cooper-
ate with the US in the fight against suspected terrorists were given resources and almost
unconditional American support, including in the context of regional political rivalries.
This frequently amounted to significant military and monetary support of warlords and
autonomous militias.31 This willingness to forge alliances with warlords in the name of
fighting terrorism led to a paradoxical effect: local Afghan elites have been able to enhance
their regional power, making it more difficult for the government to extend its authority
throughout the country and to construct the national institutions needed in a modern state.
A related and highly problematic implication of the American policy of co-optation is
that the government of Hamid Karzai has increasingly needed to co-opt powerful regional
elites (including warlords) in an effort to remain in power.32 Arguably, what we see in
this case is a peculiar version of a process that was characteristic of the ‘civilising pro-
cess’ that marked the emergence of modern states: co-optation of local elites by the central
government.33 In contrast to the process of formation of modern states in Europe, however,
in the Afghan case this process is more likely to generate significant power struggles, insta-
bility and deep divisions within the country. Thus, in a situation in which powerful local
elites can rely on international support (provided they cast themselves as allies of the West
in the fight against terrorism), and can use that support to maintain sub-state and transna-
tional security arrangements, and to engage in highly lucrative illegal economic activities,
they are more likely to remain a source of threat to the authority of the state. Internationally
empowered local elites and warlords are far less likely to recognise the central government
as the key source of authoritative decision-making in Afghanistan. In other words, such
29. The readers will recall that, in addition to their involvement in reconstruction efforts within
the framework of ISAF, the US continues to lead ‘anti-terrorist’ operations in Afghanistan, aimed
specifically at identifying and defeating suspected terrorists.
30. See M. Barnett and C. Zurcher, ‘The Peacebuilders’ Contract: How External State-building
Reinforces Weak Statehood’, in Dilemmas of Statebuilding, ed. Roland Paris and Timothy Sisk
(London: Routledge, 2009), 23–52.
31. Ibid.
32. Suhrke, ‘Reconstruction as Modernisation’.
33. N. Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).
Global Crime 303
processes of cooperation and co-optation involving international actors and local warlords
have, in effect, made it more difficult to achieve the state-building aims outlined in the
Bonn Agreement. Arguably, by reinforcing the power of local elites that often have strong
ties to organised crime (particularly the cultivation and trafficking of opium), international
state-builders have facilitated the reproduction of Afghan structures of power that threaten
to perpetuate instability in that country and in the region.
The international – primarily American – focus on fighting a non-conventional enemy
that allegedly endangers both Afghan and international security has complicated the pro-
cess of stabilisation and reconstruction in yet another way. Specifically, in a situation in
which the Afghan fight against domestic threats posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is
simultaneously seen as a fight for international security, peacebuilders in Afghanistan have
supported a model of blurring boundaries between the military and the police that is quite
problematic. Although several other international actors are involved in funding and guid-
ing efforts to reform the Afghan police and Ministry of Interior, a very important role
continues to be played by the US. In 2005, Washington gave its Defence Department
responsibility for support to the Afghan police, and made significant funds available in
order to speed up the previously slow process of constructing a modern, efficient, imper-
sonal police force that could act in a competent manner within the framework of the rule of
law.34 Following that decision, the military personnel of the Combined Security Transition
Command Afghanistan (CSTC-A) started working with German police representatives on
the reconstruction of the Afghan National Police. According to reports from the field, that
move gave significant impetus to a process that had been plagued by delays and problems
of coordination between various international donors.
However, the nature of the internationally sponsored reform process has given rise to
some serious questions and problems. As Tonita Murray has noted, some of the key mea-
sures adopted in the name of promoting modern, efficient policing practices in Afghanistan
reveal a limited understanding of the importance of creating a police force that enjoys the
respect and trust of the communities they are meant to serve.35 For instance, in the mid-
2000s, after the intervention of the military, the previous reorganisation plan – providing
for the formation of eight policing regions reflecting the diverse ethnic composition of the
country – was turned into a plan providing for five regions, crossing ethnic lines to conform
to the military command structure. The logic of military organisation overruled commu-
nity considerations, making it more difficult to build a police force with which the relevant
community could identify. Under these circumstances, the Afghan police force found it
difficult to secure the trust of the communities they police, and to cooperate with them in
the exercise of law enforcement functions. Many sections of the public have continued to
rely on ethnic-based militias and warlords for their security, and that further reinforced a
dynamic of competition between state-based and non-state security arrangements.36
There is also a problem with respect to the types of actions that Afghan police forces
are expected to perform. While Afghan military forces participate in military missions in
conjunction with international troops, police posts seem to be left to protect themselves
34. Here, I draw on the analysis provided by Tonita Murray, ‘Police-Building in Afghanistan: A Case
Study of Civil Security Reform’, International Peacekeeping 14, no. 1 (2007): 108–26.
35. Ibid.
36. Interviews with more than a dozen NGO officials involved in reconstruction efforts, May 2007–
October 2009.
304 A. Gheciu
against the numerous attacks mounted by insurgents.37 In the absence of effective support
from the Afghan army and/or ISAF, the police have had little choice but to devote most
of their attention to defending themselves from insurgent attacks, rather than maintain
civil security. Previous attempts to assert the civilian nature of police appear to have been
suspended, generating confusion for the police and Afghan public alike. This development
contradicts earlier efforts to draw a distinction between the police and the military and to
deploy international civilian police advisers to facilitate the civilianisation of police. It also
reinforces the view that civilian policing methods must be subordinated to the military
logic and military methods. This could make it more difficult to socialise the police forces
into an ethic of care, and a view of individuals/groups subject to law enforcement measures
as members of the community with certain inalienable rights (as opposed to enemies who
must be defeated at almost any cost).
From private citizens to protectors: blurring the boundary between the public
and private spheres in the provision of security
In a situation in which the enemies to Afghan and international security are identified
as non-conventional actors – transnationally organised groups that hide among innocent
Afghan civilians – one of the most interesting aspects of security practices in that country
has been a blurring of the boundary between the public and private spheres. In particular,
ISAF has consistently sought to involve private citizens in practices aimed at identifying
individuals and groups suspected of involvement in acts of violence against international
troops and Afghan government forces.
Recall that NATO’s vision of its role in Afghanistan revolves around the idea of iden-
tifying and defeating those Afghans seen as ‘enemies of civilisation’ by virtue of their
(alleged) opposition to the norms of human rights, the rule of law and democracy and,
simultaneously, helping and training the other Afghans, teaching them to build good insti-
tutions of governance and, more broadly, to build a modern, reliable polity. The civilian
population is thus seen as both the referent of security (since one of the key aims of ISAF
is ‘to create conditions under which the Afghans can enjoy representative government and
self-sustaining peace’38), and the locus of threat – as certain individuals/groups within the
population support the Taliban and potentially Al-Qaeda, and, as such, are seen to pose a
threat to the Afghan government, to the process of state reconstruction and to international
security. Under those circumstances, the identification of those ‘enemies’ by the ISAF and
Afghan government forces is seen as a key priority, and, at the same time, as a task that is
extremely hard to achieve without the active support of ordinary Afghans. This, then, takes
us to the third role assigned to the Afghan population: active participants in the identifica-
tion and defeat of enemies. In the words of a senior NATO officer, ‘we don’t really know
who is hostile to us, and who is not. That is why it is so important to win the trust of the
population – they can tell us who supports the Taliban and Al Qaeda.’39
As I discussed elsewhere,40 the growing involvement of private actors in practices
aimed at identifying, monitoring and containing individuals seen as a threat both to domes-
tic order and international security is one of the most interesting implications of a process
37. Ibid.
38. See, for example, statement by the NATO Defence Ministers, Seville, February 8–9, 2007.
39. Interview with senior NATO officer, November 23, 2006.
40. See Gheciu, Securing Civilization?
Global Crime 305
identified by Ulrich Beck as the individualisation of war. Thus, rather than complying with
the conventional logic of security, in which states wage war against other states, individuals,
organised in fluid networks, now seem to wage wars against states and their populations,
and vice versa: states begin to wage wars against particular groups of individuals. This is
reflected in the recent strategic documents, which portray terrorist groups as a key source
of threat to the transatlantic security community, indeed to international security in general.
Identifying, controlling and ideally defeating these fluid enemies requires a reconfiguration
of the security apparatus: in addition to blurring the boundary between defence/policing
functions and apparatuses, there has been a systematic effort to blur the boundary between
the public and private arenas, with the growing involvement of private actors in the pro-
vision of security functions traditionally performed by the state. It could be argued that
the involvement of private actors in the provision of security in Afghanistan represents a
particular instantiation of a broader tendency, which has also been noted in the articles
by Deborah Avant and Virginia Haufler, and by Michael Williams (this volume). Thus,
particularly in the post-Cold War era, there has been a growing tendency – in numerous
policy-making circles – to focus on the potential of wide array of non-state actors to be
mobilised into a liberal governance process.
In our case, ISAF has systematically sought to involve Afghans in intelligence-
gathering activities that seek to identify supporters of Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Particularly in
a situation in which NATO allies have a very limited understanding of local affairs, ISAF
had to rely on Afghans to differentiate between peaceful, law-abiding citizens and those
who might seek to undermine governmental and international efforts to defeat the insur-
gency and (re)build Afghanistan as a modern state. What is involved, in other words, is not
simply an effort to identify and punish those who have already committed an act of aggres-
sion against governmental (and international) forces, but, acting in a preventive mode, to
find/classify as dangerous and defeat those who, by virtue of their (alleged) allegiances,
are likely to commit acts of violence.41 In the enactment of these practices of classification
of dangerous individuals, ISAF has formed informal, hybrid networks involving interna-
tional military and civilian (especially intelligence) officers and Afghan officers, as well
as private Afghan citizens. In principle, all these actors work together in operations that
combine military and policing dimensions: the idea is to monitor the activities of Afghan
citizens, obtain intelligence that enables the Afghan government and international troops to
differentiate between those classified as dangerous (pro-Taliban, pro-Al-Qaeda) enemies of
civilisation and peaceful Afghans. Based on that system of classifications, contingents that
combine international troops and Afghan government forces subsequently mount opera-
tions that use military force to destroy those (alleged) enemies, while at the same time gain
the support of those identified as innocent civilians in affected areas.
Many of the most recent ISAF initiatives involve precisely the introduction of meth-
ods and actions designed to enhance the involvement of civilians in the identification of
individuals/groups suspected of involvement in attacks on governmental forces and inter-
national troops. For instance, in 2008 the Canadian military – a key ISAF contributor –
became deeply involved in efforts to track down and apprehend Taliban bomb-makers.42
41. Communication with senior ISAF officer, Ottawa, April 23, 2008. In a broader analytical per-
spective, this can be seen as an expression of the preventive logic of risk-management in international
42. D. Pugliese, ‘Military Zeroes in on Taliban Bombers: New Task Force Plots to Attack the Network
Before They Can Strike’, Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 2008, A1–A2.
306 A. Gheciu
It is reported that Canadian special forces and members of a secret eavesdropping team
were involved in efforts to identify and ‘eliminate’ producers of improvised explosive
devices (IEDs), with support from a recently created counter-IED task force. According
to Col. Omer Lavoie, head of the task force, the emphasis of the fight is shifting from deal-
ing primarily with explosive devices to putting more efforts into ‘attacking the network’
responsible for financing, creating and planting the bomb.43 That effort involved a com-
bination of combat operations, winning the support of the Afghan population, improving
training and making better use of forensic information to identify and apprehend bomb-
makers and their supporters. In the words of Col. Lavoie, ‘This really speaks to targeting
networks and winning the support of the people so that they are reporting the builders and
transporters before they put IEDs in place ...It is also trying to change the mindset ...
This is not an undefeatable bogeyman out there.’44 Col. Lavoie stressed that, while techno-
logical developments as well as training Afghans in the area of intelligence gathering are
important, winning the support – and active cooperation of – the Afghan public is crucial.
Winning Afghan support includes public relations campaigns and attempts to persuade vil-
lage elders to regard ISAF as their allies and friends in the fight against insurgents; more
pragmatically, they also include programmes that provide cash payments for IEDs turned
in by the locals, and aid to villages that cooperate with coalition and Afghan forces.
It is interesting to note that the effort to find more effective methods of fighting Afghan
insurgents and their supporters has led not only to transformations in the modus operandi
and institutional arrangements in Afghanistan, but also to a reconsideration of existing
security arrangements in countries that are heavily involved in Afghanistan. In Canada,
for example, the recognised need to find more effective methods to combat the insurgency
has led the new counter-IED task force to seek to improve coordination and establish new
institutional links not only across the Canadian Forces of the various organisations involved
in dealing with IEDs, but also, in a move that looks likely to further blur the boundary
between military and policing apparatuses, between the military and other governmental
departments. According to Col. Lavoie, the military have been working closely with the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an effort to track down bomb-makers and find IEDs
before they are exploded.45
As regards operations in Afghanistan, it might be argued that extensive cooperation
with Afghan actors can only enhance the ability of internationals to promote security.
Yet, the ISAF’s initiatives have had their own counter-productive dynamics. One of the
problems associated with the mission in Afghanistan has been that, due to a lack of under-
standing of Afghan political realities, many of the international actors have sometimes been
the target of effective manipulation by the locals. As Astri Suhrke has noted, the ‘complex
and fluid nature of Afghan politics increased the risk that troops unfamiliar with the lan-
guage and local conditions would be manipulated.’46 Indeed, there seems to have been a
flawed assumption on the part of ISAF officers that local leaders could be relied upon to act
as neutral experts in the production of knowledge about individuals/groups that support the
Taliban. This tendency to seek to divorce processes of knowledge construction from polit-
ical processes (particularly local power struggles) seems to have been responsible for a
43. Ibid.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid.
46. A. Suhrke, ‘A Contradictory Mission? NATO from Stabilization to Combat in Afghanistan’,
International Peacekeeping 15, no. 2 (2008): 214–36, 231.
Global Crime 307
number of serious incidents in which ISAF was effectively manipulated by local leaders
into eliminating their political rivals.47 A process conceptualised by ISAF as a politically
neutral exercise in obtaining objective information about the identity and allegiance of
particular Afghan individuals and groups has, in effect, been a deeply political process of
classification. Particularly problematic is the fact that the stigma attached to the Taliban has
been used by local actors to not only de-legitimise their Afghan opponents in the eyes of
international forces, but also to cast them as ‘enemies of civilisation’ – that is, actors who,
by virtue of their (alleged) political identity, need to be subjected to exceptional forms of
punishment. Afghans seeking to gain power over their rivals have effectively mobilised the
international discourse of extreme domestic and international danger posed by terrorists to
manipulate the internationals into treating certain individuals/groups as enemies that can
only be controlled via the use of deadly military force.
Competing images of space in security practices in Afghanistan
The ISAF’s effort to involve Afghan civilians in identifying/containing/defeating Taliban
insurgents illustrates one particular image of the space of security: in a situation in which
there are no clear physical boundaries between friend and enemy, security providers have
sought to classify individuals and groups, and to ‘root out’ enemies without undermining
the normal flow of socio-economic activities of the rest of the population.
The appropriate spatial metaphor for those practices of classifying/selecting Afghans
is the filter.48 The reliance on practices of ‘filtering out’ dangerous individuals is certainly
not new: historically, the obsession with methods and technologies of filtering was char-
acteristic of colonial practices of maintaining order and counter-insurgency operations, to
name just a couple of examples. More recently, the concern with ‘filtering out enemies’ has
become central to practices aimed at preventing/combating terrorism in many countries,
including in the Western world.
What is particularly interesting in Afghanistan is the nature of the hybrid network –
involving national and international, private and public actors – that conducts practices
of filtering of Afghan civilians. ISAF troops, as noted above, train, mentor and support
Afghan forces as well as civilians in an effort to filter out and defeat insurgents. This
‘filtering’ is to be achieved via the surveillance and classification of the population (in con-
sultation with village elders and Afghan citizens), searches of suspect locations, arrests of
individuals suspected of involvement in the insurgency and targeted attacks of suspected
Taliban bases. Military and police techniques have thus been combined in an effort to find
and defeat individuals/groups perceived as, simultaneously, a source of domestic disorder
and a threat to international security. When the strength of groups or cells of insurgents is
47. To give just one example which illustrates this danger: in 2007 in Western Afghanistan, the
US and NATO forces attacked villages dominated by Pashtuns in a Tajik-majority province, which
had previously supported the Taliban, and was reported to have returned to a policy of support for
the Taliban. But the village also had an unrelated conflict with the Tajik-dominated provincial power
structure, and this had apparently triggered the attack. According to the district administrator, ‘People
settle their own tribal feuds by feeding the wrong information to NATO’ (quoted in Suhrke, Ibid.).
According to two French journalists interviewed by the author (January 5, 2010), such problems have
continued to occur in more recent months.
48. On the role of practices of filtering in the contemporary security environment, see, for exam-
ple, D. Bigo ‘Protection: Security, Territory and Population’, in The Politics of Protection,ed.Jef
Huysmans, Andrew Dobson and Raia Prokhovnik (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), 84–100.
308 A. Gheciu
such that they cannot be controlled by policing methods, the use of military means seems to
be warranted in order to keep those individuals from infiltrating Afghan villages and towns.
The portrayal of Taliban insurgents as particularly dangerous enemies both vis-à-vis the
Afghan government/Afghan society and the international community is seen as sufficient
justification for the application of massive military force against their suspected bases, even
at the risk of killing civilians caught in the crossfire. In other words, the modern rules of
self-restraint that are designed to govern the application of coercion, particularly in the con-
text of relations between a government and its citizens, seem to be suspended in relations
with Taliban insurgents. Afghan government forces cooperate with ISAF in the applica-
tion of military force, even as President Karzai reminded the international community that
‘most Taliban fighters are Afghan citizens.’49
This approach can be seen as an interesting instance of the politics of exceptional-
ity: affirmations concerning their status as members of the Afghan polity would seem to
suggest that suspected Taliban fighters are entitled to the protection that a modern govern-
ment owes to its citizens. The argument ‘they are still our citizens’ seems to indicate that
Afghan authorities seek to reserve the right to deal with Taliban insurgents via policing
practices founded upon the assumption that even in the application of coercive measures
the government retains a basic duty to protect its citizens. Yet, in practice, the rights of
Taliban insurgents qua Afghan citizens seem to have been annulled in response to a mode
of behaviour which, in the eyes of ISAF and of the Afghan government, poses an excep-
tional danger to domestic and international order. Under those circumstances, normal rules
and norms of protection are suspended, and Taliban fighters, portrayed as enemies of mod-
ern Afghanistan, are identified as legitimate targets of military force. That force is applied
by a combination of Afghan forces and international troops acting within the framework
of a mission mandated by the UN. The picture painted in the ISAF discourse as well as in
some of the statements issued by senior Afghan officials is that of a horizontal network of
Afghan and international friends – a quasi-community defined not by reference to territory
or national identity, but by reference to shared political values – engaged in an existential
struggle with actors whose commitment to (anti-modern) violent extremism turns them
into enemies of civilisation itself. For instance, in the aftermath of an attack on suspected
Taliban insurgents conducted on 19 June 2008, a senior Afghan official stated that the
Afghan troops and their ISAF friends had ‘won an important victory against these enemies
of civilization ...who would stop at nothing, who would be willing to destroy the progress
[made in Afghanistan].’50
Another particularly interesting aspect of ‘filtering’ practices enacted in Afghanistan is
the frequency with which practices conducted by ISAF and Afghan actors are paralleled by
criminal forms of surveillance and filtering. Thus, reports from the field indicate that crim-
inal filtering practices have become almost commonplace in Afghanistan, as local actors
– frequently corrupt police officials – monitor intersections, ‘filtering out’ of certain areas
all those who do not have either bribe money or strong local connections.51 Not surpris-
ingly, the emergence of criminal filtering practices has reinforced the Afghans’ perceptions
of widespread corruption within their government, leading them to challenge the legiti-
macy of their government, and, in more pragmatic terms, to rely – for their protection – on
49. Communication with a senior British official, May 30, 2007, Oxford.
50. Statement issued by senior Afghan Defence official, BBC World News, June 19, 2008.
51. This was confirmed by former International Development officials based in Ottawa in communi-
cations with the author, May 29, 2008 and January 5, 2010.
Global Crime 309
parallel security arrangements, often run by local elites or warlords. Predictably, this has
further complicated the process of extending the government’s authority in the country and
building stable state institutions in Afghanistan.
If the image of the filter is necessary in order to understand contemporary security
practices in Afghanistan, that image does not capture the full complexity of security
arrangements in the war-torn country. In fact, security practices in Afghanistan involve a
mix of very different, conventional and non-conventional conceptions of the space of secu-
rity. In parallel to statements affirming the importance of networks and non-conventional
security arrangements, the geometric conception of the space of security built around the
familiar dichotomies of inside/outside, friend/enemy has not disappeared. At the most
obvious level, that conventional image of the space of security can be found in the physi-
cal borders – built with fences of barbed wire – which separate ISAF bases from Afghan
communities. For example, in Kandahar City, NATO built a sprawling base just outside
the airport, and on most days only a few hundred soldiers are outside the wire, conducting
counter-insurgency or reconstruction operations.52
That approach to security – replicated in other parts of Afghanistan – can be seen as a
peculiar application of the concept of extra-territoriality: international forces have set up
a physical space inside Afghan territory in which normal Afghan rules, norms and laws
do not apply, and which is militarily protected from the hostile forces of the ‘outside’
world. In that case, needless to add, the ‘outside’ realm is in fact the ‘inside’ space of the
host country. Thus, as the obvious targets of Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda supporters,
ISAF troops are not only security providers vis-à-vis the Afghan population, but also the
endangered actors who must rely on conventional geometrical arrangements to minimise
the risks posed by the actions of a well-organised, if highly fluid, network or set of networks
of non-conventional enemies.
In addition, a geometrical conception of the space of security is enacted through
the production of threat assessment maps, indicating the regions in Afghanistan that are
deemed as particularly risky. Here, the aim is to provide reliable advice to international
actors, helping them to plan their operations in such a way as to avoid particularly hos-
tile areas. For instance, in a threat assessment map produced by the UN in May 2005, no
districts in the country were labelled ‘extreme risk.’ By contrast, a map published in June
2006 showed rising danger levels for humanitarian workers in many parts in Afghanistan.
In the province of Kandahar alone, 2 out of 17 districts were deemed extreme risk. In a
map published in December 2007, 14 out of 17 districts were designated as ‘extreme
risk’ due to the sharp rise in the number of insurgent attacks.53 And in a map updated
in October 2010, nearly all of southern Afghanistan – the focus of the coalition’s mili-
tary offensives – remained painted the red of extreme risk, with no noted improvements.
At the same time, the green belt of ‘low-risk’ districts in northern, central and western
Afghanistan shrivelled.54
52. Communication with ISAF officer, Ottawa, May 20, 2008. Following President Obama’s deci-
sion to approve a significant ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, the base was upgraded and expanded several
times, resulting in the creation of what amounts to a small Western city in the Taliban heartland –
complete with restaurants and cafes. See Jason Motlagh/Kandahar Air Field, ‘Kandahar Air Base:
Part Afghanistan, Part Jersey Shore’, Time Magaz ine, July 5, 2010,
53. G. Smith and P. Koring, ‘The Ugly Truth in Afghanistan’, The Globe and Mail, March 1, 2008.
54. Author’s communication with UN official, October 17, 2010.
310 A. Gheciu
As a reflection of the highly fluid security situation in Afghanistan, the maps issued
by international actors change all the time, and the boundaries between ‘high-risk’ and
‘low-risk’ areas are constantly being redrawn. The (re)definition of those boundaries seems
to be subject to significant processes of contestation, illustrating the struggle for sym-
bolic power involved in the production of knowledge about security, particularly in an
uncertain environment. Thus, reports indicate that the military often contest or deride UN
threat assessment maps, arguing that civilian analysts often exaggerate the degree of risk
in certain parts of Afghanistan.55 In an insecure environment, military officers have sys-
tematically invoked their superior expertise and access to intelligence, claiming a superior
ability to speak the truth about the situation in Afghanistan. Yet, at the time of writing this
article, it would seem that the UN and ISAF continue to operate on the basis of separate
‘maps of risk’. While processes of contestation between military and civilian authorities
are not unprecedented, they can be particularly problematic in the Afghan context, in which
international military and civilian actors are expected to collaborate closely in providing
humanitarian relief and contributing to the reconstruction of the country. Thus, the per-
sistence of different interpretations of the boundaries of particularly dangerous (or no-go)
areas further complicated an already difficult – some would say, inadequate – process of
coordination among international agencies present in Afghanistan.56
Moreover, this is not the only process of contestation that occurs in the production of
knowledge about acceptable degrees of risk in various regions in Afghanistan. In fact, the
situation is severely complicated by disagreements among the allies over the boundaries of
Afghan regions in which they should operate. For instance, zones that are identified as ‘no-
go areas’ on the maps of certain European NATO members are, in fact, the areas in which
other allies (the US and UK, in particular) conduct most of their operations. In a situation
in which NATO members have failed to reach an agreement on boundaries between areas in
which allied troops should operate and the regions (if any) that should be avoided, the allies
will continue to experience serious difficulties in coordinating their actions and, according
to some critical voices, might even face defeat in Afghanistan.57
This article cannot and does not claim to provide a comprehensive account of the
contemporary practices enacted by international actors in the name of stabilising and
reconstructing Afghanistan. I do, however, hope that the analysis offered here has shown
that security practices carried out in the name of protecting both Afghans and the interna-
tional community involve a considerable blurring of boundaries between traditionally sep-
arate categories of public/private spheres, domestic/international and military/policing.
In Afghanistan, as we have seen, hybrid networks of public and private, national and local
and international actors use a combination of policing and military methods and technolo-
gies as they seek to defeat Taliban insurgents, while at the same time ‘winning the hearts
and minds’ of the population. The focus on ‘hearts and minds’ can be seen as part of a
broader effort to monitor and guide Afghans into becoming self-disciplined actors, able
(and willing) to turn their war-torn country into a modern, stable, well-governed polity –
that is, a polity worthy of the full respect and trust of the international community. Contrary
to the overlying optimistic discourse often articulated by Western policy-makers, many
of the methods and technologies of security employed in Afghanistan have given rise to
55. Ibid.
56. See, for example, International Crisis Group, ‘Afghanistan: The Need for International Resolve’,
Asia Report no. 145 (Brussels, February 6, 2008).
57. Communication with Canadian ISAF officer, September 2007, Ottawa.
Global Crime 311
a number of serious challenges and dilemmas, and in some cases have had particularly
problematic effects. In practical terms, Afghanistan remains a deeply troubled, conflict-
ridden country, and it is still far from clear that the UN-mandated mission can successfully
complete its project of helping to bring stability and democracy to Afghans. At the same
time, from an analytical perspective, Afghanistan can be seen as a fascinating quasi-lab for
studying contemporary changes in the field of security. An analysis of developments in that
quasi-lab confirms the view that, if we are to understand ‘the new economy of security’ we
need to transcend the rigid dichotomies and narrow categories which have, for far too long,
shaped (most) thinking about international relations.
Notes on contributor
Alexandra Gheciu, who holds a PhD in Political Science from Cornell University (USA), is an
Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Associate Director
of the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Prior to joining the University
of Ottawa, she was a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and a Jean Monnet
Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence. At present, in addition to her Canadian com-
mitments she also acts as an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and
Security Studies (RUSI, London) and is Associate Editor for the US-based journal Security Studies.
New security dynamics present significant theoretical and empirical challenges. This article suggests that Pierre Bourdieu's ideas about an ‘economics of practice’ provides a fruitful means for exploring and explaining many of these transformations.
Following an overview of the diverse substate policing sector in Africa and the main changes taking place within it, there follows an examination of the complex and dynamic boundaries between state and substate. The boundaries are at times imagined. States are constantly engaged in constructing an image of policing and its boundaries that does not correspond with reality. The boundaries are also permeable: authority, activities and agents pass across the boundary. State and substate are not clearly separated. Such is the geographical overlapping of policing agencies that Africans commonly move into and out of spheres of policing providers. The boundaries are also shifting. Boundaries between public and private, between legal and illegal and between state and substate are subject to ongoing power struggles and negotiation that result in change and reconstruction. The article concludes with some remarks about the potential and risks of utilising substate policing agencies.
Full-text available
Between 2001 and 2007, the United States and NATO gradually abandoned the commitment to a light military footprint in Afghanistan, initially adopted to avoid making the same mistakes as the Soviet Union. A heavy footprint, it was feared, would enable the militants to mobilize resistance in the name of Islam and Afghan nationalism. As it turned out, the militants mobilized effectively to meet the growing foreign military presence. More combat troops have given NATO some tactical victories, but the limitations and counterproductive effects of the military approach to defeat the militants tend to undermine NATO's broader stabilization function in Afghanistan, thus pointing to a fundamental contradiction in the mission. Strengthening NATO's combat role is likely to sharpen this contradiction and increase the related probability of a strategic failure.
Computer Security in the 21st Century shares some of the emerging important research trends reflected in recent advances in computer security, including: security protocol design, secure peer-to-peer and ad hoc networks, multimedia security, and intrusion detection, defense and measurement. Highlights include presentations of : Fundamental new security Cryptographic protocols and design, A new way of measuring network vulnerability: attack surfaces, Network vulnerability and building impenetrable systems, Multimedia content protection including a new standard for photographic images, JPEG2000. Researchers and computer security developers will find in this book interesting and useful insights into building computer systems that protect against computer worms, computer viruses, and other related concerns. © 2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
The events of 11th September 2001 have many meanings. Although seen as a turning point in a number of historical sequences, perhaps their longest-lasting significance will prove to be that they mark the symbolic end to the era of space.. The article explores the consequences of this in terms of global space, which now becomes a new frontierland, where refugees, in a caricature of the new power elite, have come to epitomize extraterritoriality, and where floating coalitions and confluent enmities are both the promoters and beneficiaries of the new global disorder.
This paper examines the post-war reconstruction programme in Afghanistan, arguing that it contains the seeds of radical social change. The paper analyses the tensions of the present reconstruction project in light of the past experience of similar programmes launched by Afghan rulers and their foreign supporters. The central argument is that the conflation of post-war reconstruction with a broader agenda for development and modernisation has brought out a wide range of tensions associated with social change. Simultaneously the prominent foreign role in the undertaking has increasingly had negative effects. As a result, the entire project shows signs of severe contradictions that are adding to the problems caused by the growing insurgency.
At War's End (Cambridge
  • See
  • R Instance
  • Paris
See, for instance, R. Paris, At War's End (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and R. Caplan, International Governance of War-Torn Territories (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Opening Statement by Lord Robertson at the NATO Defence Ministers Meeting
  • Nato
  • General
  • Lord
NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, Opening Statement by Lord Robertson at the NATO Defence Ministers Meeting (Warsaw, September 24–25, 2002), www.Acronym.Org. uk/docs/0209/doc1htm (accessed September 1, 2009).
Military Concept for Defence Against Terrorism, Endorsed by the NATO Heads of State and Government at the Prague Summit
  • See
  • Nato
See NATO, 'Military Concept for Defence Against Terrorism, Endorsed by the NATO Heads of State and Government at the Prague Summit', November 2002, htm#c (accessed May 18, 2009).
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (Speech at the Albanian Parliament
  • Nato
NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (Speech at the Albanian Parliament, Tirana, July 6, 2006), (accessed August 28, 2009).
Liberalism: What Is in a Name?', in Global Governmentality: Governing International Spaces and I examine this issue at greater length in A. Gheciu, Securing Civilization?
  • B For
  • Hindess
For an excellent recent analysis, see B. Hindess, 'Liberalism: What Is in a Name?', in Global Governmentality: Governing International Spaces, ed. Wendy Larner and William Walters (London: Routledge, 2004), 23–39 and I examine this issue at greater length in A. Gheciu, Securing Civilization? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Governing Fragile States' (Presentations given at University of Ottawa Zurcher was drawing on recent surveys
  • C Zurcher
C. Zurcher, 'Governing Fragile States' (Presentations given at University of Ottawa, February 25, 2008 and October 15, 2010). Zurcher was drawing on recent surveys conducted in Afghanistan.