The U.S. government has spent more than $1 billion in American taxpayer funds on programs to develop the rule of law in Afghanistan, including efforts to improve a judicial system that incorporates Islamic Sharia law, reports a watchdog agency appointed by Congress.
According to the watchdog agency known as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Departments of Defense (DOD), Justice (DOJ), State (State), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have spent more than $1 billion since 2003 on at least 66 completed and ongoing programs aimed at developing the rule of law in Afghanistan.
“This effort has focused on areas such as the judicial system, corrections system (detention centers and prisons), informal justice system, legislative reform, legal education, public outreach, and anticorruption efforts,” explains SIGAR.
Citing the U.S. Army’s Center for Law and Military Operations’ Rule of Law Handbook, John Sopko, SIGAR’s inspector general, reports that the legal system in Afghanistan consists of two separate judicial systems that coexist — a formal and an informal system, both of which incorporate Sharia law.
The formal system of law is “practiced by state authorities relying on a mixture between the civil law and elements of Islamic Sharia law,” notes Sopko in the report, while the informal legal system is “based on customary tribal law and local interpretations of Islamic Sharia law.”
“Experts we consulted describe a complex legal system in Afghanistan that incorporates hundreds of years of informal traditions, Islamic Sharia law, former Soviet judicial practices during the 1980s, and modern Western influence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001,” he adds.
A portion of the more than $1 billion spent on rule of law development efforts has been devoted to improving the formal and informal systems in Afghanistan that incorporate Sharia law.
SIGAR does note that “because DOD, DOJ, State, and USAID did not systematically measure and report on their programs’ achievements, it remains unclear what overall outcomes and impact have resulted from the expenditure of more than $1 billion to develop the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
Nevertheless, the watchdog agency reports that USAID spent an estimated $47.5 million on a completed program aimed at improving Afghanistan’s formal judicial system, which primarily deals “with criminal matters and civil cases such as divorce or land disputes.”
Among the core objectives of the program was building “the capacity of law and Sharia faculties,” notes SIGAR.
USAID spent an additional $39.7 million on a different completed program aimed at strengthening the informal justice sector in Afghanistan in order to increase stability and improve access to justice in certain districts.
One of the core objectives of that program was to “strengthen informal justice mechanisms, specifically shuras and jirgas,” which are composed of Afghan elders or tribal leaders.
Shuras and jirgas “often decide disputes over land or personal matters between individuals,” explains SIGAR. “These informal systems are used predominantly in areas where formal systems were absent during decades of civil war and where it remains difficult to access formal courts due to continued insecurity and lack of proximity of courts to rural areas.”
SIGAR only reviewed 6 of the 66 U.S. funded programs aimed at improving the rule of law, which means there are likely more than two programs devoted to improving the country’s Sharia law system.
“Of the 66 identified programs, 36 are ongoing programs, totaling approximately $601.2 million, and 30 are completed programs, totaling approximately $483.2 million,” reports inspector general.
SIGAR adds that the amount of money spent by U.S. agencies on rule of law programs since 2003 could exceed the more than $1 billion it identified because DOD could only account for some funds spent.
“U.S. agencies have been performing a wide range of activities to develop the rule of law in Afghanistan since 2003,” SIGAR concludes. “However, for much of this period, these activities have not been guided by a unified, comprehensive U.S. government strategy that clearly defines the priorities and scope of activities that constitute U.S. rule of law programs.”
“The United States faces pervasive corruption, lack of will, and other challenges in trying to improve the Afghan justice sector,” it adds. “After 13 years and over $1 billion spent, U.S. agencies are still not consistently assessing the sustainability of their rule of law programs in Afghanistan.”
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