Country report and updates: Afghanistan

Last revision: 10 Mar 1998
10 Mar 1998

After the communist government fell in 1992 civil war continued between different factions of the former Mujaheddin resistance. Since 1992 different parts of the country have been ruled by different armed groups and local commanders; effective central government is consequently lacking. In September 1996 the capital Kabul was seized by the Taleban, which ever since has been considered the government of Afghanistan and controls approximately 75 percent of the country. The north is ruled by a coalition of the Jonbesh-e Melli Islami and the former Rabbani government, which was the formal government of Afghanistan between 1992 and 1996.

1 Conscription

It is not known if the Taleban has introduced legislation on conscription since it has assumed power. In any case it is not clear to what extent written legislation exists in Afghanistan.


The Taleban, who became party to the civil war in 1994, at first recruited into their forces young Afghan refugees attending religious schools (madrasses) in Pakistan. Although Taleban leaders always call their recruits 'volunteers', there are many reports of the Taleban employing forced recruitment in the areas under their control. Recruitment methods used are press-ganging, house-to-house searches and seizing children from secondary schools. After the capture of Kabul in 1996 Taleban troops broke into mosques to recruit worshippers. [7] [8] [9]

To fill the ranks caused by the numerous casualties following unsuccessful attempts to conquer the northern provinces in 1997, the Taleban were said to be recruiting more and more young men in their early teens. [6]

Recruitment policies of the other armed factions are not known. During the civil war against the communist government there was no shortage of voluntary applicants to join the Mujaheddin resistance, as the war had much popular support. Since then any distinction between voluntary and forced recruitment has been more and more difficult to make. Since the civil war has been going on for more than 20 years, a whole generation of Afghans has found joining one of the armed groups the only means of survival.

All the armed groups have child soldiers within their ranks, some groups being known to recruit children by force. Before 1992 about 10 per cent of Mujaheddin troops were said to be under 16. [1]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is a non-issue in Afghanistan. As the current legal background for conscription is not even clear, there are certainly no provisions for those refusing to bear arms.

3 Draft evasion and desertion

No information available.

5 History

Before 1992 conscription existed in Afghanistan. Military service could be performed in the armed forces, the Ministry of Interior and the secret police (Khad). All men were liable for military service, except tribal people living near the Pakistan border and students of religion. [4] [10]

Resentment felt towards the communist government, especially following the 1983 Soviet invasion, prompted a great increase in draft evasion and desertion. Consequently the armed forces shrank from approximately 110,000 troops to only 30,000 by 1983. Draft evasion was one of the principal reasons for young men to flee Kabul. Many of the draft evaders and deserters joined the Mujaheddin resistance. [2]

In the 1980s the government tightened up the conscription laws in order to get the requisite number of recruits. The length of military service was increased from two to three years in 1981, and to four years in 1984. Military call-up age was lowered from 22 to 18. In Kabul men could be recruited directly from schools and offices, where the government had records of their presence. In addition recruits were obtained by means of cordon-and-search operations and press-ganging, the young men involved at least looking to be the right age. Actually some of the recruits were only 15. [2] [10]

In 1982 it was decreed that all boys aged between 10 and 15 were to receive military training at school. [11]

After the withdrawal of Soviet troops the Najibullah government tried to make military service less unpopular. In 1987 the length of service was reduced to two years again, and certain economic and educational privileges were granted to those who had completed their service. The Minister of Defence Takai stated that this shorter service had a 'stabilizing effect on conscripts' combat spirit'. In 1986 a decree was passed, requiring the conscription of 'sons and brothers of leadership cadres' whose evasion of military service through personal influence had been a source of popular resentment in Kabul. Previously, party members had been able to evade military service by serving in party and government institutions for two years. [2]

The right to conscientious objection was not recognized and there were no provisions for performing substitute service. Draft evaders were initially tried and imprisoned; in the early 1980s some were even sentenced to death. In the late 1980s deserters tended to be pardoned and returned to the armed forces. [2]

After the 1992 collapse of the communist government all serving conscripts were discharged. All deserters were granted amnesty, except very high-ranking officers. All the previous governments' military bodies were to be dissolved and combined with the Mujaheddin to form a new national Islamic force. In 1993 a defence commission, comprising representatives of different Mujaheddin factions, was formed in order to create a national army. It also drew up a law on conscription but, owing to the absence of effective central government, this law has never been passed. [3]

6 Annual statistics

The various armed forces in Afghanistan amount to 430,000 people, that is, 1.85 percent of the population. [13]


[1] Mine Clearance Planning Agency 1996. Report on child soldier problem in Afghanistan. Case-study for the Graca Machel report on child soldiers. [2] Rubin, Barnett 1995. The fragmentation of Afghanistan. Yale University Press, New Haven/London. [3] DIRB, 16 November 1993. [4] DIRB, 20 June 1994. [5] Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan 1987. News bulletin, 23/1987. [6] 'Taleban volunteers in their early teens', Children of war, 3/1997, R├Ądda Barnen, Stockholm. [7] 'Jeugd Kaboel onder dwang naar front', Parool (Dutch newspaper), 10 October 1996. [8] 'Taleban mobilizes more forces', IRNA News Agency, 3 July 1996. [9] 'Taleban reportedly rounding up young people in Kabul and taking them away', Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 11 October 1996. [10] The Far East and Australasia. Europa Publications, 1997. [11] Woods, D.E. 1993. Child Soldiers, the recruitment of children into the armed forces and their participation in hostilities. Quaker Peace and Service, London.[12] DIRB, 18 February 1997. [13] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Afghanistan

04 May 2011

It seems almost an annual news item. In October 2009 (see CO-Update No 51) and in February 2010 (see CO-Update No 54) we reported about discussions in the Afghan and US administrations about the introduction of conscription in Afghanistan. Now the Washington Post reported on 28 April that "Karzai considers military draft in Afghanistan instead of all-volunteer army" - so the headline of the article. According to the Washington Post:

01 Mar 2010

There have been several reports in recent months that Afghanistan might move to introduce conscription in the near future, to increase the strength of its Armed Forces. According to BBC News, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told a conference of the world's top defence officials in Germany that he is considering introducing conscription. The Afghan president said at the summit in Munich he wants to build an army and police force of 300,000 by 2012.

06 Oct 2009

The Telegraph reported on 25 September 2009 that Afghanistan may introduce conscription in order to recruit sufficient troops for the troop levels demanded by the USA and its NATO allies. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of Nato-forces in Afghanistan, demanded in his recent strategic assessment of the situation in the country that the army should grow from 92,000 to 134,000 in the next year. It should then reach 240,000 as soon as possible, which commanders admit would need the recruitment and training of 5,000 men each month.