Afghanistan’s justice system is in a catastrophic state of disrepair. Despite repeated pledges over the last nine years, the majority of Afghans still have little or no access to judicial institutions. Lack of justice has destabilised the country and judicial institutions have withered to near non-existence. Many courts are inoperable and those that
do function are understaffed. Insecurity, lack of proper training and low salaries have driven many judges and prosecutors from their jobs. Those who remain are highly
susceptible to corruption. Indeed, there is very little that is systematic about the legal system, and there is little evidence that the Afghan government has the resources or
political will to tackle the challenge. The public, consequently, has no confidence in the formal justice sector amid an atmosphere of impunity. A growing majority of Afghans have been forced to accept the rough justice of Taliban and criminal powerbrokers in areas of the country that lie beyond government control.
To reverse these trends, the Afghan government and international community must prioritise the rule of law as the primary pillar of a vigorous counter-insurgency strategy
that privileges the protection of rights equally alongside the protection of life. Restoration of judicial institutions must be at the front and centre of the strategy aimed at stabilising the country. The Afghan government must do more to ensure that judges, prosecutors and defence attorneys understand enough about the law to ensure its
fair application. Reinvigoration of the legal review process and the adoption of a more dynamic, coordinated approach to justice sector reform are critical to changing
the system. Justice is at the core of peace in Afghanistan and international engagement must hew to the fundamental goal of restoring the balance of powers in government and confronting governmental abuses, past and present. Urgent action is also needed to realign international assistance to strengthen support for legal education, case management, data collection and legal aid.