On 29 July 2020, Afghanistan acceded to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), becoming the 109th State Party.  As the second country in South Asia to join the Treaty – following the Maldives – this is an important development for a region marred by decades of violence and instability, fuelled by irresponsible arms transfers. Afghanistan’s accession plays a key role in raising awareness and building momentum towards the Treaty’s universalisation in the region. Given its strategic location near the Middle East, where conflict has been prevalent for so many years, Afghanistan’s accession can also foster regional cooperation to tackle diversion and illicit arms flows.

Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter hovers over an Afghan army unit © AFP / SHAH MARAI

 Afghanistan has long been affected by the destabilizing effects of arms flows, beginning with the Soviet occupation in 1979 and the subsequent resistance mounted by the Mujahideen, followed by the rise of terrorist groups such as the Taliban and ISIS, and the UN-led invasion in 2001. All of these conflicts ravaged Afghanistan’s economy and resulted in high civilian casualties. Recently, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented that between 2014-2019 over 10,000 civilians were killed and injured each year, leading Mr. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA to note that “[a]lmost no civilian in Afghanistan has escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence.”

 While much progress has been made over the past 20 years in Afghanistan, terrorist organizations maintain a significant presence in the country and, when coupled with a rise in organized crime and illicit drug trafficking, threats to national and regional stability remain significant. Controlling the flow of conventional arms in the country is therefore key to strengthening peace and security efforts and ensuring national and regional stability. 

 If effectively implemented, the ATT can strengthen the Afghan government’s “oversight and control of transfers taking place under its jurisdiction, minimising the risks of diversion and/or illicit transfers of arms and other items taking place.’ Similarly, the ATT provides for cooperation between exporting and importing states in order to mitigate risks of human rights abuses, including those carried out by national security forces, and for financial assistance to strengthen the government’s efforts to implement the Treaty. The ATT provides a framework for controlling arms flows that can contribute to the prevention of conflict, terrorism and organzied crime.

 Control Arms looks forward to engaging with Afghanistan to effectively implement the ATT and leverage the opportunities towards reducing human suffering in the Middle East and globally.