With the security transition deadline of 2014 from international troops to Afghan forces getting close, the debate on Afghan control of security has given prominence to the previously discussed proposal of conscript military service. It gained public prominence particularly after the Munich Security Conference where President Karzai talked about it.
The latest Government argument for this is about the reduction of financial burden on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). But a conscript military service is not a volunteer force, nor is it like any irregular and not-so-important citizen obligation. With the security challenges that we have, and the main reason for such a service, the security concerns and situation in Afghanistan makes it necessary that such a mandatory army should be like all regular forces, in terms of training and equipment. So it won't make a big difference with the financial costs of the security forces.
The Government seems to be interested to start the conscript service after 2014. But the reasons argued by officials for such a mandatory service are in contrast with practical outcomes of such a system. But the discussion is not new. There have been talks about this in last couple of years.
Another important reason for conscript service is due to the difficulties in army recruitment, particularly from South and Southeastern parts of the country.
The conscript army service will give a sense of responsibility to Afghans, and ownership of their country in security affairs to every citizen. But such a system has not to be different than the training of regular forces. During the last three decades of civil war, ethnic tensions were deep-rooted. Former warlords and militia commanders had their independent militia groups. Men from these militia groups are now mostly serving in National Army and Police.
By the idea of conscript military, it would be a meaningful integration effort to remove the ethnic tensions. Military culture is one of the most patriotic ones. It will help to come out of the tensions of civil-war era.
But there are many concerns. The financing of all recruits in such a system will make it harder for Afghanistan, particularly after 2014 when foreign troops start withdrawal.
The history of "forced military service" is not very positive in Afghanistan. People used dozens of tricks to escape their service, while the influential tribal people and those having "good-relations" with officials were always let go without service.