The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's recently published summary report on Afghanistan's opium harvest in 2013 paints a dire picture on first glance: Estimated opium poppy cultivation expanded by 36 percent and, at 209,000 hectares (ha), set a new record, slightly exceeding the previous record of 193,000 ha in 2007. While estimated opium production in 2013, at 5,500 metric tons, is only the fourth-highest year recorded (well below the 2007 peak level of 7,400 metric tons), it rose steeply -- by almost 50 percent -- from 2012. And despite a modest reduction in opium prices, the volume of drug money -- most of which goes to drug traffickers, their sponsors and associates inside and outside the government, and to warlords and the Taliban insurgency -- also has risen sharply.
However, the temptation to see these developments in alarmist (or even apocalyptic) terms must be resisted. While the growth and spread of the opium economy in 2013 is concerning, it does not represent a fundamental change in the situation, and poorly thought out and misguided reactions would cause more harm than good and could turn out to be more problematic and destabilizing than the rise in opium cultivation and production itself.
Part of the increase in 2013, which was predicted and should not have come as a major surprise, can be attributed to the large year-to-year fluctuations that have always been the norm for Afghanistan's opium economy, especially since 2012 was a year of low yields and production. This reflects the importance of weather and other factors for Afghan agriculture more broadly, with a climate characterized by low and variable precipitation and little in the way of water conservancy investments to stabilize water supplies. Moreover, the 2013 figures are not grossly out of line with longer-term trends in opium cultivation and production. In fact, estimated opium production is exactly in line with those trends (as projected based on 1995-2012 data). Although the cultivated area is somewhat higher (about 25%) than the long-term trend, this is similar to some of the annual fluctuations seen in earlier years.
What 2013 does underline, however, is the resumption of continuing growth of Afghanistan's opium economy after temporary and unsustainable reductions in poppy cultivation and opium production in the years following the 2007 peak. This is not surprising, as the factors which supported those reductions have been dissipating.
First, the withdrawal of U.S. and other international military forces, especially from key opium-producing provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, has been reducing the overall security presence and associated pressure to reduce poppy cultivation, particularly in more remote areas where the Afghan National Army is not able to maintain the level of activities carried out previously by International Security Assistance Forces. Even though international troops were not directly involved in the eradication of poppy fields, their presence provided a security umbrella for counter-narcotics activities and also was used by Afghan officials as a threat against local leaders and farmers to dissuade them from cultivating poppies.
Second, funding for programs promoting alternative livelihoods is being sharply reduced, leaving much smaller potential financial incentives for farmers and other local actors. Even though such programs were not sustainable and were often characterized by inefficiency and waste, adequate funding will clearly be a prerequisite for effective and sustained rural development in the future.
Third, concomitant with foreign troop withdrawals and reductions in international funding, the political leverage to press for counter-narcotics actions is declining. Moreover, the drug issue is likely to be distinctly secondary on the list of political priorities for the United States and other international partners.
Fourth, domestic political and other trends in Afghanistan have weakened the ability to contain, let alone curtail, the opium economy. The 2014-2015 election cycle is distracting from drug issues and will likely lead to avoidance of politically sensitive counter-narcotics actions; some stalwart anti-opium provincial governors have been weakened or changed in the past year or so; there has been some recovery of opium yields from unusually low levels in 2012; and prices for opium remain relatively high despite modest reductions.
These recent trends, which are expected to continue in the future, demonstrate that the counter-narcotics policies implemented during the past decade, reliant as they were on temporary factors and, as in the case of the Helmand "Food Zone," endeavoring to replace opium largely with wheat (a low-value, relatively low labor-intensity crop with no export prospects), were not sustainable. Moreover, the suppression of poppy cultivation in core growing areas, such as the canal area of central Helmand, stimulated a shift of farmers and cultivation to new areas, leading to the further spread and entrenchment of opium.
Even though predictable and occurring for understandable reasons, the adverse impacts of recent developments should not be minimized, including:
However, there are also some mitigating factors that need to be kept in mind:
In any case, knee-jerk reactions and ill thought-out actions against the illicit narcotics trade in Afghanistan will be counterproductive. Whether aerial spraying or massive eradication of the opium crop at one extreme, or attempts to institute licensed opium production for legal pharmaceuticals at the other, there are no "silver bullets." These options, as well as other simplistic solutions, are not implementable or sustainable and will make the situation worse.
What, then, can be done? First, modest expectations and a long-term time horizon are called for on the part of both the international community and the Afghan government; eliminating illicit opium cultivation in Afghanistan most likely will be the work of decades, not years.
Second, there is a need to be prepared for growth in the opium economy in coming years and to avoid hand-wringing or overreaction. In particular, adverse short-term developments and fluctuations should not become an excuse for the international community to sharply cut or stop overall funding for Afghanistan, let alone exit from the country.
Third, preserving gains made in eliminating opium poppy cultivation in localities with favorable resource endowments, good access to water resources, proximity to urban markets, good roads, and at least a modicum of government presence and security will be very important and is certainly possible based on past experience.
Fourth, law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers, drug transport, heroin processing, and money laundering need to continue and be built upon over time, keeping in mind that progress inevitably will be gradual.
Fifth, investments in rural infrastructure -- in particular major water conservancy projects -- will be essential. More generally, broad-based rural development is the way forward over the medium-term to enable rural areas to escape from dependence on opium poppy cultivation, requiring sizable investments and effective programs to this end.
Sixth, value chains for suitable Afghan labor-intensive cash crops that enable them to reach both domestic and export markets will need to be developed. There is no substitute for the private sector to do this -- particularly elements of the international private sector that represent and link to the demand side and will be able to promote and ensure the essential quality and health and safety standards for exports. Creative ways to incentivize the international private sector to engage with Afghanistan in this way will need to be found.
Finally, it has to be recognized that none of this will be easy, that the drug industry will be present in Afghanistan for quite some time, and that keeping modest expectations while avoiding major mistakes and wrong turns on the counter-narcotics front will be essential.
William Byrd is a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Wakil Abdul Rahim
The mountainsides that surround Kabul are covered with squatter houses, the homes of people have claimed the land by building on it. They're undeterred by the steep grade; from below, many homes appear to be affixed to nearly vertical mountain faces. Many of the highest houses are inaccessible by car, but to get close you take narrow roads quickly, speeding so you don't stall or lose traction. The steeper and wilder the terrain, the faster you go.
We arrive at the home of Wakil Abdul Rahim and find him welcoming, but formal and severe. He quickly reveals himself to be the most pessimistic person I've spoken to about the withdrawal of U.S. and international forces, though he is also animated by a hatred for the people in power. It's as if he lives up here simply because it's as far away from them as he can get. He ushers us into a living room, serves us juice and cookies, and begins to explain what the international presence has looked like from all the way up here.
The following are the words of Wakil Abdul Rahim, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern and translated by Farima Abrar.
The government hasn't done anything for us up here on the mountains.
I moved up here forty years ago, and back then, there were only four or five houses here. From the bottom of the mountain to up here, there were no houses. But after we were here for a while, slowly people started building more and more.
I could buy a house anywhere in Kabul, but I liked the view up here. But not all people who are living on the mountain are rich people, they're poor people who cannot afford houses down in Kabul. People who are living here on the hills are those who fled the rural areas, places like Panjsher, because those areas were hit by violence, in fighting between the Soviet troops and mujaheddin.
People came to Kabul and left everything behind, so they couldn't afford living in flat areas. They started building huts on the mountains. At night they would build, but during the day, the huts were destroyed by the government because building houses in that area was illegal. So they would put their women and children inside the house so that the government wouldn't destroy them. And sometimes they would build and work on their houses during the day, and then at night, they would sit on top of the roof so that no one else would come and take the land, or destroy the house. They would sit all night on the construction.
I didn't buy this land, but I became the owner because whoever builds a house owns the land. All the mountains are the same that way. Now our government does not have the power to come and tell us anything. Why would they? They themselves came and took so much land! They're all corrupt, so what could they say to us when the government are the worst land grabbers of all?
It's different here than in the U.S. or in Germany, because there, the houses up high are more expensive than the houses down below. But here, most people do not really want to live on the mountains. The facilities on the mountains are very little. It's far from the city, and we have nothing, we didn't even have water. Whatever we need, we have to walk all the way down. Everyone used to go to collect water from the bottom of the mountain, carrying the water on sticks with buckets on each side. And our women -- you would see 50 or 60 women walking up the mountain carrying water on their heads.
Now at least we have water, but not because of the government; the government did not do anything. There is a company that came and collected from each house 20,000 Afghani (approximately $360) and then they put pipes in. But they made so much money off of us, because now there are so many houses up here, and the company took money from each of us before they brought us water. And recently we got electricity. Not all the time, but sometimes we have it.
I used to have cows and sheep and horses up here too. Only recently I sent them back to Panjshir. We used to get grass and feed for them from down below. But now it's costly to get grass and feed for them, so I was not able to keep them here. Four or five years ago, it was cheap. But because of insecurity -- Talibs are attacking on one side, the government itself is like a robber on one side, and the conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan is on one side -- it became more expensive. Before Karzai came, things were cheaper.
Our government is weak; these problems have nothing to do with Americans. Americans helped us, Germans also helped us, but all the benefits went to Karzai. It's not your problem as Americans, or Germans, or everyone else, it's our own government's problems. If you travel to Shamali in the evening, there will be robbers and people who attack you, it's not secure at all.
I don't see any change, the international presence didn't impact our lives, their money went to the pockets of the thieves like Ustad Sayyaf, Vice President Khalili, General Fahim.
Any high-rise building you see down there, it belongs to those corrupt people. Even the changes that you see up here on the hills, they are just for individuals who are linked with someone in the government. The people who go at 9am to their office and by 1pm they will be in their house relaxing, they do nothing for the country. These people don't work for the betterment of our country, they just work for themselves.
I challenge you that the next time you come to Afghanistan, see what the situation will be. It will not be the same. The situation will be bad, and once the international forces leave, it will be just like it was in the past. Next year, I'm thinking of leaving Afghanistan. In one year, Afghanistan will be like the 1990s.
I think Karzai himself is like Taliban. I think he is supporting them. After the international community leaves Afghanistan, I think Karzai will give our country to Taliban people. He will divide our country into two parts, Pashtuns and Tajiks, and everyone else. The places where Pashtuns live, those areas will be Talib area.
One hundred percent I'm sure that in our future, the situation will be worse than what we had in the past. The suicide bombers, every day we can see the explosions. These things make us think that our life in the future won't be better than the past. Because the government can't do anything. And the only reason now we have a better life is because international forces are here. At least our government during Russian times, and Taliban times, was stronger. In these periods of conflict, the thing that worried me was a lot of people escaping to other countries, or other parts of this country. That's how you know how tense people are: people moving because they think the situation will get worse. And I'm seeing people leaving again.
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E. Stern/Author Photo
As the insurgencies and drone strikes continue along Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan, a different kind of operation has begun in the country's south: the pacification of Karachi, one of Pakistan's most important cities.
In early September, after admitting the failure of the police to control the violence, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif empowered a paramilitary group, the Sindh Rangers, to conduct targeted operations within Karachi. These ongoing operations aim to restore peace in the city, but some of the arrests have led to widespread business closures and even more violence. While Sharif has already expressed his satisfaction on the progress of these operations, it is highly unlikely that they will produce any real long-term changes for Karachi, as there are too many militant factions to be quashed in a single campaign and too many groups, including political parties, criminals, and terrorist organizations, with vested interests in the current system to be swept away.
Though there has certainly been an uptick in violence recently, Karachi has been a center of conflict for years. It was widely considered the most dangerous megacity in the world in 2012, with approximately 2,500 violent deaths that year alone. Indian megacity New Delhi, by comparison, had only 521. Extortion and kidnappings have also become commonplace. But these crimes are not solely the work of ethnic-based mafias or terrorist groups, though groups like the Tehreek-i Taliban Pakistan are known to operate out of Karachi. Many are committed by groups linked to political parties, particularly the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is a dominant political force in the city.
This fact speaks to a much deeper and systemic issue in Karachi: any and all interest groups, both within and outside of the system, likely have some ties to militants. Politics by the barrel of a gun is nothing new to a country as prone to military coups as Pakistan, but if most vested interests in the city can be presumed to have some violent elements, then the only way for the police and military to regain control is by reining in all those groups, not just a few of the most obvious offenders. This is especially true as previous attempts to quell the violence in Karachi by targeting only some of the offenders have failed.
The Rangers, for example, were called into the city in 2011 in an attempt to end the gang-based violence that was then paralyzing Karachi. These operations were limited to addressing only one facet of the violence, the criminal gangs. Two years later, it is obvious that those operations were unsuccessful as the violence continues unabated. While the current operations have included the arrests of political party members, the operations remain too narrow in scope to address all the violent factions plaguing Karachi.
The use of the Rangers, a paramilitary organization under civilian control, rather than the Pakistani army highlights the government's continued fear of the military establishment. This, too, has a precedent.
During the 2011 operations in Karachi, the then ruling Pakistan People's Party decided against using the military amid fears that it would destabilize the civilian government. Sharif may share these fears, or wish to consolidate power in his own hands, or both. While neither is a positive omen for the improvement of civil-military relations in Pakistan, this made end up being a blessing in disguise for the army as their resources are badly needed to fight counterterrorism operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pacifying Karachi might have stretched the army's resources too thin for effective operations in either arena.
Despite Sharif's satisfaction with the Rangers' operations, one cannot expect a single series of operations to end the violence that plagues Karachi. Sending the Rangers into the city can be viewed as a stopgap measure at best. Without a more permanent security and institutional solution, violence and extortion will simply resume after these targeted operations have been completed. What Karachi, and indeed all of Pakistan, needs is a long-term, sustained security and political effort that targets all guilty parties, including the corrupt and militant branches of the political parties. Unfortunately, at the moment, it appears that the current government has neither the resources nor the will for such an undertaking. Coupled with that is the danger that any long-term force in Karachi, be it paramilitary or political, will end up as another well-armed faction pursuing its own interests, thus exacerbating the problem.
The current security situation in Karachi is in many ways a microcosm of the problems Pakistan faces as a whole: rapidly expanding population with fighting between different ethnic groups, sectarian violence, the strong presence of terrorist groups, and militants linked to political parties, as well as a severe lack of infrastructure and systemic corruption. Karachi is a failed city, and its lawlessness and violence is a picture of what Pakistan could be as a failed state. If the government cannot create a permanent security solution in the city, there is little hope that it will be able to solve the exact same problems on a country-wide scale.
Kathryn Alexeeff has a masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and currently works at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. All views expressed here are her own.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
With U.S. and coalition forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, all eyes are on the country's presidential election, scheduled for April of next year. The country's post-Operation Enduring Freedom future is at stake, and the elections will -- potentially -- mark the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian governments in Afghanistan's history. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has the chance to establish his place in history as the arbiter of that transition, the father of the new Afghanistan. But he may have just signaled how far he is willing to go for leverage, and the results could be grim.
Speculation over who, if anyone, Karzai will support in next year's election has been building for months and with formal nominations due in less than a month, the guessing game is reaching a fever pitch. Last Wednesday, for example, Afghanistan's Pajhwok news service reported that during a meeting with political party and jihadi leaders, Karzai had endorsed Abdul Rasul Sayyaf for president, a 67-year-old Pashtun Wahabist commander who is allegedly responsible for, among other things, the 1993 Afshar massacre, an operation Human Rights Watch calls a war crime. One week later, the same media outlet cited Karzai's denial that he is backing any specific presidential candidates, though sources present at the initial meeting say his support for Sayyaf stands.
According to a source inside the presidential palace, Karzai's prospective ticket also includes two vice presidential nominees who enjoy credibility mostly, if not solely, from their time as jihadi commanders fighting against both the Communists and the Afghan Taliban. "Marshal" Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who currently serves as Karzai's first vice president, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, an on-again, off-again political candidate, both came to prominence fighting the Soviets in the 1980s. The ticket, in other words, is a caricature of Afghanistan's jihadist past and an homage to the old way of assigning political legitimacy just when it appeared to be expiring.
The good news, however, is that this ticket has virtually no chance of winning.
Tajiks and Hazaras won't vote for Sayyaf because of his war record, and his conservative religious views will likely make him unpopular among women and the more technocratic part of his own Pashtun ethnic community. Even in the most conservative, ethnocentric Pashtun areas, political support for Sayyaf will be weak, because those are the areas where the Taliban and other insurgent groups like Hezb-e Islami are popular. In those militant groups, Sayyaf is regarded as a traitor since he sided with the Taliban's avowed enemy, Ahmad Shah Massoud, up until Massoud's assassination on September 9, 2001. Sayyaf does have religious authority (he has the title mohadith, an expert in the acts and sayings of the Prophet), but he has no political base.
The bad news is that Karzai almost certainly knows this, so there is more to the endorsement than meets the eye.
Consider first that Karzai himself is at a critical juncture. One cannot lead a country like Afghanistan, especially during a decade like the one it's just completed, without making some enemies. Karzai faces legitimate, justifiable concerns about his legacy, his property, even his safety, any one of which might be in jeopardy once he no longer enjoys the protection and immunity afforded by the presidency. Afghanistan, after all, has not historically been kind to its former leaders, so Karzai is playing the cards he has; cards that include an administrative system that spans from the grassroots to the presidential palace -- think of it like a tribal "get out the vote" network -- and the ability to mobilize resources for the candidate he chooses. Karzai's endorsement could be decisive for the right candidate, so his decision to endorse Sayyaf is a stark reminder to anyone paying attention that Karzai is not to be trifled with. He's established the stakes, and now we're waiting for the ransom demand.
Meanwhile, until the demands are made and met, we can expect Sayyaf to exert an influence disproportionate to his actual political prospects. Some of the other names that have been circulated as potential presidential candidates are accomplished technocrats with sophisticated visions for their country's future, but standing on a debate platform next to an Islamic scholar with jihadist credentials, they will likely be compelled to apologize for their records, rather than compare their policies. Take, for example, Mohammad Hanif Atmar and Ashraf Ghani. Atmar has a sterling record running three different ministries, and Ghani is an accomplished academic, presidential advisor, and the man who literally wrote the book on fixing failed states.
But Atmar fought with the Communists while Sayyaf was leading a group of mujahideen against them and Ghani never fought at all. He studied in America, received his PhD, and became a professor, while Sayyaf was taking up arms to defend his country. Sayyaf, by his mere presence in the race, has the power to make serious candidates look like bad Muslims who shirked their duties.
Karzai's move is not a stupid one, and he is not necessarily deserving of scorn for simply doing what he can to protect his interests. But the problem it creates goes beyond Sayyaf's presence in the race for the presidency. Even once Karzai changes tack and endorses a more reasonable ticket -- which he likely will -- it's unlikely Sayyaf will go quietly into the night. He is a seasoned veteran of this game, and he will demand his own guarantee of influence in the next administration.
Karzai, then, is presenting everyone involved in Afghan politics -- especially serious candidates -- with two equally bad options: either standby and let Sayyaf reduce the political debate to a contest of jihadi prowess and Islamic piety, or perpetuate the mafia-style politics of influence-peddling to get him out of the race.
The real cost though -- the one Karzai may not himself be considering -- is what happens after his plan is realized, after he gets whatever guarantees he is seeking, and convinces Sayyaf to withdraw. When Sayyaf drops out of the race, Fahim and Mohaqiq, Sayaff's two vice presidential candidates, will look like they were strung along just so Karzai and Sayyaf could get what they wanted. They'll be compelled to save face, and they'll do what others have done before them in similar situations -- they'll rile up their ethnic bases (Fahim is a Panjshiri Tajik; Mohaqiq is Hazara) and stoke anger against Pashtuns, of which Karzai and Sayyaf, they will claim, are only the most recent examples. The same scenario unfolded during the 2009 elections, when Gul Agha Shirzai, a popular provincial governor and a Pashtun presidential candidate, dropped out of the race and his two non-Pashtun vice presidential nominees, Ahmad Zia Masoud (brother of famed Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masoud) and Sayyed Hussain Anwari (a famous Shiite warlord) claimed it was a conspiracy.
While endorsing Sayyaf may seem like a harmless tactic for Karzai to extract guarantees for his future, if he doesn't dispense with it soon, it could become destructive. In a country with an already uneasy stability, the Sayyaf ploy could eliminate any chance the election has of being more than just a civil war fought along ethnic lines. And if that happens, the election may not represent the first peaceful transition of power between civilian governments in the country's history, but the spark that ignites a new era of ethnic violence.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has been published by The Atlantic, The New Republic, Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Reporting for this piece was made possible by the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The opinions are the author's own.
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Erstwhile coup-making general and former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was indicted on murder charges Tuesday in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. While the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi had named Musharraf in the case in early 2011, and declared he was a proclaimed offender in August of that year, today's indictment marks the first time that a former military officer has had to answer to criminal charges in a Pakistani court of law. As such, one can only hope that the focus remains on the merits of the case, and that Bhutto's death and the events surrounding it are not drowned out in a political circus.
Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani capital's twin city and the headquarters for the Pakistani military. According to official reports, in addition to Bhutto, 24 others were killed and 91 were injured when a gunman opened fire on the former prime minister as she headed to her car and a bomb exploded near the scene.
It was the second bloody attack on Bhutto after her return from political exile. Just weeks earlier in Karachi, Bhutto was attacked hours after she touched down on Pakistani soil and though she miraculously escaped death, 149 of her Pakistan Peoples Party workers were killed and 402 supporters and bystanders were injured in multiple bombings.
Bhutto had returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile to take on two pressing issues that were endangering Pakistan as a nation: the increasing radicalization and strength of militant outfits; and the growing interference of the Pakistani establishment and its intelligence agencies in matters of domestic politics and international concern.
After Bhutto's assassination, the Pakistani government requested that the U.N. Secretary General form a commission to investigate her death. The commission began its work in July 2009, and completed its exhaustive report on March 30, 2010.
While the U.N. Commission Report authored by Heraldo Munoz, Marzuki Darusman, and Peter FitzGerald noted Musharraf's culpability in Bhutto's killing, saying "The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats," it also noted the security failures by the local police and the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence services in the ensuing investigations - particularly the hosing down of the scene and thereby washing away all traces of evidence.
What was made even clearer by the report was that Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources, including "Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination."
Ultimately, the three-member U.N. panel said Bhutto's death could have been avoided if Musharraf's government and security agencies had taken adequate protection measures, and it urged Pakistani authorities to carry out a "serious, credible" criminal investigation that "determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice."
Just days ago, Munoz reiterated his findings, writing in Foreign Affairs: "In Bhutto's case, it would seem that the village assassinated her: al Qaeda gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime through its negligence; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Bhutto's lead security team failed to properly safeguard her; and most Pakistani political actors would rather turn the page than continue investigating who was behind her assassination."
He continued: "Probably no government or court of law will be able or willing to fully disentangle the whole truth from that web. It may well be that Bhutto's assassination will be another unsolved case in the long history of impunity in Pakistan, and that the controversy surrounding her assassination will endure as much as her memory."
As gratifying as Musharraf's indictment - a move towards justice - is, the issue with the entire case against the former president is that he alone has been accused, stands charged with Bhutto's murder, and will, at the very least, face trial; even imprisonment is likely if the powerful military establishment does not balk at the sight of one of its own being treated as a mere civilian.
Let's hope that the Pakistani military and justice system treat this trial on its merits and do not move it into a personal or political realm. Justice has long been denied to the Bhutto family by the courts and it is time for the courts to judge those responsible on the facts of the case alone.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and a former Pakistan Peoples Party member of Pakistan's parliament.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Despite the recent repudiation of elections by the Afghan Taliban's fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and despite the increased bloodshed experienced by Afghans this year, there is a growing public desire to see the election process move forward and a historic and peaceful transfer of power and legitimate order.
Signs of growing enthusiasm are not only detected among the political elites and interest groups, but also in civil society, youths and women groups, the private sector, rural community councils, and in the way new and traditional media are covering the issues.
If we assume that next year's presidential and provincial elections will take place as planned, one of the main challenges that Afghanistan will face is security, and making sure that enough polling centers are open across the country to assure the viability of the exercise. Another test will be maintaining the positive momentum that is rising, investing as many Afghans as possible in the process, and making the vote as inclusive and transparent as possible.
This effort not only requires widespread public awareness programing, but also overcoming the public trust deficit that exists toward Afghan political and electoral institutions. Above all, it requires political will by the country's leadership not to hinder the process or constitutional order.
Thus far, it appears that the newly formed Independent Election Commission (IEC), responsible for managing the elections, is making a sincere attempt to regain the public trust and avoid a repeat of the 2009 electoral debacle.
The head of the IEC, Yousuf Nuristani, in an in-depth interview with TOLOnews this week, conveyed several key points that give hope and are essential to the successful management of elections:
Nuristani has raised the bar for electoral oversight and now has to deal with three types of pressures:
As Mullah Omar's Eid message clearly indicated last week, any hope that may have existed for Taliban participation in the elections should be dashed. The message stipulated that not only do the radicals within their ranks continue to want to impose their will on the population through power-sharing deals with other ethnic groups, but that their supporters outside the country are leery of seeing a democratically elected government emerge in Afghanistan.
Contrary to the wish of most Afghans, the message also made it clear that the Taliban will go to any length to prevent a continued U.S./NATO presence, albeit small and for a non-combat role, in the country post 2014.
Another sign of forward-moving impetus in the country's political life is its political dynamism. Political actors realize that time is not on their side, and they need to interact, form teams, and eventually build coalitions that could introduce candidates for the presidential election by early October, when the nomination process will be complete. Forming these teams and coalitions will not be easy unless some contenders are ready to lower their expectations of being at the top of a ticket, and instead focus on agreeing to work on common reform agendas.
To offset this political drive, Taliban diehards have and will continue to use psychological tactics, including the use of violence, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations, to dampen the enthusiasm that is emerging in the country. We have seen several troubling examples of such tactics lately with attacks on members of parliament and their families.
With a segment of society disinterested in the political ruckus, the Taliban are aiming to either draw them to their side or enlarge the pool of neutral observers, and by doing so undermine the 2014 elections.
It is now up to motivated political elites and institutions such as the IEC and ECC to build up the nascent momentum, counter the Taliban narrative, and rebuild the public trust through legitimate decisions and practices. The Afghan people, as well as the international community that has invested heavily since 2002, are watching. The country's political actors cannot afford to lose either or both.
Omar Samad is Senior Central Asia Fellow at New America Foundation, President of Silkroad Consulting, and former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada.
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Good intentions and clear political willingness to commit significant resources has meant that, waste and inefficiencies aside, the U.S. has been able to muster military and financial support for the war in Afghanistan from nearly 50 nations. Recently, however, Afghan and Coalition allies, along with other influential regional power brokers such as India, are starting to publicly question U.S. policy in Afghanistan, particularly the decision to engage with and support the Taliban in opening a political office in Qatar.
For reasons discussed below, the dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S. should continue, quietly and with limited objectives. But public, ill-choreographed, overly ambitious, and unrealistic attempts at reconciliation will continue to make the Doha peace process a dangerous and distracting sideshow that will hurt rather than support U.S. foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan.
For some time, the U.S. has been coordinating with other stakeholders to jump start reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Less than a month ago, that effort culminated in a rather embarrassing press conference for the opening -- according to the Taliban banner in the background -- of the political office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Afghan officials and many other governments, including the U.S., reacted harshly to what appeared to have been a serious miscalculation of the Taliban's intentions.
To be fair, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly admitted that "the United States is very realistic about the difficulties in Afghanistan," and acknowledged that a final settlement "may be long in coming," emphasizing that if the new Taliban office in Qatar proved unproductive, he would push for its closure. Similarly, the new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, reiterated support for the Afghan-led reconciliation, admitting that the Taliban's consequential press conference "may have been a combination of misunderstanding and a desire for a certain propaganda victory, which I think turned out to be - from their standpoint - disappointing." Placing such emphasis on reconciliation in the first place, however, was neither appropriate nor useful in achieving U.S. national objectives in Afghanistan and the region.
In fact, the disastrous grand opening of the Taliban office represents the first time that the U.S. has yielded political initiative to the Taliban - even if fleetingly. Or as the Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel puts it, "instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists, the Taliban got the symbols of statehood."
Furthermore, it has brought the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) negotiations to a halt. No matter how well intentioned the U.S. administration was in its avid support of Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, its attempt to take such an active role in the process has backfired. Many worry, however that President Karzai's emotional overreaction to the Taliban office will damage U.S.-Afghan relations even more than the U.S. attempts to restart the talks. This is particularly concerning given the July 9 report that President Obama is keeping the "zero option" -- removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 -- on the table.
Beyond the immediate negative impact, however, hurrying reconciliation or looking for quick fixes also increases the risk of potentially calamitous outcomes. For example, continuing to support public engagement with the Taliban - who are in full ‘summer offensive' swing - while there is no national consensus for reconciliation, may lead to a spiral of violence and a fragmentation of the Afghan polity along ethnic, anti-Taliban, and fundamentalist lines. From there, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a return of al-Qai'da to an ungoverned and insecure environment.
Equally dangerous, in the near term, is that the uncertainty is also encouraging former mujahedeen commanders to consider rearming fighters to guard against their sense of abandonment by the U.S. These warlords, some of whom are still in the Afghan government, find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Americans, having sacrificed so much fighting the Taliban, are now bringing the insurgent group in from the cold.
Also of concern is that many Afghans believe that the so-called Taliban representatives in Doha owe their allegiance and loyalty more to Pakistan than the senior Afghan Taliban leadership; thus, arguably, giving no guarantee that negotiations in Doha will have any positive impact in Afghanistan at all in terms of reduced violence. Expectations in Kabul are that even if negotiations in Doha are wildly successful, rank and file Taliban in the field will not adhere to deals made there. Furthermore, no matter how much some have tried to convince the Western audience that digging ditches on a development project for $15 a day will convert the "$10 a day Taliban" to the side of the Afghan government, the fighters are not just in it for the money.
Furthermore, at least for now, the Taliban and the Afghan government are either incapable or unwilling to conduct substantive peace negotiations in Doha or anywhere else. The Taliban do not recognize the Karzai government as legitimate, and the Afghan government, for its part, is in no position to offer a "deal" to the Taliban that is going to be supported by the majority of the opposition groups and, more importantly, the majority of the Afghan people. As such, the U.S. should stop wasting effort and political capital on starting a process that is going nowhere for now, and should focus talks on limited and manageable objectives such as the near-term issue of prisoner exchanges and the mid-term objective of severing Pashtun tribal support to al-Qai'da and affiliated militants along the Af-Pak border. Reconciliation prospects are, at best, a long-term process that the U.S. can support, but cannot lead. It should not, particularly in its nascent stages, be taking center stage over other much more significant and meaningful issues.
This well-intentioned but ill-conceived meddling in Afghan reconciliation efforts has created a perhaps unfair -- but dangerously persistent -- perception that there is a convergence of interest between the U.S. and the Taliban, and a divergence of strategy between the U.S. and its allies. Although the Obama administration is trying to quickly correct this misperception, the damage is done. As the U.S. contemplates its next move, it needs to not only reconsider its position on Afghan reconciliation but also its relationship with the Afghan government - the other half of the reconciliation efforts.
In order to affect a real, sustainable, and positive outcome in Afghanistan, the U.S. is better off focusing less on reconciliation and, instead, reassessing and reaffirming its relationship with the Afghan government. Reaching a conclusion in the negotiations over the BSA and declaring the size of the residual presence in Afghanistan post-2014 are two important issues the U.S. could start with.
While achieving a peace deal in Afghanistan in time for the coalition withdrawal at the end of 2014 would be ideal, it is also highly unlikely. Instead of making attempts to entice both the Taliban and the Afghan government to substantive but rushed peace negotiations, the U.S. must refocus on providing solid, albeit conditional, aid and support to the Afghan government in return for progress, as outlined in numerous international community conferences. Rather than focusing on what has turned out to be a reconciliation sideshow in Doha, the U.S. should focus its considerable resources on improving Afghan governance and strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces.
Holding the Afghan government accountable for the poor governance and corruption that undermine economic progress and deny future opportunities to Afghans struggling to find jobs in a business environment plagued by bribery, uncertainty, and predatory behavior are much more important to peace in Afghanistan than reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. Coupling these challenges with the rampant narcotics production problem, the flight of many Afghan diplomats and other government officials out of the country, and lost opportunities such as the failure to capitalize on vast economic opportunities in the mining sector, makes open negotiations with the Taliban in Doha a sideshow, not the real challenge for Afghanistan's future.
But, like it or not, the Taliban now have a political office in Doha. The international community's demand on the Taliban political office should be simple: ultimate reconciliation will be an issue decided by Afghans, but as long as the Taliban attempt, via violent means, to forge an Afghanistan similar to that which existed pre-9/11, the world will not accept them as a legitimate entity. The U.S. and its allies - including Afghanistan - should insist that with such legitimate public representation comes responsibility in full view of the international community.
Throughout history, even the most polarized enemies sought open channels of communications. No one should consider dialogue between foes a bad thing; the key lies in identifying common ground in order to minimize violence and active fighting. If the most charged discussions remain private, and public declarations are carefully choreographed, the chance of embarrassment is minimized. Afghans should always be the lead in discussions with the Taliban office in Doha, but without pressure from Western partners expecting miracles; at least not until after next year's Afghan presidential elections.
It will probably take a very long time to see an eventual positive outcome in Central Asia, or to dissect the failures responsible for not getting there. However, efforts in Afghanistan don't have to end in disaster. For things to improve, American foreign policy must find a way to remain well-intentioned but also imaginative, with strategic and inspirational vision, worthy of what most around the world consider the most powerful nation on earth.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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In a recent article for the AfPak Channel, Megan Reif and Nadia Naviwala argue that the violence attending last month's elections in Pakistan should be interpreted as "a sign that electoral administration is getting stronger and that democracy is maturing." While they do not condone electoral violence, they argue that it is a normal part of the democratization process and signals the strengthening of institutions, reduced opportunities for fraud, and a crowding out of extremists from the electoral process. To prove their points, they provide historical examples of electoral violence in France and the United States as a reminder that many of the world's consolidated democracies also experienced violence as part of an incremental, centuries-long move toward democracy.
Part of Reif's and Naviwala's motivation may be to defend the democratic process under adverse conditions and to encourage nascent democracies to trudge forward in their pursuit of democratic consolidation. However, the authors fall short when they argue that more reform can lead to more violence and, hence, violence can be interpreted as a sign of democratic and institutional progress. Such a conclusion is troublesome and misleading. Their thesis, while provocative, conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations behind the use of violence, which in many cases is a deliberate strategy employed by political actors.
The Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for much, but not all, of the electoral violence that occurred before the national election in Pakistan. According to their statements, the violence was meant to disrupt and delegitimize the democratic process. However, there were also many instances where violence seemed to be employed as an electoral strategy by both the Taliban and political party agents.
Commentators noted that Taliban-friendly political parties and candidates had been largely spared from violent attacks and that these parties, in fact, benefited from the violence. Violence was used to deter certain candidates -- primarily those representing liberal parties -- from participating in the election. Pamphlets were distributed that warned of the dangers of electing women and "infidels" into office. There were also reports of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement by political party agents on Election Day.
The use of violence by political parties is not new to Pakistan. Indeed, the European Union's Election Observation Mission report for the 2008 national and local elections notes that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement is known for using violence Additionally, there is a precedent of Pakistani politicians using attacks by extremists as a cover for their own political gains; a new working paper by Paul Staniland of the University of Chicago details the collaboration between extremist groups and politicians. Thus, there is sufficient reason to believe that the electoral violence that occurred in Pakistan had many purposes besides preventing the election, one of which was to affect the outcome.
The strategic use of violence may masquerade as an indicator that groups have no legitimate option by which to express their opposition to elections due to improvements in the electoral process. But our research on Kenya shows that this use of violence suggests insufficient institutional reform, a critical failure of the state to protect the franchise of its citizens, and a high level of impunity for the past use of violence. The presence of electoral violence indicates weak institutional development, not democratic maturation.
Much like the attacks in Pakistan, electoral violence in Kenya has historically taken many different forms and has been used for many different purposes. It been used both to suppress and mobilize voters, deter aspirants from participating in elections, punish perceived political opponents, and to delegitimize the electoral process.
Prior to elections in 1992, political elites allied with President Daniel arap Moi and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party supported organized gangs, through which they orchestrated ‘ethnic clashes.' While the clashes mainly pitted Kalenjin communities against non-Kalenjin and perceived KANU opponents, it also encompassed many different ethnic groups . Approximately, 1,500 Kenyans died as a result of the violence -- first in a bid to demonstrate to Kenyans the dangers of transitioning from single party elections to multiparty elections, and later in an attempt to scare Kenyans into either voting for incumbent Moi or not voting at all. This pattern repeated itself in 1997 when approximately 100 people were killed in Coast Province (eastern Kenya) as part of Moi's electoral strategy. The Kikuyu ethnic group, which comprises approximately 22 percent of the population, was the main target of the violence, although other groups considered as non-indigenous to Coast were also affected.
After the 2007 elections, a serious political crisis broke out in Kenya. The Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent Mwai Kibaki the victor of a close and highly contentious presidential election, amid myriad allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Violence -- instigated by supporters of Raila Odinga, Kibaki's opponent -- began as a ‘punishment' for supporters of Kibaki, a Kikuyu. Over the course of the next month, inter-ethnic violence claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Kenyans.
This post-election violence was a turning point in Kenya. Its resolution required international mediation and led to the adoption of several major political reforms. Most notably, a new constitution was approved in a 2010 referendum, significant electoral reforms were enacted to prevent fraud and increase confidence in the election, and steps were taken to reform the police -- which were responsible for almost 40 percent of the fatalities.
Elections in 2013 -- Kenya's first since 2007 and the major reforms that ensued --have been widely lauded for their relative peacefulness. But here the world has focused only on the post-election period. In fact, in the months leading up to the election, more than 300 people died as part of the campaign process. Some of the violence, appearing as ethnic clashes, could be linked to aspirants vying for the new county-level positions, as documented by a Human Rights Watch report. In other cases, the objective was to prevent the vote from taking place. The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist organization, attacked election officials and facilities to disrupt what they argued was an illegitimate election, much as the Taliban in Pakistan has denounced democracy as un-Islamic. The MRC felt that by using violence and intimidation to lower voter turnout they would deprive the elections of their legitimacy and, ultimately, lend credence to the MRC's claim that Coast Province should be independent of Kenya.
The pre-election violence of 2013, which took place after considerable reform, is not a signal of institutional progress in Kenya. Rather, it is a reflection of insufficient reform. Devolution spawned new competition for elected office, while an atmosphere of impunity for past attacks facilitated violence in other areas. More to the point, ineffective and partisan electoral management bodies and a weak, corrupt judiciary have facilitated the use of violence as a part of the electoral process.
To date, although the violent tactics employed by Moi and his associates are widely known, no one has been charged with a crime. Furthermore, despite repeated calls from civil society and demands from the international community, none of the perpetrators of the 2007 electoral violence have been brought to justice. In Kenya, electoral violence has never signified the strengthening and deepening of democracy, but rather it has served as an indicator of democratic fragility.
In addition to spotlighting institutional inadequacies, in rare but extreme cases, electoral violence may also be the first shot fired in what then becomes a deadly civil conflict. In Congo-Brazzaville's 1994 legislative elections, the three leading candidates all had private militias, which clashed after the results indicated that Pascal Lissouba's party had won. The resulting violence left 2,000 dead. After fighting broke out again between Lissouba and Denis Sasso-Nguesso in 1997 over electoral rules, 15,000 died before Lissouba took over. Another 20,000 died from related violence over the next two years.
Instead of accepting violence as a sign of democratic progress, we should learn from countries that have successfully navigated democratization without a call to arms. There are many counter-examples of peaceful processes in Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mauritius.With greater understanding of the motivations behind electoral violence, we can do more to prevent it. Strengthening political institutions, improving electoral management, and ensuring those who commit electoral crimes are brought to account are all ways in which violence can be and has been successfully counteracted.
Most importantly, violence is not an indictment of electoral democracy. Instead, it should be seen as a means to help reformers identify where the breakdown of democracy is occurring. Violence in Kenya has highlighted problems with electoral management, corruption in security forces, and judicial incapacity -- all of which were targeted by significant reforms after 2007. Kenya's 2013 election was much improved from previous contests in terms of the integrity of electoral management and the monitoring of violence, but violence was still a part of the electoral process and it suggests that more reforms are necessary to protect the gains Kenya has made thus far. The lessons learned in Kenya can easily be applied to the Pakistani case. In both countries, we can congratulate courageous voters who cast their ballots under duress while still decrying violence and identifying areas for future reform.
Stephanie M. Burchard and Dorina A. Bekoe, the editor of Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, are research staff members at the Institute for Defense Analyses. The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and should not be viewed as representing the official position of the Institute for Defense Analyses or its sponsors. Links to web sites are for informational purposes only and not an endorsement.
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Perhaps confirming the deep pessimism amongst the Afghan people about the fairness and transparency of Afghanistan's 2014 presidential elections, there is a lot of political jockeying underway that appears aimed at pre-engineering its result.
The date for the presidential election has been set by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) for April 5th, 2014. The announcement of a specific Election Day was meant to provide a measure of clarity for Afghans on the future of their government, and raise the public's confidence in the upcoming election. But uncertainty still surrounds the potential presidential candidates as well how the election is to be held.
A group of prominent individuals has emerged, who call themselves the "national consensus" advocates and seek to select from amongst themselves the next electable candidate. This group consists primarily of former and current government officials, as well as leaders of the opposition political parties. The list includes, among others: former interior ministers Ali Ahmad Jalali, Hanif Atmar and Mohammad Yunus Qanooni; current Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Anwar ul Haq Ahadi the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad; current Head of the Transition Process Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; Head of Wahdat Party Mohammad Mohaqiq, President Karzai's governance advisor Ghulam Jilani Popal; governor of Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor; Minister of Finance Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal; and Senator Ehsan Bayat.
In a country where politics-of-patronage is dominant, the concept of reaching consensus on such a vital and sensitive matter as the next president is a mirage. Historically, Afghan political leaders -whether part of the regime or the opposition - have been fragmented and have rarely agreed on a common political platform on which to unite. The "national consensus" advocates are faced with a similar impasse. It is unlikely that strong candidates will comply and sacrifice their candidacy if they are not chosen by this group, although they have all claimed to be ready to give up their individual ambitions and appetite for the country's top job in order to come to a broad-based agreement on a single candidate. "We are trying to reach a consensus on a candidate through this mechanism, but at the same time we are encouraging other politicians to unite behind our candidate," said an advocate to Waheed Omar, President Karzai's former Spokesman.
Nevertheless, some of these advocates for national consensus believe that through this process, they might surface as the candidate of choice, and may not have to face a strong opposition during the election campaign that is scheduled to kick off late this year. But most of the ‘national consensus' front-runners face a lack of trust from the public due to their political affiliations and past loyalties, as well as some allegations of criminal activity and corruption. For example: individuals like Mohammad Yunnus Qanooni, Mohammad Mohaqiq and Atta Mohammad Noor have been labelled warlords, while Mohammad Hanif Atmar is known for his affiliation with former communist groups. Potential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Ali Ahmad Jalali and Zalmai Khalilzad have been criticized for being technocrats with dual citizenship and little mainstream support.
It is clear that President Karzai and some other members of his inside circle do possess significant political leverage at this point, but not to the extent that they will be able to discourage other candidates from declaring their candidacy. The fact that President Karzai is an outgoing president and may not have the degree of influence he had back in 2009 is interpreted by some potentially strong candidates as a signal that they should go ahead and declare their candidacy, form campaign teams, and publicize their political platforms. They have recognized that waiting for Karzai's approval might not pay off. But the reality is that no one expects the President to be completely hands-off with regard to elections, as his own survival could depend on who is going to be his successor. Historically, it has often been the case that rulers of Afghanistan meet a grisly end when they fall from power.
Some potential candidates are still waiting for President Karzai's green light in order to kick off their election campaign, in the belief that his support and resources will increase their chances. And while President Karzai is aware of his key role in the upcoming election, he is using the time he has left in office to further boost his authority and impose his candidate of choice, who will carry on his legacy and who is expected to maintain a degree of loyalty to him. Last month, President Karzai's younger brother Mahmoud Karzai told Reuters that their older brother Qayum Karzai is planning to make an "independent" run for president in 2014, though it remains unclear whether the current president will actively support him.
Although conspiracy theories abound that Karzai may wish to remain in power post 2014, many analysts agree that he wouldn't risk his political legacy by making such an irrational decision. "President Karzai will not jeopardize his legacy and the stability of Afghanistan by impeding elections or favor alternatives to election," said a close member of President Karzia's inner circle on condition of anonymity. Notwithstanding the outcome of the so-called ‘national consensus' effort promoted by some Afghan politicians, the free and fair nature of elections will determine the faith that Afghans have in the next President of Afghanistan. But it is widely anticipated that the decision - if any - of the national consensus advocates, due in September 2013, could be a pre-engineered selection of the future president, and the ‘election' merely an instrument for its legitimacy.
Hamid M. Saboory is a political analyst, former employee of the Afghan National Security Council, and a founding member of the Kabul- based think tank Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness(A3).
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Afghanistan stands at a crossroads. The reputation of our political leadership is under suspicion. Tens of millions of dollars are said to have been received illegally from intelligence agencies of both friends and foes. People are losing faith in the state and the prospects of democracy. The year 2014 looms large in everyone's mind, as does the Taliban's possible reemergence as a real power.
With the April 2014 presidential elections approaching, people around the world are wondering where exactly Afghanistan is headed. Has the threat of al-Qaeda really been eradicated as President Barack Obama recently announced? Is the war in Afghanistan really over? If so, is it over for Afghans, or just the international community?
Few of the promised counterterrorism and state building efforts have been delivered. In all 34 provinces of Afghanistan there are still acts of war and terrorism being committed - in some places incidents occur daily, in others weekly or monthly. Even our highway system has yet to be secured. No one is free to travel anywhere without at least some fear they will encounter the Taliban. Afghans live in fear of everything from targeted killings to suicide attacks and other forms terrorism. Our sisters and daughters have to live in fear that they will be attacked while doing something as mundane and Islamic as attending school.
Meanwhile, our politics are a mess. Our relationship with the United States and their NATO allies has deteriorated to the point where President Hamid Karzai himself is now referring to Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires, and accusing the United States and its allies of supporting rather than routing the Taliban in order to destabilize Afghanistan.
At the same time, Washington and its friends are leaking controversial details about how exactly they have been propping up President Karzai. Yes, the U.S. is now saying, the CIA is funding in unaccounted-for cash payments Karzai's inner circle.
Aside from the non-existent national security and troubled foreign policy, Afghanistan is also facing the possibility of an economic meltdown. Imagine what will happen to our aid-dependent and U.S.-contract-centric economy when the United States withdraws not just the bulk of its troops but its funds as well.
How is Afghanistan going to transition from an economy that has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade-plus of war? What are the tens of thousands of Afghan companies that have come up as a result of this level of funding going to do then? Not to mention the Afghans who work for the many-times-more international companies, or the 3,000 NGOs that have sprung up during this international campaign that is about to end. If we think today's Afghanistan has an unsustainably high rate of unemployment, what will tomorrow's Afghanistan look like when all this funding ceases?
In a country with thirteen million jobless, most of whom are under twenty-five years old, and a raging insurgency with its own foreign sources of funds, training camps, intelligence and strategic support base, it's hard to imagine a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
To survive as a nation-state resembling anything like the state we envisioned in Bonn in 2001, we have two main solutions.
First, we need to have a stable transfer of power in the form of the 2014 presidential elections. If our political system is too fragile to deliver even that bare minimum, we have much to fear from the still-raging insurgency. And we cannot have a stable transfer of power if all we do is reinstate President Karzai. Presidents for life are not the beacons of the democracy we envisioned in 2001.
In terms of domestic politics and foreign policy we need very specific programs. We need a government that delivers services. We need to change our traditional culture of a master-slave governance model in which civil servants and government officers rule over our people who they see as slaves.
In our foreign policy, we need to build friendships, not just sustain enemies or provide a battlefield for outside conflicts. The global order is transforming into a multi-polar one, we need to build on our already budding friendship with important regional players in the region such as India and we need to salvage what we can from our relationship with the United States, both of which are becoming our strategic allies.
To address our security dilemmas and challenges, we need a combination of solutions framed as a grand strategy rather than only tactical military or reconciliation ones. With the reconciliation strategy the only one being considered as a means to dealing with the insurgents, the Afghan government and the international community are using a risky black and white model. Instead we need to see reconciliation as a sub-tool in a broader political strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that insurgencies take time and need strategic patience to combat -- every insurgency, from those fought in El Salvador to Central Asia, has taught us that. We need to oppose the Taliban not just militarily but by building public confidence through service delivery and good governance; the strengthening and effective functioning of our security establishment; support to our economic sectors; and the reconciliation and reintegration efforts already begun by NATO's counterinsurgency strategy.
And finally, we need to build our economy. We need to follow models of leadership such as General Park's of South Korea, or South Africa after apartheid. And to begin this process the first thing we need to do is get rid of politicians who see their office as the best job Afghanistan has to offer.
2013 is the year that Afghans will make a decision. Either we put ourselves on the path to a prosperous and ideal Afghanistan or we will be back on the path of war and isolation, a country sourced for strategic threats to international security.
Mohammad Arif Rahmani is a member of Central Audit and Rule of Law Committee of Lower House of Afghanistan's parliament.
Almost twelve years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive. Four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational, and international dimensions impede Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the others, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country.
First, Afghanistan is an underdeveloped country and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. Its new state institutions lack the basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. These structural problems are compounded by the country's expanding population, 70% of which is illiterate and demand jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services, and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan.
Second, it is clear that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding, weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban would be unable to reconsolidate its control over Afghanistan. Since 2003, the Taliban and its affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily terrorist attacks that have injured and killed thousands of innocent civilians.
Third, Afghanistan is vulnerable to transnational security threats, stemming in particular from the narcotics trade and terrorism stand. These security threats feed into and are fed by Afghanistan's internal and regional challenges. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as is the global demand for narcotics; this is not to mention the alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan's vulnerable population to destabilize the country.
Fourth, although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued its own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with each other and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has so far crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity or resources to deliver basic services to its people.
It is important to note, however, that in the face of the aforementioned complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have a number of significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum necessary to achieve peace in the country.
Foremost among these is Afghanistan's key, untapped asset: its people, who make up one of the youngest, most energetic, and most forward-looking nations in the world. They should be supported in acquiring higher education in technical fields, and their energy and skills must be harnessed to exploit Afghanistan's vast natural resources, worth more than one trillion dollars, to help the country develop a productive economy.
Secondly, Afghanistan's vital location should help it serve as a regional trade and transit hub for easy movement of goods and natural resources to meet the rising energy demands of India and China. Indeed, without this realization and utilization of Afghanistan as the heart of the New Silk Road, achieving regional economic integration will remain impossible. The recent India-China dialogue on how to protect their shared long-term interests in Afghanistan is a welcome development. The more these key regional players, including Russia and Turkey, get constructively involved in Afghanistan through investment in the country's virgin markets, the less space for the region's peace spoilers, whether state or non-state actors, to destabilize the country.
Finally, Afghanistan's friends and allies have gone through the learning curve, and gained invaluable experience in assisting Afghanistan effectively. Together, they have made many mistakes and learned many lessons over the past 12 years, which should be used as a strategic opportunity to avoid more of the same, and to do the right thing henceforth.
In line with the agreed-upon objectives of the 2010 Kabul Conference, which were re-affirmed in the Tokyo Conference last year, Afghanistan's nation-partners should align 80% of their aid with the goals of the country's national priority programs, while channeling at least 50% of their assistance through the Afghan national budget. This is the best way to prevent further waste of taxpayers' financial assistance, which have largely bypassed the targeted beneficiaries.
This means a firm re-commitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan state so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meanwhile, the Afghan national security forces must be equipped with the necessary capabilities -- including capacity for logistics and equipment maintenance as well as adequate ground and air firepower -- to execute independent operations against conventional and unconventional enemies. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider to be theirs - to defend Afghanistan now and beyond 2014. On the whole, these vital efforts will help ensure the irreversibility of the transition process currently underway.
The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the strategic partnership agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States, India, and other allies to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by any one party alone. Every state in the region and beyond has a stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, knowing that the effects of terrorism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community, both to ensure durable stability in the country and to maintain global peace and security.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) coalition government is the first in Pakistani history to complete a full term, making PPP well-deserving of the credit many are giving it. PPP receives high marks for its improvements to the constitution, specifically in returning powers to the Prime Minister that were unduly given to the president during Pervez Musharraf's military rule, and devolving powers to the provinces.
But the accolades do not match up with the sentiments of voters. Several pre-election polls indicate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the clear winner in Pakistan's upcoming general election. The PPP has been hurt by strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the electorate. Apparently, voters do not care that the PPP just made history.
The PPP's record on a host of issues fails to live up to the ambitious framework it laid out in its 2008 party manifesto, a pre-elections document outlining the party's principles and positions on policy priorities. Here we look at successes and failures in two areas - the economy and defense - that have garnered a great deal of attention since the beginning of PPP's term.
Ask anyone in Pakistan and they will tell you that the PPP did not deliver on its economic promises. However, some basic comparisons of the economy since 2008 show more mixed results.
The PPP did follow through on its promise to lower inflation. In November 2008, just two months after President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration, inflation rose to a thirty-year high of 25%. At the end of 2012, inflation dropped to 6.9%, the lowest in four years. This doesn't mean that Pakistanis can expect price stability for the foreseeable future. The International Monetary Fund warned that inflation could return to double digits in the 2012-2013 fiscal year because of continued government borrowing from the State Bank. This especially bad habit of the PPP government has had multiple adverse economic consequences; as a result, PPP majorly failed in its promise to ensure sound macro-economic policies.
The PPP has followed through on aspects of its promise to bring progress to the doorstep of the workers, farmers and small businesses. Supported partially by the assistance of multilateral and bilateral donors, the government launched the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This initiative distributed more than $1 billion in cash transfers to 3.5 million families in poverty. BISP, combined with higher commodity prices and cash from bumper crops, contributed to the economic boom over the past several years in Pakistan's rural areas, where spending on both consumer products is higher than ever before. However, comparisons of household income during the first three years of the PPP's term show a more uneven growth for the rural poor, with incomes of urban households rising by 1.1% annually while those in rural areas declined by 0.8%.
The 2008 manifesto promised to ensure that energy shortages are eliminated. Under the PPP's watch, Pakistanis experienced some of the worst energy shortages in the country's history. Protests over power cuts turned violent. Senior government officials refuse to pay their personal electricity bills, a practice some government agencies also seem to engage in. The PPP attempted to initiate large-scale initiatives, such as the recently launched Iran-Pakistan oil pipeline and Daimer-Basha dam project, but to no avail. These projects require major capital investments and will take a long time to show results; their inauguration was viewed as more political stunt than genuine attempt to eliminate energy shortages. Other efforts to eliminate energy subsidies and increase fuel prices faced challenges in parliament by both opposition and coalition members.
The PPP promised to rid Pakistan of violence, bigotry and terror and to ensure a strong defense. But under its watch, persecution of minorities has gone up. In the past year, Pakistan witnessed an unprecedented number of Shia killings all over the country: in Baluchistan, Karachi, Lahore, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The debate over amending the blasphemy law unraveled, leading to numerous instances of violence against Christians who allegedly engaged in blasphemous behavior. Even Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has been accused of blasphemy.
The PPP's other security problem is the domestic insurgency in northwestern Pakistan, with multiple attempts to negotiate with or pressure the Pakistani Taliban falling flat. In spirit, the PPP does not support persecution of minorities, nor does it have a history of being ideologically soft on militants (in comparison to other political parties). But its unwillingness and inability to challenge the nation's big security demons shows its limitations in a political environment dominated by competing interests. The military's links to sectarian groups in Punjab are well known; it has used them as proxies in its conflict with India. Civilian leaders have been hard pressed to truly challenge such groups, fearing possible backlash from the security establishment.
The PPP should be given partial credit for beginning to normalize security ties with the United States. Regardless of what side you sit on, the cloak and dagger relationship built by former presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf was politically unsustainable in both Washington and Islamabad. It was only a matter of time before other stakeholders in the relationship angled to get involved. In Pakistan, this was most visible in July 2012 when a parliamentary committee demanded that it review the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations before ending a NATO routes closure that had been triggered by a deadly cross-border NATO attack that killed more than twenty Pakistani soldiers. There was nothing legally binding about the parliamentary review, but the simple act of civilian officials debating sensitive security policy is meaningful on a symbolic level. On Afghanistan policy, the more visible role of Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Afghan Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani, especially in conversations with the United States, was also indicative of stronger civilian engagement, if not ownership, on security matters.
But the PPP's strengths on security, few as they were, did almost nothing to win gains against the Pakistani Taliban and its friends, who continue to target the government and its citizens. The ambitions, motivations, and power of these groups are clearly in flux and in many ways getting stronger. No amount of enhanced civilian engagement alone can alter their flight path. Furthermore, any government would have to make similar trade-offs when determining which national security policies to pursue and which ones it knows it cannot influence.
It is exactly this "trade-offs" focused approach, in both security and economic matters, that has limited PPP's implementation of its objectives that it laid out so ambitiously in 2008, meaning its chances of electoral victory are getting smaller by the day.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Sharing an elevator the other day, a colleague suddenly turned to me and asked: "So, just how much longer does Pakistan have?" My interlocutor is not the first person to pose that question, but coming from a savvy veteran of the international arena, his out-of-the-blue query was jolting.
Pakistan, after all, is not Laos or Sierra Leone. It is a real country, too large and too centrally located to be casually written off. It will soon have the fifth-largest population in the world, with 40 million more people than Russia. It already has the seventh-largest army in the world, and is closing in on the United Kingdom to become the fifth-largest nuclear power.
Yet Pakistan gives the appearance of a state not merely in decline, but in terminal decline. Its institutions are broken, its economy lagging, its government finances slipshod, its social indicators deplorable. Corruption is rampant, while tax evasion is the national sport; a Pakistani investigative reporter last fall discovered that two-thirds of federal lawmakers paid no taxes in 2011, nor had the president. Journalists are regularly detained or murdered because their reporting has come too close to truths those in power prefer to obscure-the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index has found that for the second consecutive year, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Assassination is also an ever-present danger for politicians who espouse progressive views or challenge the authority of extremists. Political and civic leadership is absent, while sectarian violence against Shi'as and other minorities is all too present - witness, for instance, the anti-Christian rampage in Lahore earlier this month.
To be sure, Pakistan has faced even graver crises in the past, most notably when the country split apart in 1971 and the eastern half of the state broke away to form the separate country of Bangladesh. But the systemic decay one sees in Pakistan today surpasses even the breakdown that preceded the 1971 crisis.
Pakistanis-many of whom will hate this article-will correctly point out that the Pakistani people are extraordinarily resilient. (They will also, quite properly, retort that an American should be the last person to be lecturing them on political gridlock or fiscal probity.) Indeed, that quality of sheer plodding resilience is inescapable to anyone with more than the barest familiarity with Pakistan.
Resilience, however, is not rejuvenation, and it is far more difficult to find convincing evidence that Pakistan is capable of genuine rejuvenation.
Not all is lost; Pakistan's present ills need not be terminal. History offers examples of floundering states that have turned their fortunes around. Not many years ago, informed observers described Colombia, which was riven by narcotics mafias, multiple guerrilla forces, paramilitary groups, and surging numbers of displaced people, as a failed state in waiting. Yet in the last 15 years, Colombia has witnessed a profound transformation: the security situation has vastly improved, the economy is growing smartly, and the army and police are professional and operate within the bounds of the law.
Indonesia offers the example of a Muslim-majority country that has dramatically revitalized itself in recent years (although Indonesia was never as seriously troubled as Pakistan is today). Other countries-Germany, Japan, or somewhat earlier, the Ottoman forerunner to today's Turkey-have parlayed the catastrophe of military defeat to reverse their fortunes and build a successful polity.
What (besides the sting of defeat) did these countries have that today's Pakistan does not? Surely Pakistan does not lack for talented, entrepreneurial individuals, idealistic youth, or a core constituency for creating a modern, rules-based state. And in recent years it has developed a feisty media and a judiciary willing to challenge traditional power brokers.
But Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision, and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state. Equally bad, the people of Pakistan have for too long tolerated shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions, and second-best performance. The equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance and reward those culpable with new terms of office remains astonishing. One current minister, for instance, the official whose portfolio includes law and order, is credibly reported to have blamed Karachi's abominable history of sectarian murders on angry wives and girlfriends. Rather than incensed indignation, his eccentricities have inspired little more than amused tolerance.
How to explain this collective shrug of indifference, this fatalistic acceptance of conditions and behaviors that ought to be unacceptable? That is a complicated question that defies easy answer. Part of the explanation might lie in a feeling of powerlessness that reflects the daily experience of most Pakistanis, who see themselves as having little control over the decisions and processes that shape their day-to-day lives. Hence the widespread belief in Pakistan in the ‘hidden hand,' in conspirators hiding in the shadows.
Can Pakistan continue to muddle through? Will Pakistan exist more or less in its current manifestation ten years from now? In all probability, yes.
But is muddling through good enough? Decay is a cumulative process and not easily reversed. Equally to the point, today's Pakistan displays few signs that any of its current power centers are serious about trying to reverse the country's rot. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that's precisely the problem: they are exceptions.
So what does all this mean for Pakistan's friends and well-wishers? In fact, one need not even be a friend of Pakistan to hope that it succeeds; the consequences of a wholesale Pakistani collapse-terrorism, poverty, loose nukes, refugees, deteriorating human rights, especially for women and girls, heightened tensions with its neighbors-are too fearful to wish on even an adversary. Think of a nuclear-armed Lebanon, where violent extremists wield more power than the formal government.
Yet the sad reality is that outsiders can do precious little to staunch Pakistan's slide to disfunctionality unless Pakistanis decide to seize control of their own destiny. The United States-and the rest of the international community-can be only bit players in this drama. America's influence in Pakistan, for reasons good and bad, is vastly exaggerated. As Pakistan confronts its challenges, foreigners can make a difference only at the margins.
Ultimately, Pakistanis must do this themselves. They must demonstrate an unaccustomed willingness to face hard realities, to make difficult choices, to accept short-term pain in the hope of laying the groundwork for longer term success. In other words, they must do all those things that we Americans find it impossible to do.
This is a troubling conclusion, if for no reason beyond the fact that most people find it easier to tolerate the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory, than to jump off a cliff into an unknowable future. Until that moment when a fed-up Gdansk electrician runs out of patience, a charismatic ayatollah unexpectedly emerges to rally his fellow aggrieved, a spontaneous protest takes on a life of its own. At which point anything can happen, and not only in ways that are constructive or beneficial.
That's a risky strategy for reform in Pakistan, if it's a strategy at all. Perhaps more prudently, Pakistanis (and Americans) should start by demanding accountability from their political leaders-and be prepared to fire those leaders when they fail to deliver. Pakistanis must no longer be content with observing some of the forms of democracy-periodic elections, multiple political parties, a parliament. Instead, they must demand the realities of good governance-honesty, transparency, and accountability. Until that time, outsiders can do little more than stand by as horrified spectators, watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, three senior members of the Pakistani security establishment - including Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, the country's most powerful military official - stated that the military will not interfere in the country's upcoming national elections. (Observers take note - when the Pakistani military plans to take over, it will let you know.)
Indeed, of the numerous challenges over the last five years to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government's authority, the more overt ones came from Supreme Court efforts to remove President Asif Ali Zardari on corruption charges; flaky coalition partners like the Muttahida Quami Movement, whose frequent departures from the government threatened the coalition's viability; and the pro-regime change march led by Canada-based preacher Tahir ul-Qadri in January.
Still, observers could not help but ponder the possible military connections to each challenge - a state of mind that is second nature in a place like Pakistan, which has spent nearly three decades under military rule since its independence in 1947. The obsessive speculation also suggests a deep-seated expectation in Pakistani culture for the military to come to the country's rescue from a corrupt, inefficient government, even at the expense of democracy.
Those days seem to be over for now. With less than two weeks before its term expires, the PPP is still in charge, with no signs of an imminent hard or soft coup. Nor is there a clear path for significant military poll rigging, especially with a newly independent and neutral Election Commission, thanks to the 20th amendment passed in 2012. We can be sure, however, that the military, like other stakeholders and constituents, is watching the elections process closely, assessing ways it can exert its influence and preserve its interests in the next government. Keeping civilian involvement limited in key national security issues, such as India, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons development, and even relations with the United States will be a priority for the military.
The world, too, will be watching Pakistan with interest on March 16, when the PPP-led government's term expires. It will have been the first civilian government to complete a full term in the country's history. Any challenge to this history in the making will see diminishing returns. Even though the military remains the most popular institution in Pakistan, there is zero public support for overthrowing the civilian government or intervention in elections. No doubt the generals in Rawalpindi understand all of this.
But more than international scrutiny, internal leadership problems and ideological divides in the security establishment have inadvertently strengthened civilian rule. The military's cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan has come under fire from its lower ranks, a reality with violent consequences. Frequent attacks on military installations, like last year's incident at Kamra air base, can only happen with internal assistance, and imply some level sympathy within the military for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and affiliated groups. More specific discontent lies among the most senior officials, the Corps Commanders, some of whom reportedly missed their chance at promotion when the government extended Kayani's term by three years. Whispers of Kayani's family receiving lucrative government contracts have also attempted tarnish the general's standing with the public and within his institution.
The military has rightfully chosen to focus on its own problems rather than take on those of the civilians. Staying uninvolved while protecting its interests will not come easy, though. The combination of internal leadership and ideological challenges, lack of public support for elections interference, and intense scrutiny by the international community will simply force the military to pursue more indirect means to influence the elections process.
Ultimately, the Pakistani military does not need to lead a coup to interfere in elections. Its checkered past of political engineering speaks for itself. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had illegally financed politicians running against the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the 1990 national elections. In 2002, when General Pervez Musharraf held a referendum to legitimize his coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and extend military rule, domestic and international observers called it "blatantly" rigged.
Despite 2008 reports that the ISI shut down its political wing, known for "spying on politicians" and "making or breaking of political parties," rumors persist of military support for the purported indefinite extension of the impending caretaker government, as well as for the formation of the Defense of Pakistan Council (DPC), a coalition of conservative and extremist Islamist organizations aiming to be politically viable, possibly in this year's elections.
General Kayani said last week that it was his dream for Pakistan to have free and fair elections. Relatively speaking, it is possible that the elections could be rigged less than previous polls and with less military involvement. But the security establishment's enduring interest in a pliable and cooperative new government that does not interfere in its dealings will guarantee continued military involvement in politics - not the other way around.
Pakistan's military establishment will not always be this hesitant to get directly involved in politics. Over time, and especially as the U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, the military could become less consumed by internal challenges, regaining political space to engage more directly. Additionally, public and institutional appetites for military intervention usually rise, peak, and fall over a period of 8-11 years; the governments of military rulers Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf both lasted this long. If there is indeed a "generational" quality to military rule in Pakistan, then another five years of a poorly performing civilian government could create opportunities for an unpopular military to reenter Pakistani politics.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The current Pakistani government, led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ends its term on March 18. The government is expected to announce a date for elections before the end of its term. Once the election date is set, the National Assembly will automatically dissolve and a caretaker government will assume charge for up to ninety days before the election.
On polling day, Pakistanis will elect 272 representatives to the National Assembly and 577 representatives to provincial assemblies in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan. The political party that secures 172 seats in the National Assembly, either independently or in coalition with other parties, will lead the next government.
Politics is a riddled and opaque game in Pakistan, a point driven home by former politician-turned preacher Tahir-ul Qadri, who despite his absence from Pakistani politics for eight years, was able to lead a 50,000-strong march into Islamabad last month pushing for electoral reforms - and actually won the government's commitment on some counts. Things are about to get even more complicated as the country prepares for national elections.
The campaign landscape is littered with the typical coterie of political party stalwarts, children of political dynasties, technocrats, and current and former army generals looking to shape the elections outcome. But three individuals stand out as possible leaders of Pakistan's next government - Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan. Zardari and Sharif represent the old guard of politics - Zardari the widower of a political dynast and Sharif an industrialist from the country's breadbasket of Punjab. Khan claims to represent a new political wave, seeking to capture the desires of roughly 18 million new voters, young people who grew up watching Khan win cricket matches for the Pakistani national team. The profiles of the three men who would lead Pakistan promise elections that will be as entertaining as they will be historic.
Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party
Who is he? Asif Ali Zardari has been a fixture in Pakistani politics since 1987, when he married Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. He hails from Sindh but is originally of Baloch ethnic origin. Because of his complicated past, checkered with imprisonment, exile and allegations of corruption, Zardari was viewed as an "accidental president" when he came into power in 2008 following his wife's assassination. As a result, his emergence as a masterful strategist of a complicated coalition was a surprise to many. He shares the PPP chairmanship with son Bilawal.
What does he want? Zardari's presidential term ends in September, several months after the national elections are expected. It is only fair to presume he wants to serve another term as President. The PPP's strength in the Senate, where it won a majority in the March 2012 elections, will help but Zardari won't be able to take home the prize so easily. An electoral college consisting of the Senate, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly actually elect the president. Zardari's chances will be determined by both national and provincial assembly elections taking place this year. He also likely wants to keep benefitting from the financial opportunities available to Pakistani politicians in power. But beyond personal power and money, Zardari also seeks to maintain PPP's strength so that his son, Bilawal, can eventually assume charge and continue the Bhutto family political legacy.
Pro: Zardari's number one strength remains his ability to make deals in a tough coalition environment, which is expected to continue in the next government. Whether it was meeting Muttahida Quami Movement demands to reverse fuel price hikes in order to stay in the coalition, the unanimous passage of the historic 18th amendment devolving power to the provinces, or re-opening NATO routes closed after a NATO airstrike killed several Pakistani soldiers, he wasn't too proud to beg to get what he wanted.
Con: Everyone seems to be working against him. Among his "enemies" are the military, judiciary, opposition parties, the Saudis - and the list goes on. Another five years of Zardari could also mean another five years of attempts to unseat him with corruption cases at the Supreme Court, soft coup attempts by the military, and gridlock on economic reform.
Nawaz Sharif, President of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz
Who is he? Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is the President of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N). A former two-time Prime Minister, Sharif is also a Punjab-based industrialist whose family's real estate and agriculture holdings are valued at over $100 million. Like Zardari, he has strained ties with the military and judiciary, institutions that aided his eventual ouster in 1999, ironic since Sharif got his start under military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s. His two tenures as Prime Minister (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) each straddled the governments of Benazir Bhutto, making for an intense rivalry between the PML-N and PPP that continues to this day, despite recent collaboration between the two parties.
What does he want? The third time's the charm - or at least Sharif hopes. Another go at Prime Minister would not only allow Sharif to make history - no one else has held the position three times - but it would also bring him back into the mainstream political fold. After Musharraf removed him from power in 1999, Sharif remained in political exile in Saudi Arabia until 2007. Since then, under his leadership the PML-N opposition has criticized the current government's policies but within apparently self-imposed boundaries, probably to avoid being viewed as "derailing democracy" at a time when disruptions to civilian rule are extremely unpopular.
Pro: Sharif brings along with him the most organized party structure in the country. Even though it lacks the national base that PPP boasts, the PML-N has focused on improving internal governance, strengthening development projects in key constituencies, identifying electable candidates to run on the PML-N ticket, and engaging new young and middle class voters.
Con: He talks to terrorists - sort of. One of the largest vote banks for the right of center PML-N is southern Punjab, a hotbed of violent extremist activity in madrassas run by jihadist and sectarian outfits such as Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The PML-N cannot ignore the massive base these groups yield in Punjab, which elects 148 out of 272 National Assembly members. In 2010, PML-N Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah reportedly visited the Sipah-e-Sihaba madrassa and met with its leader while campaigning in by-elections. Such relations suggest that a PML-N-led government could be more inclined to offer unsavory characters various concessions in exchange for votes, keeping the peace or achieving other objectives for that matter.
Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Who is he? Imran Khan is a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, philanthropist, and now chairman of his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His claim to represent a new style of politics is somewhat disingenuous. He follows a long line of South Asian celebrities turned politicians whose personage offers unquestionable advantages in an otherwise complicated political landscape. But his popular appeal is legitimate. Khan has managed to deliver thousands of people at numerous countrywide rallies around the 2013 elections despite the fact that PTI only ever held one seat in the National Assembly..
What does he want? The PTI's meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years has raised suspicions that it enjoys some kind of support from the security establishment, and therefore would simply serve as a mouthpiece for military interests in domestic and foreign affairs. But a simpler answer is perhaps more logical - that Khan has truly tapped into a desire for change in Pakistan, similar to the circumstances surrounding the Qadri march on Islamabad in January, and is keen to see how far it will take him.
Pro: Khan's call for an overhaul of status quo politics in Pakistan is a welcome one, particularly among urban, educated middle class voters in Punjab. The party manifesto calls for an end to "VIP culture" in Pakistan, noting that corruption at the highest levels has made democratic institutions "the focus of public scorn and ridicule." It is hard to disagree with PTI's message when Pakistan consistently ranks among the world's most corrupt nations.
Con: Despite PTI's existence as a party for almost sixteen years now, both the party's manifesto and its leader are untested. Rumors of its internal leadership challenges, weak presence at the provincial level, and Khan's periodic media stunts (i.e. the march to Waziristan), should raise questions about PTI's ability to deliver on its ambitious agenda for change.
As the competition between Zardari, Sharif and Khan unfolds over the next several months, other personalities and institutions will also contend to shape and influence the electoral outcome. Let's not forget the likes of Tahir-ul Qadri, activist Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the military, and even the media, all of whom have a say in who leads the next government. In a place where personalities dominate politics, Zardari, Sharif and Khan clearly stand out, but vested interests combined with the rise of new forces of change can put a serious spanner in the works.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images; KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
It has been a complicated week for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government. Out of the blue, Tahir ul Qadri, a retired politician and Canada-based preacher led thousands of people on a long march from Lahore to Islamabad demanding immediate regime change. If that wasn't enough, the Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf arrested on corruption charges. All of this after the PPP dismissed the provincial government in Balochistan over a militant attack that killed 100 Shi'a Muslims.
Before all of this, most Pakistan watchers had assumed that with just two months left, the PPP was on its way to making history as the first civilian government to complete a full term. It appears, however, that the recent confluence of events has introduced a pressure too great for the PPP to withstand. After a lengthy negotiation, Qadri and a team of government ministers issued the Islamabad Long March Declaration. The government offered several concessions to Qadri, the most significant of which are that "the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013" and that the government "in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister."
Did Zardari and the PPP lose? Yes and no.
No one expected a government led by Asif Ali Zardari to make it this far. The former prisoner, alleged kidnapper and extortionist, son-of-a-cinema-owner, secret stroke victim, and Cheshire cat-grinning widower of a two-time Prime Minister doesn't necessarily match the profile of a deft politician. But the man is a survivor, with instincts that have translated into an unexpected political ability to build coalitions, offer concessions, and broker agreements that have taken the PPP government further in its term than any other government in Pakistan's history.
Despite this ability, the government still managed to make enemies. While not uncommon in Pakistani politics, the mudslinging during the PPP's term has been especially dirty. Supreme Court efforts to unseat Zardari on corruption charges proved unsuccessful last year but the judiciary got its way with the removal of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on contempt of court charges. This week, the court went after Ashraf for a different issue - alleged corruption in rental power projects when serving as Minister for Water and Power. Ashraf hasn't been convicted of any crime yet and can remain in office until found guilty. The PPP coalition, with its majority in the National Assembly, could simply elect another Prime Minister from its ranks, just like it did when Gilani was dismissed.
But the Qadri march has shifted the political balance by providing an opportunity for the judiciary, and other critics of the government like Imran Khan and the military, to either jump on the regime change bandwagon or to tacitly support it by watching from the sidelines. All of them want a say in who heads the caretaker government. Until now, as mandated by the 20th amendment, the government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have been negotiating the caretaker government framework, which must be in place up to ninety days before elections if the government calls elections before its term is up. Qadri's very specific demands echo the views of other political actors who believe they have a stake in the PPP-PML-N discussions, regardless of whether the constitution mandates their participation or not. They will now have their say through Qadri, whose political party will help determine who leads the next caretaker government.
Always the strategic dealmaker, Zardari weighed the two options in front of him: keep fighting or accelerate the elections cycle. He could have continued to ignore Qadri's demands, claiming the PPP is a victim of a military-judicial conspiracy. Playing the "political martyrdom" card would resonate well among the PPP base and with critics of both the military and Supreme Court. But the government likely felt too bombarded from all sides to make the same bold moves it has in the past; the perception that Qadri is backed by the security establishment also may have factored into Zardari's decision making.
Instead, Zardari chose to accelerate the elections cycle. The National Assembly and Senate are now scheduled to meet on January 21st to discuss next steps. Doing so would still offer the government some influence in the caretaker setup but exactly how much influence remains to be seen. It would be naïve to assume that the Supreme Court, Qadri, and the military would automatically drop their anti-government efforts once elections are scheduled. Surely such stringent critics of the PPP would only call it a day when they get what they want - which seems to be ensuring that the country's ruling political party has zero chance of leading the next government.
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Tahir-ul Qadri, a Canada-based Pakistani preacher and former politician leads a massive protest today from Lahore to Islamabad calling for regime change in Pakistan. If it is electoral change Qadri is looking for, he won't be the one to get it. Qadri's been politically irrelevant since he departed the scene in 2004, when he resigned from his post as a Member of the National Assembly. Qadri himself does not even occupy a seat in Parliament, nor does anyone in his party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
However, his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, is a force to be reckoned with. The organization has an expansive school network in Punjab and maintains massive support among Pakistanis attracted to his meshing of modern values with conservative Islam. But this following was not enough for Qadri to deliver the "millions" of protesters he promised.
Could Qadri be another Imran Khan prototype, informally sponsored by the military? At least Khan can deliver the people. Despite the lackluster showing at today's march, we should not overlook the meaning behind Qadri's interestingly timed, well-organized and well-funded return. He says he wants to put "true democracy on track," but Qadri comes at a time when the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are near agreement on the timing of elections and the caretaker government setup, a process bolstered by the 20th amendment that mandates the government's cooperation with the opposition in setting up a neutral caretaker government in advance of elections.
In addition to seeking specific changes, such as ensuring electoral candidates pay their taxes before running for a seat, Qadri's push for a caretaker government in lieu of the current regime resonates with some in the security establishment who had been rumored to be informally floating the idea last year of installing temporary leaders a la Bangladesh in the mid-1990s. Supporters of the idea believe such moves are justified on by the PPP's poor performance and corruption.
Today's atmosphere is also reminiscent of the period before Senate elections in March 2011, when speculation arose that Pakistan's military was working to deny the PPP control of the upper house. This time, with elections expected before June and with the military openly displeased with both of the possible winners - the PPP the PML-N - there is a strong perception among political analysts that the military is up to its old tricks again. While we can't prove it, and the military claims to be just as surprised as the rest of us with Qadri's return, it has intervened in politics numerous times. The country has experienced over 30 years of military rule since independence in 1947. No reason it cannot happen again.
Or is there? Real regime change through Qadri, or through the military for that matter, is highly unlikely at the moment. He does have the ambition, political network and wealth to bring the long march into existence. But if Qadri has made a deal with the military, he may be overestimating its depth of interest and capability in shaping the election outcome in the current political environment. Political engineering by the Army and other branches of the military could exacerbate considerable domestic frustrations about the military leadership's failure to address Pakistan's growing terrorism problem. Furthermore, key foreign partners like the United States would be hard pressed to look the other way if Army chooses to meddle. Finally, the Supreme Court has been sending warning signs to the military to stay out of the elections process. Last year, it ordered legal proceedings against former intelligence and army officials, alleging they bankrolled politicians to prevent the PPP from winning the 1990 election.
Speculating on the military's connections to Qadri is unavoidable, but it is not the only issue Qadri brings to the fore. Something else much more tangible and visible is at work, and that is the desperate desire of ordinary Pakistanis for change - the change that Americans saw in 2008 when they elected their first African-American president; the change that the Arab world experienced when their military dictatorships collapsed; and the spirit of change infused within the international Occupy movement against social and economic inequality.
Qadri's message is appealing because it taps into the international sentiment of change associated with these and other developments over the past several years - sentiment that is clearly alive and well in Pakistan. But instead of potentially delaying the elections cycle, Qadri's ability to mobilize and influence would be more helpful after the PPP government completes its term this year in a historic moment for the entire country: the first time a government in Pakistan finishes a complete term.
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As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
As the United States' 2014 transition in Afghanistan approaches, American policymakers have underscored that President Hamid Karzai's government must undertake urgently needed institutional reforms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted after this summer's Tokyo Conference that President Karzai had presented a "clear vision" for these reforms, which "must include fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law." Under the principle of mutual accountability, the United States will continue to support Afghanistan through and beyond transition.
For the U.S. to accurately gauge and support this process, we need an honest, robust grasp of Afghanistan's commitment to governance reform. But instead, since the U.S. surge began in late 2009, a few recurrent anecdotes have disproportionately driven the picture of Afghan governance that we see, thereby enabling the Afghan government's continuing reluctance to reform. A combination of bureaucratic pressures, journalistic factors, and data scarcity has led U.S. public discourse on Afghanistan to over-rely on "ground truthed" subjective narratives and personal testimonials. Proportionate, objective assessments of metrics relevant to governance reform have lost out in the noise.
"Anecdotalization" doesn't yet appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but if it does, it will likely be because of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. To truly ensure much-needed Afghan government reform, we must finally suppress it.
How have a few recurrent anecdotes come to distort our understanding of Afghanistan's governance reform process?
First, predominant anecdotes have allowed us to mistake localized, distinct successes for replicable progress and reforms. Consider Nawa, which after years as one of Helmand's most dangerous districts demonstrated dramatically improved security and governance during the surge. Facilitated by American military leadership, helicopter-loads of high-ranking government officials, journalists, and think tankers visited the district for a few hours each, and produced personal testimonials like this one in a New York Times op-ed: "Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open...and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor."
The author's bottom line echoed a Marine officer he quoted in his piece: "I hope people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this." In contrast, observers with lengthier stays in Nawa noted its turnaround stemmed from a particular combination of tribal politics, local officials' calculations, and vast American inputs relative to the population-not any systematic action on the part of the Afghan government. Afghanistan comprises roughly 400 districts, but a vastly disproportionate number of eyewitness reports flowed in from Nawa and a handful of other districts like Arghandab and Baraki Barak. Colorful anecdotal successes drowned out more objective, broader assessments of governance reform.
Second, the pervasiveness of certain anecdotes has allowed us to confuse specific Afghan individuals' achievements for broader Afghan progress in institution building. American assistance to local Afghan government typically is focused on few key local officials. Many of these individuals demonstrated great strides or deep potential: behold the numerous accounts of Kandahar City's indefatigable mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, Helmand's reliable governor Ghulab Mangal, or Marja's promising district "governor in a box" Haji Zahir. Naturally, with transport facilitated by U.S. military leadership, the most impressive local officials were the ones who received frequent visits from high-level officials and influential correspondents, who could report they had seen local governance firsthand, and it was blooming. But judging overall governance progress on the basis of a few individuals is especially deceptive in Afghanistan, where officials are frequently reshuffled by the authorities in Kabul (as with Mangal), prove locally unpopular (Zahir), or are assassinated (Hamidi). Vivid testimonials don't equal a commitment to institutional reform.
Third, from a Kabul-based angle, a few persistent anecdotes have repeatedly allowed us to believe Afghan-led government reform is occurring where little actually is. For years, the international community pressured Kabul to clarify the scattered, confusing local governance picture. In 2010, the government responded with finalizing a 415-page Subnational Governance Policy: internally inconsistent yet enormously redundant, vast in ambit yet not enforceable in specifics. Before it could actually affect governance on the ground, the document needed significant legislative and administrative follow-up- which two and a half years later largely has not happened. But still, Afghan (and some American) officials alike frequently noted that they were pleased to see the policy had been drafted. A colorful testimonial counted as progress.
If this prevalence of anecdotes has allowed the Afghan government to substitute paper outputs for genuine reform, this pattern seems likely to repeat. After the Tokyo Conference described above, where the international community pressured the Karzai administration to launch serious reform and anti-corruption measures, Karzai responded with the lengthy decree: 167 articles along, divided among 33 government entities. As William Byrd and Attaullah Nasib have pointed out, the document lacked prioritization, action items, and benchmarks that can be evaluated. But it achieved its anecdotal point: as the Karzai administration has repeated frequently, it had "launched" a reform package.
How do we suppress the anecdotalization that has colored our understanding of Afghanistan's reform process? First, we must recognize that one cause is our own organizational incentives. In an era of budget constraints, military and civilian organizations in Afghanistan are pressured to demonstrate results quickly-and so they direct the unremitting stream of high-level visitors and influential thinkers to Afghanistan's most impressive cases. As a second explanation, our sound-bite culture places a premium on personal testimonials, and so peppering public communication with colorful narratives rather than tedious data is often viewed as more authentic or engaging. A third explanation lies in our unwitting mirror-imaging of the way the US government operates onto the way we believe the Afghan government does. In Washington, releasing an executive order has real consequences: it automatically triggers follow up and monitoring mechanisms from government agencies, Congress, and the media. Not so in Afghanistan, where glossy documents such as Karzai's presidential decree are often intended more to placate donors than to galvanize actions.
But the biggest reason of all for the rise of anecdotal noise is that alternatives are scarce. Measuring governance and reform-a nebulous, challenging task anywhere-- seems almost impossible in a data-poor, opaque context like Afghanistan. Data-driven evaluations do exist at the classified level, and unclassified information like The Asia Foundation's annual survey, the World Bank's indicators, International Crisis Group reports, and the Defense Department's bi-annual Section 1230 Reports add important insights or overviews. But the conversation about Afghanistan's progress resides heavily in the public domain, where opinion-makers gravitate toward the tactile, colorful personal story.
As U.S. policymakers turn toward 2014, they must suppress these recurrent anecdotes and focus on objectively measuring Afghanistan's governance reform against one central criterion: whether Afghan government institutions are prepared to "hold" the country after the U.S. drawdown. Instead of celebrating the unusual triumphs of districts like Nawa, we must look at indicators for how many provinces will be able to achieve relative success: ministry budget execution and service distribution to the local level. Instead of hoping that all local Afghan officials are as good as "our guy", we can measure whether Karzai's administration has truly made the subnational appointment system more merit based or locally accountable. Rather than check the box of "reform" with the release of a presidential anti-corruption decree, we can focus on the tedious work of prioritizing and following up on those 167 articles.
Shifting the narrative from one where a thousand vivid success stories bloom to one of objective assessment of reform won't be pleasant: it represents a move from the colorful to the colorless. But it is the only way to achieve our minimal objective in Afghanistan: an Afghan government that can endure after we depart.
Frances Z. Brown, at time of writing, was an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
In a speech earlier this year to commemorate the reign of King Amanullah, Afghanistan's reformist king during the 1920's, Afghan President Hamid Karzai focused on the younger generation's contribution to the country's future: ‘'This is a steady wheel that is progressively moving toward more development, and it will not turn back," he said. "This is a young man's engine with a power that does not know cold or any other obstacles."
While the country's social development has seemed to move backwards since the 1920's, the Afghan youth of today make up the country's most encouraging hope for progression, though they do face obstacles. The formation of a variety of civil society organizations over the past 10 years, initiated and operated primarily by a younger generation of Afghansseemingly frustrated into motivation, has a central role to play in the course of the country's future.
This generation was born and has come of age during a time that forced many Afghan families to flee to neighboring or Western countries, where theytook advantage of opportunities for education and intellectual development. Those who remained in Afghanistan saw enough to know they wanted a different future. According to Afghanistan's Central Statistics Organization, 76 percent of the population is under the age of 35. Enrollment in higher education is at an all-time high - a 25 percent increase in university intake in 2012 compared to the previous year from 84,184 to 112,367. Though the quality of education is relatively low, the number of Afghans striving for an education attests to the country's desire to be educated.
Educated youths, mainly residing in urban areas, make up a cadre of young intellectuals and professionals that populate a large part of the public and private sector, from Afghan media, governmental bureaucracy, and diplomatic circles to, most importantly, civil society. They are in positions to have their voices heard in ways that influence their peers and set new standards of expectations from their leaders. This is bolstered by the scope and reach of social networking media as a tool for voicing opinion, which has forced even the Taliban to adopt tools such as Twitter in order to engage wider audiences. Another key characteristic of this generation is that they come from all different types of backgrounds-they are children of the diaspora, the mujahideen, and the communists, yet they share a common goal.
While the influence of this generation is invariably limited by the obstacles of the surroundings in which they operate, one area that has particularly flourished with the involvement of youth is civil society, asector of Afghan society that is dominated by the ideals and optimism of the entrepreneurial and socially progressive mood of many young, educated Afghans. The 4,280 civil society and non-governmental organizations registered in Afghanistan take many shapes and forms--from social responsibility and charity groups addressing issues such as women's and children's rights, the rights of the disabled, civic engagement, education, and environmental campaigns, to professional groups that bring together entrepreneurs and practitioners in various sectors including health, telecommunications, and economic development.
Two such exemplary organizations are Young Women for Change (YWC), a social organization advocating women's rights, and the National ICT Alliance of Afghanistan (NICTAA), a consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) entities working to forward the industry in Afghanistan. Established in 2011, YWC, the group of young Afghan women, and even some men, raises awareness of women's rights. The group has been highly vocal and visible in advocating for change, most notably in the summer of 2011 when male and female YWC members staged a public march to protest sexual harassment of women in the streets. More recently, the group opened Afghanistan's first women-only internet café.
NICTAA, as a consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) professionals established in 2008, brings together ICT actors in the public and private sector and academia to work toward the advancement and development of this sector in Afghanistan, an area that brings significant investment in the country, an estimated 1.7 billion USD as of June 2012.The organisation has represented Afghanistan's ICT sector at conferences worldwide, and is unique in that it works closely with the government to create opportunities in the sector in Afghanistan.
At a recent parliamentary inquiry in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, responded to multiple questions about how progress on women and human rights would be ensured post-2014 by referencing the British government's new program for strengthening civil society organisations. His argument was that by strengthening Afghan civil society, such organisations could in turn hold their government to account, and challenge its response to women and human rights.
While civil society organizations (CSOs) do hold a critical mirror to reflect the country's key issues, both positive and negative, and provide platforms for the public to respond, engage, and challenge social, professional, or economic policies and issues, they do face serious obstacles, mainly due to the lack of an enabling environment. Due to poor security, most groups are based from urban centers, with operations and progress mainly confined to Afghanistan's cities and out of reach of the nearly 80% of Afghans residing in rural areas.
Moreover, of the thousands of CSOs registered with the government, it's unclear how many are inactive or were set up as a means for channelling funds. Civil society has not escaped the touch of corruption plaguing Afghanistan, either. The government has not shied away from taking action against organisations that have been vocal in challenging them, most recently the controversial dismissal of the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, allegedly over the pending publication of a report accusing high-ranking cabinet members of past human rights violations.
Despite these challenges, CSOs do present an opportunity to put forth and encouragechangein Afghan society and policy. In a country where well-established, national political parties with clear strategic visions have not fully developed, the country risks floating from one power-holder to the next without the reform that often comes from healthy party rivalries and change of administrations.
The collective influences and achievements of civil society organisations at all levels of Afghan society need to be consolidated at a national level, especially in the face of uncertainty beyond 2014, as a way to fill that void. Uniting civil society organisations in a sort of national-level consortium would be a massive undertaking, not only due to the sheer number of groups, but also due to the range of differing topics and issues covered; however, a common overarching goal arguably underlies civil society groups in Afghanistan that only their united support could help advance: a peaceful and progressive future for the country geared toward economic, social, and educational advancement and stability.
Lael A. Mohib works in community and rural development in Afghanistan, and has an M.A. in International Relations with a focus on Afghanistan from Boston University. Hamdullah Mohib was Director of Information Technology at the American University of Afghanistan, and is now studying for his PhD at Brunel University.
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On Saturday, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician with a propensity for threatening massive protests, once again threatened to lead a "tsunami march" to the country's capital if Pakistan's PPP-led government ignores (for the second time) the Supreme Court's orders concerning the reopening of corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. This is just the latest development in a growing confrontation between the executive -- led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- and the Supreme Court.
In recent months, Pakistan's judiciary and executive have been engaged in a power struggle that threatens to further destabilize a politically weak government already beset by problems ranging from economic decline to a major electricity crisis. The root of the current conflict lies in the Supreme Court's insistence that Prime Minister Raja Ashraf write a letter to the courts in Switzerland, asking them to reopen previous corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. In a bold move, the Supreme Court already dismissed previous Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on charges of contempt of court for refusing to write such a letter to the Swiss courts. It has now warned PM Ashraf that it will take "appropriate action in accordance with the law" in the event that he refuses to comply with the Court's order.
In response, the current government has sought to protect PM Ashraf by passing the Contempt of Court Bill 2012, legislation that shields top government officials from charges of contempt of court. It is unlikely that the Court will allow this bill to stand - petitions challenging the Contempt of Court Bill have already been filed in the Supreme Court, which has now allowed PM Ashraf until the 25th of July to make a decision. Ironically, this has put the Supreme Court - an institution that has immense popular support in Pakistan for its powerful stand in 2007-2008 against the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf - on a collision course with a civilian, democratically elected government.
As the lines are increasingly being drawn between the judiciary and the executive, supporters of each side have argued heatedly about the constitutionality of the court's actions. Justice Markandey Katju, who once served on the Indian Supreme Court, believes the Pakistani Supreme Court has "flouted all canons of constitutional jurisprudence," since Article 248 of the Pakistani Constitution provides immunity to the President from criminal prosecution. Yet Article 248 only provides immunity to the President from criminal prosecution by domestic courts, and the Supreme Court is still free to ask a foreign court to pursue criminal proceedings against the President. As a result, it can be argued that the court's actions have not violated the constitution.
More worrying than the debates over the legality of the current situation is the discourse that has emerged within Pakistan about the meaning of democracy and the role of different institutions in a democratic system. The executive claims that by sending one prime minister home and threatening to remove another, the judiciary is endangering the country's fragile democratic system in a personal vendetta against the President. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has increasingly portrayed itself as the real representative of the people, an alternative to the elected parliament. Most dramatically, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry recently argued that the notion of parliamentary supremacy is "out of place in the modern era," stating that the constitution has predominance over the parliament.
The written judgment of Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja in the case concerning the dismissal of former Prime Minister Gilani further illustrates this deeply problematic way of thinking about the role of the judiciary in a democratic system. Justice Khawaja states that "it is the Constitution which is supreme over all organs of the State because it manifests the will of the people." Since, by this logic, the Constitution represents the will of the people, it is the Supreme Court - as guardian of the Constitution - that truly represents this will. Justice Khawaja clearly defines where power really lies in his understanding of a democratic system: "The Court can effectively perform the role of the people's sentinel and guardian of their rights by enforcing their will; even against members of Parliament who may have been elected by the people but who have become disobedient to the Constitution and thus strayed from their will."
Through such words the very meaning of democracy has been redefined by the Supreme Court with a brilliant sleight of hand. No longer is democracy about people choosing their representatives through free and fair elections, with the opportunity to hold these elected leaders accountable through the ballot box. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, democracy is about representing the will of the people as reflected in the Constitution and, of course, as interpreted by the Supreme Court itself. This is particularly problematic given the ease with which military rulers throughout Pakistan's history have manipulated the constitution, tainting the very notion of constitutionalism in Pakistan.
In fact, this kind of discourse is eerily similar to the Pakistani military's past claims of being the only institution that can protect the country and further the interests of the people. Historically, the military has frequently justified its interference in the political sphere by arguing that incompetent, corrupt politicians cannot run the country. Replace the "military" with the "Supreme Court" and this last sentence just as easily describes the current crisis in Pakistan. The executive is not exempt from this either - it, too, claims to be the sole power that can protect the interests of the people. While liberally throwing around words like "democracy," these claims overlook the fact that a fundamental aspect of a well-entrenched democracy is a balance of power between different institutions: the executive, the judiciary and the parliament. None of these institutions can claim sole power over other institutions without seriously jeopardizing the democratic process.
If the Supreme Court's commitment to democracy is more than just rhetoric, it needs to recognize the parliament as the elected representative of the people, however corrupt and incompetent it may perceive these elected officials to be. It also needs to recognize that the democratic system does have some in-built mechanisms of accountability, one of which is the ballot box. This is not to say that the Supreme Court should not prosecute and hold accountable those who have been accused of engaging in criminal activities, but that the Court should also take into account other factors - such as public interest, political stability, and political feasibility - in its decisions, as is the norm in courts across the world. While the Supreme Court may not be acting unconstitutionally, it is certainly undermining Pakistan's democracy, and seems to have no intention of backing down.
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government might be able to finish its full term next year. In a country that has struggled with a history of military coups and active military involvement in politics, this will be an unprecedented achievement. It would be extremely unfortunate - after the struggles against the military undertaken by both the judiciary and the politicians - were the Supreme Court now to stand in the way of the very process of democratization that it set in motion.
Fatima Mustafa is a PhD candidate at Boston University researching issues of state-building in the developing world.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Afghan political system is broken, just as the country finds itself juggling multiple political and security challenges. Among the most pressing is ensuring the transition of power from President Hamid Karzai to a capable successor by 2014. Getting this right will go a long way toward salvaging U.S.-led efforts over the past decade. Unfortunately, with Kabul torn apart by infighting and factionalism, the prospects of succeeding are bleak.
The 2014 election has started to engender a new view of politics in Afghanistan under an incredibly curious public, the skeleton of democratic rule, and a vibrant, if not particularly well-trained media. Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not seek another term in office and that he is looking to find a successor to stand for elections in two years' time - one that would be acceptable to the Afghan people and tough with allies. Many names have been floated as possible candidates, ranging from Karzai's own brother to some of his close aides and confidantes. While questions remain about what Karzai will actually do, it is clear that a failure to hold free and fair elections could easily contribute to further unrest across the country. If President Karzai handpicks a successor, it will most likely compromise the legitimacy of that succession. A disputed leadership could lead to Afghanistan's security forces splintering along ethnic lines, a situation that other regional actors might exploit for their own interests.
This dismal scenario is avoidable. But it would require Afghan leaders - irrespective of their political and ethnic affiliation - including President Karzai, to put aside their perceived differences, compromise, and settle on two or three vetted candidates acceptable to all sides ahead of the election. As it is said, "politics makes strange bedfellows," so the incentive for Afghan leaders to come together and compromise, however perverse it may appear, should be quite clear: If doing it for the "good of the country" is not enough of an incentive, then not doing it directly puts at risk the power, money, and personal security these players have not deserved but largely enjoyed over the years. Over the long-term, Afghanistan needs issues-based political parties with viable candidates, but this goal would be impossible to pull off before the next elections. A compromise on a shortlist of presidential nominees would mark a real turning point that could also reduce the prospect of electoral fraud. However, the level of uncertainty that presently dominate opinions of Kabul's politically influential proves that taking the necessary risks required for vetting and uniting over a handful of candidates very unlikely. The feasibility of this prospect is contingent as much upon the loyal opposition - including members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance - as upon Karzai himself.
In the absence of alternative mechanisms, one way of commanding greater political legitimacy would be the convening of a Loya Jirga. The Jirga - an old social institution representative of all Afghans often convened to resolve disputes or reach consensus on major events - could serve as a mechanism to vet and approve presidential nominees and also establish the ground rules for reconciliation with the Taliban. The delegates to the Jirga must be chosen through district-level elections - similar to the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) that ratified the new Afghan Constitution in 2003 - and must include members of Afghanistan's both lower and upper houses. President Karzai was an unknown figure until the Loya Jirga settled on him as an interim leader in 2002. The unanimous support Karzai received from the Jirga for finalizing the recently signed U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement is equally noteworthy.
The United States and its European partners have also earned a responsibility to ensure that the 2014 elections are credible and legitimate. However, the election clause embedded in the U.S.-Afghan strategic pact and reiterated in the recent Tokyo conference Declaration now directly impedes "interference" - by foreign governments in Afghan elections - specifically foreign embassies supporting one political candidate or party over another. One way to respect the agreement and still ensure free and fair elections would be to employ a robust independent international election monitoring and observers' mission under the United Nation's auspices and direct supervision. This will not only avoid violating the agreement but will also dismiss concerns of the United States' so-called "kingmaker" or "Big Brother" role controlling internal matters in Afghanistan.
The lack of issues-based parties and candidates in Afghanistan, as noted above, is a major deterrent to the country's long-term political development. At present, while Afghanistan's electoral system clearly mandates voting for independent candidates and not political parties, there are still over 90 registered parties in the country. Nearly all of the parties carry a history of factional splits, ethnic politics and oft-changing alliances. Factions that do form alliances are often in search of a military advantage and not a "soft" political consensus. Most of the parties are small, lack sufficient resources and funding, and often pursue and promote factional and ethnic politics. Most importantly, the bulk of the parties in Afghanistan lack a systematic political role, a clear national vision and mandate, and thus most are largely useless. Those candidates who do win seats in Afghan Parliament and the Provincial Councils are, for the most part, people with strong support from the grassroots, not political parties.
Nevertheless, political parties have shown progress in recent years. Many parties are fielding candidates and many candidates are now showing their affiliation to political parties. The United States and the European allies must capitalize on this opportunity by making them credible political players. This can be done, among other things, by building their capacities through election training and education, providing them with necessary resources and skill sets: effective leadership, campaigning and fundraising skills through foreign exposures, study-tours and visits. Most importantly, the international community should educate them to work together by building healthy coalitions with an inclusive political dialogue and a pan-Afghan vision. Doing so will lay the foundation for Afghanistan's long-term political development. In turn, the Afghan government must stipulate strict guidelines and set parameters for party registration to curtail the current unhealthy growth of parties.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to Afghan leaders and those politically engaged and influential taking responsibility for their own destiny. The support pledged by a number of foreign countries post-2014 will unquestionably help, but even that would require Afghanistan to have a viable and functioning government. While graft in Afghan bureaucracy has largely undermined the government's legitimacy and its relations with international donors, and does need to be tackled, finding a short-term and realistic political consensus is more pressing and must be prioritized. The country's current trajectory, however, provides little encouragement. A failure to compromise could easily plunge the country into a brutal chaos in a frenzy to mark personal territories reminiscent of the 1990s where the very unhealthy interests of these conflicting parties will be directly challenged. Before it is too late, Afghan elites must realize that it is time to come together and act.
Javid Ahmad is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views expressed here are his own.
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The May 20 NATO summit in Chicago was dominated by the issue of Afghanistan. Amidst all the talk about withdrawing international combat troops by 2014, funding the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014, and a doubtful political settlement with the Taliban, one subject was absent from the formal agenda: drugs.
Yet in few other countries is the drugs trade so entrenched as it is in Afghanistan. Accounting for between one-quarter and one-third of the national economy, it is an integral part of the insecurity blighting Afghan life for the past 30 years.
Debate may continue for years as to whether the Western intervention in Afghanistan has made the world safer or more insecure in the post-9/11 era. But it has not only done nothing to reduce global supplies of illicit opium; rather, it has made the problem worse.
The international drugs-control regime, in place since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into effect, rests on prohibiting use in consumer countries and reducing supply in producer states. In Afghanistan, the source of around 60 per cent of the planet's illicit opium and 85 per cent of heroin, the latter objective may never be achieved to any meaningful degree.
The boom years for Afghan poppy cultivation began in the 1970s, thanks to political instability in Southeast Asia's fertile 'Golden Triangle' and bans on the crop in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. The Soviet invasion in late 1979 gave local warlords an incentive to plant opium poppies to fund their insurgency against Moscow.
In the three decades since, with few other sources of income, opium production has come to provide for up to half a million Afghan households. The poppy is a hardy, drought-resistant plant, much easier for farmers to grow than saffron and more profitable than wheat. Both have been offered as alternative crops, but with only limited take-up. The criminal networks that have sprung up around the drugs trade provide farmers with seeds, fertiliser and cash loans; in short they offer an alternative welfare system. The principal growing regions, the southern Pashtun-dominated provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, are also Taliban strongholds.
For all these reasons, NATO efforts to eradicate opium - either by aerial spraying or manually- have alienated the population. Indeed, they have often had to be abandoned in the face of popular resistance. Crop disease did more to reduce opium production in 2010 than NATO's counter-narcotics strategy. The United Nations recently reported there had been a 61 percent rebound in opium production in 2011, and prices were soaring. This is a worrying trend, which seems set to continue after NATO troops leave.
Drug seizures, while rising, still account for less than 5% of opium produced. As a general rule, the United Nations estimates, law-enforcement agencies need to interdict about 70% of supplies to make the drugs trade less financially attractive to traffickers and dealers. In any circumstances, this is an extremely challenging objective. In the large swathes of Afghanistan where the central government and security forces wield no control, it is completely unrealistic. Meanwhile, no major trafficker has yet successfully been prosecuted due to a widespread culture of impunity.
Alternative approaches have been proposed. Most recently, in May 2012, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimov proposed that opium should be purchased directly from Afghan farmers to either be used in the pharmaceutical industry or to be destroyed. He also called on other countries to do the same in a move he deemed essential to fight drug trafficking and narcotics-fuelled terrorism. But this option was tried in 2002 when the United Kingdom had the lead on narcotics reduction, and had to be abandoned in the face of evidence that the purchasing programme constituted a perverse incentive to increase production. Licit production of opium for medical purposes may be a long-term option for Afghanistan, but not while current conditions of high insecurity and pervasive corruption persist.
In the West, the drugs scourge is mostly thought about in terms of the lives lost, opportunities wasted and the social disruption created through addiction. In fragile and impoverished nations such as Afghanistan, drugs create a shadow state, fuelling institutional corruption, instability, violence and human misery. The Taliban, which banned the planting of opium in 2001, was deriving an estimated U.S. $125 million per year from the business by 2009. It has been an equally important revenue stream for former warlords whose inclusion in the administration of President Hamid Karzai NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has done little to oppose. Such individuals have a powerful vested interest in state weakness to the obvious detriment of good governance and institution-building. And all these actors are likely to maximise revenues from opium production in the run-up to the 2014 NATO/ISAF drawdown to hedge against an uncertain future.
A trade in which so many have vested interests will never be unwound simply or swiftly.
What drives it is its huge profitability, a consequence of continuing Western demand. No-one can confidently predict the consequences of changing the drugs prohibition regime. The current approach has not achieved the 1961 Single Convention's objectives. But has had the unintended consequence of perpetuating and increasing corruption and instability in parts of the world least equipped to deal with the consequences. Perhaps our collective experience in Afghanistan should serve as the basis for a serious rethink of global drugs policy? This would involve a cost/benefit analysis of current policies, scenario planning of the impact of alternative approaches and a much greater focus on demand reduction in consumer states. The issue of narcotics needs to be taken out of the silo it currently inhabits and looked at in the wider context of international security and development.
Nigel Inkster is Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition.'
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
On May 20th, the United States will host a summit of NATO leaders in Chicago. Afghanistan will feature prominently in the summit's agenda. The recently concluded Strategic Partnership between the United States and Afghanistan provides a promising basis to build a partnership based on commitment to securing Afghanistan's democratic transition and the protection and promotion of rights for Afghan citizens. Delivering on its promises will require avoiding short cuts that carry the illusion of peace, and instead building a partnership with the real ally of stability: the majority of Afghan citizens.
There is a danger that the global debate is losing sight of the need to protect Afghan civilians and to consolidate the hard-won gains of the past ten years. The search for a quick deal in some American policy circles neatly coincide with those of Afghanistan's opportunistic and survival-driven political class, and especially elements within the government. This narrow policy consensus runs contrary to what most Afghans want: the preservation of the progress that has been won at great cost to both Afghans and the international community since 2001.
A sense of anxiety about what might happen after 2014 pervades Afghan society, and was caused primarily by the sidelining of human rights as a political commitment by both the Afghan government and its international partners since 2007. While the government has demonstrated increasing hostility to its human rights obligations, its international supporters have voiced only muted criticism, lacking penalties or action of any kind.
Against the wishes of generations of war victims, all civil war era actors have been granted broad immunity. The passage of the Shia Personal Status Law infringes on the legal rights of Shia women. The widely-praised Media Law that would have enshrined greater freedom of expression has been shelved. Known human rights abusers have been appointed to high-ranking positions within the national police force, while the Presidential Palace has lent its approval -- sometimes overt, sometimes tacit -- to a succession of regressive statements by the Ulema Council regarding women's rights. Afghan women, civil society, and human rights defenders are rapidly losing the space to speak out and organize freely, and these groups worry, with good reason, that government may soon try to silence them altogether.
The vision articulated by Afghans and their international partners in the Bonn Conference in 2001 entailed a commitment to building a democratic Afghanistan in which human rights and the rule of law prevailed. This vision was later reaffirmed by more than 500 delegates from across the country at the 2002 Loya Jirga. While neither of these historic agreements were flawless, as a participant in both I was filled with high expectations and energized with optimism for my country's future.
Whatever its weaknesses, the progressive vision for a post-Taliban Afghanistan provided civil society with room to grow. Hundreds of civic groups, including many devoted to women's rights, sprung up across the country. With international support and the enthusiasm of a new generation of Afghans, the independent media blossomed as never before in Afghanistan's history. But these gains have had little time to take root, and they are now at serious risk of being crushed.
This is the reality of Afghanistan in 2012. How did we get here?
First, since the end of the transition period established by the Bonn Agreement (2004), the Afghan political leadership has failed to implement an inclusive vision for Afghanistan's future. Instead, the government has opted for the politics of tactical, backroom deals as a strategy for guaranteeing their political survival. This brand of reactionary policy-making appeals to the most conservative and violent elements in Afghan society for support, and ignores the interests and aspirations of the vast majority. Unwilling to speak out or act upon major human rights issues, Afghanistan's political leaders have prevented Afghans from following the path that they chose and enshrined in their constitution in January 2004.
The international community has accepted these worrying trends, and has refrained from exerting real political pressure on the government to comply with its international obligations and the Afghan Constitution. Afghan human rights advocates have lobbied tirelessly, but their arguments, evidence, and pleas have been largely ignored. As time has passed, human rights have been mentioned less frequently in international discussions on Afghanistan and this is reflected in official documents. In the most recent U.N. Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan, passed on March 22, 2012, human rights were relegated to a sub-item.
Emboldened by recent international permissiveness, Afghan leaders have increasingly viewed justice and human rights as more of a luxury than an indispensable prerequisite for peace. In December 2007, President Karzai publicly announced that he would not challenge human rights violators and would not implement the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation action plan adopted by his own government in 2005. The vetting process for police reform that had managed to exclude at least 14 notorious figures from reappointment as chiefs of police was frozen indefinitely in 2007.
Other difficulties have aggravated the situation. The president's lack of desire for political development through political parties has hindered the establishment of active and effective political movements in the country.
In the absence of robust, democratic political pathways through which the majority could voice their aspirations, the Palace has relied instead on figures and factions who represent a tiny portion of society. While democratic voices have consistently marginalized, those advocating a non-representative form of conservatism, the Ulema Council, and a powerful minority seeking their own political and economic interests, have therefore exerted a disproportionate influence over the direction of national policy.
A second reason for the decline of the human rights and democracy agendas has had to do with the evolution of international strategy and priorities. Early on, at least rhetorically, Afghanistan's international partners (the United States in particular) embraced human rights reforms as a component of the state-building strategy in Afghanistan. Over time, however, the focus shifted to defeating the insurgency, then to counterterrorism, and then to containing the insurgency. With this shift towards military objectives, the human rights agenda suffered. The United States embraced nearly any party that would oppose the Taliban, regardless of their human rights records. Afghan prisoners were abused in American-run prisons. Night raids continued, providing powerful recruiting narratives to the Taliban who, undeterred, killed civilians in ever larger numbers with each passing year. Continued partnership between the international military and malign elements of the past contributed to a gradual but steady move of the Kabul government toward embracing the same abusive figures.
President Obama's review of the Afghanistan strategy, released in March 2009, further limited the objectives for the American engagement in Afghanistan, dropping the idea of supporting democracy and human rights entirely. Elements within the Afghan government took this cue and began to neglect their own commitments. Indeed, a senior aide to President Karzai told me that the Palace has come to believe that human rights and democracy are not priority issues for the United States because they want to achieve reconciliation; therefore, "we will also relax our practice and policy on that front".
The alliances between some of the members of the international community, the Afghan government, and local warlords have implications that stretch well beyond human rights issues. Militarily and economically empowered by these alliances the warlords have been able to block merit-based upward mobility in the public and private sectors. By dominating political decision-making in the government, they have established dominant roles for their old militia structure members, guaranteeing specific interest groups hefty government and international contracts while protecting their unaccounted wealth.
Since the current structures protect the warlords and enable their domination, they correctly view reform efforts aimed at good governance, rule of law and human rights as a threat that could drive them from power. Consequently, they have aggressively undermined all such reform efforts, actively manipulating systems. Through their influence at the Palace, a small group of wartime leaders are utilizing government appointments to expand their own network rather than serve the public interest. There is little risk of exposure or accountability and a high return. Those who are being formally appointed by the President (but actually at the behest of unaccountable and influential patrons) feel less loyalty to their official boss than to those who nominated them. The public understands that public office is being used to dole out favors to the informal leaders. Ultimately, public trust in the government is severely undermined.
In a desperate move to end almost ten years of military engagement, in 2011 the U.S. and Afghan governments set two potentially conflicting goals by opting to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban while simultaneously beginning the transition out of Afghanistan. In a situation where the Afghan government is increasingly weak, more hostile toward its international allies, and less capable of winning public support, Afghans fear that negotiating with insurgents from a weak position will further undermine human rights -- particularly the gains made with respect to women's rights.
Ordinary Afghans understand that a settlement at the expense of human rights and democracy will yield a very short-lived peace. Rather, such so-called "peace" protocols are likely to usher in a renewed, and more vicious, round of civil war. The key to a lasting peace by contrast is found in respect and protection of the rights of Afghans, ensuring good governance, and delivering justice for the wrongdoings of the past.
To address some of these problems, Kabul and Washington should consider a number of steps:
Build on the Strategic Partnership Agreement
The Strategic Partnership Agreement explicitly restates the shared determination of the United States and the Government of Afghanistan to achieving the goal of a stable and independent state of Afghanistan, ‘governed on the basis of Afghanistan's constitution, shared democratic values, including respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all men and women.' By recognizing and emphasizing the importance of the rights, needs and aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and of democratic values, the agreement is a first step towards reassuring Afghans that constitutional rights and freedoms are non-negotiable. The May conference in Chicago presents an opportunity for the international community to reinforce its commitment to rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan.
Peaceful and timely democratic transfer of power through elections
The end of the constitutional term of President Karzai coincides with the scheduled completion of the transition of security responsibility from international forces to Afghans. The Afghan government must ensure that Afghanistan makes a peaceful democratic transition of political power by 2014. Afghanistan's future stability depends as much on the capability of its security forces and their adherence to human rights and rule of law as it does on a peaceful transition of power to a next elected administration. Both should be key priorities.
President Karzai should therefore announce the date for the 2014 presidential elections, support a genuine electoral reform process and facilitate a peaceful democratic transition of power for the first time in the nation's recent history. The United States, NATO countries, and the United Nations should already be seriously focused on how to support Afghanistan's elections and should take care to learn the hard lessons of 2009 as well as from the positive experiences of 2002, 2004 and 2005.
President Karzai should immediately initiate a clear process for holding to account those who are guilty of past crimes, and clarify that any crimes from now on will meet the full accountability of the judicial process. To begin with, he should implement the government's action plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation adopted in 2007.
President Karzai and his government should abandon the politics of the back-room deal and embrace the aspirations of the vast majority for good governance, democracy and human rights. To do so, he must engage the Afghan parliament in the formation of policy, and the international community should provide technical support to parliamentary committees. This support would allow legislators to gain the ability to formulate, present and adopt specific policy options to the government, instead of debating in general terms -- and in a reactionary manner -- executive decisions that have already been made.
President Karzai must provide equal space for pro-democracy and reform voices in policy development and decision-making, and the international community should break its long silence when it comes to bringing onboard pro-reform agendas and voices. To facilitate ownership of national processes, the president should create incentives for political parties to generate alternative policy debates. The political parties and Afghan civil society must engage in a much more aggressive, structured, and realistic advocacy campaign for the implementation of reform agendas, and they should press President Karzai to remove from office those whose acts are undermining his own legacy in human rights and democracy. President Karzai must hold accountable officials who are involved in abusive practices and abandon the practice of simply reshuffling them to other senior positions.
Inclusive Talks with the Insurgents and Clearly Defined Redlines
It is also imperative for the government to show that it has begun -- in practice - to make the protection of human rights and promotion of democratic practices the center of its agenda. The Afghan government must publicly and explicitly assure Afghans that all rights and freedoms enshrined in the Afghanistan Constitution and the gains made in the past decade regarding human rights and democratic development are not negotiable in any talks with the Taliban. The United States must do the same.
Nader Nadery served as Human Rights Commissioner at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and chairperson of Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) based in Kabul.
The next Afghan presidential election is currently slated for 2014, an uninspiring prospect given the sky-high levels of corruption, nepotism, and patronage that beleaguers the Afghan political system. To make things worse, President Hamid Karzai has suggested holding the elections in 2013 to avoid an overlap with the planned end of NATO's combat mission. And there is still no functional plan in place for a smooth transfer of political power to a post-Karzai government.
The challenges of a successful political transition in Afghanistan are multiple. The Afghan government has not yet defined a plausible political strategy for its sustainability after 2014. Furthermore, the Afghan and U.S. governments have failed to develop a mature political class from which the Afghan people can democratically select their leaders. This is further aggravated by officials' failure to establish adept civil services in Afghanistan. As a result, the largely corrupt and inept Afghan civil service is characterized by and operates under a vast network of political patronage and nepotism, leaving it incapable of delivering basic services to the Afghan people. The durability of the Afghan political system requires a feasible political reform agenda that addresses endemic corruption and nepotism, and a political settlement process with an inclusive internal Afghan dialogue.
Tackling these shortcomings are fundamental to Afghanistan's future generation of leadership, and there are growing concerns in Kabul that President Karzai may attempt to enter the 2014 election, despite being constitutionally barred, and his repeated statements that he will not seek a third term. Earlier, the concern, especially among the Afghan opposition, was that President Karzai would amend Afghanistan's election laws, which currently prevent him from seeking another term in office. However, speculations now abound that Karzai will handpick a successor who will serve as president while he runs the show from behind the scenes. If employed, this arrangement - similar to the one between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - effectively keeps the seat warm until Karzai's return. At present, there is no provision in the Afghan Constitution stipulating that Karzai cannot return to the presidency after a short absence. Depending on whom Karzai picks as his successor, such a move will likely spark outrage among many in Afghanistan, specifically among members of the so-called "loyal" opposition group, the erstwhile Northern Alliance.
The late Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council (HPC), was previously touted to succeed Karzai largely due to his role as an interlocutor between the Afghan government and opposition groups. With Rabbani no longer in play, some of the other names currently being tossed around are: Atta Mohammad Noor, a Tajik and current governor of Balkh province; Farooq Wardak, a Pashtun and the current Minister of Education; Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a prominent Pashtun and former Minister of Interior and Education; and Ashraf Ghani, a well-known Pashtun, one-time presidential contender, and former Minister of Finance who is now chairman of Afghanistan's security transition commission. Rumors also abound that President Karzai has been grooming Qayum Karzai, his multi-millionaire older brother who presently dominates most of Afghanistan's security, construction, and transportation sectors, to succeed him. A one-time restaurant owner in Maryland and now an unrivaled Afghan powerbroker, Qayum is said to be the man behind all key cabinet and provincial level appointments in Afghanistan.
However, President Karzai's first choice and personal favorite appears to be Education Minister Farooq Wardak, due in large part to the confidence and trust President Karzai has placed in him. If President Karzai chooses to publicly announce his support for Wardak's candidacy, it could significantly raise Wardak's current stature, and garner widespread public support, particularly among the Pashtun voters who would most likely rally to get him elected. The 2014 elections are central to future political stability of the country. With the anticipated election irregularities and several in Karzai's inner clique loathe to forgo the power they currently enjoy, the election will test the trust and confidence of the Afghan people in the governance system and their future participation in Afghanistan's political process. While it is too early to anticipate, President Karzai's voluntary departure before the election will not only sit positively with many Afghans, but will also leave him a respectable legacy in Afghan history.
There is also a widespread perception in Afghanistan that the United States acts as kingmaker, and whomever the U.S. supports will become the next president. Whether or not that narrative is true, the United States can help encourage young and educated new leaders to become involved in politics, and advise the Afghan government to disqualify corrupt individuals.
Some American officials have recently increased outreach to Afghan political figures, which appears to have somehow emboldened the kingmaker perceptions among Afghans. Senior members of the U.S. Congress reached out to the members of the Northern Alliance during a recent visit to Kabul, riling many, including President Karzai. The emphasis of this political outreach effort stressed a peculiar narrative of decentralization that contradicts the policy of the Obama administration. This type of power devolvement includes, among other things, granting legislative power to the provincial councils, and having elected provincial governors rather than presidential appointees. These elected officials would also have all powers invested in them, including the ability to levy their own taxes and make key provincial appointments.
Yet, this strategy also entails accepting considerable risks.
Giving provincial governors the authority to hire and fire civil servants, and levy their own taxes with no input or control from Kabul risks creating and supporting local "strongmen" and parallel power structures that could be potentially destabilizing. Such an arrangement also risks turning up the heat on the already simmering ethnic tensions, and could essentially create a Pashtun-dominated "Pashtunistan" separated from a confederation of provinces dominated by ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. It is a strategy of soft partition that effectively opens the door for ethnic cleansing. A cursory look at history, including that of India, Bosnia, Palestine, and Cyprus suggests that the partition of mixed political entities has almost always been accompanied or preceded by ethnic cleansing and/or colossal ethnic violence. Afghanistan's population is heterogeneous, and any proposals, however attractive, for the country's de facto or de jure partition through decentralization appear not only impractical, but also irresponsible. So while U.S. support in Afghanistan over the past decade has been invaluable, and U.S. officials have the right to criticize the Afghan government, any such calls, or the supporting of one faction over another currently displayed by certain members of the U.S. Congress, amount to meddling in Afghanistan's domestic affairs and must be avoided.
At a time when the U.S. is in need of widespread public support on the Afghan mission, the administration's tone on Afghan governance is feeble. It is time that the U.S. starts investing in and nurturing the future generation of capable Afghan leaders through education, leadership training, and foreign exposure, rather than supporting the usual unholy alliance of corrupt or militant pro-American individuals it has supported in the past. This includes supporting key moderate and visionary leaders, technocrats, capable civil servants in each of the factions, as well as bringing new, dynamic, educated and impartial young leaders into the political sphere that will lead the country into a positive future. The 2014 election is of crucial significance. Real and tangible steps must be taken towards guaranteeing that Afghanistan's future does not once again fall into the hands of warlords, drug kingpins, or jihadi leaders that will most certainly compromise the freedom and security of Afghan people.
Javid Ahmad is program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. The views reflected here are his own.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
On April 26, Pakistan's Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of convicting Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of contempt of court. While the prime minister avoided a jail sentence, the conviction could force him from the premiership, has ramifications on Pakistan's internal political dynamics and could distract from the reconciliation process currently underway with the United States.
No Jail Time, but a Time Out
Prime Minister Gilani was in the dock on charges of contempt for repeatedly refusing to write to Swiss authorities to reopen old corruption cases against Asif Ali Zardari, the sitting President and co-chairman, along with Gilani, of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The contempt charges could have landed Gilani in jail for six months but the court chose instead to sentence him to symbolic detention in the courtroom until the judges left the chamber, a sentence lasting no more than a minute. The verdict served as a final flourish to the high drama that had surrounded the judicial proceedings ever since the court first summoned Gilani on January 19.
What remains unclear is whether the ruling is a victory for Gilani and the PPP or an albatross around their neck that will bring them down in the next election. Although Gilani is not serving a jail sentence, he is now a convicted felon and the first sitting prime minister in Pakistan's history to be convicted of contempt of court. The conviction might cost Gilani his seat in parliament and, by extension, the premiership, since Pakistan's constitution forbids anyone with a criminal conviction from serving as a parliamentarian. Indeed, the court's justices, while reading their verdict, made specific reference to this fact, indicating that they hoped to see exactly that clause invoked in order to sack Gilani. The leaders of major opposition parties called on Gilani to resign after the conviction, saying he had lost all "moral authority." Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, threatened to start a massive civil disobedience movement if Gilani did not step down. Analysts further questioned whether the PPP's coalition partners would stick with the PPP and a convict prime minister "enmeshed in controversy." Opposition parties are sure to use the conviction as a campaign slogan against the PPP in the upcoming election to be held sometime within the next ten months.
The Long Road to Joblessness
The PPP has rallied strongly around the prime minister since his conviction and has vowed to both fight the ruling and oppose his ouster. The process by which Gilani could be forced from office is long, tortuous, and could be challenged and delayed at every step. Gilani could keep his post for months.
Gilani and the PPP have publicly stated their intention to appeal the ruling. Only once the appeal is dismissed can petitions be brought in parliament for Gilani to be disqualified to hold a seat in the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house (and even the dismissed appeal can be filed for "further review," dragging the process out even longer). Authority over the proceedings rests with the Speaker of the House, Fahmida Mirza, who is herself a PPP stalwart and would have the ability to delay if not derail the process. Even if a petition were to successfully get through the National Assembly, final authority rests with the Election Commission of Pakistan. Any decision taken by the commission to unseat Gilani would be subject to challenge and appeal as well. The PPP holds enough seats in parliament to be able to pick the next prime minister, meaning little would change politically even if Gilani was dismissed.
The PPP's Response
The PPP is fully aware of these facts and is openly pursuing a strategy to prolong any final decision for as long as possible or until the prime minister's term in office lapses (Gilani is already the longest serving premier in Pakistan's history) and any ruling becomes irrelevant. It is also clear that the PPP plans to use the conviction as part of its own rallying cry come the next elections. The PPP will likely try to present Gilani as a political martyr and the contempt decision as the witch-hunt of an activist court acting on the direction of an interventionist military with a historical agenda against the party. While opposition parties will be trying to paint Gilani as a criminal, it remains unclear if contempt of court is a crime that could get the blood of the masses boiling, given that they have repeatedly and knowingly elected leaders whom they generally believed to be guilty of much more visible criminality such as corruption and graft-the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have, for example, made repeated returns to power at the ballot box despite having their tenures cut short on grounds of rampant corruption.
In the end, while not clear-cut, the verdict can be considered a victory of sorts for the PPP. In what had become a charged, almost personal battle of wills between the government and the judiciary, the judiciary seems to have blinked first. Gilani is still the prime minister for the time being and, more importantly for the PPP, Zardari is still the president. Zardari was the ultimate prize throughout the whole proceeding; putting Gilani in the dock was the court's way of attempting to force the government to open corruption proceedings against Zardari. The government consistently refused judicial pressure on the grounds that Zardari has presidential immunity from prosecution; the court-initiated procedure for sacking the prime minister could take months; and a new prime minister will likely be from the PPP as well. For better or worse, Zardari remains inviolate and looks to remain so until the next elections.
The ruling relieves much of the pressure from the government and lessens fears of an irreparable institutional clash between the judiciary and executive. What it does do, however, is throw the matter out of the courts and back into the highly charged political arena in an election year; all parties are likely to latch onto and spin the issue in their favor during campaign time.
Alongside the political drama, Pakistan is currently engaged in a complicated and long-drawn out reconciliation process with the United States. Pakistan is renegotiating its entire terms of engagement with the U.S. and is in the vital stages of finalizing agreements over the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, resumption of reimbursements for counter-terrorism assistance and other cooperation issues. While the verdict provides for cast continuity, the internal political wrangling prompted by the court ruling could distract the government from focusing its attention on these key issues. The government is also less likely to support controversial or unpopular requests from the U.S. in parliament, since it will want to limit the number of issues on which opposition parties can vilify it and score political points against it in front of a broadly anti-American electorate. There is also the question of whether, given the now questionable legality of Gilani's status as prime minister, any decisions signed by him following the conviction could be dredged up later as illegal and therefore void.
While the ruling is a positive development for Pakistan in terms of furthering the democratic process and strengthening a historically weak judiciary in Pakistan, it does not bring closure to the issue of Gilani's status or to Zardari's corruption charges. It complicates the political debate in Pakistan in an election year, and possibly delays and complicates finalization of agreements with the U.S. on key bilateral issues. Where the dust settles remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the ruling muddies far more issues than it clarifies.
Reza Nasim Jan is the Pakistan team lead at the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project.
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Pakistan warrants concern, and not just because it is sitting on the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The country is in the throes of a destabilizing and dangerous energy crisis. It faces gas shortages, and electricity outages of up to 20 hours a day. As a result, factories have been forced into closing. There is double-digit inflation. Infrastructure is crumbling for want of resources. And harrowing stories of the newly impoverished setting themselves on fire or resorting to crime have become the new normal.
Good deeds never go unpunished in Pakistan. The United States, Pakistan's most generous ally, remains public enemy No. 1 for reasons that do not withstand any rational scrutiny. But then Pakistan has never been accused of being terribly rational. As someone invested in Pakistan's progress, I have always maintained the U.S. must provide an energy lifeline to our ally country to establish in real and rapid terms the consideration it accords the 190 million people of Pakistan. If the U.S. were to help solve Pakistan's energy crisis-and it can-there could be no better measure to manage and mitigate anti-America sentiment in the country and no better billboard to showcase that the U.S. means business.
Unfortunately, far too often the urgency of U.S. economic support announcements and photo ops in Islamabad are dulled by inaction or bungled by red tape in Washington. This fuels disenchantment at many levels. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last April, Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said his country had "not even received $300 million" of the $1.5 billion in annual economic support promised to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.
It is also true that the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is crippled by compulsions of keeping intact a coalition of disparate parties often at odds with each other. Thus, Mr. Shaikh is the country's fifth finance minister in four years. The turnover at the other key ministries-water and power, and petroleum and natural resources-is just as alarming. The government's capacity for economic and information management also seems woefully inadequate.
Then there are the corruption allegations Mr. Zardari faced in the 1990s and which didn't lead to a single conviction. These are still in circulation and, coupled with Pakistan's governance crisis, provide Zardari critics in Pakistan's freewheeling media and opposition virtually uncontested space to hurl with indignant certitude all manner of accusations against foreign, and local, investments made on his watch. In other words, any projects during the last four years for the economic advancement and eminent good of Pakistan-including the Enhanced Partnership Act with the U.S.-are, in the popular imagination, either Trojan horses or sweetheart deals.
As if things weren't bad enough for Pakistan's image abroad, the country's irreversibly sensational and bizarrely anti-business media gleefully peddles self-fulfilling prophesies of an economic and political meltdown. If you strip down the self-righteous rhetoric, the media in particular is determined that Pakistan's economy fail-at least while Mr. Zardari is around.
We have seen this picture before. In the mid-90s, when Mr. Zardari's assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, charmed investors into setting up privately-owned power plants, her government was accused of corruption. When Nawaz Sharif's government took over, it launched "investigations," arresting not only the executives of these foreign and local power companies but also their family members. The effects were disastrous. The investment climate became toxic and would remain so until 9/11. And potential investors like Gordon Wu, who had wanted to invest $6 billion in Pakistan, ran for the nearest exit.
Faced with international censure and arbitration proceedings, Islamabad eventually agreed to a settlement: the power companies reduced their tariffs to afford the government some face saving, and the government rewarded the companies by extending their contracts with public sector power buyers. Today, the "independent power plants" Bhutto set up provide almost 30 percent of Pakistan's total electricity supply. One hopes that Bhutto and Zardari opponents realize how much worse the energy crisis would have been had these power plants not been installed.
Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan has seen recurrent and riotous protests over power shortages. These picked up after the Zardari-led government was elected in 2008 and as outages grew, exacerbated by the government's liquidity problems. The protests have resulted in the destruction of public property-and deaths. The opposition has led several of these protests while simultaneously ensuring through litigation and an unrelenting media trial that no new power generation capacity comes online during Zardari's term. Yet, no one has called out the opposition over its rank contradictions and persecutory power past.
For the last two years, Pakistan's Supreme Court had been hearing three "human rights" petitions, including one filed by a Sharif lieutenant, challenging the installation of fast-track power plants as a short-term solution for the country. On March 30, the eve of another power protest by the opposition, the court delivered its verdict: all "rental power" contracts were declared illegal and rescinded and an independent agency was ordered to launch inquiries in support of the judgment. At 7:40 p.m. that day, we were directed to shut down power supplies to Naudero, Bhutto's constituency. American personnel at the plant have been flown back. Almost all Pakistani staff has been laid off.
In Pakistan's increasingly cynical society, all success is suspect. Unless you're Chinese, all foreign investors are viewed not as risk takers and growth drivers for the Pakistani economy but as usurpers, looters, and worse. After the recent court judgment, even the Ankara-supported "Turkey-Pakistan friendship" power ship has been impounded. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is popular not just because it is critically required but because it also provides the added bonus of showing down the United States., which is opposed to the project.
There's also the Tethyan Copper Company, a partnership between Chile's Antofagasta and Canada's Barrick Gold, which spent $220 million working toward a $3.3-billion copper and gold mine in Reko Diq in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province only to be stamped as colonizers by the courts and media. When the company was forced into placing advertisements to push its facts forward in the public domain, it was slapped with a gag order and disallowed to challenge the fevered narrative of misrepresentations against it. Tethyan is headed for international arbitration, an all too familiar venue for foreign investors who put store in Pakistan.
Pakistan is complicated. It hates the U.S., yet America is the second most popular destination for Pakistani immigrants. It resents American economic support, yet complains that there is too little of it. It craves investment, but will rescind legal contracts in paroxysms of nationalist hysteria casting a cloud over every existing and future contract.
America can help. It needs to emphasize to all Pakistani stakeholders-politicians, the judiciary, the Army-that their country must abide by its legal contracts and that it must unreservedly depoliticize the energy sector and the economy. Pakistan must enact a real defamation law that provides economic disincentives to the incendiary media and sets it on a path to self-correction. The U.S. must facilitate capacity building, especially in key Pakistani energy ministries and agencies, to effect durable, long-term economic planning. It can and should provide speedy debt support, for example through the U.S. State Department's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to expedite energy projects that can visibly and meaningfully improve the lives of Pakistanis. The U.S. must make its aid to Pakistan conditional on the country delivering on these basic and essential reforms.
The opposition and torch-wielding media lynch mob claim to have the best interests at heart of the tens of millions of Pakistanis-whose everyday lives are roiled by energy shortages and rendered meaningless from darkening economic prospects-but if they think they're doing well by the people of Pakistan, they should think again.
David Walters was the governor of Oklahoma from 1990 to 1994. He is the founder and president of Walters Power International, a power solutions firm doing business in over 14 countries, including the U.K. He is a partner in Pakistan Power Resources, LLC, and Walters Power International Limited owns a 51-megawatt power plant in Pakistan.
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Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai surprised U.S. and coalition officials by announcing the creation of a special tribunal and prosecutor to seek redress for the almost two year old Kabul Bank scandal. And earlier this month, the Afghan House of Representatives rejected the proposed federal budget in part because of the allocation of U.S. $80 million to Kabul Bank. Already, the Central Bank has poured $450 million into the beleaguered bank after it lost almost a billion dollars in the 2010 financial scandal. This money has been traced to interest-free loans given to Mahmoud Karzai, brother of President Karzai, to buy shares in the bank itself, and also to former CEO Khalil Frozi, who used bank funds to finance the President's 2009 election campaign.
Though Afghan authorities arrested Frozi and Kabul Bank founder Sherkhan Farnood approximately nine months after the crisis, it was recently reported that neither can be found in their jail cells, and both are collecting rent from tenants occupying Dubai villas bought with illegally obtained loans. A year after the debacle, only 10% of the missing money had been recovered.
Kabul Bank is more than a symbol of the pervasive corruption plaguing Afghanistan's government, it is the largest private financial institution in the country and an integral piece of infrastructure that has direct consequences for the country's security and financial stability. If Afghanistan is to have any chance at a legitimate economy and stable future, it will need an efficient and trustworthy financial system.
In particular, Kabul Bank is a conduit for government payments to Afghan soldiers, police, and teachers. The United States aims to reduce American troop presence by 2013 and shift security duties to the Afghan military and police force. Absolutely vital to a "successful" drawdown is the establishment of a reliable and transparent payment system. The rampant corruption plaguing Kabul Bank shows that traditional banking systems may not be suitable for the Afghan economy at all. However, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with Afghan companies to provide an alternate solution - mobile money.
In the past year, mobile phone-based money transfers have taken off in Afghanistan. Three out of the four largest mobile network operators now offer mobile money services, two of which were launched in the last six months. Roshan, the telecommunication company that deployed the country's first mobile money product in 2008, M-Paisa ("paisa" meaning money in Dari), has grown to 1.2 million registered customers that can receive salaries, pay bills, and make domestic financial transactions over their mobile phones. Last month, the company announced a partnership with Western Union to allow these customers to receive transfers from around the world directly to their mobile phones.
USAID has made mobile money central to Afghanistan's financial development. According to USAID, while less than five percent of Afghans have access to a bank account, more than 60 percent of the population has access to a mobile phone. To accelerate the pace of its development, USAID has allocated more than $2 million to mobile network operators as part of its Mobile Money Innovation Grant Fund, and spearheaded the forming of the Afghan Mobile Money Operators Association. Currently, there are five USAID mobile phone payment projects underway, which range from the payments of teacher stipends to police force salaries, and 14 more mobile transfer projects in planning, according to a USAID official who spoke off-the-record. With the scaling of mobile money, an estimated $60 million annually could be retrieved that had been lost to corruption and fees.
Although promising, mobile money is not entirely immune to the harsh realities on the ground. In 2009, the Afghan government worked with Roshan to pilot a mobile phone-based salary payment system to 54 officers of the Afghan National Police Force who had previously received cash from their superiors. When the policemen took their SIM cards to the local M-Paisa offices to directly collect their entire salaries, they thought they had received a 36 percent raise, while what they were really seeing was a full salary untouched by crooked officials, according to a U.S. Air Force Colonel overseeing the project.
However, a confidential State Department cable released by Wikileaks revealed that a corrupt Afghan commander, frustrated that he was no longer able to skim off the top, fraudulently registered phones and collected his officers' salaries. In a separate incident, the same commander ordered subordinates to handover their SIM cards and attempted to retrieve the salaries himself. Though the local M-Paisa employee refused to hand over the salaries to the commander, he was forced to go into hiding for fear of retribution. Despite direct reports to the Ministry of Interior and pressure from the U.S. Government, no one has been prosecuted.
The ability to efficiently pay Afghanistan's security apparatus is critical to any post-war strategy, especially in the face of a U.S. drawdown and the ousting of private security firms. It is especially important for USAID efforts because $899 million worth of development programs they administer are in jeopardy without a functioning security force, according to a recent letter from Steven Trent, the acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Though USAID says this claim is exaggerated, it still highlights the significance of dealing with the systemic corruption within Afghanistan's financial system and in particular Kabul Bank, given its central role in government payments to soldiers.
Despite the importance of anti-corruption measures to security efforts, a clear disconnect between Afghan and U.S. officials gives reason to believe that Karzai's recent announcement to prosecute those involved in the Kabul Bank crisis will not amount to much. As Afghans rushed to withdraw $800 million in deposits in the two weeks following the scandal's breaking, Mahmoud Karzai insisted the bank was stable and not in danger of collapse while simultaneously asking the U.S. Treasury for monetary help in averting a crisis. When the U.S. refused a direct injection of capital, President Karzai publicly blamed the collapse on a lack of foreign technical support rather than the illegal activities of the bank's leadership. A few months later, he banned U.S. government advisers from working with the country's central bank, as they attempted to assist Afghan officials in regulating the financial system and tracking foreign aid, both of which were conditions for releasing $1.8 billion of donor funds.
While the ideal situation for USAID is an end to corruption's hold on financial infrastructure, the reality is that they are working within a delicate political climate. According to a NYT/CBS News poll released this month, almost 70% of American respondents want an end to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. With this dramatic fall in American public opinion and election year politics putting the focus on a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops and transition to Afghan forces, the Obama administration is loath to engage in a battle with the Karzai government over corruption that is almost guaranteed to fail. Yet there are still ways for USAID to recognize the restraints of corruption and push forward; one of the promising solutions involves integrating mobile money to build a stronger financial system and more transparent post-transition payment system.
After all, the reality is also this: the results of development projects will have significant bearing on America's legacy in a country where it has spent over 10 years, half a trillion dollars, and countless lives. USAID's success, and ultimately that of the entire U.S. mission in Afghanistan, will depend on our ability to acknowledge that "success" is not an all or nothing proposition. Corruption exists but that doesn't mean that the development community cannot adapt to work within its confinements.
Anjana Ravi is a Research Associate with the New America Foundation's Global Assets Project, where Eric Tyler is a Program Associate.
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Whipsawed by a long-drawn U.S.-led military operation and a decade of erratic international economic assistance, Afghanistan is in shambles. With economic development always considered secondary to security concerns, little has been done in the past decade to establish a sustainable Afghan economy. While the international community has tried to generate a steady flow of aid, the Afghan government is still unable to cater to the population's basic needs. Moreover, the little economy we have seen evolve in Afghanistan since 2001 is predominantly based on the international security presence. The bulk of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) stems from international aid, and the impending 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international combat troops will be accompanied by a parallel reduction in aid money. Thus, as the tide of war recedes, a large chunk of the economy will also disappear, posing an increasing threat to stability. The country's current economic trajectory beyond 2014 is fraught with corruption and uncertainty. However, despite the dire situation, Afghanistan's economic transition has received only minor policy attention, with the focus remaining on the ongoing security transition. Thus the question remains: How will Afghanistan sustain its economy beyond 2014?
The decrease in foreign assistance is like to cause today's economic bubble to burst, potentially plunging the country into an economic recession. And if the security environment further deteriorates, the country could face full economic collapse. A financing gap of 25 percent of GDP by 2022 due to increased military and non-military spending by the Afghan government further puts Afghanistan's economic stability at risk. While the international donor community can help to prevent a total collapse of the economy by decreasing aid gradually, the key to a prosperous Afghanistan is to invest in the long-term economic advantages the country has to offer.
One such advantage may lie in Afghanistan's geographic location. The New Silk Road strategy, often promoted by the United States, aims at linking Afghanistan with its South and Central Asian neighbors, transforming the country into a nucleus for regional trade. Focus should also be placed on rebuilding the oil and gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and India. If done right, these initiatives might enable Afghanistan to attract increased foreign investment, connect the country to foreign markets, and promote growth, gradually reducing its dependence on foreign aid. However, the key to such a scenario lies in Afghanistan's relations with regional players, in particular Pakistan. Given its location, Pakistan is expected to serve as the main transit route for Afghan exports and access to the port cities of Gwadar and Karachi will remain crucial to Afghanistan's development. However, a volatile relationship with its eastern neighbor could mean a precarious dependency for Afghanistan.
Another potential economic trigger may be found in Afghanistan's untapped mineral reserves, ostensibly valued in the trillions of dollars. Based on cautiously optimistic assumptions by the World Bank, the iron ore project at Hajigak and copper mine at Aynak could deliver $2 to $3 billion to the extractive industry, with each deposit potentially generating over half a billion dollars in government revenue in just a few years. The mining industry may appear at first glance to be a potential panacea for the Afghan economy, but it will take decades before the country can reap the benefits of such a project. The Afghan mineral reserves require significant investments in infrastructure, and more importantly, effective and accountable governance that can efficiently and transparently manage revenues. Furthermore, in 2010, of the total $17 billion government expenditure, only $1.9 billion of the spending were drawn from Afghanistan's own sources of revenue; the rest: foreign assistance. Hence, besides the projected tax revenues and some foreign aid, even if mineral resources did manage to generate the estimated revenue, the Afghan budget would still face an annual deficit of $7 billion.
Rebuilding after more than a decade of conflict must also involve encouraging growth in Afghanistan's nascent private sector, a sector that has been stifled to some degree by the international donor presence. In a "donor drunk" economy, there are a large number of foreign, private NGOs, which dominate the private sector and make entry into it difficult for Afghan organizations. Although some of these private entities are effective development organizations at the grassroots level, many carry a negative perception among the Afghan people, who see the ubiquitous "briefcase NGOs" as money-making mechanisms for the people involved. Meanwhile, the influx of foreign money and employers has also artificially inflated labor costs for low-skilled workers over the past years, and has made Afghanistan an attractive venue for external laborers from neighboring countries such as Pakistan. However, as the flow of aid dwindles, those who have been paid hefty salaries over much of the past decade for low-skilled work for foreign entities may now prove more affordable to Afghan businesses, and will also open up more jobs for Afghan workers. While the initial transition phase from a military focused economy to a regular one will be difficult, it will leave room for a more long-term, sustainable economy to develop.
Regardless of Afghanistan's many potential sources of revenue, any real progress will be limited without the long-term support of the international community. While the West's future commitment to Afghanistan is vague at best, the increasing number of strategic partnerships with key allies signals a willingness by certain powers to remain involved in shaping Afghanistan's future beyond 2014. In the past week, Afghanistan has signed strategic partnership agreements with key European allies such as the UK, France, and Italy that ensure an enduring commitment and cooperation with Afghanistan in key areas, including economy, security, and governance. While only time will tell if the West really will stay committed to Afghanistan, this week's agreements are at least a step in the right direction.
Similarly, any future foreign aid funneled by the West to the Afghan government is effectively futile without properly addressing the raging corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in public finances. As the world's second most corrupt nation, any failure by the West and the Afghan government in tackling this menace in the so-called "transformation decade" would mean repeating and wasting yet another inefficient ten years of international assistance.
Today, as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to assume a lighter military presence, many Afghans fear a serious economic downturn when foreign aid and spending recede, leaving Afghanistan with little or nothing to fall back on. It is still uncertain if and how the Afghan government will function after 2014 without an open-ended $8 to $10 billion yearly commitment from the United States and Europe. However, responsibility for a stable and secure Afghanistan ultimately rests with the Afghans themselves, and there is still a sense of optimism among the Afghan people about the future of their country. The Afghan government, for its part, must foster transparency and accountability in public finances drawn from foreign aid, and work to cut leaks that enable corruption. If these reforms and the myriad of other challenges go unaddressed, the hard work and accomplishments of the past decade could easily unravel and ultimately lead to an even more troubled Afghanistan than we have seen in the past ten years.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Louise Langeby is a Program Associate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels. The views reflected here are their own.
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