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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
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.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
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.
AREF YAQUBI/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan is ruled not by law, but by power and patronage. The absence of the rule of law fuels the country's savage insurgency. When citizens can't rely on the state to protect them against systemic abuses, then rebellion becomes a far more attractive option. Tragically, in Afghanistan the abusers, more often than not, are from the government itself - including ministers, governors, police chiefs and militia leaders.
It needn't be this way. If there is one policy reform that all the main actors in Afghanistan purport to agree on, it's the critical importance of building the rule of law. President's Karzai's speeches are liberally salted with promises to reform the legal system and tackle corruption. The Taliban understands that a key way to win Afghans' hearts and minds is to provide them with the justice they so desperately desire. It does so by setting up mobile courts, delivering a very rough and ready justice, but one that is often preferred to the arbitrary rule of local commanders. And Western governments have spent billions on rule of law reforms, with little tangible impact.
So with this apparent unanimity on the need for the rule of law, why in Afghanistan do the powerful continue to abuse the weak with near total impunity?
The answer is that the purported commitment is largely in name only. True rule of law requires laws that are public, clear, and apply equally to everyone. It needs government officials who accept that they are subject to the law. It requires reasonably fair, competent, and efficient courts, prosecutors and police who respect the presumption of innocence and due process. It needs judges who are reasonably independent and impartial, and have the confidence in their safety to properly perform their jobs.
But the reforms necessary to achieve all this present an existential threat to the power of the ruling elite in Afghanistan. Building the rule of law involves challenging vested interests at the highest levels of the government. It is far more a political exercise than a technical one. Many Afghan power holders -- from President Karzai downwards -- benefit from a patronage based system. It enables them to buy and maintain loyalty. Corruption is an integral part of such a system.
It's not just corruption that thrives in such an environment. Equal treatment by the law requires that those who have committed atrocities against their people be held accountable for these crimes. Failure to do so promotes a climate in which the powerful continue to commit abuses with impunity. But in Afghanistan those responsible for grave human rights abuses continue to occupy positions of power. These include officials like Vice Presidents Mohammad Fahim and Karim Khalili, who face credible accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity during the brutal civil war. They also include a generation of post-Taliban leaders -- such as the Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs, Asadullah Khaled, as well as powerful provincial governors allied to Western forces -- accused of serious human rights violations since 2001. A report soon to be released by the Afghan human rights commission -- if not blocked by the government -- will document many of the past crimes.
International intervention encouraged and promoted this impunity by returning to power warlords and commanders. Influential international actors continue to rely on alliances of convenience with these abusive power holders to promote perceived stabilization goals.
Meanwhile the Taliban also preys on the local population, and subjects those it is purporting to liberate from foreign occupation to horrendous abuses, including suicide bombings, assassinations and the use of civilians as human shields.
For Afghans, the tragic result is that today's reality is not much different from that of the last thirty years, and their lives are still dominated by powerful men with guns.
Achieving accountability is not a question of naïve aspiration: the culture of high-level impunity must be challenged, as failure to do so will undermine all other rule of law efforts and perpetuate an environment in which conflict will flourish.
The culture will not change until some of those responsible for the worst abuses against the Afghan people are prosecuted. The best option would be for the government itself to pursue some of these abusers. This would increase its legitimacy in the eyes its people and would send a clear warning to those in authority and to those seeking to do deals with the government who believe they can continue to kill with impunity. It would also undermine one of the claimed attractions of the Taliban -- that it provides harsh, but fair, justice where none otherwise exists.
Unfortunately, there is no prospect of the government providing high-level justice. The Karzai administration has consistently opted for expediency over principle when it comes to accountability, most notably in enacting a law giving amnesty to former warlords. Most international actors have been largely silent on this law. In fact, it appears that a desire for a quick exit by NATO countries may have stifled all discussion of the critical need to link reconciliation with accountability and to tackle Afghanistan's longstanding culture of impunity.
But expediency will not promote stability, and a failure to build the rule of law will lead to more instability, not less. It will also ensure that Afghan power holders - government and Taliban alike - continue to commit abuses that shock the conscience of the international community and fuel the very instability that led, a decade ago, to such a costly international intervention.
Nick Grono is the Deputy President of the International Crisis Group.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
In his recent address inaugurating the 16th session of Afghanistan's National Assembly, President Hamid Karzai rejected claims from some in the international community that constitutional change is necessary in Afghanistan and accused foreigners of treating Afghanistan like a "political lab." "Let me expressly and resolutely stress that we will never allow the perilous dream of trying another political experiment to turn into reality," asserted President Karzai. Mr. Karzai's position is unsurprising, considering the astonishing amount of authority the current constitution bestows on him. Paradoxically, this authority was originally granted to him partially with the support of the international community. Unless concerted steps are taken to raise awareness of the need for reform, Afghanistan's democratic development will continue to be stymied by the constitutionally-condoned actions of its modern-day monarch.
Not only does the constitution grant President Karzai extensive power, but he's consistently shown that he's not afraid to use it when things don't go his way. His recent decision to dismiss commissioners of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for considering publishing a report critical of its own government represents exhibit A. Among the dismissed were Nader Nadery, a now former commissioner and chairperson of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, and Fahim Hakim, the former deputy chair of the commission and a former electoral complaints commissioner. Both are rare individuals in that they are respected civil society leaders with the trust of both the international community and their colleagues within Afghan civil society. Their dismissal was regrettable and the country is worse off as a result.
President Karzai's willingness to dismiss human rights whistle blowers is troubling in itself, but what's more problematic is the power granted to him to do so by the legal framework that was supposedly designed to support and protect Afghanistan's democracy. The framework that should provide the roots for Afghanistan's democracy to grow is instead fraught with so many deficiencies that it more frequently fails to protect citizen's democratic freedoms and human rights. The startling authority the laws grant President Karzai to unilaterally appoint the country's leadership prevents any meaningful check on executive authority from emerging and is perhaps the greatest challenge to Afghan democracy.
An examination of just some of these laws elucidates the situation. Article 7 of the Law on the Structure, Duties and Mandates of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission grants the president the right to appoint the commission's leadership independently, without the requirement for consultation with other Afghan officials or confirmation from other institutions. The leadership of the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) is determined by virtually the same mechanism: the president decides who he wants responsible for the administration of the country's electoral processes and appoints those individuals, unilaterally. What makes the process for IEC appointments even more inconsistent with democratic principles is the fact that the law granting the president this authority was not passed through a legislative process, but rather through his own presidential decree (Presidential Decree No. 23). In addition, the Electoral Law grants the president sole authority to appoint all five commissioners of the Electoral Complaints Commission. Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan's current Electoral Law was passed by presidential decree.
The president's authority over appointments extends beyond these supposedly independent agencies, even to the country's other branches of government. Article 84 of the constitution grants the president authority to appoint one third of the upper house of the National Assembly, while the Provincial and District Councils are also each responsible for appointing one third of the body's members. But as District Councils have yet to be elected, the president has graciously assumed the responsibility to name its portion of representatives to the upper house. Thus, the president currently appoints two thirds of the upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga (the house of the elders).
His authority over appointments is not restrained to the central government in Kabul. He is also responsible for the appointment of all provincial and district governors, an authority he claims through Article 64(13) of the constitution, which states that he is responsible for appointing "high ranking officials." He exercises this appointment authority through, you guessed it, presidential decree. Even Afghanistan's judiciary, which is surely meant to be independent, is subject to President Karzai's unilateral appointments, as the same constitutional provision (Article 64 (13)) grants him authority to appoint and dismiss all judges.
Just as problematic as the extensive authority the president wields to appoint the country's leadership is his willingness to legislate so frequently by presidential decree, an authority vested to him by Article 76 of the constitution. Rarely does he consult the National Assembly prior to issuing decrees and even more rarely does he submit his proposals to the scrutiny of the actual legislative process.
This is just a small snapshot of how flawed the democratic legal framework of Afghanistan is. Unfortunately, most in the international community have provided only token resistance to the president's abuse of executive authority and have too infrequently spoken out against the systematic flaws in Afghanistan's democracy. We should not expect a leader granted so much power under law not to use it. What we should expect, however, is a more genuine desire and serious effort to address the flaws in the legal framework of Afghanistan's democracy.
The process that led to the adoption of the current constitution reveals how so much power became vested in the executive. Initially, the draft constitution was to be prepared by a constitutional commission informed by a public consultation process. The commission prepared a draft that sought to ensure a system of checks and balances including the creation of a prime minister, who would share authority with the president, and an autonomous constitutional court. Prior to a December, 2003 constitutional Loya Jirga, the commission presented its draft to President Karzai whose team made several changes to the document to concentrate additional power in the executive branch. These changes included eliminating the post of prime minister and the constitutional court, and expanding the president's appointment and decree powers. The result was a constitution that ensured vast executive authority and failed to provide a framework for representative democratic governance and the protection of human rights. At the time, it was speculated that international actors supported President Karzai's amendments in hopes that a strong executive could prevent any potential short-term instability.
Despite President Karzai's stated reluctance, reform is the only way to strengthen Afghanistan's democracy and provide for the defense of the human rights Afghans desire. Unfortunately, the issue of democratic reform is too often used as a bargaining chip for those issues the international community perceives as more critical to an expeditious transition to Afghan ownership over Afghan affairs. This flawed approach has resulted in a calamity of errors that Afghans will continue to pay for long after our departure from Afghanistan. The examples are abundant: the selection of the Single Non-transferable Voting system that ensures inadequate representation and stifles the development of political parties; the passing through presidential decree in 2010 of the country's current electoral law; and the apathy of the international community to Karzai's special electoral court during the most recent and controversial post-election process.
In its current form, Afghanistan's democracy is not sufficient to sustain peace. To prevent Afghanistan from collapsing upon such a weak foundation, concern for democratic strengthening must stand on equal footing with Taliban reconciliation and the development of capable and sustainable Afghan security forces. While the latter two issues are critically important for Afghans to reasonably assume more authority over their own affairs, the deficiencies in the legal foundations that determine the strength of the country's democracy and the nature of its system of governance can no longer be ignored. In order for reform to be possible, awareness must be raised among Afghanistan's citizens of the need for a more balanced political system. As one would expect, the issue resonates amongst current parliamentarians, many of whom were targeted by President Karzai and his special electoral court just months ago. With support from their constituents and genuine diplomatic interest, democratic reform is possible.
Democracy cannot succeed in any country where so much power rests in the hands of one individual. For democracy to succeed in Afghanistan, the legal framework must be reformed so that it no longer serves as a hindrance to the strengthening and protection of democratic institutions, but actually promotes democratic consolidation. If we in the international community are serious about a truly sustainable Afghan democracy, democratic reform must be elevated as a top diplomatic priority in both Kabul and Washington. It's time we acknowledge that Hamid Karzai is not Afghanistan's George Washington. If Afghans are to realize their dream of a truly democratic Afghanistan, it will not be with the good graces of their modern day monarch, but despite him.Jed Ober is Director of Programs at Democracy International. The views expressed here are his own.
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Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is batting to strike out two major "conventional" political parties -- the leftist Pakistan People's Party and the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz -- simultaneously. He talks about eradicating corruption, handling the grievances of the Baloch and the tribal areas, "friendliness" as the ultimate foreign policy, and his plans to combat four of Pakistan's biggest "emergencies" in 90 days, should his party, Tehreek-e Insaf, win Pakistan's general elections planned for 2013.
Massive public turnout at his rallies -- what he calls a "tsunami" of support -- has inspired self-doubt among other politicians who claim to have captured the hearts of Pakistani people. But Khan's critics are unforgiving; some call his approach radical, and others believe he is backed by the establishment, although Khan dismisses such claims. Kiran Nazish talked with Khan about his meteoric rise and his plans to achieve what he calls "the New Pakistan."
Kiran Nazish: You have been talking a lot about leading a civil disobedience movement, but it hasn't happened yet. Will it happen at all?
Imran Khan: We have thought many times [that we might] go for it, but we have been reluctant to initiate because we do not want to exaggerate the chaos that has already shaken Pakistan. There was a point when we used to discuss amongst ourselves, that we should really commence the movement, but we refrained because we knew that it would only worsen the situation for the common man. However, if we do see the state of governance in the current regime getting out of hand, we would have no other choice but to go for it.
If the current government does anything unconstitutional, my party will boycott that and protest that. I am and will stand against anybody who goes against the judiciary or does not respect the judiciary. Anyone includes everyone. These few thieves [the politicians] have looted billions from the poor nation, and to save their own wealth they are now after the only sovereign institution [the Supreme Court].
KN: You keep calling the current government corrupt, making aggressive statements regarding the government-Supreme Court rift. But this government got elected democratically. Isn't that like saying you are against the people's choice?
IK: If you read Condoleezza Rice's books, she has exhaustively explained how the U.S. worked with Benazir Bhutto and General [Pervez] Musharraf to form their own type of puppet government. Now this government is responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers who have been killed in [the war on terror].
With the extent of corruption that this government has been indulging in, it was inevitable that they had this clash with the Supreme Court. The day the Supreme Court had called the NRO [National Reconciliation Ordinance] government unconstitutional, it was decided right then that this government couldn't have survived a good relation with [the Supreme Court]. Sadly, we have had no genuine opposition in this country. [There might have been] an opposition within parliamentary members who could have stood up and questioned the government, but that did not happen. The government did not resign, and everyone else was busy trying to save democracy -- while of course the government was trying to save their corruption.
The Supreme Court of any
state [is the institution that should have] the highest reliance and authority.
Such an institution in a democratic state has no [ground for] military
intervention and has the highest power to launch a control system for the
corrupt actions, or a corrupt state. If and when any other democratic
institution fails to perform, the Supreme Court can control them and make them
accountable. No one can challenge the Supreme Court. Our government, on the
other hand, is a corrupt government. I reject calling it a democratic state, it
having laid its foundations on the basis of a corrupt engagement called the
KN: So how do you plan to
protect the Supreme Court?
IK: Now the Supreme Court
is openly attacked and insulted, which I hope you agree is not a democratic
act. Should we let the corrupt government spoil the first independent chief
justice in the Supreme Court? I don't think so. We will decide in our party
central executive committee meeting soon when we will draft a plan and later
present it. This presentation will have guidelines on how to protect the system
and the judiciary from an imposed failure.
KN: How do you think this
idea of civil disobedience can save democracy?
IK: There is just one thing
that I suggest, a singular solution, which is something the Supreme Court has
also suggested. And that is: go to the people -- which means, we should have
free and fair elections, and let the people decide their true, democratic
KN: What would you say
about the "Memogate"
IK: If at any point the government fears military takeover, it should act with maturity not impunity. A democratic government needs to go to the people, not to outsiders. This happened twice in our country. In 1999, according to [counterterrorism expert and former CIA analyst] Bruce Riedel, [former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif went to him and asked him to save him from the military. And now we have this memogate [with Adm. Mike Mullen and former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani].
A democratic government should never fear, and needs to take responsibility. I take responsibility! Whoever takes responsibility, it will be very difficult for them. When I take responsibility, I will need authority as well. If I don't get that authority, I will go back to the people. The people who elected me! I will never [put] a foreign agenda [ahead of] my own people. I will not go to the U.S. for help -- or anywhere else for that matter.
KN: Are you ready for the
elections if they take place sooner?
IK: We are ready for elections anytime. Our entire party will be ready, whether the elections happen now or later. We have been talking about mid-term elections since the NRO cases came out in the open, and yet were dismissed in the Supreme Court by the government. But it seems that at that time the N-League [Nawaz Sharif's party] wanted to save the system. We have been ready, and now we think we should have early elections. We will reveal our action plan soon.
Whatever happens and whenever the elections take place, PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] will sweep the elections. We can't be confident enough.
KN: You have been making
too many promises. What would you do if you are unable to handle things, if and
when you come into power?
IK: I am completely confident; I will not fail at anything. My party will not fail. I will change the entire system in 90 days. If the system is not corrected in 90 days, it will never be corrected at all.
I believe there is a proper way to handle every institution. The only way to run a government appropriately is when the institutions are strong and work under a system of accountability and in synchrony. We need to restore the institutions.
I have a well-thought-out plan to change the system in 90 days. When a
country loses its ethical leadership, that is when its physical leadership takes
over. This means if your democratic government fails, your army will take over.
We need to ensure that point doesn't come. And I take that responsibility.
KN: What role do you want to give to the army? How much intervention will you allow?
IK: In a democratic government, the power is held by the state head. Every policy is supposed to be made by the government and not the army. Foreign policy is the job of the democratic government and not the army. Why is the army controlling the war on terror? I will never understand.
I am against military takeover or any sort of military intervention, to any extent at all, in any capacity at all. Pakistan needs democracy and public political participation without any sort or form of authoritative control.
It's the responsibility of the civilian government to take control of state matters, especially those which have to do with state's sovereignty. I don't think I will be so lousy that the army would have to make my decision[s].
KN: And how would your civil military policy balance out?
IK: No aid, proper taxation, and proper division of resources are my major strategies to balance out the whole system. We can't free the people until we give them what they want. We need to identify the needs of this country and focus on that. Why would the military intervene if the democratic government is operating in harmony and giving the people what they want? My goal is to bring that harmony. Everything else will fall into place on its own.
KN: What's your policy on the
IK: Friendly! Look, we don't want to make any enemies. My nation and my people is my priority. I will do whatever is my people's priority. The war on terror was fought for dollars, and do you see what lesson we learn from it? The lesson is, to not fight the war for dollars. The lesson is, to not disadvantage your own people, to feed your government. We don't want dollars if they will overshadow our people's interest.
KN: What's your policy on
IK: Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wrote a letter to Harry S. Truman talking about the injustices done to the people. Every Pakistani stands by that letter. We stand by the one simple fact that Palestinians should be given their homeland. PTI is not against any people, we are with the people. We believe in human rights, and that is our ultimate stance.
KN: What's your policy on the India-Kashmir conflict?
IK: We will definitely try to work our way around our relationship with India. India is indeed our closest and most familiar neighbor. We would love to improve trade and other interactions.
The only problem with
India is that there has to be a road map. Once we figure that out, we will know
how to go about it too. We will try to work on the Kashmir issue with whatever
mutuality allows us to. But it is very important to note that we cannot ignore
Kashmir. Or else, if another Mumbai happens, we will be back to square one.
KN: How do you plan to
deal with the militants or Jihadis?
IK: We have learned that proxy policies don't work. To keep militant groups is not the idea we should follow and is certainly not the strategy I support or will follow. In Karachi when the Supreme Court did the hearing, they found out the three major parties had hired militant groups to escalate their fights. We can't let such things happen. People get hurt.
We need to do a truth and reconciliation strategy in the tribal areas. Why should we keep fighting? Wars don't achieve anything. We are having a dialogue as we speak. Americans are having a dialogue, and we need to do this too. So far, since the dialogue has been initiated by the U.S. and ourselves, haven't you noticed how militancy and bombing has come down significantly?
KN: You have conducted dharnas (sit-in boycotts) against drone strikes, and protested against the government's act of carrying them out. But the U.S. and Pakistan governments say that they are efficient in targeting the Taliban.
IK: Drones can never be
good. Like I said, war is never good for people. Give me one example of war
that has reconciled a nation or brought peace. There is no possibility that drones
can help these people. What kind of country or nation gives permission to
another country to have drones attacks within their country. What kind of
country takes money to kill their own wives and children? This is a corrupt
government with greedy leadership, and drones for them is a mere barter for
dollars and luxury. Therefore, it supports these drones. An honest government
should think about the people. If this government had any honesty, it would
have come up with alternative strategies.
KN: What's your vision for Pakistan?
IK: First, we need to understand what kind of country we want. Pakistan should be an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which should follow the Objectives Resolution, something every political party of the country has endorsed, at all times: the ideology of the Quaid [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] -- who is my greatest inspiration -- and the ideology of Iqbal when he spoke about spiritual democracy. No one must bow down to anyone who speaks against the interest of the people.
We will declare four major emergencies. First and foremost, the education system.. There must be one core system of education, with a singular syllabus. A proper syllabus committee will be established. It will be ensured that there are equal opportunities for everyone and equal competition for everyone. Equip the people with a technical education.
Nothing can be done if there is [no] rule of law. We will also strengthen the judiciary and the police system. We will de-politicize the police, step out of the war on terror, and invest [our] time and resources on internal system cleansing. Revenue collection is next. We need to establish [a better] tax culture and eradicate contamination in tax distribution. And the most important agenda is to control corruption. Conflict of interest law will be established. This all needs to be done in 90 days. If you cannot do it in 90 days, the corrupt system will come back.
KN: How will you change Pakistan in 90 days, when the environment is conducive to the contrary of your agenda of filtration and cleansing?
IK: We need to create good governance and an enabling environment for good people who want to work. I will work towards attracting overseas Pakistanis and make it feasible for them to work here. Once that environment is created, recovery will automatically be on its way.
We will support professional politicians who will be ready to make sacrifices and compromises to take politics seriously. There is no room for opportunity seekers and no room for corruption and the corrupt. I will support and invest in the process of strengthening the NAB [National Accountability Bureau]. I will ensure the judiciary is strong.
KN: Your critics find it amusing that you talk about asset declaration while there is a bandwagon of politicians joining your party simultaneously -- many of whom you have criticized in the past. How do you justify that when you talk about accountability?
IK: I'm not going to be hijacked by a few people. When someone joins PTI, the first step for them is to declare their assets. If they default, they are held by our accountability committee. The corrupt system has to change. I believe that if you cannot do it in 90 days, you will never be able to do it. It's basically the question of who has the will. It's not what we have to do; it's who wants to do it.
KN: People of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Balochistan have been secluded by the state for six decades. You say you plan to accommodate them. How would you do that, given their hostility?
IK: We will have a completely new relationship with the people of FATA and Balochistan and Gilgit. We will sit with them. We will mutually explore which laws they want to keep. We will try to develop mutual understanding on every matter that concerns them. A PTI government will execute massive development in FATA and Balochistan. We will try our best to ensure that the grievances of the people, of the common man, in any area, from any background, are not ignored. We will engage with every single Pakistani and ensure everyone gets their basic rights. Their right for food, employment, education, equity, and human rights. And we will do all this by good governance.
The way Pakistan is run should be changed, that's what I mean by a New Pakistan.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist, activist, and academic based in Pakistan. She can be followed on Twitter @kirannazish.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the international community met this past week in Bonn, Germany to discuss Afghanistan's future in the shadow of a NATO withdrawal oftroops. At the conference, key policymakers, from the United States to Afghan PresidentHamid Karzai, expressed the consensus that corruption is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to efforts at rebuilding and stabilizingthe country.
In a time of belt-tightening in aid budgets in the United States and Europe, andweariness at a lack of significant progress in Afghanistan's corruption outlook,donors may prove less and less willing to provide development assistance thatis then lost to graft. Similar to post-conflict and poor countries elsewhere,Afghanistan's government agencies lack accountability. Service delivery can beseverely compromised because of graft, in turn fueling mistrust of thegovernment.
Another example of malfeasance is the widespreadelection fraud perpetrated during the 2010 election for the Wolesi Jirga,Afghanistan's lower house of parliament. The voting itself and the subsequent dubious adjudication process provide a stark illustration of howcorruption can destabilize political institutions. The Afghan Electoral ComplaintsCommittee (ECC) had to delay the induction of parliament after adjudicatingnearly 6,000 allegations of malfeasance. Nine members have lost their seats evenafter serving for nearly a year.
With an eye towards understanding howinstitutions like the Wolesi Jirga could be strengthened through cleanerelections, we developed and evaluated a new approach to policing electoralcorruption for the 2010 races. It involves the implementation of a photo "quickcount" of election results. Specifically, we took photographs of tally sheetsfrom polling stations right after voting concluded, and compared them to whatshould be carbon copies of tallies from the same polling stations later in theaggregation process. We then took differences in results for specificcandidates as evidence of rigging. We implemented our project with funding fromthe newly established Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) at the United States Agency forInternational Development (USAID), a unit that embodies the organization'srenewed enthusiasm for improving development through rigorousevaluation procedures.We partnered with Democracy International (DI), the largest internationalorganization monitoring elections in Afghanistan.
To evaluate the effectiveness of thistechnology, we randomly announced monitoring in about half of a sample of 471polling centers. This sample spanned 19 of the 34 provincial centers in allregions of Afghanistan and was drawn from a universe of 5,897 polling centersscheduled to open on election day. We deployed a team of Afghan researchersthat delivered letters to polling center managers during voting on election day,announcing that the team would return the following day to photograph thetallies; teams visited the other polling centers without providing any priorwarning.
Through a comparison of these"treatment" polling centers and the "control" centers that were unaware thatour researchers would photograph results, we found that our program worked insignificant ways to decrease electoral corruption. Specifically, the monitoringprogram reduced vote counts by 25 percent for the candidate our team deemed mostlikely to rig the vote (generally the candidate with strongest links toofficials in the Election Commission or President Karzai, and those with ahistory of working in the government) and reduced the theft of vote tallies andother election materials by about 60 percent. In the study,we also found that candidates react to undermine the effort, and that they doso in a way that is predictable based on their connections to officials in theelection commission. Specifically,candidates with a connection to the Provincial Elections Officer moved theirfraudulent activity in the direction of manipulating the returns form inpolling centers that did not receive a letter. By contrast, candidates lackingthis connection committed fraud by altering the count before the form wasposted.
We assessed the effect of the programusing a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), the most robust form of programevaluation. In a RCT, researchers estimate the effect of a program on keyoutcomes of interest (in our case, election fraud) by first identifying apopulation of potential beneficiaries and then randomly assigning the programto a subset (usually half). The half receiving the program are "treatments" andthe remaining half are "controls." Themethod is therefore a straightforward adaptation of the approach used inmedical drug trials, only applied to questions of governance and institutions.A comparison of outcomes in the "treatments" and "controls" metes outeverything else that was going on in parallel with the program. For example,because we randomly assigned "treatments," we did not need to worry aboutwhether international monitors might be creating the change that we attributedto photo quick count. Additionally, one might worry that the effect we documentedis due to a selection of polling centers where fraud was less likely. But oneof the core strengths of RCTs is the ability to remove such a "selection bias"from our estimates of program effect. Because polling centers were selected bya random number generator, we can summarily rule out this concern.
We draw three important lessons from ourstudy. First, these results provide a convincing proof of concept that theapplication of new technologies can improve the fairness of elections and helpbattle corruption. In Afghanistan, we implemented the program using simpledigital cameras. In February of 2011 we replicated the experiment in Ugandausing smart phones and an application developed by Qualcomm to similar effect. Ultimately, webelieve this approach can be implemented via crowd-sourcing (essentiallyencouraging average people to document the process, as cell phones and evensmart phones become more accessible in the developing world), which woulddramatically reduce costs and increase coverage as citizens mobilize to policeelections.
Second, while corrupt candidates surely willdevelop their own innovations to undermine fair electoral processes, making theaggregation process impermeable will greatly increase the difficulty of theirtask. If the election returns form posted at the polling center must match thereturns form that enters the official count in the capital, a major avenue offraud is shut off to candidates. More generally, we need to worry more aboutconnections between candidates and officials at the lower and middle echelonsof election commissions. Such officials can use their position and influenceover the aggregation and vote-counting process to dramatic effect. Reflectingthis, known affiliates of candidates should not be allowed to staff thecommission. Similarly, punishments for using such positions to favor a givencandidate should be serious, and these officials should be monitored. While a variety of evidence demonstrates corruption in Afghanistan'selectoral commission, the country is not unique in this regard -- mostdemocratizing countries fail to establish truly independent election managementbodies and suffer fraud as a result.
Last, and most importantly, we only havescientific evidence of the effectiveness of a small numberof democracy assistance strategies. This is an area ripefor experimentation,which we encourage the international policy community to take seriously becauseof its clear importance for stability and welfare in fragile states likeAfghanistan. While clean elections will not solve all of the country's problems,helping to reduce corruption and strengthen confidence in institutions like theWolesi Jirga will pay important dividends as foreign donors exert less and lessinfluence over Afghanistan's future, and Afghanistan must take moreresponsibility for its own future.
MichaelCallen is a post-doctoralresearcher at the Institute on Global Conflict andCooperation at the University of California, San Diego. James Long is a doctoral candidate in political scienceat the Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego. Mohammad Isaqzadeh is an assistant professor of politicalscience at the American University Afghanistan, and provided researchassistance for the study.
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At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn, Germanylast week, 85 countries affirmed their commitment to Afghanistan for the decadefollowing the 2014 transition, and highlighted gains over the past 10 years inthe areas of security, women's rights and the capacity of governmentinstitutions. They also acknowledged the reversible nature of this progress, aswell as the significant work left to be accomplished. Previousdiscussions on Afghanistanwithin the international community have exclusively addressed the transitionperiod between now and 2014. This conference introduced the concept of a muchneeded blueprint for the years following the transition: the "transformation decade"of 2015-2024. This blueprint details two initial milestones: the May 2012 NATOsummit in Chicago, where an announcement is anticipated regarding long-term AfghanNational Security Force funding (ANSF), and a July 2012 conference in Japan, wheremore details regarding international economic support will be announced. Thoughthe December 5 Bonn conference, eclipsed in part by Pakistan'slast minute withdrawal, fell short of announcing major breakthroughs in thepeace process (against high expectationscreated by Bonn 2001), it was an important first step in acknowledging themagnitude of the task that remains unfinished. Now that we have affirmed our longterm commitment in spirit, tangible demonstrations are essential in order tobuild momentum and avoid the perception of empty promises. The internationalcommunity and Afghanistanshould proceed to the next step of defining the first concrete details in theblueprint's foundation.
As the 2011 Bonn conferenceconclusions stated, "this renewed partnership between Afghanistan and theInternational Community entails firm mutual commitments in the areas ofgovernance, security, the peace process, economic and social development andregional cooperation." The United States should demonstrate this long-termcommitment to Afghanistan in the form of a formal strategic partnershipendorsed by both nations and announced as soon as possible. It should reflect planned troop reductions (33,000by the end of summer 2012), but maintain U.S. advisory and counterterrorismcapabilities beyond 2014, through the next Afghan political administration in2019. This force would sustain the tempo of counterterrorist operations andprovide professional advice and enablers to the Afghan army and police. Itshould number 10,000 to 25,000 personnel and could be reduced as the ANSFdemonstrate their post-transition competence through the 2014 elections andinto the next political administration. U.S. personnel numbers could alsobe reduced by coalition contributions. Counterterrorist operations should focuson al-Qaeda's attempts to relocate in remote areas of Afghanistan, aswell as target the leadership of insurgent groups who refuse to reconcile andcontinue to challenge the stability of the government. Advisory and enablingforces should focus on the professional development and training of the Afghanarmy and police, as well as their effective performance in the field.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,in her openingremarks at Bonn stated: "...the United Statesis prepared to stand with the Afghan people, but Afghans themselves must alsomeet the commitments they have made, and we look forward to working with themto embrace reform, lead their own defense, and strengthen their democracy."Afghans should consider improving their government by empoweringprovincial-level authorities and reducing corruption. Both measures areessential to the condition-setting that must take place prior to seriousnegotiations with insurgents. Each province should be granted the right toselect its own governor and to employ independent fiscal, legislative, andconflict resolution powers. Provincial government employees should be hiredfrom within the province and should answer to provincial leaders. Internationalfinancial aid for projects like medical clinics, roads, schools and electricityshould be funneled directly to the provinces in order to create rapid publicsupport. These measures, over time, would bring the power and resources of thegovernment to parts of the country where Kabul'sleadership is viewed as corrupt and incompetent as a result of nepotism,cronyism and its management of funds. Atthe same time, anti-corruption efforts from within the government must beintensified. Afghans should enact laws consistent with The Afghan NationalAnti-Corruption Strategy. Continuedcoalition and international assistance through this decade in the form ofadvice, investigation, and prosecution is essential. More effective localgovernance and courts would also serve to undermine the appeal of localconflict resolution currently offered by insurgents.
Some reforms empowering provincialand district governance have already been planned. In the spring of 2010, theAfghan Government's Independent Directorate of Local Governance published its Sub-nationalGovernance Policy. This policy is comprehensive and, if resourced,supported, and given time, would significantly enhance the contribution oflocal government to Afghan quality of life. This will take time and require thecontinued commitment of the UnitedStates and the coalition to educate Afghancivil servants. This policy appropriately calls for and schedules elections ofprovincial, district, and village councils and should be modified toincorporate the election of provincial and district governors. Should Afghansdesire these measures, the constitution would have to be modified through theassembly of a constitutional loya jirga. This initiative could be a part of Afghanistan'snational dialogue in the run-up to the 2014 election and perhaps lead to apost-election loya jirga.
Without U.S.and international commitment through the end of this decade, Afghanistan will likely fall backinto the civil war it experienced in the early 1990s. As fighting spreads, India and Pakistan will back their Afghanproxies and the conflict could intensify. This situation would not only createopportunities for safe haven for extremists, but also invite a confrontationbetween adversarial and nuclear-armed states. The potential for such an outcomeruns counter to U.S.and coalition interests.
Bonn 2001 began a journey toward Afghanistan'sstability and representative government that has demanded great sacrifice byAfghans, Americans, and other members of the coalition. Bonn 2011 continues thejourney and acknowledges the requirement for long term international commitmentand Afghan resolve. The journey has come far from its humble beginning, butrequires sustained international support and American leadership to remain oncourse.
COL Mark Fields is aMilitary Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, part of National DefenseUniversity's Institute for National Strategic Studies. He has served in Afghanistan and is theauthor of "AReview of the 2001 Bonn Conference and Application to the Road Ahead inAfghanistan." The views expressed are his alone, and do not necessarilyrepresent those of National Defense University, the Department of Defense, orthe U.S. Government.
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A decade after the first international conference on Afghanistan at Bonn, Germany is hosting a follow-up conference on Monday, widely known as Bonn II. The first Bonn Conference prepared a framework for the newly established Afghan administration and picked Hamid Karzai to lead the interim administration. In 2004 and again in 2009, Karzai was elected President of the country.
As always with this war-torn region, there are voices expressing optimism and others expressing pessimism regarding what can be expected of the conference. The recent NATO air strike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has certainly contributed to the voices of pessimism. Islamabad has declared that it will boycott the conference as a protest to what they're calling the "unprovoked" NATO bombing that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Although there's been no change in that official decision, sources have said that Pakistan's Ambassador in Germany will likely attend.
Pakistan's rigid stance against participating in the Bonn conference conveys a clear, but dangerous message -- that it has no desire to bring stability to Afghanistan.
The conference is expected to focus on three main areas: the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan government by 2014, the long-term commitment by the international community to Afghanistan beyond the 2014, and the future political stability of the country.
Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor for Afghanistan was also eager to remind me, "Ten years have passed since the first historic Bonn Conference that helped chart a political road-map for creating the institutions of a permanent democratic government [in Afghanistan]. That central objective of the first Bonn Conference, along with its other major goals, has been achieved. But our collective efforts to secure the future of Afghanistan are still a work in progress."
Haidari then drove his point home. "The main objective of this second Bonn Conference is for the international community and the government of Afghanistan to re-affirm our shared commitment to a solid, long-term partnership beyond 2014. Such partnership must credibly assure the Afghan people that our country will not be abandoned again. Afghanistan's enemies must understand that our nation-partners will continue their solidarity and support with and for the Afghan people, until Afghanistan is no longer vulnerable to security threats from the same state and non-state actors which once undermined international peace and security -- as we experienced in the unchecked events of the 1990s that led to the tragedy of 9/11."
Afghan women's rights activist Najla Ayubi has a decidedly more negative view of what the upcoming conference can accomplish. "It is one of several unproductive, symbolic conferences to be held on Afghanistan. Decisions have already been made. Several international conferences were held in the past ten years, none had tangible and effective outcomes for Afghans -- this one is not an exception. The Afghan people at large are the victim of regional and international politics. The current Afghan government could not effectively use the previous opportunities opened for Afghanistan and will not be able to appropriately use the new opportunity."
She went on to say, "Afghans suffer from unconstitutional acts, systemic corruption, human rights violations, increasing insecurity, poppy boom, extreme poverty, and more." To address these issues, Ayubi suggests, "If the current Afghan administration has any wish to be honest with its people -- which I doubt -- it is time for the Afghan authorities to admit their past mistakes and open the door for a holistic approach to overcome the contemporary challenges facing the country, which include increasing insecurity and systemic corruption."
Like Ayubi, Vahid Mojdeh, political analyst and former member of the Taliban's foreign ministry staff, also voiced pessimism about what the conference can achieve. But Mojdeh is pessimistic for different reasons. He argues that the first Bonn Conference, lacking the presence of the Taliban and not well represented ethnically, triggered the current chaos and insecurity in the country. And he insists that, "the Second Bonn Conference suffers from similar shortcomings." In addition, Pakistan has boycotted the conference, which will potentially prevent the outcomes of the meeting from being implemented.
Asadullah Walwalji, an Afghan writer and analyst told me that the "absence of Pakistan in such a conference means that decisions made there, will not be implemented; i.e. Islamabad will continue to play its destructive and sabotaging role in Afghanistan."
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, an Afghan political
analyst, has a different view about the conference. "I think the first Bonn
Conference was to fight terrorism, establish a democratic system, and rebuild
Afghanistan. Considering the recession and pressure from the public in those
Bonn Conference, indeed, is an exit conference and end point to an active
presence of the West in Afghanistan. The reasons behind such an exit are clear:
systemic corruption within the Afghan administration and the (fact that the)
Afghan government has practically changed democracy to demagogy - both of which
are unacceptable for the West."
Bonn Conference is taking place at a time when the Afghan government is seeking
to sign a binding strategic partnership agreement with the United States, while
to the Afghan government -- the United States insists on signing a
nonbinding declaration. Before signing the strategic agreement, the Afghan
government has set a precondition that U.S. forces stop
carrying out night raids on Afghan homes. The U.S. and NATO have long
considered night raids one of the most effective ways to fight insurgency in
Afghanistan. The Afghan government is also insisting that the U.S. hand over
those prisoners dwelling under the custody of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan analysts, however, believe that the Afghan government should be more cautious in this regard. "The Afghan people are in need of cooperation by a superpower like the U.S. The Afghan government should not be so insistent regarding its conditions to the U.S. They both had better come to a mutually acceptable agreement that will potentially benefit both countries." states Ayubi.
Helaluddin Helal, a former Afghanistan Deputy Interior Minister, also believes that the Afghan government should not insist on its position. "At this stage, the Afghan security forces are not acquainted with modern military tools. Considering the effectiveness of night raids and the inabilities of the Afghan security forces, how can the government take a leading role in night raids?" Helal asks, arguing that Afghan troops need more time to be trained in order to lead the assaults. In addition, Helal argues that most Afghan security forces are affiliated with different ethnic allegiances and that in the near term, it will be impossible for them to rise above those allegiances in order to align themselves with the national interest.
Equally important, Helal says, the Afghan security forces are unable to take over responsibility for detainees being held at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Two prison breaks in Kandahar, in which hundreds of mostly Taliban prisoners managed to escape, exemplify the incompetence of Afghan forces. Helal predicts that a strategic partnership between the two countries will be signed, but that it will take time.
Considering the acute political, security, and economic situation in Afghanistan and proven incompetence of the Afghan government to use international aid effectively, systematically fight corruption, ensure security, prevent poppy cultivation, provide a better living standard for Afghans, and establish an administration based on the values of good governance, it seems likely that the second Bonn Conference will fail to establish a more durable order. Unless the international community puts increasing pressure on the Afghan government to fight corruption and provide better services for the Afghan people, the insurgents will gain strength, more people will join hands with the Taliban, security will deteriorate, and both the Afghan people and the international community will suffer the consequences.
However, something the conference can accomplish is providing the international community with the opportunity to convey its clear message that Afghanistan will not be abandoned again, and that Pakistan will not be given another chance to set Afghanistan's course, as it did during the Taliban's time in power.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
In less than a month, world leaders will once again convene in Bonn, Germany to lay out a roadmap for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy and its future beyond 2014. Chaired by the Afghan government, "Bonn+10," as it is now known, is expected to include representatives from dozens of countries and international organizations. It aims to devise an effective plan for the ongoing security transition to Afghan control, accelerate the contentious Afghan reconciliation process, and delineate long-term regional and international engagement of Afghanistan beyond 2014.
In anticipation of the meeting, the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan security forces was decided upon at an international conference in Istanbul on November 2. The Afghan government and twelve regional countries signed the Istanbul Declaration whereby the leaders of those countries, including Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Russia and some Central Asian Republics, expressed their support for Afghanistan and committed to cooperate in the Afghan reconciliation process and combat terrorism and insurgency. However, many Afghans view these developments with skepticism. They worry about the country's uncertain future as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to withdraw some troops and move the remainder into support roles ahead of the 2014 deadline. These fears are even more intense within Afghan civil society, excluded from both the upcoming gathering and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
Many Afghans believe that another major conference alone will not serve as a panacea, or bring any tangible solutions to their problems, especially when President Hamid Karzai will select most of the participants with only nominal civil society representation, including NGOs and traditional local and tribal leaders. Such concerns were further escalated after Karzai asked to convene a traditional Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that would guarantee the primacy of his inner clique in the gathering, and hence a continuation of the present dysfunctional political system. The five-day Loya Jirga is scheduled to begin in Kabul on November 16, and will bring together around 2,000 influential Afghan political figures, warlords, former anti-Soviet mujahideen and jihadi leaders, local and tribal leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss the upcoming conference and the much-anticipated U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership. These doubts were intensified most recently when the Taliban published a 27-page document it claimed to be the official security plan for the so-called "slave jirga." If the document is proven to be authentic, it would represent a clear blow to the Afghan government, particularly the security apparatus, and would show the Taliban's ability to infiltrate even the most highly secured areas of government. The jirga's promise appeared further threatened when key Afghan opposition figures, including Abdullah Abdullah called it "illegal" and "unconstitutional," and said he will not partake.
Additionally, concerns abound across Afghanistan that President Karzai may abuse his executive powers to alter the Afghan Constitution and remain in office after ending his current term in 2014, despite his recent statements to the contrary. This potential move by Karzai is widely seen and construed, mostly by members of Afghanistan's United National Front, as a safeguard of his power in the case of waning support in his native south or a political gridlock in Kabul.
of violence over the past few months has further magnified some Afghans' doubts
about the U.S. strategy of trying to reconcile with the Taliban. Many Afghans
are concerned that next month's conference may well set in motion ten years or
more of yet another dysfunctional and corrupt governance for Afghanistan and
that planning for the future will be pointless and trivial without security and
stability on the ground. However, others fear that "Bonn+10" will fail to bring
any tangible change to Afghanistan because the focus of the meeting will not be
on reconciling with the Taliban. Many Afghans, as well as
non-Afghans, think it was a mistake to exclude representatives of armed
insurgent groups, including the Taliban, from the last Bonn meeting in 2001,
ignoring even those who reconciled, and that the likely reoccurrence next month
will inexorably mean failure for the conference.
They believe the Taliban's
exclusion from the conference means the meeting will be merely for show
and not for a political settlement. Worse still, the Taliban's exclusion may
well result in their challenging the outcomes of the conference just as they
did after the first Bonn meeting in 2001.
The various Bonn participants have expressed divergent views on the Taliban's presence at the upcoming conference. President Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not participate in the meeting without the Taliban, and the United States and its NATO allies appear to have left the decision up to the Afghan government. However, the U.S. envoy in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, has categorically stated that there is no chance for the Taliban to participate in the conference. While the Taliban has rejected nearly every attempted negotiation, operating with such lack of coordination, transparency and leadership on an issue of national and international priority sends mixed and confusing messages to the Taliban leadership. This lack of unified voice has further complicated the already fragile peace process.
There are many contradictory views and misconceptions about the reconciliation process, and whether and to what degree to engage the Taliban as the United States assumes a non-combat and/or support role. While Afghanistan's reconciliation and reintegration process, ostensibly led by the High Peace Council, provides an official address for peace talks, it lacks the inclusiveness and national support necessary for successful implementation. The High Peace Council has become a talk show of incompetent representatives picked personally by President Karzai and has been largely unsuccessful in addressing the fears of most Afghans. While the reconciliation process is meant to achieve a timely and constructive peace deal with the Taliban, it also plays a crucial role in the transition process and supports the responsibility of both Afghan security forces and leadership. Afghanistan's current transition process is designed to produce better governance, catalyze economic development, and institutionalize the rule of law ahead of the 2014 U.S. withdrawal deadline. If the reconciliation with the Taliban does not materialize or fails, there will be no successful security transition.
Another impediment and an apparent challenge to the peace talks at Bonn next month is the realignment of anti-Taliban constituencies in the north of Afghanistan. This opposition includes primarily non-Pashtuns - Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras - who all fought against the Taliban under the umbrella of the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Vigorous critics of both President Karzai and the Taliban, these elements believe they have the most to lose from any negotiated peace deal and strongly oppose any talks with the Taliban. It is widely believed that these groups will put together a unified voice to oppose and challenge the current reconciliation process in next month's conference. This belief was solidified last Friday after the former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud - a younger brother of the late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud - announced the formation a new political movement known as Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (the National Front of Afghanistan). The movement that includes several key leaders of different minority groups has already taken a potent stance against the current Afghan government by denouncing and boycotting the upcoming Jirga.
Many Afghans also doubt that the conference can elicit increased or perhaps "sincere" regional support and commitment from neighboring countries. While the 2001 Bonn conference was successful in bringing together a large alliance and laying out a plan and groundwork for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, one of the mistakes it made was ignoring regional countries and not curtailing their interference in Afghanistan. This gave Pakistan (and other external elements) a free hand to continue covertly supporting and providing sanctuary to subversive groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, resulting in the killing of many Afghan, American and NATO soldiers. The Bonn conference next month is a good opportunity to garner and ensure such kinds of regional pledges and commitments with sticks and carrots.
In light of the difficulties and looming uncertainties ahead, it is unclear whether another Bonn conference will help Afghanistan positively shape its future. While there is no silver bullet for Afghanistan's ills, next month's meeting will at least provide an opportunity for the United States and NATO to lay out a functional roadmap ahead of and beyond 2014 for a successful political, security and economic transition, good governance, peace and reconciliation, and rule of law. There is also still time to ensure that the conference is truly representative of all Afghans, including different ethnic and social groups, to decide their uncertain future. It is equally important for Bonn+10 to ensure an authentic political will and sincere commitment to peace building in Afghanistan, and for Afghans to constructively engage in nation building process in the years to come.
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.
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Countries that have experienced decades of conflict and political turmoil, and have historically featured persistent executive-judicial disputes tend to have less judicial autonomy. Afghanistan epitomizes this. The country has not only lacked comprehensive, integrated laws for much of its history, but what laws existed were culturally dictated and enforced, and in most cases, still are.
As an Afghan, articles about the emergence of the rule of law in the West make me think about the intersection of culture and law in Afghanistan and its challenges. Even before its formal establishment as a nation, the United States began to create common law by using centuries-old written precedents from Great Britain, and applying American notions of reason and justice. Since there is little written tradition in Afghanistan, it does not have such a heritage, nor common law texts, as a starting point. Its starting point is a religious text, the Quran, written in Arabic, a language understood by only a small number of Afghans, the oral history of past decisions, and "felt necessities of the time," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. characterized one aspect of the development of the common law in the United States.
The Afghan idea of a justice system is also defined by Pashtunwali, a social code of conduct and way of life that predates the Anglo-Saxon common law. Pashtunwali defines the fundamentals of the Afghan culture, identity and, above all, personal honor. What distinguishes the practice of Pashtunwali is its emphasis on using influential local and tribal leaders (Maliks, Khans and mullahs), or respected outsiders chosen arbitrarily by the conflicting parties, to act as fact-finders and decision-makers. Furthermore, decisions must be seen as arbitrary and impartial, not compelled by any of the players in the conflict. This is one of the key reasons people in rural Afghanistan have historically opted to use customary shuras (councils) and jirgas (assemblies) as the primary decision-making forums in which to resolve their disputes. Over the course of Afghan history, the ideals of Pashtunwali have driven and influenced local decisions and rulings, primarily in rural Afghanistan, though the ethos of the system may be seen in all Pashtuns. The few attempts by the central legal authorities to supplant this indigenous centuries-long system of beliefs have been, and may continue to be, largely unsuccessful.
Laws in the United States made by federal, state and local representatives are designed to supersede and override the common law, while in the absence of a statute (or the Constitution), the common law prevails. Although broad policy objectives are not well mapped by use of the common law, it is a filler of necessity and provides an indispensable resource for judicial decisions in the absence of legislative guidance. By contrast, Afghans are usually handed oral, extemporized rulings influenced heavily by village elders, local and tribal leaders, Khans and mullahs, through the long-practiced shura and jirga system. Shuras and jirgas are said to be more efficient, accessible, cost-effective, less corrupt and more trusted by the Afghans than the formal state justice institutions. But these rulings often occur without reference to - mostly because of a lack of knowledge of, indifference to or defiance of - the Afghan Constitution, statutory laws or any other written records. Instead, these leaders rely on their understanding of the Quran, oral histories of past decisions known to them and to their people, Pashtunwali, and their "felt necessity."
Thus, there is no cohesive thread connecting these oral decisions across villages and tribes to any common national public policy objectives. Afghans who have experienced both the formal and non-formal justice systems find the latter more in line and in compliance with local norms, customs and traditions, including the promotion and encouragement of consensus and avoiding a culture of impunity. Ignorance of and disregard for the country's written law , as well as prevalent corruption, mean that people have little confidence in the laws and low expectations of justice brought through the formal court system. A report released last year by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that in 2009 alone, Afghans paid an estimated $2.5 billion in bribes, equivalent to 23 percent of Afghanistan's GDP, and that judicial officials topped the list of those who received the bribes. By contrast, judges in the United States use a more consistent process and look to the written precedents in common and statutory law, as well as publications of scholars and retired judges when they do not have written precedents in their own jurisdiction to guide them. This reduces the incidence of corruption, since wide departures from these precedents would bring critical attention to anomalous decisions.
So what happens in Afghanistan? The disparate sense of "felt necessity," guided by various interpretations of a religious text many cannot read and many misunderstand - together with flawed oral histories of past judgments - drive local decisions, creating a confusing and conflicting hodgepodge of rulings devoid of broad public policy considerations. A key point to note here is that a lack of nationally accepted laws permits subversive elements such as the Taliban and leaders who may be unaware of the formal justice system or distrust government institutions, to intuit and then adopt the most draconian of these incongruent decisions. These actors then form "public policy" based on their interpretations, and enforce it in the areas that they control with attribution to the Quran and use of brutal penalties for non-compliance.
The solution, it seems, would be for Afghan scholars and those with legal education and background in Afghanistan to go to village and tribal leaders across the country and record the background and results of recent their rulings and judgments. These scholars could then tease out common public policy threads from dispute resolutions that were build on factors ranging from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad to local conditions and "felt necessities." Having distilled the core essence of such decisions, a "Restatement of the Law of Afghanistan" could be written, similar to the one that exists in the United States, which would set out the main principles of a developing Afghan common law. It would have no legal power, but it would provide a starting point of the type the founding fathers of the United States received from Great Britain. Through this mechanism, the future decisions of village and tribal leaders in Afghanistan would be guided but not bound by the past. They would at last be put into writing, further developing coherent and better reasoned guides for Afghanistan's judicial system and a foundation against which ill-conceived and corrupt decisions can be measured and criticized.
It would be these written decisions of village and tribal leaders that would begin the long process of codifying the actual common law of Afghanistan, providing a place to look back for precedent and forward for the common threads of a rule of law.
There are no effective alternative power centers in Afghanistan that could create incentives for the people to take their disputes and disagreements to courts. Indeed, there are only a few courts now in existence and most are distrusted and discredited. However, codifying the actual common law of Afghanistan and applying it in the formal court system could create an incentive for the Afghan people to more formally and habitually refer their disputes and problems to the justice system.
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.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
The market has recently been flooded with books about Pakistan by academics, policymakers, and journalists. Many of these have sought to explain - and to some extent apologize for - contemporary Pakistani society to the western world. Pamela Constable's Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself is the rare exception that acknowledges this goal, and then lives up to its appointed task. Western readers could hope for no better guide to present-day Pakistan than Constable, a veteran journalist who has reported extensively from Pakistan for over a decade with The Washington Post. Her new book is a sound introduction to Pakistan's contradictions, inequalities, tumultuous politics, and every fluctuating national identity.
As newspaper headlines about Pakistan policy choices become increasingly shrill, readers seeking context will find much of use in Playing with Fire. The book traces political and security developments across the country, primarily since 2007, that fateful year when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the army's poor handling of a siege at the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad led to a spate of nationwide suicide bombings. In addition to political upheaval and terrorist attacks, Constable documents new laws, corruption scandals, media trends, civil society movements, and more, making her book one of the few holistic backgrounders on Pakistan.
Indeed, Playing with Fire benefits immensely from its author's journalistic background. The book covers those aspects of Pakistan that are rarely examined in works by political scientists or retired diplomats focused on Pakistan's security issues or regional geopolitics. Constable includes chapters on women and their divergent experiences in different social classes, upper-class Pakistanis, religious minorities, and life in rural Pakistan (in the interests of disclosure, I read an early draft of one of these chapters while Constable and I overlapped as fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC).
Like good journalism, the book also combines faithful documentation with sharp analysis: Constable bookends extensive quotes from Pakistanis - whether brick kiln workers or land-owning politicians - with her own insights into Pakistan's problems. These insights are inevitably the best nuggets in the book; for example, Constable observes that the dynamics of landed feudalism have trickled down into the contemporary industrial sector, where factor workers remain indebted to their employers.
Constable's most profound insight into Pakistan is stated at the outset, in the book's introduction. She argues that Pakistanis are essentially powerless: "they see the trappings of representative democracy around them but little tangible evidence of it working in their lives." The various chapters of Playing with Fire then show how this powerlessness is manifest: in the vestiges of the feudal system, in the failings of the judicial system, in the endless paperwork of a bloated bureaucracy, in the limited circles of dynastic politics, and in the ‘honor' codes of a patriarchal society. Through characters, narratives, statistics, and direct quotes, Constable shows how Pakistanis are denied rights and opportunities in a way that perpetuates the status quo. One only wishes that with each example of a powerless Pakistani she offers, Constable reiterated the theme more explicitly for emphasis.
Interestingly, while acknowledging their powerlessness, Constable allows Pakistanis to speak for themselves in her book. The liberal use of direct quotes provides an insight into Pakistani perceptions of global trends and political issues. Numerous excerpts from newspaper editorials and columns (including one of mine) also give a taste of public discourse within Pakistan. The country is frequently faulted for its head-in-the-sand attitude towards internal security developments, particularly the long-term fallout of cultivating militant groups. But Constable's regular nods to Pakistani opinion-makers show that a spirited, if convoluted debate about Pakistan's future and identity is currently underway in the country.
The most interesting chapter in Playing with Fire documents the slow ‘Talibanization' of Pakistani society. Constable points to the diverse elements that have led many Pakistanis to equate patriotism and religiosity: the content of government-issue textbooks, the successful campaigns of religious political parties, the moralizing rhetoric of student politics, the vitriol of television talk show hosts, and the state's foreign policy. Moreover, she uncovers how Pakistani society has evolved in a matter of years from wearing its religion loosely to developing extremist sympathies. Constable shows how Islam became "hip" among university students who embraced their religious identity as a way to participate in global trends. She also notes that "poor yet pious" Pakistanis use religious fervor as a way to push back against "errant Muslims of a higher class," introducing equality in what is otherwise a highly stratified society.
This nuanced chapter is bolstered by Constable's overview of the origins and ideologies of Pakistan's various militant and sectarian groups. The book also documents major security-related events such as the formation of the anti-state Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the takeover of the Swat Valley in 2009 by TNSM, another extremist organization. With these snapshots of militancy, Playing with Fire becomes a handy user's guide to terrorism and security for those who have not followed regional developments at a granular level.
One argumentative disconnect does however emerge in the book. Constable's chapters on the ‘Talibanization' of society and Pakistan's use of militant groups as ‘strategic assets' emphasize that extremism is a top-down phenomenon in Pakistan, perpetuated as a result of state policies. But in other sections of the book, she suggests that extremist tendencies are organic-the expected fallout of widespread poverty, joblessness, and frustration. For example, Constable quotes the bitter complaint of a young man from Peshawar who graduated from a prestigious engineering school but was unable to find a job. He suggests that the lack of opportunity creates terrorists. Similarly, in a chapter about sectarian tensions and violent discrimination against religious minorities, Constable includes a rant by a butcher who denounces rampant corruption, crime, and poor leadership. The decision to include his viewpoint implies that the failure of state institutions is fostering religious intolerance.
There is an ongoing debate about whether extremism in Pakistan is a product of years of state-sponsored militancy and General Ziaul Haq's Islamization policies in the 1980s, or whether it is a contemporary response to flawed Pakistani and American policies. Given Constable's intimate knowledge of the region, a direct summary of her perceptions on this matter would have given the book even more substance.
Throughout her book, Constable draws out the clashing ideological and political stances of Pakistan's liberals and conservatives. She will be aware then that some liberals may find her book too soft on the Pakistan Army. No doubt, the book maps the fallout of the army's many dalliances with militant groups. But the chapter on the ‘murder of democracy' focuses on corrupt politicians such as President Asif Ali Zardari, dynastic politics, and the inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Constable's analysis of the Pakistan Army delves into the choices made by military dictators Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf as well as the shenanigans of the intelligence agent Khalid Khawaja. This focus on controversial characters (though compelling to read) makes the army's flaws seem individual rather than institutional. A concise assessment of the impact of military interference in Pakistan's political and economic spheres over the decades would have served the book well.
Ultimately, though, Playing with Fire is an accessible yet comprehensive guide to a country that is constantly evolving and much written about, but little understood by westerners.
Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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