The Only Way to Avoid Chaos in Afghanistan
The top of President Karzai's agenda should be embracing his former rival, says Haroun Mir—and establishing a united government. Plus, six ways to fix the Afghan government starting now.
Despite the Independent Election Commission’s decision to put an end to the election saga under heavy pressure by the international community, the political crisis in Afghanistan, which emerged after serious allegations of widespread fraud in the first round election, is still unresolved. President Hamid Karzai’s rival, Abdullah Abdullah, did not close all of the negotiation doors in hope of reaching a political compromise after Karzai announced that he will form a government of national unity.
The faith of Afghanistan will depend on the actions of President Karzai in the coming days and weeks. Either Karzai will reach out to Abdullah's camp and form a national unity government or ignore the international pressures and share the political power with his coalition partners alone.
In the Afghan system of government, which was copied on the U.S. presidential system, the president holds the whole political power and the opposition remains irrelevant because the president appoints even provincial and district governors and the Afghan Parliament has remained politically insignificant.
The Taliban are not an invincible force.
In most of poor countries such as in Afghanistan, political competition is not based on political ideology or agenda but over redistribution of resources. Holding political power means having political influence and access to government resources. In addition, business and political interests are interlinked in Afghanistan. Therefore, we cannot expect a constructive political opposition in the country, which will be sidelined from the political process, lack access to government resources, and lose its business interests.
If President Karzai refuses to take into consideration the demands of the opposition in his next government, the country could slide back into political chaos because the opposition will refuse to recognize not only his legitimacy but also his authority. In such a scenario, the U.S. administration and its NATO allies should not remain neutral because their interests will be in jeopardy in Afghanistan.
In addition, the Obama administration needs a reliable and legitimate partner in the Afghan government, which has lost its credibility due to widespread corruption, nepotism, and influence of narco-traffickers. President Karzai has no other option than to bring considerable changes in his behavior and his style of management before he takes oath for his new term.
President Karzai will not be able to bring necessary changes without the assistance of the international community because not only does he have to satisfy the demands of his coalition partners but also must avoid sidelining the opposition from the political process. This time his skills in building political consensus will not be enough, and he must deliver on his promise to improve his government by forming an accountable and technocratic cabinet.
The Obama administration could use this opportunity by imposing conditions on its financial assistance to the Afghan government based on achievable benchmarks. The Afghan government could be fixed and some of the following measures could be implemented quickly:
1. Reducing the size of the cabinet in order to simplify the process of decision making and avoid unnecessary competition among ministries over resources,
2. Creating a mechanism for hiring senior government officials based on merit rather than based on nepotism and political pressures,
3. Delegating some of the president's decision-making authority to ministers and provincial governors,
4. Appointing provincial and district governors in consultation with elected provincial councils,
5. Speeding up reconstruction and economic development efforts in the stable provinces, in order to make them successful examples,
6. And creating a special court in order to indict drug-traffickers and corrupt senior officials, even those who had served the previous eight years.
These measures could be implemented in a very short period of time with vigorous political will both within the Afghan government and the donor countries, which have high stakes in the country.
The Taliban are not an invincible force, but they have been able to reemerge and exert their influence because of a vacuum of government authority following their defeat in 2001 and also due to distrust of the Afghan people from their government.
I strongly believe that the U.S. military surge combined with improved governance will create a new momentum in Afghanistan as a precondition to defeat the Taliban and stabilize the country.
Haroun Mir is the director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy Studies.