Chal­lenges Galore

With two erst­while ri­vals lead­ing the na­tional unity gov­ern­ment, which way is Afghanistan go­ing?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By If­fat Alam

The power-shar­ing deal that di­vided author­ity be­tween two com­peti­tors has re­solved the cri­sis for the time be­ing. But will this ar­range­ment ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing fghanistan?

Last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Afghanistan were a roller­coaster ride by all means. Of­ten called a ‘mar­tial’ race, the peo­ple of the coun­try were go­ing to elect a new pres­i­dent as the term of Hamid Karzai, the then pres­i­dent of Afghanistan for over 9 years, was com­ing to an end. The com­pe­ti­tion was be­tween Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai and Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah. While the lat­ter was a sea­soned politi­cian with years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the com­pli­cated po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­field of Afghanistan, the for­mer was re­garded as a states­man by many in the coun­try and

abroad ow­ing to his for­eign ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing for well­re­puted in­sti­tu­tions such as the World Bank.

Both can­di­dates en­joyed mas­sive sup­port in their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies and eth­nic groups. They fought tooth and nail and the out­come was a hung re­sult as none of the can­di­dates could get past the re­quired 50 per­cent votes. Sub­se­quently, a runoff poll was un­der­taken but it fur­ther wors­ened the sit­u­a­tion as Dr. Ab­dul­lah claimed that the polling ex­er­cise was not trans­par­ent. Af­ter months of bickering and ma­neu­ver­ing, a deal was reached be­tween Dr. Ab­dul­lah and Dr. Ghani to form a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the deal, the new po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment was to have a pres­i­dent and a chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. As the win­ner of the run-off polls, Dr. Ghani was de­clared the pres­i­dent while Dr. Ab­dul­lah be­came the CEO of Afghanistan. The deal es­sen­tially meant that the erst­while ri­vals had to work to­gether as a team. One has all the pow­ers en­trusted by the con­sti­tu­tion, while the other is yet to have a legal sanc­tion – ei­ther via a grand jirga or the par­lia­ment.

It may sound a sim­ple propo­si­tion on pa­per, but the sit­u­a­tion on ground is far more com­plex.

Over six months have passed and there are mixed signs about the suc­cess of the power-shar­ing deal which has ba­si­cally di­vided author­ity be­tween two com­peti­tors. Although it re­solved the cri­sis which had erupted af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and threat­ened to de­rail the po­lit­i­cal process, the ques­tion cur­rently raised by all stake­hold­ers is that will this ar­range­ment ad­dress the mas­sive chal­lenges fac­ing Afghanistan?

Th­ese in­clude pro­vid­ing a strong ad­min­is­tra­tion, clean gov­er­nance and ad­dress­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis. Their res­o­lu­tion re­quires unity at all lev­els of the ex­ec­u­tive. How­ever, with two com­pletely dif­fer­ent sets of groups try­ing to share power and run a coun­try, with their mu­tual dis­agree­ments run­ning across the eth­nic lines, the task be­comes next to im­pos­si­ble. Pres­i­dent Ghani is a Pash­tun while Dr. Ab­dul­lah is of a mixed Pash­tunTa­jik ori­gin. Both are an­swer­able to their eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties which ac­count for the bulk of their vote bank. In ad­di­tion to their re­spec­tive sup­port, the two politi­cians also have to con­sider the de­mands of pro­vin­cial gov­er­nors. They are also sup­posed to keep the war­lords happy who en­joy con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in some ar­eas.

The power-shar­ing deal was bro­kered mainly be­cause of the U.S. and the in­flu­ence it holds in the in­ter­nal mat­ters of Afghanistan. This in­volve­ment in the coun­try’s af­fairs is a mat­ter of con­cern for the Afghan gov­ern­ment as it is dif­fi­cult to gauge the U.S.’ com­mit­ment to Afghanistan once its troops leave the coun­try. The role of the U.S. in bring­ing some sem­blance of sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan, es­pe­cially in the post-elec­tion sce­nario, how­ever, can’t be de­nied. The mul­ti­ple vis­its of U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and his con­stant ne­go­ti­a­tions with both par­ties en­sured that the elec­toral process did not go to waste. It was clear that Dr. Ab­dul­lah was not will­ing to ac­cept the re­sult of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and wanted to pur­sue the path of protest. At that crit­i­cal junc­ture, it was Kerry who made ef­forts to bring to­gether the two contestants to the ta­ble.

How­ever, an­a­lysts are un­cer­tain about whether the U.S. will dis­play a sim­i­lar show of time and pa­tience for Afghanistan’s do­mes­tic mat­ters in the fu­ture as well. Al­ready, its hands are full and it may not be able to af­ford a full-time en­gage­ment in the coun­try. Also, the U.S. is not too pleased about its ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with Hamid Karzai who was in­stalled in the pres­i­dency mainly at the U.S.’ be­hest. Af­ter rul­ing Afghanistan for years with the bless­ings of the U.S., Karzai very con­ve­niently started iden­ti­fy­ing with his Afghan roots to­wards the end of his ten­ure.

The part­ing left a bad taste in the U.S.’ mouth and its am­bas­sador to Afghanistan, James B. Cun­ning­ham called Karzai “un­grate­ful and un­gra­cious.” The dilemma of the new Afghan gov­ern­ment is that whether it likes it or not, it has to work closely with Amer­ica. Afghanistan’s in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture is too weak at the mo­ment to ad­dress on its own the pre­vail­ing prob­lems of cor­rup­tion and poor gov­er­nance. What goes in the Afghan gov­ern­ment’s fa­vor is that it signed the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment with the U.S., and a sim­i­lar deal with NATO, soon af­ter com­ing to power. This move con­sid­er­ably re­duced the fric­tion be­tween the two coun­tries.

Even so, main­tain­ing close ties with the U.S. is go­ing to be a com­plex job given the con­flict­ing na­ture of the unity gov­ern­ment and also be­cause the U.S. is overly oc­cu­pied with the grow­ing threat of the Is­lamic State in Iraq. His­tory seems to be re­peat­ing it­self. As it hap­pened a decade ago, the at­ten­tion of the U.S. has again been di­verted to Iraq. Its fo­cus on West Asia to de­stroy the IS trans­lates into al­lo­cat­ing more funds to train the anti-IS el­e­ments and re­in­force the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces. The diplo­matic and mil­i­tary en­gage­ment of the U.S. in West Asia means less time for diplo­macy and pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial re­sources to Afghanistan.

An­other ma­jor chal­lenge con­fronting the Afghan gov­ern­ment is the re­vival of the Tal­iban move­ment and the reemer­gence of mil­i­tants in some ar­eas of Afghanistan. There has been a surge in deadly at­tacks on for­eign troops as well as on the lo­cal law-en­force­ment agen­cies dur­ing the last six months, es­tab­lish­ing be­yond doubt that the var­i­ous ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a peace deal with the Tal­iban have failed.

The in­crease in the fre­quency of Tal­iban at­tacks proves that their in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try is thriv­ing. While the Al Qaeda net­work may have been neu­tral­ized to some ex­tent, the Tal­iban have only in­creased in num­bers and strength. The fact that they are spread across the highly por­ous Du­rand Line does not help mat­ters ei­ther. An an­nounce­ment by the Pak­istan-based Pun­jabi Tal­iban, declar­ing that they would fight in Afghanistan sug­gests that the Tal­iban supremo Mul­lah Omar has ac­tu­ally reversed the con­cept of strate­gic depth as to­day the Afghan Tal­iban have enough safe havens, sup­port struc­tures and hu­man re­sources deep in­side Pak­istan.

The Afghan Army and the gov­ern­ment, with two ex­ec­u­tives, have nei­ther a united mil­i­tary might to fight the Tal­iban in­sur­gency nor the fi­nan­cial and moral strength to face a chal­lenge of this mag­ni­tude. They need U.S. as­sis­tance at ev­ery step of the way till the Tal­iban in­sur­gency is com­pletely mowed down.

The sil­ver lining in the oth­er­wise bleak Afghan land­scape is the im­prove­ment in the econ­omy as well as in hu­man devel­op­ment in­di­ca­tors over the last decade. To­day’s Afghanistan is far more de­vel­oped than it has ever been when it comes to ed­u­ca­tion, road net­works, trans­mis­sion lines, etc. It is pick­ing up slowly but steadily.

The real chal­lenge is to pro­tect and con­sol­i­date the gains which have been made in the last few years. To do this, the new gov­ern­ment needs strong fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­port. What it needs to avoid is frag­men­ta­tion on eth­nic lines and clash of egos be­tween the two men in Afghanistan who mat­ter the most at the mo­ment.

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