Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitution revived a system of highly centralized government with a strong presidency. Six years later, it is apparent that this arrangement is failing on many counts.
The Hollings Center for International Dialogue and the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) convened pre-eminent experts from Afghanistan, Europe, Turkey, and the United States in Istanbul last summer for a three-day conference entitled “Fundamentals of Governance in Afghanistan.” The conference focused on three crucial areas: central government capacity; the rule of law; and subnational governance. This short report offers the key recommendations emerging from the discussions.
Lasting stability in Afghanistan requires that its people accept state authority as legitimate and trust its institutions. This will happen only if the central government addresses the people’s “hierarchy of needs”—security, justice, and economic development—through good governance.
If improvements in governance do not begin to happen and government legitimacy does not increase, the international community may question its commitment to Afghanistan and cut support—risking a return to the tumult and anarchy that prevailed when international troops arrived in 2001.
In the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections, the issues most important for bringing better governance demand immediate attention. The window is closing on the chance to bring change. The international community should encourage and support the following reforms:
- Improve the appointments process for senior officials, especially provincial governors and police chiefs, so that the corrupt and unqualified do not get important offices and undeserving incumbents can be removed for cause.
- Alongside the U.S military and civilian surge, commit to a comprehensive “Afghan civilian surge” that parallels the effort to build a capable, competent Afghan national security force.
- Enact legal changes that allow candidates to affiliate with political parties on the ballot for upcoming parliamentary elections.
- Recognize the results of Afghanistan’s traditional systems of mediation and arbitration as valid and enforceable within the formal court system.
- Arrest, prosecute, and convict some high level criminal offenders, including corrupt officials, through due process to show the government’s will to implement the rule of law.
- Enact legislation that gives the same limited revenue-generating powers to provinces and other sub-national entities as those accorded to municipalities, and allow provinces and municipalities to retain and spend a portion of those revenues for local services.
- Organize sub-national civil administration on a regional basis (paralleling the organization of the military and police) to encourage more efficient, affordable, and responsive government.