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Friday, July 9, 2010

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The performance and legitimacy of the Afghan government figured prominently in two reviews of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan during 2009 and continues to color U.S. relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In his December 1, 2009, speech on Afghanistan, which followed the second review, President Obama stated that the Afghan government would be judged on performance, and "The days of providing a blank check are over." President Obama reportedly pressed Karzai to move more decisively to address his government's deficiencies, particularly corruption, during a March 28, 2010, visit to Afghanistan. The emphasis on that issue may have contributed to two subsequent statements by Karzai accusing the international community of exercising undue pressure on him and on Afghanistan. These issues were muted during Karzai's May 10-14, 2010, visit to Washington, DC, which was described by officials on both sides as highly productive. It produced a commitment to renew and expand a U.S.-Afghanistan "strategic partnership" by the end of 2010. However, the benefits of the visit quickly dissipated when Karzai fired two of the most pro-U.S. top security officials on June 5, 2010, with one of them alleging that Karzai has concluded he must negotiate with Pakistan on a settlement of the Afghan conflict because the U.S.-led coalition will not succeed in pacifying Afghanistan.

The Afghan government's widespread official corruption, as well as its ineffectiveness, is identified by U.S. officials as feeding the insurgency. Karzai's alliances with key ethnic and political faction leaders have reduced his ability to fill the government with politically neutral and technically competent officers. In the August 20, 2009, presidential election, there were widespread charges of fraud, many substantiated by an Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). Nearly one-third of President Karzai's votes were invalidated, leaving him just short of the 50%+ total needed to avoid a second-round runoff. Asserting that more fraud was likely, Karzai's main challenger dropped out of the race on November 1, 2009, and Karzai was declared the winner. He has since had difficulty obtaining parliamentary confirmation of a full cabinet, and seven ministerial posts remain unfilled. Most of the well-regarded economic ministers have been retained. Lacking confidence in the central government, the United States is now focused on strengthening local governing bodies, in part by expanding the presence of U.S. government civilians as advisors outside Kabul. The Administration also has appointed senior civilian officials to work jointly with their military counterparts in the five regional commands.

Karzai has tried to rebuild international support by announcing new anti-corruption steps as well as by formulating proposals to try to persuade insurgent fighters to give up their fight. Several donors at a major international conference on Afghanistan in Britain on January 28, 2010, endorsed—and agreed to begin to fund—Karzai's proposals, which were mostly endorsed at an Afghan consultative "peace jirga" during June 2-4, 2010. However, concerns remain about whether Karzai is committed to ensuring that the upcoming parliamentary elections, to be held September 18, 2010, will correct previous flaws and prove free and fair. Confidence was undermined, to an extent, in February 2010 when Karzai issued an election decree to govern the National Assembly elections on September 18, 2010. The decree eliminated the three U.N.- appointed positions for international officials on the ECC, although a subsequent compromise restored two non-Afghan ECC seats. For more information, see CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman, and CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues, by Rhoda Margesson.

Date of Report: June 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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