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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The performance and legitimacy of the Afghan government factored 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, policy statement on Afghanistan, which followed the second review, President Obama stated that "The days of providing a blank check [to the Afghan government] 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 and which resulted in a U.S. commitment to renew and expand a U.S.-Afghanistan "strategic partnership" by the end of 2010. Karzai recommitted to numerous steps to try to reduce governmental corruption—and to improve rule of law and other aspects of governance - at an international meeting on Afghanistan in Kabul on July 20, 2010. One clear trend over the past two years has been to reduce sole reliance on the Afghan central government by strengthening local governing bodies, in part by expanding the presence of U.S. government civilians as advisors outside Kabul.

Politically, there are some indications of ethnic and political fragmentation over the terms on which a settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan might be achieved. On June 6, 2010, Karzai fired two of the most pro-U.S. top security officials. One of them—a member of the Tajik minority—is now openly promoting the view 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. Other leaders of minority communities boycotted a June 2-4, 2010 "consultative peace jirga (assembly)" in Kabul that endorsed Karzai's plan to reintegrate into society insurgents willing to end their fight against the government.

The disputes within Afghanistan and between Karzai and his international partners on terms of any conflict settlement compound continuing international concerns about Afghan democracy and Karzai's legitimacy. 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. 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: July 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 46
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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