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Monday, September 27, 2010

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The weak performance and lack of transparency within the Afghan government are a growing factor in debate over the effectiveness of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. In a December 1, 2009, policy statement on Afghanistan, which followed the second of two major Afghanistan strategy reviews in 2009, President Obama stated that “The days of providing a blank check [to the Afghan government] are over.” Since early 2010, the Administration has been pressing President Hamid Karzai to move more decisively to address corruption within his government, but Karzai’s backlash against the criticism has caused the Administration to try to work quietly with Karzai and to emphasize building the capacity of several emerging anti-corruption institutions. However, these same institutions have sometimes targeted Karzai allies and undermined the U.S.-Karzai partnership, compelling Karzai to strengthen his bond to ethnic and political faction leaders who are often involved in illicit economic activity and who undermine rule of law. Some of the effects of corruption burst into public view in August 2010 when major losses were announced by the large Kabul Bank, in part due to large loans to major shareholders, many of whom are close to Karzai. While prodding Karzai on corruption—including some moves in Congress to link further U.S. aid to clear progress on this issue—another clear trend over the past two years has been to reduce sole reliance on the Afghan central government by strengthening local governing bodies. This is being implemented, in part, by expanding the presence of U.S. government civilians as advisors outside Kabul.

The disputes with Karzai over corruption 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). The ECC invalidated nearly one-third of President Karzai’s votes, although Karzai’s main challenger dropped out of a runoff and he was declared the winner, but he subsequently faced opposition to many of his cabinet nominees by the elected lower house of parliament. Seven ministerial posts remain unfilled. There is substantial opinion that many of the flaws that plagued the 2009 election will recur in the parliamentary elections to be held September 18, 2010. 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. The security situation has complicated campaigning, particularly for women candidates.

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. Women, who have made substantial gains (including appointment to cabinet posts and governorships and election to parliament) fear their rights may be eroded under any “deal” that might end conflict with insurgent factions. 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: September 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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