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Wednesday, October 20, 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, although government capacity is significantly larger than it was when the Taliban regime fell in late 2001. 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, with apparently limited success. Karzai has agreed to cooperate with U.S.-led efforts to build the capacity of several emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same institutions have sometimes targeted Karzai allies and undermined the U.S.-Karzai partnership. In part as a reaction, Karzai has strengthened his bonds 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 advisers 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. Many of the flaws that plagued the 2009 election appear to have recurred in the parliamentary elections held September 18, 2010, although apparently to a lesser extent. However, the fraud complaints in that election are still under investigation and the scope of any fraud committed is not yet clear. The security situation complicated campaigning and the voting, to some extent, but did not derail the election. Results are to be announced October 30.

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. The main “opposition leader” and 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. However, Karzai has named a Tajik leader as chair of the 68-member High Peace Council that is to structure settlement talks. 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: October 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 50
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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