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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The limited capacity and widespread corruption of all levels of Afghan governance are factors in debate over the effectiveness of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and in implementing a transition to Afghan security leadership. That transition is to be completed by the end of 2014, a timeframe agreed to by the United States, its international partners, and the Afghan government.

Afghan governing capacity has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but many positions, particularly at the local level, are unfilled. Many governing functions are performed at least informally by unaccountable power brokers. Widespread illiteracy and ethnic and factional ties limit the development of a competent bureaucracy, although U.S. and other programs are attempting to address these deficiencies. On corruption, President Hamid Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same institutions have sometimes caused a Karzai backlash when they have targeted his allies or relatives. Effects of corruption burst into public view in August 2010 when the large Kabul Bank nearly collapsed due in part to losses on large loans to major shareholders, many of whom are close to Karzai. Some in the 112
th Congress say they seek to link further U.S. aid to clearer progress on the corruption issue.

Purportedly suspicious that U.S. and other donor nations want to undermine him, Karzai has tried to satisfy ethnic and political faction leaders who have little regard for Western democratic practices. Such fluid alliances are a feature of Afghan politics long predating the 30-year period of instability there. However, some leaders of these same factions oppose Karzai on the grounds that he has tried to use his office to manipulate election results to the advantage of him and his faction. Election-related disputes continue to cast uncertainty over the composition of the lower house of parliament. On the other hand, Karzai has tried to reassure his most suspicious critics who believe he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term, the limits under the constitution.

Broader issues of human rights often vary depending on the security environment in particular regions, although some trends prevail nationwide. The State Department human rights report for 2010 attributes many of the human rights abuses in Afghanistan to overall lack of security, traditional conservative attitudes that are widely prevalent, and the weakness of government control over outlying localities. Women have made substantial gains in government and the private sector since the fall of the Taliban but many organizations report substantial backsliding, particularly in areas where the insurgency operates. Traditional attitudes also continue to prevail, slowing of efforts to curb such practices as child marriages and contributing to court judgments against converts from Islam to Christianity and cleric-driven curbs on the sale of alcohol and Western-oriented programming in the burgeoning Afghan media. See also CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues, by Rhoda Margesson; and CRS Report R41484, Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance, by Liana Sun Wyler and Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: July 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 59
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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