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Wednesday, November 16, 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 by the end of 2014. The capacity of the formal Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but many positions, particularly at the local level, are unfilled. Widespread illiteracy limits expansion of a competent bureaucracy. A dispute over the results of the 2010 parliamentary elections paralyzed governance for nearly a year and was resolved in September 2011 with the unseating on the grounds of fraud of nine winners of the elected lower house of parliament. Karzai also has tried, through direct denials, to quell assertions by his critics that he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term, the limits under the constitution.

While trying, with mixed success, to build the formal governing structure, Afghan President Hamid Karzai also works through an informal power structure centered around his close ethnic Pashtun allies as well as other ethnic and political faction leaders. Some faction leaders oppose Karzai on the grounds that he is too willing to make concessions to insurgent leaders in search of a settlement—a criticism that grew following the September 20 assassination of the most senior Tajik leader, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Another informal source of authority, President Karzai’s half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, who essentially ran southern Afghanistan on the president’s behalf, was assassinated on July 12, 2011. His death increased doubts about stability as U.S. troops draw down.

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. Efforts against corruption also run up against an Afghan culture that rewards appointing and letting contracts to relatives and friends. Effects of corruption burst into public view in August 2010 when the large Kabul Bank nearly collapsed due in part to losses on large, poorly documented loans to major shareholders, many of whom are close to Karzai. That issue, too, appears closer to resolution with the prosecution of several individuals allegedly responsible for the scandal and a resulting International Monetary Fund (IMF) announcement in October 2011 that it would restore its credit program for Afghanistan.

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 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: November
8, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: RS2
Price: $29.95

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