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Friday, June 15, 2012

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Building capacity and limiting corruption at all levels of Afghan governance are crucial to the success of a planned transition from U.S.-led NATO forces to Afghan security leadership. 
  • The capacity of the formal Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001. However, many local positions remain unfilled due to security concerns and widespread illiteracy; nepotism and political considerations in hiring are entrenched in Afghan culture; and other forms of corruption are widespread. 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. 
  • Afghan and U.S. critics of President Hamid Karzai’s government assert that he has concentrated authority in Kabul through vast powers of appointment at all levels—appointment power given him by the Afghan constitution. Karzai has publicly denied assertions by opposing faction leaders that he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term, but he is said to be trying to cultivate an acceptable successor. His April 2012 announcement that he is considering trying to move the next presidential election to 2013 is believed part of a Karzai effort to retain influence informally. International efforts to curb fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) largely failed and many believe election oversight has improved little since, although new civil society groups are organizing to try to ensure robust competition and electoral fairness. 
There is concern among many observers that U.S. efforts to help build Afghan governance, democracy, civil society, and rule of law will founder as the United States and its partners seek to wind down their involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Some argue that the informal power structure, which has always been at least as significant a factor in governance as the formal power structure, will sustain governance beyond 2014. Others say greater reliance on the informal power structure will invite even more corruption and arbitrary administration of justice than is the case now. Karzai has turned the informal power structure to his advantage by relying on the loyalty of several close, ethnic Pashtun allies while both engaging and dividing the minority ethnic and political faction leaders that generally oppose him. Some non-Pashtun faction leaders oppose Karzai on the grounds that he is too willing to make concessions to insurgent leaders in search of a settlement. There are fears that a reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics will further set back progress in human rights and the rights of women and boost Pashtun power.

Broader issues of human rights often vary depending on the security environment in particular regions, although some trends prevail nationwide. Women and other groups have made substantial gains since the fall of the Taliban, but traditional attitudes contribute to the judicial and political system’s continued toleration of child marriages, imprisonment of women who flee domestic violence, judgments against converts from Islam to Christianity, and curbs on the sale of alcohol and Western-oriented programming in the 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: June 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 66
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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