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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The capacity and transparency of Afghan governance are considered crucial to Afghan stability after U.S.-led NATO forces turn over the security mission to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but it remains weak, with many positions unfilled at local levels. Even as the government has struggled to widen its writ, President Hamid Karzai has tried to concentrate authority in Kabul through his constitutional powers of appointment at all levels. Karzai has repeatedly and publicly denied assertions by opposing faction leaders that he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term, but there are concerns he plans to use state election machinery to support the election of a successor. International efforts to curb fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) largely failed and Afghan efforts to improve election oversight for the 2014 presidential and provincial elections are behind schedule, although opposition parties and civil society organizations are working to try to ensure a fair election.

Fears about the election process are fanned by the scant progress in reducing widespread nepotism and other forms of corruption. President Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same bodies have faltered from lack of support at senior Afghan government levels. At a donors’ conference in Tokyo on July 8, 2012, donors pledged to aid Afghanistan’s economy through at least 2017, provided Afghanistan takes concrete, verifiable action to rein in corruption. On July 26, 2012, Karzai appeared to try to meet his pledges to the Tokyo conference by issuing a “decree on administrative reforms”—a document of sweeping policy directives intended to curb corruption.

No matter how the Afghan leadership succession process works out, there is concern among many observers that governance will founder as the United States and its partners wind down their involvement in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The informal power structure consisting of regional and ethnic leaders—who have always been at least as significant a factor in governance as the formal power structure—is already beginning to assert itself in anticipation of the 2014 international drawdown. Many Afghans are looking to the faction leaders, rather than to the government, to protect them from possible civil conflict with the Taliban after 2014. An increase in influence of faction leaders will produce even more corruption and arbitrary administration of justice than is the case now. The faction leaders who do not belong to Karzai’s dominant Pashtun community are wary that Karzai 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—a development increasingly likely as talks between relatively moderate Taliban figures and Afghan political leaders proliferate—could further set back progress in human and women’s rights.

Broader issues of human rights often vary depending on the security environment in particular regions, although some trends prevail nationwide. Women, media professionals, and civil society 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; and CRS Report R41484, Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance, by Liana Sun Wyler and Kenneth Katzman.

Date of Report: February 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 70
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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