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Wednesday, May 1, 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 and rampant with governmental corruption. 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 denied 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. Fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) was extensively documented. However, Afghan officials, scrutinized by opposition parties, civil society organizations, and key donor countries, are taking steps to improve election oversight for the April 5, 2014 presidential and provincial elections.

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, on the condition that Afghanistan takes concrete, verifiable action to rein in 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 reduce their involvement in Afghanistan. An 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—has begun to plan for the 2014 end of the international security mission. Many Afghans are likely to look to the faction leaders, rather than to the government, to protect them from possible civil conflict with the Taliban after 2014. But, an increase in the influence of faction leaders could produce even more corruption and arbitrary administration of justice than has been the case since the international intervention in 2001.

President Karzai is appealing to nationalist sentiment to attract Taliban support to rejoin Afghan politics, but leaders of factions outside Karzai’s ethnic Pashtun base criticize him as too willing to make concessions in search of a settlement. Afghan civil society activists, particularly women’s groups, assert that a full reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics—a development that appears possible as informal talks between relatively moderate Taliban figures and Afghan political leaders proliferate—could reverse some of the human and women’s rights progress observed since 2001. Those gains have come despite the persistence of traditional attitudes in many parts of Afghanistan—attitudes that cause the judicial and political system to tolerate child marriages and imprisonment of women who flee domestic violence. Islamic conservatism also remains prevalent, leading to 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: April 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 66
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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