THE political transition in Afghanistan, the transfer of security responsibilities to local forces and the need to develop an indigenous formal economy have tested the patience and determination of Afghans in 2014.
During the course of this year, Afghan state and society have passed through three distinct phases. The first phase, in which elections were held, was a fraught one. A situation complicated by insurgency as well as regional proxy wars meant that conducting fair and free elections was a major challenge. The Afghans, both men and women, went to polling stations in reasonably large numbers amidst fears of violence.
The second phase began post-election, when none of the presidential candidates won the required number of votes. This necessitated a run-off vote between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that became bitterly disputed after the latter refused to accept the results. Regional and international observers voiced fears of widespread instability in the country when Mr Abdullah’s supporters threatened to establish a parallel government. A tense impasse ensued with the two contenders refusing to budge from their positions. How this phase played out was considered crucial to Afghanistan’s future and political stability in the region.
The third phase brought good tidings not only for the Afghan people but also for other countries in the region. Under immense pressure from the ever-expanding and increasingly assertive Afghan civil society and independent media, both sides wisely decided to agree on a power-sharing formula. Although US and Nato officials played a major role in bringing them to the negotiating table, the two candidates’ own sagacity was key to reaching an agreement.
The new Afghan government faces many challenges.
The newly elected Afghan government has several major challenges to deal with in the next couple of years. The first pertains to internal security. Both aspects of the internal security challenge, the strengthening of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and reintegration of the insurgents in the political process, need to be tackled simultaneously.
Although the ANA has proved to be a viable institution both in terms of numbers and capacity, desertions by soldiers still pose a challenge. So attention must be paid to personnel retention, and the force should be better equipped and further modernised. The Afghan government would do well to sign deals with regional states for these ends.
Perhaps most important to Afghanistan’s internal security is to carry forward the process of reconciliation with the insurgent groups. The task is complicated by the fact that many members of the insurgent groups are thought to be based in the region, and countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan can play an important role to address this issue.
It is to their advantage to find common economic and political interests inside Afghanistan: instability here, as a result of both internal and external factors, has already led to turmoil in the region. Moreover, realignments of violent religious extremist groups in the neighbourhood may pose serious threats to Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India if they remain oblivious to the emerging security scenarios.
The second challenge for the new Afghan government is to build its own economy. So far, the Afghan economy is either run on foreign capital or falls in the ‘undocumented’ category. The US and Nato are reported to have spent approximately $650 billion in Afghanistan since 9/11. Meanwhile, the thriving undocumented economy continues to oil the terrorist and insurgent war machines in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is situated in a part of the world accessible to South Asia, Central Asia, Turkey, China and the Middle East. Regional states, especially Pakistan, can initiate joint economic ventures that will benefit both countries. If Pakistan wishes to cut the supply lines of terrorist networks engaged on its soil, it has to exponentially expand the volume of trade with Afghanistan.
The third challenge for the newly elected Afghan government is to strengthen political institutions and initiate a robust political process, which would impact state-building as a whole. Tribal kinship networks and alignments are not substitutes for political institutions in a modern state. It is high time for the Afghans to switch to formation of political parties to address the issues of participation and representation.
Against this backdrop, the power-sharing formula between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah may run into hurdles at times. A loya jirga (grand assembly) has been proposed to address the thorny issues that may crop up. This body could suggest constitutional amendments which would be made through the ulasi jirga (people’s assembly) and the meshrano jirga (elders’ assembly).
If achieved, political stability in Afghanistan could herald a much-needed era of regional cooperation in the coming years.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014