Footprints: One year on, Afghan govt struggles

Published September 25, 2015
Disagreements between Abdullah and Ghani leave the door open for “foreign interference”.—Reuters/File
Disagreements between Abdullah and Ghani leave the door open for “foreign interference”.—Reuters/File

AS the driver stands by the busy Telecommunications Square trying to round up more passengers for the 65-kilometre drive to Kabul, Abdul sits patiently in the front seat sipping his soup.

Abdul will return to Kabul, where he works as a carpenter on construction sites in the capital.

He has made the journey dozens of times, but each trip over the last year has seen the 40-something Jalalabad native plagued by a sense of unease.

Like many other Afghans, Abdul has grown increasingly disenchanted with the new national unity government, led by President Ashraf Ghani.

With the one-year anniversary of the inauguration approaching, Afghans feel the Kabul government has not done enough to address the economic and security challenges that only seemed to grow worse during the election process.

The election — which saw Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah head into a high stakes run-off last June — was marred by accusations of widespread government-assisted fraud for more than 10 months.

Things got so contentious that the United States and the United Nations had to step in. Eventually, both sides agreed to form a government of national unity with Ghani as president and Abdullah given the newly-created position of chief executive.

Shortly after the Sept 29 inauguration, Afghans were hopeful that Ghani and Abdullah would deliver on their campaign promises. Those promises included fighting rampant corruption to bringing an end to the conflict and creating jobs to address the unemployment rate, which some estimates put as high as 35 per cent.

But Abdul says rather than getting better, the situation in Afghanistan has only gotten worse.

“The day Ghani took office everyone lost their jobs,” Abdul says of the economic situation in the country.

He uses himself as an example of the lack of economic activity.

“Before I used to work on three or four buildings per year. This year, it’s only one, and even that is left over from the final year of [former president] Hamid Karzai,” Abdul laments.

He was hopeful for a drastic change when he voted for Ghani last year.

“We are illiterate people, so when we saw others voting for him en masse we thought: ‘he must be good if so many people are voting for him’.”

To residents of the eastern city, Jalalabad itself is seen as a prime example of how much they believe things have deteriorated over the last year.

A motorcycle bombing outside a Kabul Bank branch left at least 33 people dead and dozens more wounded last April.

Along with the high casualty toll, Jalalabadis were also rattled by the fact that a group claiming to be allied with the self-styled Islamic State commonly known by its Arabic acronym Daesh said they were behind the attack.

Nangarhar, the province in which Jalalabad is located, has increasingly become host to groups claiming to be tied to Daesh. Residents say one has to travel only 13 kilometres outside the city to reach territory where fighters said to be part of the Iraq and Syria-based group operate.

Amrullah Saleh, the former director of the Afghan intelligence agency, agrees that little positive change has come to Afghanistan over the last year.

“It’s a stagnating government at best,” Saleh said.

Though he backed Abdullah in the second round of the election, Saleh has become a vocal critic of the unity government.

Aimal Faizi, former spokesman for Hamid Karzai, says the government has stagnated because the once rival camps have found few grounds for agreement.

“Appointments from district governor upwards to the ministerial level are based on people close to the two camps.”

Faizi said these disagreements between Abdullah and Ghani have left the door open for “foreign interference”.

This, said Faizi, has given outsiders — namely the US — looking to calm the two sides, “the final word” on Afghan matters.

Government representatives say the people have not given the government a chance to prove itself.

They point to the ability of the 352,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to continue to fight the armed opposition as a major feat.

The last several years had seen repeated predictions of the collapse of the nation’s military and police forces as international troops began their withdrawal in 2014.

Though the last year has seen the ANSF and the armed opposition engaging in a series of back-and-forth battles for control of districts in Ghazni, Badakhshan, Helmand and Kunduz provinces, boosters of the government say the fact that the security forces continue to fight should not be underestimated.

Both Ghani and Abdullah have repeatedly pointed to the ANSF’s endurance as a sign of pride.

Earlier this month, Ghani himself enumerated several achievements.

“The government has revised or passed more legislation than the past two years combined,” Ghani said.

The president went on to say the government had approved revised banking, electricity and procurement laws.

Walid, originally from Paktia province, says people have been too quick to judge.

“If there’s a suicide bombing in Kabul, is it the president’s fault? If young Afghans begin to leave the country, is it the president’s fault?” Walid said.

People’s expectations, said the 27-year-old, are far too unrealistic.

“Nothing will be resolved in one, or even two years … people thought the day after Ghani became president corruption would immediately drop to zero. That’s not fair and not realistic.”

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2015

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