Western predictions about Afghanistan’s future are never cheery. But even from that perspective, the International Crisis Group’s report (ICG) Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition that was issued on Monday makes for depressing reading. The themes have continuity: high-level corruption and inability of security forces to shoulder their responsibilities after the International Security Assistance Force leaves the country.
There is some truth in what ICG states. The report’s key concern is the Afghan political system’s ability to hold free and fair elections—especially presidential elections that tend to be associated with corrupt practices. As it is, it’s hard for any central government in Kabul to maintain legitimacy in a politically fractured country. Charges of electoral fraud make matters worse. This has a direct bearing on the security situation.
“Afghanistan’s political leaders have a maximum of 18 months to prepare for an election and ensure a smooth transfer of presidential power,” the report notes, adding that “many key tasks must be finished much earlier, particularly regarding electoral oversight. Resolving both the long crisis over electoral administration and related constitutional disputes could well be the key to determining whether the current political system will survive the 2014 Nato drawdown. Failure in either would be a crippling blow to chances to generate popular trust in a regime already regarded as highly corrupt. The international community must realize this is its last best chance to leave a viable state in Afghanistan and mobilize accordingly”.
It is not clear if the Hamid Karzai government is capable of doing this. Already embattled by successive security challenges, the government is losing popularity. The danger now is that President Karzai’s short-term survival instincts may be a serious barrier in the way of the necessary electoral and constitutional reforms. These reforms are not about one government or another, but are about the viability of Afghanistan as a nation-state. Historically, of course, the prospects of Afghan governments that are dependent on foreign support—military, political and in terms of economic and financial support—are dim. The fate of the Najibullah regime is well-known. It is not necessary that Karzai’s government will end that way. But the time to avoid that is short.
Can Afghanistan meet its security challenges after 2014?