Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kabul Conference (3): More plans and programs, but what has happened to the earlier ones?

posted: 20-07-2010 / by: Wazhma Frogh

There are mixed feelings among Afghans on the eve of Kabul International Conference. Many people who are involved in convening the Conference, are extremely excited and proud that it's the FIRST international event being hosted and planned by the Afghan government during the past ten years. However, there are some other critics who continue with their cynicism that it's nothing more than just another conference on Afghanistan. However, we can only assess the impact and effectiveness after a while, when the promises in the conference are deceived or fulfilled. Time will tell.... but my cynicism stems from the past failures.

In this week's editorial, Afghanistan’s 8 am national newspaper writes that the Kabul Conference is yet another hopeless theatre of empty promises of the government. The article continues that 11 months after the newly elected government, Afghanistan still does not have a complete and functional cabinet. Its own Ministry of Interior claims that among 365 districts throughout the country, only 9 of them are safe. The Afghan Constitution has been violated numerous times from the extension of the president's working tenure to the instances where the government took the decisions of the parliament with a grain of salt.

Being the subject of a long list of international conferences, Afghanistan has tremendously benefited from earlier conferences like the conferences of Bonn, Berlin and Tokyo. Since those conferences launched a new roadmap for Afghanistan, Berlin and Tokyo's billions of aid assisted Afghanistan towards a state-building process and enabled the presidential and parliamentary elections to take place throughout the country.Overall, the Afghans were more hopeful about their government at that time and the focus was on development rather than military surge. Any subsequent international conference on Afghanistan was not more than a formality.

While each conference has had a pledging component, aid effectiveness remains a controversial question in Afghanistan. In each conference, the Afghan government and the international allies created more plans and unlimited benchmarks, but none of the conferences in the past have taken stock of the progress made towards the achievement of those benchmarks. Instead, more funds have been pledged and more priorities have been introduced. In a recent interview with Ariana television, Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai who is the Chief convenor of the conference, said that the reason the Afghan government could not spend its development budget well was a lack of national level programs and initiatives. However, Dr Ghani himself has been part of national level initiatives like Afghanistan Compact and ANDS. What happend to those plans?

This international conference on Afghanistan, referred to as the Kabul International Conference, too has similar plans. According to the Afghan government officials, the conference aims to introduce around 23 areas of priorities and seek 15 billion dollars from the members of the international community to implement those areas of priority in security, governance and social development sectors.

A glance at the recent international conferences exhibits vague and unknown progress, even by the rough statistics. For example, in 2006 the government of Afghanistan introduced the Afghanistan Compact at an international conference in London. The Afghanistan Compact was a comprehensive plan to address some of the basic and fundamental social development and governance priorities of the Afghan government and its people. However, right after two years of the Afghanistan Compact, another plan was introduced at the Paris Conference and that was the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Again two years down the line, Afghanistan sees almost no significant signs of the implementation of the ANDS on the ground. It is worth mentioning, that the Comprehensive Strategy concluded at the Hague Conference last year too has remained unachieved so far.

However, even after good planning, there are two conditions for the proper implementation of any development plan in Afghanistan and those are improved security and increased accountability through combating corruption. United States as the major donor of Afghanistan claims to have pledged almost 51 billion dollars to Afghanistan, according to the SIGAR’s first quarterly report of the 2010. One of the most important priorities for the Afghan government and its international allies has been building the capacity and expertise of the National Security Forces so that they can take the responsibility for stability in the country. According to the benchmarks set by the Afghanistan Compact and ANDS for security forces: “By the end of 2010, a nationally, respected, professional, ethnically balanced, Afghan National Army will be fully established”. Unfortunately, as we are heading towards the end of 2010, the Afghan National Army is neither professional nor fully established. According to the recent audit of the Afghan National Security Forces, SIGAR found the training poor and the capabilities of the forces were measured wrongly and inconsistently by the earlier reviews of the NATO. The audit further concludes that the training provided to national forces were not productive and effective and that the United States has spent almost 21 billion dollars the training and equipment of the national security forces.

While the ANDS and Afghanistan Compact claim to establish functional and effective mechanisms to combat corruption, there are unresolved disputes on the lines of responsibility of the current mechanisms responsible for curbing the widespread spectrum of corruption in Afghanistan. Amidst structural arrangements, the country did not have a clear law or legal procedures for the prosecution of high government officials for embezzlement charges, but numerous commissions have been created and recreated. For example, the government already had a Directorate of Fighting Corruption, but another organization by the name of High Office of Oversight was established to review the charges and cases of corruption at the government level. This happened in spite of having a national Attorney General’s Office that has been claiming to be the primary warrior of fighting corruption at the government level throughout the country. Amidst already opaque circumstances, the Afghan president increased the implementation authorities of the High Office of Oversight, which created more contentions between these organizations at work.

Many critics argue that the creation of commissions have only been a political gesture by the government to manipulate the ongoing calls of the international community on the government to address the issues of corruption. A recent report by Integrity Watch shows that the impact of corruption has increased: Afghans have reported to have paid twices as many in bribes in 2009, compared to 2006. This means that even though commissions and Office of Oversight is created, the government offices are still indulging in various forms of corruption that go un-accounted. And the most corrupt parts of the government have been declared as the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice and the National Directorate of Security, which are the wheels of any functional government.

Security and accountability are the fundamental conditions for development and progress in Afghanistan. The government should strive to evaluate its past progress through participatory means so that the tangible achievements in Afghans lives are made visible, if such achievements exist. The government, with the support of civil society organizations, should launch a stock-taking campaign throughout Afghanistan to finally evaluate the impact of billions of dollars poured into this country through government and non government initiatives. Such accountability initiatives can create a level of trust and hope among the common Afghans, who are skeptical about the billions of aid dollars.

We cannot create more programs and plans if we do not know the exact progress of the previous plans. Moreover, one of the very crucial plans has been the population census survey in the country. It is of huge importance for planning and resourcing any development initiative. For a small dinner party, we first make the list of the guests before planning the menu, but in Afghanistan we have had numerous dinner parties without knowing the exact number of the guests.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Progress of Women is the Progress of Afghanistan

TOLONews Monday, 19 July 2010

There is no doubt that the current war in Afghanistan needs a political non-military solution. Therefore, a reconciliation process that is built on national consensus is needed to gauge the support of an expanding insurgency. Likewise, the members of the NATO and international community, Afghans too are desperate for an end to the ongoing violence in their home. However, the larger question is the regional dynamics of the ongoing insurgency with a leadership that does not decide inside Afghanistan but is run from Quetta, and that alone speaks a lot about the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan. This is also one of the main reasons for the skepticism on the government's Peace and Re-integration Program Plan that aims to focus on the fighters inside Afghanistan rather than regional level negotiations.

Many Afghan critics believe that the Reconciliation and Re-integration Plan that is predicated on a polarized comprehension of the insurgency, and challenge whether the plan would bear any peaceful results for Afghanistan.

Re-integration of the men fighting for various justifications is as well important to establish some level of trust between the government and the militants. But the rising concern is that the re-integration should not however, mean more impunity and injustices. If an unjust Re-integration and Re-conciliation process is taken further to integrate the Taliban militants, the other segments of Afghan society will revolt for the injustices against them. We should not forget that the Taliban movement actually started with the calls for justice against the corrupt warlord ruling in 1990s. And that is the fear of the Afghan woman.
In the last few years Afghanistan's stability is no longer seen as an end in itself. It's now just a tactic of counter-insurgency in the southern regions for the international community, and a one-sided political project for the central government. Therefore increased human rights violations as a result of non-existent rule of law and political deals and the plight of women are irrelevant since they do not serve the purpose of enhancing stability in this cold view of security. The Prisoners Review Commission established right after the Consultative Peace Jirga and has released more than 20 prisoners so far. The women fear that the Commission does not have the required legal mandate nor the willingness to review the cases from a legal point of view, but rather make political decisions as per the governments inclinations towards the militants.

We have heard from international community members on numerous occasions that NATO countries are not responsible for women's rights and other democratic values and we understand that, however we still expect that while women's human rights are respected as a core principle of their home countries, why can't it be the same for Afghanistan?

The re-integration and reconciliation plan would provide an exit mechanism for international forces, but would the international community members accept the return of oppression on Afghan women as part of this process? In an appealing editorial, the Kabul weekly magazine argues, " indeed, the Consultative Peace Jirga was the first step in legitimizing a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban and their terrorist cohorts. Maybe high-ranking officials believe that a fair deal with Taliban and power sharing is in the interest of their political survival, but this deal is not fair nor just. For one, the deal is being struck between the Taliban and a network of government officials. Social justice will be sacrificed in this deal. Moreover, the Taliban won't agree to a power sharing deal for long. Before you know it, they'll take control of the government entirely".

As reported by the Human Rights Watch just recently, the night letters (threatening letters left at night), the death threats, the assassinations of (female government officials a female politicians and activists) with a clear line of responsibility by the militants, cannot be challenged in Afghanistan. If everyone has forgotten the oppressive regime on women before 2001, how can we ignore the current barbaric treatment of women and girls in the militant controlled areas? How many woman and girls are able to go to school in Kandahar andHelmand anymore? Not only there, but in provinces like Wardak and Logar, which are are only an hour away from the capital, the doors of education and work are closed on women. How to believe that the same militants, if back in political power would adhere the AfghanConstitution, which is one of the reasons that

Taliban are fighting against and killing Afghans? In such circumstances, its ironic and unbelievable to even formulate conditions that the reconciliation and re-integration process would adhere. The concept of redlines and conditions that the process will secure women's progress made during the past 9 years does not provide any groundings to trust such a claim.

While the same Peace and Re-integration Plan has started releasing the militant prisoners without a proper form of legal scrutiny, we have more than 476 women in one of Kabul's jails and half of them are those, who should not have been imprisoned in the first place. According to a recent BBC report, half the women are jailed for so called ‘Moral Crimes,' like adultery or running away from home. Meanwhile the militants kill, behead and torture Afghans and these are not considered a ‘Moral Crime', rather the perpetrators are called ‘angry brothers' byPresident Hamid Karzai in a recent speech.

This is the political dilemma of Afghanistan. However, civil society still looks towards the international community, perhaps vainly, to speak out against the injustices that afflict them. Many in Afghanistan were disappointed United Nations response to remove the militants names from the UN terror lists and struggles already started towards that direction. We had hoped to hear from the UN at least that one of the criteria of the re-opening of the terror-list militants, would be of those who are not involved in school burnings and killing of women and girls.

A medical doctor from Malalai hospital in Kabul asks, "If the plan is to throw us back to the darkness is acceptable to all actors involved in Afghanistan, why cant they be honest about it? Why have they shown us the dreams of freedom and progress while its all about political deals. They provide more than half of the government budget, how can they not resist its policies?"

As the Afghan government is preparing for Kabul Conference in the coming week, the matter of social development including women empowerment needs to be taken seriously. International donors should ensure that the gender indicators as part of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy in order for the Afghan women to trust in the promises of the red-lines and conditionalities of the current political settlements in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Afghanistan's Politics should be local

Published by Foreign Policy/Afpak Channel ( A special project of Foreign Policy and the New American Foundation) on July 14, 2010

Despite only having recently taken over the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus has already come into conflict with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the U.S. military program to equip and train local militias against the Taliban. While Karzai objects to the plan as possibly building "private militias" according to the Washington Post, the argument hints at Karzai's long-standing opposition to strengthening local institutions at the expense of the central government, despite consistent U.S. pressure to improve local governance. But despite these objections, increased support for provincial and local government is necessary if the United States wants to bring stability to Afghanistan.

For the last three decades, Afghans have not had a government that has enabled them to live conflict-free, and therefore have become accustomed to siding with anyone -- the Taliban, international forces, local warlords -- with whom they find temporary support. That support includes protection from other criminal gangs or quick services like dispute resolution mechanisms. In my January trip to one of the most far-flung districts of Wardak province, I met a family who travelled for three days around Ghazni to find one of the Taliban commanders from their area, looking for a resolution of an ongoing land dispute between two families. In half a day the commander was able to resolve a dispute that had lasted years, and the ‘winning' family was able to grow crops on their fields again.

In early July, one female MP from the southern region of Afghanistan told me, "we do not want our people to beheaded and their hands chopped off by the cruel militants, but the people are silent because they don't have any alternative. The government that should protect them rather leaves them behind and runs away. Even some of the former Taliban commanders laugh at me, because I am a people's representative in a government which is not present even in my own district."

However, it is not only the absence of government that is problematic -- appointed and elected representatives misuse their power and swim in an ocean of corruption. For Afghans to have a stake in their local governments there must be a basic level of trust between the two. This trust requires strong local governing structures that take Afghanistan's ethnic and tribal diversity into account. One of the members of the provincial council from Ghazni told me this month that Ghazni's security worsened during the times when governors came from other provinces to serve there, even though viable candidates from the province existed. The outside governors could not work within the dynamics of the ruling tribes in Ghazni and the people could not trust them. He said the governors "came today and will go tomorrow, but it's us dealing with the same elders and tribes forever, so who would we be faithful to?"

In such circumstances when the locals are dubious about their local governor or district authority, military operations led by the international forces that support central government-mandated policies are not welcomed, especially policies related to contracting and purchasing decisions made at the ministerial level without consulting provincial governors or local officials.

Military operations that end up killing civilians do not seem to be ‘winning hearts and minds' and in April 2010, the Associated Press reported on the increased public support of the Taliban in the southern region, largely due to the increased military operations in the region. Polling compiled by the Canadian military reportedly showed that 25% of respondents in Kandahar province held positive views of the Taliban. And the numerous reports of the failure of the police forces and local governance in Marjah demonstrate for Kandaharis that a similar or worse situation could emerge in their province following the long-planned Western offensive there.

Security in Afghanistan has not worsened only because militants became stronger, but because the government failed to live up to hopes of the Afghan people, and villages became vulnerable to militants penetration. In order to ‘break the Taliban's momentum," and "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda," in the words of President Barack Obama, the United States and its allies should increase funding for operations that would embed international civilian experts in local government institutions in order to provide training and upgrade governance capacity.

International support for local governance structures does not mean opposing the central government. But the aid that comes to Afghanistan as part of international commitment should be allocated at provincial and local level while ensuring that any funding or aid meets international standards of accountability, with careful monitoring to ensure that funds go to projects that will make a difference, and money is not spent on projects that don't benefit Afghans.

If non-military operations can demonstrate tangible achievements -- meaning at a minimum an assurance for Afghans of protection by their local government, quick dispute resolution and at least apparent accountability in government structures -- the Afghan public's support for the Afghan mission will improve. If the government at the sub-national level can begin to provide a more promising life to Afghans, local people in the volatile southern regions will be better able to withstand militant pressure, and build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan.