Afghanistan in Transition: The question we should be asking

by RITU MAHENDRU, 15.11.2013 | Kabul

With just under a week before the final list of candidates for the spring elections is expected to be announced, no one is asking how the political power relations in the country would be managed – a timely and relevant question in the context of current efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Local Governance pic

It is forecasted that Afghanistan will face major security and development challenges once the full responsibility for security is handed over to the Afghan National Security forces by the end of 2014. There are a number of challenges that threaten peace and stability in the country. Most important factors that have caused insecurity and instability are primarily growing presence of Taliban, dependence on illicit poppy cultivation, weak institutions that also relates to lack of economic opportunities as well as ‘poor governance’.

The governance structures in Afghanistan are complex.  Thomas Barefield in his book argues that to examine the changing notions of power and political legitimacy in Afghanistan, it is important to decipher how the political structures are historically relevant and established, how power and elites function at the village and district levels, and how this links with higher level political and geographical structures.

Just to illustrate an example of Ghor Province, located in Central Afghanistan in the North West, is considered one of the most insecure places in the country. The province has more than three governments reports Obaid Ali of Afghan Analyst Network. The local people often face austerity at the hands of informal structures. Existing social order influence the ways in which public services are accessed and delivered; and the political and social conflict allows itself to preserve legitimacy and authority over Ghor.

Indeed, in the absence of an alternative formal recognised political structure at grassroots level, such growing desire for power tends to threaten and disrupt society as a whole through which a certain degree of legitimacy is gained. With such complex informal governance environment, protection of certain tribal groups do not comes easy. Negotiation with local power-holders in exchange of social and economic obligations and services is currency to stable governance – a passive stability.

So how do we deal with such complexities, which are relationship based and decentralised partially reflecting country’s complex history of state-society relations on the basis of which regional power holders have legitimatised their position as warlords, drug dealers etc

A common thread between different arguments is addressing the behaviour of local power holders (formal and informal) at different levels that pave its way to a more absolutist state with its support from militias and little administrative penetration. The presence of multiple power holders that operate in districts and villages across the country has caused a major challenge in promoting governance and development.

More recently, the two Afghan government ministries responsible for governance and rural development in the country came together and drafted the “Policy for Improving Governance and Development in Districts and Villages” in order to promote equity, fairness and justice. With this policy, yet to be approved by the Office of Administrative Affairs, local District Coordination Councils (DCCs) will be formed across the country as councils at the district level and will be recognised as formal government bodies.

However, equitable participation and representation of women, fair election process, appropriate funding as well as implementation of Afghan led priorities and agenda will remain some of the key challenges in terms of implementation of this policy.

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