Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
The fall of the Taliban regime touched off hopes Afghanistan will move from instability to security and development. Conversely, the conflict continues to challenge Afghanistan’s stability, development and growth. The Taliban and other militant groups have been engaged in guerilla warfare with the state security apparatus while criminals have been exploiting the space created by instability.
While the conflict has a variety of underlying reasons, including the existence of direct and indirect regional and global stakeholders and interest groups, one principal reason for the re-emergence of government opposition groups has been bad governance.
For its part, the government has failed to deliver good governance over an extended period of time. A critical review will reveal the Afghan government, over past one decade, has been unable to uphold even the basic principles of good governance, a failure that is directly tied to instability.
Transparency & accountability:
Governance has been shorn of transparency and accountability over the last 13 years. Decisions have been made without consultations and implemented without keeping the public in picture. The masses have been denied even basic information as there was no law on access to information up until late 2014. It was only in December 2014 that a law on access to information was passed. Half a year on, implementation of the law is yet to take place. The systems for accountability and transparency, unfortunately, does not exist.
Corruption has been prevalent in all governmental institutions. Afghanistan has been adjudged as one of the three most corrupt countries in the world during the last few hence, the Afghans have been a victim of widespread corruption. Transparency in state affairs has been elusive.
Lack of political will to combat graft has been an issue raised time and again. Ex-president Hamid Karzai was often accused of lacking the political will to eradicate corruption and promote accountability in the country. His lack of will to fight against corruption is seen as one of the significant failures during his decade-long rule.
In a string of studies and surveys, the people have repeatedly identified corruption as a serious issue. One study conducted by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) reveals more than half of the Afghan population sees corruption as the second largest issue challenging stability in the country.
Appointments to state institutions and public offices have been based on nepotism instead of talent and merit. There has been little merit in appointments of public officials. As an upshot, governance structures have not been responsive to public needs. A recent report by Pajhwok Afghan News revealed that many appointments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were made based on nepotism. Professionals with required qualifications were kept waiting.
Rule of law:
Rule of law is recognised as a prerequisite for the introduction of smart governance, establishing the legitimacy of an administration and earning rulers public confidence. However, Afghanistan has not enjoyed rule of law in its true sense.
Access to justice for all is one key ingredients of rule of law. However, the justice sector remains one of the most corrupt government organs. A Crisis Group report reads Afghanistan’s justice system is in a catastrophic state of disrepair. Despite repeated efforts, majority of Afghans have little or no access to judicial institutions. Lack of justice has destabilized the country, where judicial institutions have withered to near non-existence.
The need for justice-sector reforms has been recognized and stressed by Afghanistan’s main ally, the United States of America (USA). Observers suggest developing effective justice-sector institutions is essential in winning support of the Afghans, improving the government’s credibility and legitimacy, and reducing the backing of insurgent factions. In recognition of the fact, a number of programs have been implemented, but they have failed to make any impact.
In terms of security, as part of rule of law, Afghanistan has suffered enormously. The fact that women’s rights are denied in general. The fact that the country remains one of the worst places in the world for women to livein paints a sorry picture of the overall state of affairs. After the civil war, transitional justice has not been implemented at all and war criminals continue to hold high position in the government.
The government has not been effective or efficient, having failed miserably to meet basic public needs. Ministries have frequently failed to spend their development budget. In a country that is in dire need of development, underspending of the annual budget is an incriminating proof of the government’s ineffectiveness,inefficiency and lack of responsiveness.
Unfortunately, there is no mechanism in place to gauge government officials’ performance at different levels. The only performance-evaluating criterion is budget utilization. There is no benchmark for measuring either quantitative or qualitative efficiency of state institutions,which are tainted by bribery and kickbacks. Citizens are supposed to pay bribes to get even a legitimate job done in public offices.
Afghanistan’s failure to introduce good governance has pushed it even deeper into instability, with the government losing public confidence. The armed opposition has exploited this situation, gaining a foothold in rural areas. Also, people do not believe in rulers’ ability to prevent militants from harming armed opposition has been threatening state stability and gaining strength.
Lack of public trust in the government and the resultant resurgence of militants in recent years has atrophied economic growth. Investors have been reluctant to come to Afghanistan. On the other hand, the absence of good governance has made it difficult for investors to operate effectively. Consequently, the country has suffered economically.
The militants have been attacking national infrastructure such as roads and dams to make their presence felt. This has heavily damaged economic growth. Also, they have been preventing the implementations of development activities, keeping Afghanistan backward. In the meantime, criminals like drug dealers have utilized holes in the governance system,resulting in instability.
Good governance is an absolute basis for garnering public support that can help neutralize external and internal security threats. Stability and peace can be achieved only if the government is able to defy non-state actors and enforce rule of law throughout the country.
The government’s writ is crucial to building public confidence and wooing investors. Once a sense of security is created, the country will start taking steps on the road to economic growth and sustainable development.
The nexus of stability and development with good governance is vivid and clear. Lack of good governance erodes public trust in the state that causes capital flight and makes investors think of alternatives. Afghanistan is losing investment and development, with the masses losing jobs.
If Afghanistan wants to achieve sustainable development and growth, it has to invest heavily in good governance both financially and morally. Good governance contributes to social cohesion, harmony and peace-building.
Promotion of good governance contributes to protecting public interest and denying armed opposition groups public support. A governance system that is able to respond to public needs is transparent and corruption-free, recognizes local development needs and responds to those.
The government will have to invest enough time and effort on an emergency basis in strengthening good governance, considering its enormous importance in the modern-day world. As a result, Afghanistan will have to seek technical assistance and targeted support in terms of experience-sharing from some of the countries that have recently tasted development through implementing good governance principles.
State leadership will have to make a strong commitment to the good governance agenda and devise a decisive five-year strategic plan for implementation of basic principles. Additionally, the government will have to set good governance targets, performance-measuring indicators and assess progress towards achieving good governance on a half-yearly basis.
Also, the authorities will have to engage the public and investors in consultations on setting the good governance agenda. This opportunity can be used for rebuilding the broken link. Finally, the government will have to streamline its peace-building agenda to deal with the challenge posed by anti-state elements