Good governance forms foundations of development, prosperity and stability of a country. Rule of law, transparency, accountability, participation, freedom of expression and inclusiveness are some of the important characteristics of good governance that contribute to effective and efficient use of resources for sustainable development. In addition, it is an important factor in bringing harmony and social cohesion in a society.
Unfortunately, resource rich and strategically important geography of Caucuses, Central Asia and Afghanistan-an important intersection between central and south Asia-has been struggling to achieve development, prosperity and longer term stability. Analysis of issues hindering progress of the region towards economic development reveals that bad governance is a common and important challenge faced by the region which has been hampering its development, nudging some of the countries into state of fragility. The countries of the region are faced with high level of corruption, nepotism and absence of authentic democracy.
The Global Governance Index of 2011 places countries of the mentioned region in significantly lower ranks. Afghanistan is ranked 175, Turkmenistan 151, Uzbekistan 134, Azerbaijan 115, Armenia 112, Georgia 111, Kazakhstan 102, Tajikistan 108 and Kirghizstan 89 among 179 countries. This clearly indicates that bad governance is the primary challenge faced by the Greater Central Asia including Afghanistan.
Micro analysis of good governance factors in mentioned countries gives clear evidence of bad governance as it reveals that they are significantly ranked low on almost all global indices. Review of corruption index, for example, shows that Afghanistan is ranked 166, Turkmenistan 154, Uzbekistan 153, Tajikistan 136, Kirghizstan and Kazakhstan 123, Azerbaijan 119 and Armenia 95 among 167 countries. It affirms the statement that corruption is devouring the countries from within impeding their economic development.
Similarly, review of Freedom of Press Index-another important facet of good governance-for 2016 presents a very grim scene vis a vis countries in focus. Among all countries only Georgia is faring better with ranking of 64 followed by Kirghizstan 85 out of 180 countries. Rest of the countries have one of the worst global rankings with Turkmenistan at 170, Uzbekistan 166, Azerbaijan 163, Kazakhstan 160, Tajikistan 150 and Afghanistan 120.
While the region has been struggling with bad governance, the world, particularly the West, gave little attention to serious problem of bad governance prevalent in the region. According to Asian Society report of January 2012, for much of the 1990s, Central Asia was a backwater for American foreign policy, a region overshadowed by the far greater regional challenges posed by Russia, China, Iran and Eastern Europe. The report furthers, only Kazakhstan, with its vast energy reserves, merited serious attention from Washington but even there, US policy makers were concerned mostly with ensuring that Russia did not gain a stranglehold over pipelines carrying oil from the Caspian Sea region. Beside world powers, global bodies such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank and other international organizations have done little to influence the local contexts of countries of the Greater Central Asia for promotion of good governance.
Afghanistan in particular attracted lesser amount of interest of regional and global stakeholders with a mandate to promote good governance. Only post 9/11 engagement of the international community in Afghanistan was the starting point of strengthening of governance in the Country, a very late intervention in civil war ravaged territory. As a result, countries of the Greater Central Asia have been limping through last couple of decades with incline towards fragility and state failure with every passing year.
Though geographies in focus have been able to somehow withstand years of bad governance till now, this might not be the case over coming years in a changing political, economic and security situation of the region. The expanding terrorist networks and drug mafia may find current context of very suitable temperature for their growth and expansion. As such, if attention not paid, this could threaten security of the region. Unless governance improves, there is every probability that the region will descent in instability and insecurity.
In such a critical context serious efforts are needed to tackle the major and common regional problem. However, any effort geared towards promotion of good governance should be indigenous and home grown. Home grown initiatives are important as any external interventions may cause anxiety among other regional powers. For instance, US engagement might not be acceptable to the Russians whereas the former Soviet Union Countries might not allow Russians get engaged in their countries, even if it is for a good reason.
While there is need for indigenous efforts, the state governments would not allow any movements to propel in their backyard as it would threaten their autocratic hold on power. In such a scenario, as late Anna Lindh, the slain minister of foreign affairs of Sweden, said, regional exchange can be a source of growth and development, and of enhancing good governance. In order to promote good governance at a very important juncture of time in the history of the region with all geopolitical delicacies, the civil society leaders, backed by media, should build alliances and network together for building regional partnerships. The regional alliance should start advocating for governance reforms throughout the region as a joint venture. A comprehensive regional advocacy initiative, supported by global bodies, would minimize amount of limitations, restrictions and threats posed by the local governments which has been a cause of scare for reform activists in the past. In addition, such efforts will create a regional wave of governance reforms for a thorough and sustainable change.
The global bodies such as the UN and the World Bank become of pivotal importance in region’s quest for peace, stability and prosperity through good governance. Pursuing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particular attention should be centred on the Greater Central Asian region. Goal 16 of the SDGs is after achievement of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions where later part of the goal can only be achieved through promotion of good governance ultimately resulting in peace and prosperity of the region.
The region is at crossroads living in an era of threats posed by the global terrorism. Fragile countries offer good breeding ground as such geographies offer safe havens for terrorist outfits. Afghanistan of 90s proved this theory in early 2000s when the turf was used for terrorist attacks on the US and many other parts of the world. Similarly, the global drug mafia cartels have propelled through using the region as their supply route to Europe. The current weak governance structures in the region lack ability to stand up to the challenges posed by the global drug mafia operating in the region.
Hence, investments made on improvement of governance in the region have multi-fold benefits. As primary beneficiary, local populations and countries of the region will have an accelerated progress on the path of economic, social and political development. Also, the countries will be able to avert threats posed by terrorism and drug mafia. Whilst, stability, security and presence of strong state institutions will help rest of the world defy menace of terrorism and organized crime. Therefore, the global bodies should prioritise the Greater Central Asia while donor countries need to show generosity towards the region in term of spending on promotion of good governance.
Mushtaq Rahim (twitter: @mushtaq_rahim) is a conflict management and peacebuilding expert engaged in post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan for the last 14 years. He has been working on rule of law, conflict management and peacebuilding with different national and international organizations. He has a Master of Arts in Conflict, Peace and Security from Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, Ghana and a Master of Business Administration from Pakistan. He is a political commentator and analyst focused on national, regional and global policies affecting peace, security and stability.