October 7th is marked in the very recent history of US-Afghan ties as a major breakthrough, as the former invaded the later to mark the onset of the global war on terror. The post-invasion dreams for the war-shattered, tribally ruled and ethnically divided Afghanistan was to establish a new democratic state based on American liberal values. Some Westerners even thought of building in Afghanistan a South Korea in terms of democracy, rule of law and economic development.
First steps were taken to turn that persistent dream into reality. A new constitution based on democratic values was developed, 350,000 strongmen military equipped with sophisticated weaponry, ammunition and knowledge were established. According to central statistics organization of Afghanistan 44,280km roads were constructed and reconstructed till 2012, thousands of schools were built and millions walked in to educate, health facilities ranging from high profile national hospitals to comprehensive health centers and basic health posts, according to the ministry of public health of Afghanistan reaches 2,488. Based on the new survey by the Afghan government, the nationwide infants’ mortality fell from 66 to 45 for every 1,000 live births between 2001 and 2015. Similarly, for all children under five, the death rate per 1000 fell to 55 from 87. Gross national income per capita in PPP increased from $890 in 2002 to $1940 in 2015. To a large extent, a large number of women were empowered, their political and socio-economical participation enhanced, efficacious media emerged and by and large institutional and capacity building happened. It is all because of the US and coalitions firm support and contributions to the nation. For this Afghans see the international community, particularly, the US people and government as a major contributor.
A malign policy
Meanwhile, the US government and its allies have committed ill-sorted mistakes since the early years of invasion. They involved in encouraging and establishing political patronage networks, invigorated some relentless Jihadi leaders who intrinsically prefer institutional disorder and suffocate institutional building whether it is rule of law, transparency or even state building for self-interest and institutionalized elite bolstering mindset.
At the advent of the war on terror and ousting the Taliban regime in the country, the CIA poured parcels of uncounted dollars to the pockets of erstwhile Jihadi figures to buy their support in the war against terrorism. This led to the emergence of power isles throughout the country.
The scattered mosaic structure of the country which hamper state building to its true sense is the by-product of aforementioned US policy in Afghanistan. In the post 9/11 scenario, the US has strengthened the erstwhile Jihadi leaders who have fought the Soviets and its backed pro-communist regime in Kabul during the 1970s and 1980s by providing them with political as well as financial support in Afghan political structure.
This policy of the US withholds an essential fundamental of democracy if democracy is intended to maximize equality and freedom, which none is measured well in the country after 16 years. The schism between the minority rich political elite and the common majority poor is sky high. By the mercy of clientelism and patronage networks, most of the donor funded developmental and non-developmental projects have been channeled to affiliates of these political elites. In which transparency, accountability and the quality of projects are still questionable.
In addition, worse than that, the Afghan bureaucratic positions were politicized and subsequently used for patronage purposes, therefore, even in a competitive circumstance, independent individuals can rarely find way to bureaucratic positions unless they bent over to political elites.
Dysfunctional civil society mindset
Gratitude is to both the international community and the Afghan government for setting and accepting the promise for the effective use of aids pledged in Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in October 2016. Redeeming of the promise depends on the Afghan government as Afghan president emphasized. Therefore, the National Unity Government initiated primary measures to achieve the commitments made during Brussels Conference. For this, Transparency International ranked the country at 169 out of 176, on its recent report released on January 25, 2017 which indicates a mild progress on anti-corruption compared to previous years.
In order to ensure transparency and accountability, no one can undermine the role played by civil society organization in a democratic society, but prior to strengthening the pillars of a strong legitimate state, empowering state limiting institutions with much intention and oversight power has seldom proved malformed and abandoned development. At last, neither the state nor the state limiting institutions flourished during the last sixteen years.
The US has focused and tried to establish strong civil society organizations that were assumed to limit the power of the fragile Afghan state crowded with erstwhile Jihadi warlords. More than one billion in aid from USAID funds was donated to civil society institutions during the last 15 years and still, goes on. Though it is an imperative, but from an Afghan perspective, it is better to channel these funds to elected bodies such as provincial councils and district councils which are due to be elected at sub-national level and some specific and well-known civil society organizations at the national level. As it is often said that the principle of effective government is the meritocracy; the principle of democracy is popular participation. By this, from one side the funds are spent effectively and on the other hand peoples’ participation will lead to transparency and accountability in line with constitutional mandates if civil society organizations work in line with these elected bodies. The outcome would have been an accountable and responsive government.
War? How long?
Corruption in security sector caused, not only, that ANSDF loses territory, but public trust day by day as well. Corruption, patronage culture and widespread injustices fuel militarism and are considered as the impetus of war in Afghanistan. The real price of the war is paid by blood, coffins, and tears of the Afghan public because the US policy makers rally on controversial political elites who do not shoulder the burden of this war rather benefit from it.
A US congress watchdog quoted Ryan Crocker former US ambassador to Afghanistan who has said, “The ultimate point of failure for our efforts… wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption,”. Afghans also believe that corruption within the ministry of national defense and home ministry undermines the combat effectiveness and it has maximized the death toll in Afghan National Security and Defense Forces during 2016.
As US President Ronald Reagan used to say during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s the battle for the human spirit. But the longest war on terror is no more a battle for human spirit rather a battle for self-defense. This defense will get even harder and longer unless the Afghans are not empowered well both politically and economically to save their country so it is not used again by terrorist networks. In order to actualize this, first of all, the US and allies should prefer not to backstop powerbrokers and patronage networks who politicizes the bureaucracy even the security sector.
A true and just fight is required to be fought on corruption and corrupt politicians. Strong measures are required to be taken to fight the injustices both in executive and judiciary system of the country which the US and allies can collate by rethinking their policy toward Afghanistan.
Democracies, exist and survive only because people want and are willing to fight for them. If the US government is to win this long and expensive war, a quick and overall policy revision is required. They have to stop supporting patronage networks, ask the Afghan government to reform the clientelistic political system and create modern, merit-based, technically competent and non-political bureaucracy.
*Nassir Ahmad Taraki lives in Kabul. He is a university lecturer and writes on current affairs. He can be followed on twitter @NassirTaraki