November 14, 2014
Mr. William Maley, Foundation Director, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy
In little more than a decades time, the social framework and culture of Afghanistan has changed. Large sums of international investment – facilitated and protected by the 2001 U.S. invasion – have given rise to, what in Mr. Maley’s opinion is “one of the freest media environments in the world.” In addition, a combination of multinational companies and local entrepreneurs have succeeded in building a vast network of mobile phones that are allowing the country’s young population – 70% of which are under the age of 25 – to connect and converse on a wider scale than ever before seen.
However, while signs of social progress, cohesion, and stability have instilled a sense of optimism about the country’s future, the country’s political history have others worrying that this stability will not be able to survive once NATO forces withdrawal from the country at the end of the year.
Although many foreign observers applauded the Afghani citizens for turning out in such large numbers for this year’s presidential elections, the process was marred by numerous reports of electoral fraud. Even now, after the two leading candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah agreed to overlook the disputed elections and form a coalition government, Mr. Maley and other experts are concerned that continued political corruption will delegitimize the government in the eye’s of its citizens and make the country more susceptible to fragmentation and renewed insurgency.
As the country emerges from conflict, Mr. Maley warns that the new government cannot continue with Hamid Karzai’s “neo-patriarchal” style of government; there is a “different social reality…leaders will need to come to terms with.” He additionally warned that, while President Ghani’s time at the World Bank left him well equipped to lead Afghanistan’s economic and infrastructural development, he may not be ready to take on the country’s political and economic elite. However, the doling out of two 15-year sentences to two heads of the Kabul Bank may exemplify a new and more just culture in Kabul.
Regardless, reforming the judiciary is just one of several initiatives that Mr. Maley believes will be necessary in order to uphold local and international confidence in Afghanistan’s future. On the local level, Mr. Maley urged the new government to address corruption and work to decentralize the government’s power and grant greater authority to local leaders. While there are some concerns that this may lead to a federalist system of government, current policy initiatives are rendered ineffective due to various ministries being unable to act at the local level. The government needs to be more capable at enacting policies and shaping perceptions at the most local of levels. The only way to put aside self-serving politics and shape perceptions at the local level is by working from the bottom-up. Government ownership should start with the country’s people, not its leaders.
Mr. Maley further argues that the only way the Afghan government can fight back local insurgencies is by maintaining a favorable perception among the country’s citizens. For this reason, continued international aid and development are crucial to maintaining stability. The more change that citizens see enacted on the ground, the more favorably they will view the government and the more they will resist Taliban narratives that wish to revert the country back to a more traditional form of governance. In this sense, the country’s partnership with the U.S. will continue to be important – largely due to the U.S.’ international convening power. However, for the country to succeed within the region, Mr. Maley believes it should pursue close ties with influential regional partners like China, which – in addition to funding numerous construction projects in Afghanistan – is currently facing its own security problem in Xinjiang Province. With both countries sharing mutual security and economic interests the potential for strong, regional ties increases.
With local and international opportunities abound, the new government in Afghanistan has an opportunity to shape Afghan culture, values, and politics for generations to come. That effort though must start at the local level.