A Sneak Peek at the International Crisis Group's New Afghanistan Report
A Sneak Peek at the International Crisis Group's New Afghanistan Report
Afghanistan’s central bank needs its assets back, argues Graeme Smith
Afghanistan’s central bank needs its assets back, argues Graeme Smith
Op-Ed / Asia

A Sneak Peek at the International Crisis Group's New Afghanistan Report

The International Crisis Group, an independent NGO with offices in Kabul, is releasing a report tomorrow on Afghanistan. ICG has given the AfPak Channel a sneak peek at the report and shared with us a fascinating interview between Candace Rondeaux, ICG's senior analyst based in the Afghan capital and Kimberly Abbott, Crisis Group's North America Communications Director in Washington.

Kimberly: President Obama called a meeting of his war council last night and it looks as if a decision on troop increases will come in the next few days. Will up to 40,000 more troops make a difference in today's Afghanistan?

Candace: This is a really complex question, one where I think people who live in Afghanistan, both Afghans and internationals who are affected by this decision, very broadly speaking, are deeply divided. When we speak to members of the Afghan National Army for instance, we hear a lot of skepticism about the value of adding 40,000 troops. I think the question is, "What will these troops do?" If they are simply sent to do combat, many Afghans are not interested. They are primarily interested in seeing their own forces, their native forces -- the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police -- being grown into a genuine fighting force. And so I think you'll hear a lot from the Afghan side, that there is some concern that 40,000 troops will only fuel the insurgency. On the flip side of course, there is an argument to be made for the fact that this has been a deeply under-sourced war effort, and the light footprint approach has not worked here. Afghanistan is an incredibly difficult place to operate militarily speaking, primarily because the terrain is so tough. So more resources are probably needed here. The question is, will the Obama administration be able to strike the right balance so that the troop numbers don't swing the pendulum so far that the insurgency is able to take advantage in terms of their ability to tax and take money from contractors who have to build all the facilities for these new troops that will be coming in.

Kimberly: How is that corruption being addressed?

Candace: There is a very deep and abiding tie between corruption on both sides of this effort. It is not just the Afghan government that is affected by this. It is also many of the donor countries, and in particular the U.S. contractors who operate here, are beholden -- in many ways -- to those who control the roads, and right now the insurgents control the roads. So troop numbers will really have a very deep effect overall on the picture of the war and I'd say that once those troops begin arriving, whatever the number may be, you know, within six months time to a year's time, I think you'll see very, very drastic changes, and it is going to be very difficult to predict what they are.

Kimberly: How can corruption in general be checked? What needs to be done specifically now, because this is something the international community has been pressing this government to do for years and it hasn't been done. So how can that change at this point?

Candace: I think there is a real temptation on the part of the international community and the U.S. in particular to call for the appointment of cabinet ministers who cosmetically look appealing, insomuch as their hands don't look too dirty, but I don't see as of yet any political will to go into the back rooms of these ministries and remove these deputies who are responsible, to remove these chiefs of office who are responsible for some of the mismanagement and corruption that has promulgated under this government. So, step one would be making sure you're not just looking at the fronts of the office, but you are looking at the office as a whole.

Kimberly: And how do you hold them accountable from there?

Candace: You do need law that's responsive in order to press for anti-corruption measures. Right now a lot of behaviors such as taking bribes, giving contracts to favorites and family members, you know this is not spoken to  in Afghan law, so the government and the warlords who have become Karzai's main constituents have taken advantage of this.

So the international community really needs to be looking at how to encourage legal reforms in terms of enforcement and real punishments for this kind of behavior.

Kimberly: Are there pressures that can be applied outside of Afghanistan as well?

Candace: I think it is becoming very clear where a lot of this money ends up, and I think that it would behoove the international community to begin looking at the international banking system and fraud measures that could be put in place to ensure that money from Kabul, that really belongs ultimately to the Afghan people is not jetting away to Dubai or other places which have become havens for money laundering schemes out of Kabul.

Kimberly: What about the "civilian surge"? Do you think an additional 1,000 civilians as is being talked about by Ambassador Holbrooke will make an impact?

Candace: This is definitely one of the more under-resourced parts of the overall strategy. There need to be civilians in the field. They need to also be in Kabul. They need to be in Mazar-i-Sharif. And they have a different kind of expertise to offer. You know when we talk about troop surges, what we are largely talking about are lifetime soldiers who do have certainly, definitely a diverse set of skills, but what they do is very different from what people in the State Department do, or what people in other sections of the United States government do. I think that it is becoming clear, particularly in regard to the national security strategy of Afghanistan, that there is a real lack of civilian input from the U.S. side. The bodies are just simply not there. So the hope is that this surge will help that.

Kimberly: The August 20 election basically handed the Taliban a huge public relations victory. What has to be done now to restore the public's confidence in the Afghan government?

Candace: What this election highlighted is the fundamental breakdown in the system and the weakness of not only the electoral institutions here in Afghanistan, but also of the Supreme Court, of the Presidency and ultimately the fabric itself. That is, the Constitution of Afghanistan has proven to be such a weak document that several conundrums arose in this last year -- over the date of the elections, over whether or not President Karzai's term can be extended, the authority of the Independent Election Commission, the authority of the Electoral Complaints Commission -- none of these questions are really fully answered by the Constitution. And I think that many people, particularly in the government and particularly in the international community, found themselves completely at a loss. The lack of policy, the confusion, combined with the weakness of the constitution, points only to one way forward and that is serious and vigorous constitutional reform. This is what needs to happen next.

Kimberly: How does that process begin?

Candace: For that you'll have to hold a grand assembly, a loya jirga, and gather all of the major stakeholders together to begin discussing all of these conundrums that are packed into this very flawed constitution. Similarly, I think it has become clearer that executive power must be checked. President Karzai has been able to use the constitution to his advantage and it's weaknesses to his advantage over and over again. Every time the international community presses for reform, every time parliament presses for reform, he's able to turn to the Supreme Court and say, "Well, that's not constitutional." So this really has to end. I think that ultimately when the international community talks about having a credible partner in Kabul, they need to be looking not just at personages, but at actual laws and documents and what's really there, because, fundamentally, the system is broken, and it's time for major change.

Kimberly: Would Karzai survive with those changes, and if not, isn't he unlikely to go along with any of them?

Candace: The reality is it doesn't really matter who sits in the presidency at this stage, because the checks and balances in the Constitution are not there. Parliament can be ignored, the courts can be ignored, and at the end of the day the president has the final word. Nobody is really able to pressure President Karzai to do the right thing.

Kimberly: And if he does change tact now, can he undo any of the damage that he has done to the country?

Candace: I think he has a great opportunity here to create a lasting legacy to correct a lot of the flaws and mistakes of this last eight years. But we have not seen a lot of evidence that there's political will to do this. He's become incredibly combative with his international partners; he doesn't have the political constituency that he did even a year ago, because these fraudulent elections have undermined the legitimacy of his government. So, no matter what corrections occur, if anybody has made himself irrelevant in this whole picture, it's Hamid Karzai -- through his actions, and through his endorsement of a fraudulent election.

Kimberly: The new Crisis Group report says the resignation of Kai Eide, the Special Representative to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is a prerequisite to restoring confidence in the country. Can you tell me what needs to happen and why?

Candace: UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan] has had a lot of challenges in these last eight years and its effectiveness has really declined, in part because the insurgency has become so incredibly powerful, and its recruitment has become enlarged, and that's limited a great deal of the mobility of many of the UNAMA staff in the country. But that aside, this last year was a major test for Kai Eide and for his staff at UNAMA because ultimately they had 5 years to correct the errors that they saw crop up during 2005, that is to say, a lack of a voter registry, problems with the weakness of institutions, particularly the international community and the ECC, and yet again and again UNAMA turned away from opportunities to really correct these errors.

At this stage, because UNAMA has played such a dubious role throughout this electoral process, Kai Eide has become identified with failure, essentially, and there's no way he can now stand up before Afghan power brokers, who are really in a mood to push back, and effectively lead this organization. It's time for new leadership here in Afghanistan for UNAMA.
 

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