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Capacity And Transparency (Or The Lack Thereof) In Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) with Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim following the swearing-in ceremony in Kabul
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) with Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim following the swearing-in ceremony in Kabul
Every Thursday, RFE/RL's Afghan service, Radio Azadi, broadcasts a two-hour call-in show,"On The Waves of Freedom." Hosted by Zarif Nazar and Jan Alekozai, the show focuses on current events, politics, and social issues, with high-ranking officials and leading experts taking direct questions from listeners in Afghanistan via SMS, e-mail, and telephone.

On the December 2 edition of "On The Waves Of Freedom," we discussed capacity, transparency, and rule of law in Afghanistan with a former government minister, an advisor to President Hamid Karzai, and a noted political analyst.

In our Kabul studio, we hosted Yousuf Pashtun, former minister of urban development and housing and current adviser to the government; Jafar Rasouli, a prominent journalist and former Karzai adviser on international relations; and Matiaullah Kharoti, a Kabul-based political analyst.

From the outset, all three guests -- and many of our callers -- derided the Afghan government as littered with criminal elements, unable to provide security, and generally incompetent. Rasouli and Pashtun bemoaned what they see as widening, ethnicity-based divisions in the government, and the toll this takes on recruiting fresh, talented technocrats.

Rasouli lamented “a decade of missed opportunities” by the Afghan government. “We always made the mistake of comparing ourselves to the Taliban regime,” he said. “We did not consider the needs of the people, and now the government has lost national and international credibility.”

Many callers pointed out that both Rasouli and Pashtun had been in government, and had never seemed as pessimistic -- or realistic -- as they do now. One caller, an Afghan businessman in Korea, went so far as to compare the governments of the last decade to the Taliban.

“When the mujihedin came to Kabul, they had no sense for governing, for administration,” he said. “What has followed has been exactly the same thing.”

For his part, Rasouli noted that he had indeed publicly urged President Karzai to abandon the warlords so influential in the Afghan political process, and instead to focus on the will of the people, years ago

Kharoti said that the Afghan government, while it needed to be more transparent, in large part lacked the capacity to become so. “The government of Afghanistan relies on the international community for both money and security,” he said. Leaked diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks underscore this fact.

In a 2009 cable reporting on a meeting with then-presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, he told U.S. diplomats of a discussion between Hamid Karzai and the Afghan defense minister.

The cable reads:

“Abdullah said Karzai reportedly asked his Defense Minister ‘Your ANA can manage without the Americans, can't it?’ but the answer was, ‘We get 400,000 liters of petrol a day from them; without them, we'd end our operations in two days.’”

Another cable, this one covering a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Deputy Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, and senior Afghan officials including Karzai’s chief of staff and ministers of education and finance, casts a glimpse into the politicking in upper echelons of Afghanistan's power structure.

The cable reads:

“[Finance Minister] Zakhilwal went on to speak candidly about Karzai, saying that he was an ‘extremely weak man’ who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to him to report even the most bizarre stories of plots against him. Whenever this happened, Karzai would immediately judge the person to be loyal and would reward him.”

It seems that the one thing everyone can agree on -- from current and former Afghan officials, U.S. diplomats, to the general public -- is that there remains a significant deficit of trust permeating Afghanistan’s political culture.

-- Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar