Most news out of Afghanistan seems to be about rising violence there. But what is happening to the political process? President Hamid Karzai ousted the country’s Attorney General on Wednesday, after the top prosecutor announced his intention to run for the presidency next year. Meanwhile, the US presidential candidate John McCain has joined in the criticism of the Afghan government, saying: “Karzai has not been effective”.
Criticism of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is mounting
When Hamid Karzai was elected president in 2004 hopes for a new future in Afghanistan rose. A future that would be very different from the gloomy past of the Taliban, which ruled the country in the late 1990s and was toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001. But hopes were soon dashed.
Security is worsening by the day and reconstruction efforts are proving ineffective despite the fact that millions of dollars in aid have been pumped into the war-torn country. Unemployment and poverty remain extremely high.
Said Musa Samimy is from Deutsche Welle’s Afghan service: “Afghanistan has in the last three years had more than 10 percent annual economic growth. But the gap between the rich and the poor is growing and that is a big problem for Karzai.”
The problem of widespread corruption has also added to the country’s woes. Despite the government’s promises to fight it, corruption is rampant and is causing even more resentment towards the Karzai administration.
But the government has made headway in establishing democratic institutions and building up a political infrastructure. There are currently more than 80 political parties registered in Afghanistan. However, observers say the country lacks a substantial political culture.
“Civil society in Afghanistan is very weak,” explains Samimy. “Nobody is doing anything for the development of civil society. Democracy without civil society and democracy without active political parties is of no use. Moreover, the political parties have to be active, they have to be critical and they have to propose their own alternative. But this is not the case so far.”
Tackling the warlords
Another major challenge in Afghanistan is the undiminished influence of the country’s warlords. The international community originally tried to include them in the political process in a bid to establish a strong central government. But the plan backfired.
Mirwais Yasini, the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, said: “We had a lot of problems with the warlords, and they were no less than terrorists in Afghanistan, to be frank. It was a mistake to include them in the political process. They still have their militia armies and are human rights violators. The Taliban swept them out. But the international community got them back and we have to take care of them.”
It is rumoured that the warlords take a cut of the money made from the country's opium trade, which rose to unprecedented heights last year.
Mirwais Yasini insists that unless the warlords are sidelined, stability will not be achieved: “If the Afghan people see that the international community doesn't have any connection to them, then they themselves will kick them out. They need to be marginalised.”
Karzai’s failure to defuse the Taliban-led insurgency, curb the influence of warlords and tackle drug smuggling and corruption has made him unpopular not just among the Afghan population but also with some of his Western allies. This has not stopped him from hinting that he would like to run for a second term in next year’s elections. However, many right now think he has pretty dim chances.