US must focus on upcoming leadership change in Afghanistan
When Obama made his secret visit to Afghanistan yesterday, he emphasized America's security role. The US needs to focus on helping Afghanistan build its political and governing capabilities. The Afghan presidential election looms with no plan for a smooth transition of power.
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Members such as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, seem aligned with Afghanistan's opposition figures who want to radically revamp the state and decentralize it. Mr. Rohrabacher's disdain for Karzai is well known, and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally asked him not to join a congressional delegation in Kabul in April. He did not travel to Kabul, but other members did, and met with opposition figures.Skip to next paragraph
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The Obama administration itself does not support decentralization. Such an Afghanistan could involve, among other things, granting the provincial councils legislative power and having provincial governors elected rather than appointed by the president. The elected governors would have considerable power, including the ability to levy their own taxes and make all key provincial appointments.
This may work in America, but Afghanistan is not America.
Giving provincial governors the authority to hire and fire civil servants, and levy their own taxes with no input or control from Kabul risks creating and supporting local “strongmen” and parallel power structures that could be potentially destabilizing.
Such an arrangement also risks turning up the heat on already simmering ethnic tensions. It could create a Pashtun-dominated “Pashtunistan” separated from a confederation of provinces dominated by ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.
Such a strategy of soft partition would open the door for ethnic cleansing. A cursory look at history, including that of India, Bosnia, Palestine, and Cyprus, suggests that the partition of mixed political entities has almost always been accompanied or preceded by ethnic cleansing and/or colossal ethnic violence.
US support in Afghanistan over the past decade has been invaluable and American officials have the right to criticize the Afghan government, but any move toward decentralization or support for one faction over another amounts to meddling in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs and must be avoided.
What the Obama administration and Congress can and must do is to begin pivoting from an emphasis on security to one that builds Afghanistan’s political and governing capabilities.
Rather than cozying up to insatiable warlords, former jihadi leaders, and other insalubrious characters that the US has supported in the past, America must do all it can to assist the development of moderate leaders in each of the factions – without “taking sides.”
Through education and leadership training of young Afghans, as well as foreign exposure, especially in the United States, America must nurture the next generation of dynamic young leaders. Afghanistan and the US have a valuable opportunity to support technocrats, visionary leaders, and capable civil servants who will lead the country into a positive future.
The 2014 election is of crucial significance. Real and tangible steps must be taken toward a smooth and responsible transition of power. Time is running out.