Why Afghanistan might gain a CEO
As race for presidency nears, a new role is eyed for a former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad: Help Kabul work with the outside world.
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Yet Kabul power brokers remain unconvinced, saying the signals have been mixed.Skip to next paragraph
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The business paradigm of the CEO frames the Afghan government's problem less in terms of accountability and more as a bottleneck in bureaucracy.
Some analysts suspect the CEO, if instituted, would be tasked with coordinating the relationship between the Afghan government and the international community. Westerners are frustrated with working through ministers who owe their positions to patronage. Afghans are frustrated that their government lacks the capacity to oversee projects.
"A CEO might be someone who could be in control of monitoring all these projects that are implemented by the government or by donor countries, especially these contractors," says Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based analyst. But he joins a chorus of reservations about the idea: "I don't think it's a good thing for democracy. A nonelected person would have huge influence of power in the country."
Another danger: The person winds up having no power. Ashraf Ghani, a top presidential candidate, warns that the position has no legal basis – and no real sway with ministers.
Yet in more than a dozen interviews across Kabul and in Bamiyan and Parwan provinces, northwest of the capital, voters mostly viewed Khalilzad as a strong administrator. Many didn't mind having an American citizen in the No. 2 position.
"He played the role of a bridge between the West and Afghanistan and I'm sure he could do that well," says Mortaza Nabizada, a fuel seller in Kabul. "And he always united different commanders and different factions."
Mr. Ghani questions whether Khalilzad's tenure as ambassador proves administrative chops. "His power derived from being an American ambassador," he says. "If he comes as an Afghan player, that's on very different terms."
Another potential solution is to have a government run by a prime minister. That would give parliament greater oversight. A leading opposition candidate for president, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, is pushing for adding the post.
"It would make the government more accountable and transparent," Mr. Abdullah says, denying a Reuters report that Karzai offered him the CEO post in exchange for exiting the race.
Parliamentary systems "better contribute toward stabilization of disrupted societies" by allowing more voices to be heard, Mr. Maley says.
Afghanistan rejected the idea of a prime minister, however, when the Constitution was ratified in 2004: Ethnic minority leaders backed the idea while the dominant Pashtuns came to see it as an effort to constrain their power. The debate around adding a prime minister continues to be based on ethnicity, says Maley.