US ambassador to Afghanistan's criticism adds urgency to curbing Karzai
Influential US ambassador Karl Eikenberry has reportedly argued that Afghanistan is too politically unstable under Karzai to send more troops. Western and Afghan officials are brainstorming ways to check the president's power.
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"The lesson we drew from the whole Kerry visit and the [election is that] these [Karzai] advisers, including the newer reformist ministers and jihadis, mujahideen – understand what a US withdrawal would mean," says the Western diplomat.Skip to next paragraph
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How to curb Karzai's powers
That said, the elections have created momentum among diverse players for some governmental reforms. Of particular interest is finding ways to bolster the power of the Parliament and to devolve more power to the provinces.
For Karzai's main election opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, the answer now is to push for a constitutional loya jirga. This body would have the power to amend or even rewrite the constitution.
At this point, Dr. Abdullah and his disaffected constitutents, who represent roughly one third of voters, are arguing for major changes. These include switching the government from a presidential to a parliamentary one, removing central government powers to appoint provincial and local officials, overhauling the election commission, and changing the single-non-transferable vote system to one where political parties have more clout.
"It will take time, but I think this is the solution," says Abdullah, admitting that the chances of getting these reforms soon are slim.
Some of these reforms are palatable to US officials, particularly local control and elections reforms, but they also express concern about cracking the constitution wide open in a process that could be too time-consuming and contentious. Rather than a loya jirga, they speak of carefully chosen amendments.
Some of these goals can be accomplished through the Parliament. One bill under consideration now would give the elected provincial councils control over how to spend at least 25 percent of the central government's outlays in the province.
Pushback on outside-imposed reform
Karzai, of course, has little to gain by constitutional and legal changes that curb his power, so can be expected to only relent under pressure. Not all of his opponents are necessarily on board with such changes, either.
"Why is it that we are not attempting to make the Constitution work? Have we tried to make the system work?" says Ashraf Ghani, a former presidential candidate. "Every American comes, Tom, Dick, and Harry, and starts pontificating and changing the system. And that is harmful because we are not permitted to reach an internal consensus. We have so many foreign cooks now."
Instead of changing the constitution, Mr. Ghani would like to see Afghan leaders from all backgrounds brought together to hash out a five-year agenda, and more experienced people placed in power to implement it.