Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Bloomberg View: Afghans must grow their own democracy

Bloomberg View

First Published Jul 19 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 21 2014 05:06 pm

Dogged U.S. diplomacy kept alive, for now, the prospect of the first peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan. Yet for democracy to ever take root in Afghanistan’s stony soil, the effects of an earlier and less helpful U.S. intervention must be reversed.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kabul to resolve a dispute between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the two presidential candidates in a June 14 runoff who have each claimed victory amid allegations of voting fraud. Plans by Afghanistan’s election monitors to perform a partial audit of polling stations with higher-than-expected turnout failed to allay the fears of Abdullah, whom preliminary results put in second place; he threatened to form his own government. Kerry hammered out an agreement between the two men for an audit of all 8 million votes cast, with the certified winner to form a "government of national unity."

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Even a full-scale audit, supervised by monitors under the auspices of the United Nations, won’t eliminate the possibility of fraud. Still, it will shore up public faith in the voting process and the credibility of the winner.

Yet plans for a national unity government remain unclear. The loser may play the role of chief executive or de facto prime minister to the winner’s president; Cabinet positions and other nominees may either be formally allocated or the losing side would be able to nominate candidates "based on capacity, ability, qualification and expertise," as one representative from Ghani’s camp put it. The Afghan constitution may be amended in two years to create the position of prime minister, along with other reforms. In other words, the bazaar is very much open.

The good news is both candidates have experience that, on paper at least, might make them good leaders; both have agreed to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States, which is crucial to a continued American military presence; and, last but not least, both seem to recognize that the winner-take-all model embodied in an all-powerful chief executive bodes ill for stability in a country riven by ethnicity and geography.

That was the system favored by the U.S. when the constitution was drafted. As a 2003 U.S. diplomatic cable reported, the U.S. ambassador told a French constitutional expert that "Afghanistan needed a strong President given all the vectors of power" and to avoid "endless crises." With U.S. support, then-President Hamid Karzai stripped out provisions for a prime minister in the draft constitution. He also arrogated to himself powers that made him, in effect, King Karzai, with the ability to appoint "high-ranking officials" and a big chunk of parliament. Karzai has used his powers to try to balance Afghanistan’s many ethnic factions, yet the country’s history suggests that strong central government has been the exception, not the rule, and is not to be confused with good governance.

In addition to creating the post of prime minister, Afghanistan’s next leaders would be wise to consider other changes that devolve power away from Kabul. Allowing direct elections for governors and district administrators, with term limits, would make them more responsive to local concerns; enabling these elected officials to raise and spend taxes locally would also advance that end. Encouraging the development of political parties, which Karzai has resisted, would in the long run both strengthen the functioning of parliament and weaken ethnic and regional power blocs.

"Democracy" — an abstract concept cynically invoked by Afghan politicians of all stripes, from monarchists to communists — still smells foreign to many Afghans. They want representative institutions that grant them some control over their own lives. They don’t want them imposed from outside or above. Whether the outside world likes it or not, Afghans have to decide what’s best for them largely on their own.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.