As U.S. and NATO begin the final drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, Afghans remain hopeful that their government can deliver stability. There are some signs that Afghanistan is on the right track. Afghan security forces are in control of much of the land, and new popular President Ashraf Ghani is touting his vision to transform the country. The national unity government, which ended months of political stalemate between Ghani and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, was backed by most of the Kabul political establishment and the country’s major ethnic groups. But to achieve enduring stability, Afghan political actors will be called on to make more compromises along the way.
Ghani’s reform agenda
Ghani has vowed to implement an ambitious reform program and lead Afghanistan through a “decade of transformation.” He has emphasized combating corruption within all branches of the state bureaucracy and to make Afghan political institutions work according to the rules instead of relations and patronage politics. He has laudable plans for promoting meritocracy, strengthening the rule of law, attracting investors and growing the economy. However, political and security realities will likely slow down progress on much of this agenda. The new government in Kabul and its international backers need to master patience and the art of compromise to implement these ambitious reforms.
Still, there are ample reasons for skepticism. For one, much of the alienation from the state in recent years has been based on the popular perception that a small elite of former mujahedeen commanders and a few returned émigrés used all organs of government to enrich themselves rather than serving citizens. To undertake a thorough purge — a process bound to alienate some elites — Ghani will need to maintain consensus within the national unity government. That is no small challenge.
In the economic domain, plans for Chinese-funded mining of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth will remain on hold until Kabul succeeds in reining in the insurgency and delivering security and stability. Ghani is painfully aware that insecurity in his native Logar province thwarted the first big Chinese attempt to invest in Afghanistan’s Misaynak copper mines. But China expects to see improved security before it delivers on the promises of investment. Toward that end, the Chinese government has offered to broker a truce between Kabul, the Taliban and Pakistan.
The new government has also promised constitutional reform. In the deal that ended months of stalemate between Ghani and Abdullah, both camps agreed in principle to overhaul the structure of government and initiate a process of reviewing and amending the constitution. The rival teams have already worked on developing the role for a chief executive, essentially a prime minister, to whom the president delegates some of the responsibilities of running the government. But the upcoming constitutional debate will be wider-ranging and will have to address the relations between the parliament and the executive as well as Kabul’s relations with the provinces.