It is high time that the stakeholders in Afghanistan, from the government of President Karzai to the western countries supporting the country, fundamentally review the full spectrum of policies and strategies towards Afghanistan in light of the past mistakes and failures. Rising graph of the insurgency parallel to the plunging security situation, a breakdown of governance and justice disposal apparatus, waning confidence in the ability and willingness of the government to protect lives and safeguard interests, all clearly display that the whole system is blinking red. In the absence of an across-the-board re-thinking of strategies and policies, the situation is poised to deteriorate much further.
Before correcting these sets of flawed policies and strategies both the government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led western countries assisting the country need to change the underlying assumptions, premises and general paradigms that they have adopted, to an extent wrongly, towards Afghanistan. Any course correction needs to be built on a realistic and correct understanding of the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan and the nuances of Afghan society, culture and polity.
Does the Taliban insurgency essentially fit into the narrow western definition of terrorism or there is more to it than what is officially accepted and assumed by the western military and civilian policymakers? Is the inability of the government in Kabul to deliver on even a minimum of acceptable governance solely a result of corruption and insecurity across the country? The fact is that the range of assumptions, premises and understanding of the western planners has been built on a flimsy ground of an incorrect understanding of the nature of the ongoing conflict and the nuances of the Afghan society, culture and fragmented, ethnicity-based polity.
The second Bonn Conference, said to be held in December of this year, can provide a platform for all the stakeholders involved to have an honest assessment of the past decade, re-visit the premises and assumptions and adopt a set of ground-breaking strategies in line with the realities of Afghanistan. In order to take the first steps towards identifying the missteps of the past and possibly reverse the tide of past failures, a number of important issues must be considered and worked on.
The most important factor that has not received due attention is the urgent need to further empower and strengthen the Afghan government in such a way that this vast apparatus can accommodate the true aspirations of the diverse people of Afghanistan and provide a truly representative governance. In a society and polity such as Afghanistan, the government is the only major agent of change and can be an effective catalyst in channeling and incorporating diverse political movements and aspirations into a single, inclusive national platform. Unless the government of Afghanistan, although with many shortcomings and misdeeds, is not drastically reformed and restructured and placed to take the lead, the project of building a stable and peaceful Afghanistan will not materialize.
In the absence of this policy, – which should be the overarching objective – all other efforts and strategies will bear temporary results. It is also critical to make sure that the government in Afghanistan is inclusive; that it is relatively successful in reflecting and giving due representation to diverse political groups in the country. Without a government which many see as relatively reflective of their demands and aspirations, the lofty ideals of political, social and economic development of the country will not be achieved.
The U.S. and her western allies as well as the government of President Karzai must make this the cornerstone of their engagement with Afghanistan and its people. They must place an empowered, strong and popularly legitimate Afghan government in the lead.
The current presidential system of government that has resulted in a unitary, highly centralized and authoritarian system of rule needs to be converted into a more democratic one. A federal system of government with a well-defined Center-States relations mechanism accompanied by a Parliamentary model of government in both the Center and States can be a much better alternative to the current dysfunctional system that is increasingly coming apart at the seams.
The second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan is a valuable opportunity that not only the government but other stakeholders in Afghan society must seize upon. In the run-up to the second Bonn Conference, ideally, one would expect the government of Afghanistan to launch a wide-ranging national consultation to find out the sources of past failures and reach a national consensus on the real needs and strategies to be forwarded to the international community in the upcoming Bonn Conference.
However, the government is insisting on its own assumptions and positions without giving due considerations to other major stakeholders of the diverse society of Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan has already made it clear that it is going to exclusively represent Afghanistan in the second Bonn Conference. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the president's national security advisor, in his speech to the Parliament, ruled out the possibility of including directly other groups and constituents from the Afghan society in the upcoming conference. While giving a strong platform to the government of Afghanistan in the upcoming conference is, per se, desirable, the problem is that the ideas, proposals and positions of other groups and constituencies will not be heard as long as the government continues to ignore their demands, wants and proposals.
It is natural that the ideas, proposals and positions of many of them do not go along with the ideas, proposals and positions that the government of Afghanistan under Mr. Karzai will put forward in the upcoming conference. The reality is that the voices of the people of Afghanistan in general, civil society institutions, major opposition figures and all those whose ideas matter should be heard and accounted for in this upcoming conference. Making the real voices of the people of Afghanistan heard is therefore essential if the second Bonn conference is going to be successful in carrying out an honest re-evaluation of the past failures and setting out the correct course for the next ten years in light of these findings and re-assessments.