A number of influential leaders and politicians some with extensive Jihadi experience have slammed the government of Afghanistan headed by President Karzai for what they termed as sheer incompetence and sagging legitimacy. Among their criticisms of the government of Afghanistan, one point prominently stands out and it is the heavily centralized nature of the distribution of power and authority in the state apparatus. One cannot agree with all their criticisms but on this point, they are clearly justified. The message is that with the government structures that are leftovers from the 19th century you cannot run a country in the 21st century.
Let us delve a little into the nature of Afghanistan's governance deficit and the problem of having a heavily centralized system. Governance has always been a pivotal and controversial issue throughout more than 260 years that the nation-state of Afghanistan has been in existence.
Governance is always associated with government since these two are intimately correlated; they co-exist and reinforce one another. Government is the physical machinery or apparatus of the state; it is comprised of various administrative and executive units of the state which have the responsibility of governing the territory and its inhabitants.
Governance, on the other hand, is what the government as a vast mechanism does. It is the actual exercise of the authority, legitimacy and power vested in a government to govern the citizens, work for their collective interest and strive for their betterment and all-round development.
In past, governance has always been a spectacular failure in Afghanistan; whether during the era of monarchy or the communist rule and thereafter, governance has either been largely non-existent or has worked to exclude and alienate various communities while serving the interests of few hands concentrated in Kabul.
In the context of Afghanistan, poor governance means having no government at all in many far-off villages and rural areas; or having a local government which is weak, inefficient, ineffective, corrupt, illegitimate and alien in the eyes of the local populace. Poor governance may also mean a local government which is unable to play the role that the local populace expect it to carry out – maintaining security, delivering justice and bringing tangible improvements in local people's lives.
At present and as we have entered the new year 2011, this remains to be the situation of governance in many rural areas of the country. Poor or non-existent governance has directly contributed to the rapid deterioration of security situation across the country and has strengthened the hands of insurgency. The people's trust in government and its ability to deliver on governance has shrunk; corruption and a culture of impunity have become pervasive; terrible human rights violations have continued to be routine and the grand plans of Afghan government and international community have remained only good on paper.
Given the above-mentioned realities of Afghanistan, we have to recognize the fact that in addition to problems concerning government, it is also problems concerning governance that has resulted in today's failure in Afghanistan. Therefore, in post-Taliban Afghanistan, promoting good governance has been put on the agenda and efforts made to close or narrow the governance deficit which, in actuality, has existed for hundreds of years.
Therefore, the relatively new concept of Good Governance (GG) has increasingly been seen and heard in the terminology of people and organizations tasked with improving the state of affairs in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, Good Governance includes the following features: participatory, accountable to the people, built on consensus, transparent, responsive to the needs and desires of the people, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and supremacy of the rule of law.
A portion of the international aid coming into Afghanistan is allocated for this cause. The United Nations and the U.S. government are implementing programs in partnership with Afghan government to promote Good Governance in the country. An "Independent Directorate of Local Governance" under the Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan has been created to specifically address the problems of governance.
The question is how much of these high-profile agendas and programs to bring about Good Governance have been successfully achieved over the past ten years? It is clear that far from being impressive success, efforts to bring Good Governance have largely been failures to a great extent and the scale of success has been too limited.
What are the reasons for the failure? It is manifest that the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners do need to rethink their past policies in this regard. Given the constraints of space, this column I cannot reflect the whole gamut of issues involved. Therefore, I suffice to touching upon the thrust of the problem.
Proper decentralization of power and resources has been one of the most glaring areas of shortcoming in governance over the past ten years. Afghanistan is a highly complex society. It includes spectacular ethnic, linguistic, religious and geographic diversities.
The reality is that our current political and administrative system does not adequately address the requirements of diversity. Historically, the lure of a strong, centralized government and governance has been one of the major causes of alienation of communities who feel they have little stake in the system. Various local communities spread throughout regions of the country have for long been kept from having their say in governing their own communities.
Treatment of these local communities by successive regimes in Kabul has for long been discriminatory and biased; financial resources and assistance have been denied to them and rulers have been imposed on them from outside. This historical trend has continued under the current post-Taliban political dispensation.
What is urgent is true empowerment of local communities in various areas of Afghanistan by making them direct stakeholders in managing their own affairs. The national apparatus of government should be further de-centralized so that power is not so overly concentrated in the Kabul government which tends to adopt biased and discriminatory behavior and policies.
At present, the policies pursued by the government of Afghanistan, although emphasizing Good Governance, do not address the need to proper de-centralization of power and resources. Even the "Independent Directorate of Local Governance" under the Ministry of Interior has not placed proper de-centralization of power and resources on its agenda of activities.
Therefore, the people of Afghanistan must be liberated from the historical fallacy of over-centralization of power in Kabul. Structures of government and governance, which made power and distribution of national resources so centralized in a few hands in the Capital, must be reformed so that all peoples and communities find the opportunity to become empowered. Will the international community pay adequate attention to this neglected area? Perhaps, we need to wake them up to the reality of the issue and the urgency of the problem.