Academic journal article Parameters

The Future of Afghanistan

Academic journal article Parameters

The Future of Afghanistan

Article excerpt

"Those who governed well did not arm, those who were armed well did not set up battle lines, those who set up battle lines well did not fight, those who fought well did not lose, those who lost well did not perish."

--Zhuge Liang, 3d century

The parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were the final event of the internationally-sponsored Bonn Accords of December 2001. During the past four years, Afghanistan has made significant progress toward democracy while reconstructing the country's political, social, and security institutions. These include adopting an enlightened constitution (January 2004), holding a successful presidential election (October 2004) and parliamentary elections (September 2005), while creating a national army and a national police force, dismantling major factional militia units, building a national economy from ground zero, expanding and improving a formal education system, and improving the status and future of Afghan women.

Although Afghanistan met all the deadlines of the Bonn Accord, it has not realized the treaty's ultimate goal of ending the conflict and establishing peace and stability. Roadblocks have included the extent of war damage and a lack of sufficient investment in developing state institutions and the economy. The progress is dramatic but fragile, and it could be lost if the momentum is not sustained.

Afghanistan is again at a crossroads. One road leads to peace and prosperity; the other leads to the loss of all that has been achieved. Everything depends on the level of international commitment to help Afghanistan emerge from the dark shadows of the instability and violence of its recent past. Lost opportunities and failure to respond to challenges are unfortunately the hallmarks of Afghanistan's turbulent history. In the last decade, the failure of Mujahedin groups to unite in building a democratic government following the end of Soviet occupation plunged the country into a bloody civil war, and the US abandonment of its wartime allies left a war-devastated Afghanistan to fall victim to the political schemes of its neighbors.

This article looks at the challenges and opportunities that face Afghanistan in the post-Bonn period. Specifically it focuses on ways of fostering the long-term development of governance, security, and economic growth in the country.


Establishment of good governance is essential for fostering the development of security and economic recovery. In reaction to Afghanistan's prolonged insecurity, warlordism, and factional infighting, there is a widespread Afghan public desire for a strong central government that can provide security in the chaotic post-conflict environment and offer needed services to war-devastated communities. In order for the central government to meet such public expectations, it needs to strengthen its control of rural areas and deliver required services.

While the central government has extensive constitutional authority over the provinces, Kabul's limited ability to intervene and its accommodation of local power brokers have left factional chiefs in control of local government. The situation is a reflection of the country's immediate past, where the breakdown of central government power led to the emergence of local leaders or warlords who wielded power and set up patronage networks through access to foreign aid, weapons, tax revenue, natural resources, and the illicit narcotics trade. The significant reliance of US-led Coalition forces on the factional militia to defeat the Taliban in 2001 and to conduct stability operations led to the empowerment of factional commanders while contributing to the fragmentation of power and frustrating the reform process.

Over the past two years, Kabul has successfully reduced the power of warlord-governors by reassigning them away from their geographic power base, (1) but their networks continue to influence provincial administration. …

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