Afghanistan Stakeholder Analysis Robert Swope Understanding the governance stakeholders in Afghanistan involves a degree of complexity not found
in other countries currently enjoying political stability. In addition to various Afghan stakeholder groups there is significant involvement by members of the international community who by their actions meaningfully impact Afghan governance, for better or worse. This paper seeks to outline the major stakeholder groups as they relate to Afghan governance and does so using broad categories under which there exists a multiplicity of actors with varying degrees of involvement, interests and influence. Other important actors exist (such as Pakistan and the Afghan citizenry) but are omitted in the interest of brevity and to focus more in-depth on players with more influence over the levers of governance within the country.
Stakeholder #1: National-Level Government Officials As the actor with responsibility for strengthening Afghan institutions and implementing government policy, the Afghan national government is the primary stakeholder group. Without the support and efforts of governing officials and line ministries any exogenous governance reform efforts, no matter how good they are, will ultimately fail. Afghan governing officials have been democratically elected, with the exception of high-level political appointees and civil servants. Due to issues related to security and resource competition, (specifically over jobs and contracts), these elections have not always been completely free, fair, and open, or without a degree of corruption.1 Nonetheless Afghanistan’s current set of elected office holders are
recognized by the international community and at the national-level will be in power until 2014 (Office of the President) and 2015 (Parliament).2 Current President Hamid Karzai has been in office since late 2001 and was reelected in 2009. Karzai comes from Afghanistan’s ethnic majority of Pashtuns and governs using “an informal power structure centered around his close ethnic allies” and family members, and has a mixed record when dealing with ethnic minority groups or other political faction leaders.3 He has accepted much governance help from the international community, such as on issues related to corruption, but when these institutions have investigated those close to him he has taken steps to thwart their efforts.4 Because of his power base, relationships with the international community, and the position he holds as the country’s Executive, he has a great degree of control over and influence on governance. His interests are to stay in power while strengthening his allies and political acolytes so that when he eventually leaves (constitutionally he is barred from another term) they remain in power and he will continue to exert influence. Afghanistan’s Parliament plays a key role and is therefore an important stakeholder at the federal level. It has less power than Karzai, in part because of the chamber’s fractured composition representing the country’s many ethnic, tribal and political groups, and the varied interests of its members. Parliament’s major role (theoretically) is in expressing the collective will of the people, oversight over the Executive and Judiciary, the passing of enabling legislation, and appropriating funds. Because interests and power are diffused with consensus difficult, the President’s policies can carry more weight and he is able to act at times of parliamentary gridlock. More importantly, since he controls the Executive branch, he has more immediate and direct influence on the systems and processes of the government. Even so,
parliament is necessary to pass the laws governing the institutions administered by the President, and more importantly, funding them sufficiently.
Stakeholder #2: Subnational Government Officials Once the international community overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001 a variety of informal subnational power bases formally consolidated their power by embedding themselves in the Afghan governing structure. Though technically the subnational Afghan government apparatus (provinces and districts) is supposed to be subservient to the federal government in certain matters (while in other matters they retain primacy), many of these local governments decide whether or not to implement national-level policy based on local political considerations.5 They are able to continue doing so because they command certain subnational revenues and security powers.6 The result is in many ways a parallel system of administration on federal issues that some critics suggests is inefficient while lacking transparency and equitableness (the federal level government is not immune to these same criticisms). Subnational governments in Afghanistan have in many ways more power and influence in their geographic domains than does the central government in Kabul and like national-level politicians and bureaucrats they seek to retain and expand their power and influence. It is widely considered that provincial and municipal governments are more unsophisticated and lacking in capacity than federal level government offices.7 The specific interests of these subnational government offices necessarily varies based on context. It is clear, however, that federal-level legislation and policies emanating from the President’s Office are meaningless if there is no buy-
in and or willingness to implement at the subnational level, and for this reasons any governance reform plan must take into account the need to co-opt these players.
Stakeholder #3: Non-formal Government Officials — Tribes, Warlords & Insurgents Afghanistan has been more or less in a state of conflict since 1979 with the Marxist overthrow of the government. Three decades of war have reduced government systems and process to a very basic level with most indexes measuring governance listing it near the bottom (if Afghanistan is listed at all).8 This has led to the creation of resilient, non-formal power structures and territorial autonomous zones where war lords, tribes, and insurgent groups hold sway.9 These non-formal groups have considerable power and influence over their domains, and most importantly, the ability to spoil the best efforts of formal government offices and the international community when it comes to strengthening institutions and carrying out good governance projects. Tribes. Tribes provide crucial support for their members and have the potential to act as parallel governing institutions. They often command more loyalty than do the formal structures of government and in some instances may do a better job in delivering on traditional government responsibilities such as security for vulnerable populations, the settling of disputes, and the provision of food, money and other forms of aid.10 While the specific circumstances of a tribe influences its policy concerns, each seeks to continue to exist, which means consolidating, maintaining and expanding tribal power. They do these things, however, for the benefit of their members and are in many ways more representative of local community interests than the government.
Warlords. These are men who came to power due to Afghanistan’s long period of instability, having led bands of fighting men whose loyalty they still retain. Also known as “faction leaders,” these individuals consolidated control over specific areas, built up alliances, and like tribal leaders provide protection and other benefits for their constituencies.11 Many have engaged in human rights abuses and corruption but have also been responsible for good works such as maintaining stability for those under their aegis. In many ways they are an Afghan aristocracy, like the European feudal lords of old. They are experienced combatants and in their spheres of influence they generally command more loyalty than the government in Kabul or leaders in a provincial capital. For this reason the warlords are a force to be reckoned with and will likely stymie attempts to lessen their control or economic power unless they are properly coopted or eliminated.
Insurgents. Though relatively small in number, insurgents can negatively impact Afghan governance through their ability to engage in attacks against government and nongovernment groups. Via targeted assassinations of government officials, the destruction of government property, and the creation of a culture of fear among the population, insurgents can severely influence the goals, ways, and resources by which the formal government tries to assert control over the country and govern it. They have also set up shadow governments in areas under their control.12 Insurgent interests are varied depending upon the type of group. Some merely want to achieve simple political goals such as the withdraw of the international community from Afghanistan. Others seek ultimate control of the state. In the latter case that means hollowing out the state so that it crumbles and creates a vacuum where the insurgent group can step in and take control. Though their goals may vary, both types seek a political end through violent struggle and the desire to continue operating until it is achieved.
Stakeholder #4: The International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is the name given to the UN-authorized, NATO-led security mission in which 49 countries (mostly European) take part in with the hopes of ultimately enabling the Afghan government to provide a secure and stable environment for its citizens.13 The mission has expanded over time to include reconstruction and development, as well as promoting good governance, which the “ISAF Mission Statement” says involves “strengthen[ing] the institutions required to fully establish good governance and rule of law and to promote human rights,” in addition to “building capacity, supporting the growth of governance structures and promoting an environment within which governance can improve.”14 ISAF’s goals revolve primarily around maintaining security and ensuring the territory of Afghanistan can no longer serve as a base for transnational terrorism. Additionally, ISAF plays a large role when it comes to funding programs and the provision of technical assistance to the Afghan government at both the national and subnational levels. These activities run the gamut from governance issues to security sector reform. As a result there is a key interest in seeing money the spent appropriately and effectively. The resources of ISAF, in terms of finances and firepower, also give it a great degree of influence in the way Afghanistan is governed. It has the ability to leverage these assets into policy and personnel changes within the Afghan government. Of course, a major goal of troop contributing nations is to leave Afghanistan, sooner rather than later. This impacts ISAF resources and the calculus by which troop and funding allocations are made. It also affects the decisions taken by the other stakeholders, such as governing officials and insurgent groups, who may choose to wait out reform and other efforts being pushed by the international community.15
U.S. Agency for International Development. Assessment of Corruption in Afghanistan. (Mar. 1, 2009), by Ernest Leonardo and Dr. Lawrence Robertson. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADO248.pdf (accessed: February 1, 2012).
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U.S. Congressional Research Service. Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance. (RS21922; Dec. 12, 2011), by Kenneth Katzman. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21922.pdf (accessed: February 1, 2010).
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The Asia Foundation. An Assessment of Subnational Governance in Afghanistan. April, 2007. http://asiafoundation.org/pdf/AG-subnationalgovernance.pdf (accessed February 1, 2012).
Afghanistan is listed near the bottom of indexes prepared by Transparency International, the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report,” and the UN’s Human Development Index, to name just three. In some cases it is omitted from indexes due to a lack of data or the inability to collect it resulting from security concerns.
Robb, John. Global Guerillas and Territorial Autonomous Zones. [Weblog entry.] Global Guerillas. August 20, 2004. http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2004/08/global_guerrill_1.html (accessed February 1, 2012).
Rhode, David and Ruhuhllah Khapalwak. “A Look At America’ New Hope: The Afghan Tribes. New York Times, January 30, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/weekinreview/13rohde.html (accessed February 1, 2012).
U.S. Congressional Research Service. Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance. (RS21922; Dec. 12, 2011), by Kenneth Katzman. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21922.pdf (accessed: February 1, 2010), pps. 27-31.
Chivers, C.J. “In Eastern Afghanistan, At War With the Taliban’s Shadowy Rule. New York Times, February 6, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/world/asia/07taliban.html?pagewanted=all (accessed February 7, 2012).
ISAF. Troop Numbers and Contributions. [Website entry.] January 2012. http://www.isaf.nato.int/troopnumbers-and-contributions/index.php (accessed February 7, 2012).
ISAF. About ISAF. [Website entry.] http://www.isaf.nato.int/mission.html (accessed February 7, 2012).
Cordesman, Anthony. Transition in the Afghanistan-Pakistan War: How Does This End? Center for Strategic and International Studies. January, 11, 2012. http://csis.org/publication/transition-afghanistan-pakistan-war-howdoes-war-end (accessed: February 1, 2010), pg. iii.