e-Ariana - Todays Afghan News
 Contact Us  
 An Ariana Media Publication 08/28/2016
 Why civil servants hold the key to Afghan prosperity

By Javid Ahmad

[Printer Friendly Version]

Recent events have underscored the extent to which Afghanistan’s inept leadership undermines the country’s nascent administrative capabilities. Last week, two of President Hamid Karzai’s most powerful cabinet colleagues – Defense Minister Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi – lost no-confidence motions in the Afghan parliament and were disqualified from holding office due to their perceived inaction over a spate of violence. Bismillah Khan was also reportedly accused of carving out his own ethnic Tajik fiefdom within the Afghan police force and alienating and marginalizing Pashtun officials working under him.

As Karzai struggled to find replacements for those two, the Afghan television network Tolo released bank statements purportedly belonging to Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, which suggested more than $1 million in deposits (keep in mind that Afghan cabinet ministers receive an average monthly salary of $3,500). Zakhilwal’s claims that he was remunerated for his work as consultant before joining the government in 2005 ring hollow – nongovernmental organizations and foreign government entities operating in Afghanistan don’t pay that lavishly. More importantly, all of the deposits coincided with Zakhilwal’s time in the Afghan government as finance minister and as the financial chief of President Karzai’s reelection campaign.

All three ministers have denied the charges, which have yet to be proven, although Wardak has resigned and was subsequently appointed by Karzai as his senior military advisor. The other two ministers, meanwhile, are clinging to what’s left of their legitimacy. In Kabul, these episodes have undeniably undermined the legitimacy of Karzai’s government and seem to have further emboldened opposition groups. In Washington and elsewhere, these developments will likely buttress the views of those who support an accelerated troop drawdown and reduction in funding for the Afghan mission. In the run up to the U.S. election, such steps may also seem appealing to American voters. But they would actually only intensify the challenges facing the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

While these episodes aren’t likely to drag on for long, the situation still highlights some deeper problems with Afghan politics. While it’s not the first time that Kabul has been unable to find political replacements without resorting to ethnic politics, the fallout from these events reveal the stark absence of a competent Afghan civil service. The country’s indigenous civil services are characterized by corruption, political patronage and nepotism, leaving them incapable of delivering basic services to the Afghan people. There’s a shortage of capability and capacity – over the past decade, foreign NGOs provided basic services in the absence of preexisting institutions – and no real merit-based pay and grading review system. Too often, foreign NGOs, contractors, and subcontractors funded individuals within certain ministries, through government budgets and via opaque processes, who in turn promoted their interests from within. In addition, many well-educated Afghans are stationed in embassies abroad, while hundreds of key positions in Kabul and the provinces are filled through patronage networks. There’s also been little involvement from those within Afghan civil society, which has developed at about the same pace as the Afghan government.

Regrettably, judging from Afghanistan’s current trajectory, the challenges presented by such questionable practices have the potential to cause far-reaching turmoil. Yet this latest political crisis in Kabul – triggered by parliamentary oversight and media activism – suggests that the political landscape may actually be starting to change. While ordinary Afghans currently have no say in the appointments of ministers and other officials, the public is clearly clamoring for an alternative to the unholy alliance of corrupt officials, warlords, and drug kingpins.

Of course, Washington’s poor handling of Afghanistan’s bureaucratic development after eleven years of war are also partly to blame for the current lack of capacity. But the United States could still invest in future generations, helping to turn young Afghans into capable technocrats and civil servants and bringing new, dynamic, educated, and more impartial young leaders into the political sphere. This would be best done through large-scale investments in education, citizen and leadership training, and an exposure to the work of Western institutions through foreign visits. If the United States’ goals are to be achieved in Afghanistan, the country’s civil services – and not just its security forces – must be properly trained and equipped to face the challenges ahead.

Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is a program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.

Back to Top

Other Stories:

Has Afghan election fraud controversy been defused?
The Christian Science Monitor (06/25/2014)

Moscow’s Afghan Endgame
The Diplomat (06/25/2014)

Apologize to people, MPs asks Abdullah
Pajhwok (06/25/2014)

The Men Who Run Afghanistan
The Atlantic (06/23/2014)

After Karzai
The Atlantic (06/23/2014)

IEC secretary announces resignation
Pajhwok (06/23/2014)

IECC spurns Abdullah’s claim; hails UN intervention
Pajhwok (06/23/2014)

Afghan election crisis: 'stuffed sheep' recordings suggest large-scale fraud
The Guardian (06/23/2014)

Foreign spies trading on poll crisis: People
Pajhwok (06/22/2014)

Election commission office closed in Kunduz due to security threats
Khaama Press (06/22/2014)

Afghan Leader Backs U.N. Election Role
The New York Times (06/21/2014)

Tensions mount over Afghan vote, protest held in Kabul
Reuters (06/21/2014)

Hundreds protest alleged Afghan election fraud
The Associated Press (06/21/2014)

Afghan Presidential Election Takes Dangerous Turn
The Huffington Post (06/21/2014)

20,000 Heratis being sent to Iran for work
Pajhwok (12/27/2013)

At Kabul airport, exodus of U.S. aid goes on
The Washington Post (12/27/2013)

Haqqani Network leaders sexually abuse teenager boys
Khama Press (12/27/2013)

Unemployment, Crime Rising Ahead Of Troop Pullout
Tolo (12/27/2013)

British army head warns Taliban could retake key territory in south
Khama Press (12/27/2013)

Election Officials Emphasize Impartial Surveys
Tolo (12/27/2013)

A Complete US Withdrawal From Afghanistan Would Be 'A Complete Catastrophe' For Civilian Aid
Reuters (12/27/2013)

Facing Big Changes, Anxious Afghans Hope For The Best In 2014
NPR (12/27/2013)

Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia Are the World's Most Corrupt Countries, With China in the Middle
businessweek.com (12/04/2013)

Poetry of Betrayal: Afghan Elections and Transitional Justice
Beacon Reader (10/25/2013)

Couple beheaded in Helmand province for having love affair
Khaama Press (10/25/2013)

US senator says no aid for Afghanistan unless security deal finalized
Khaama Press (10/25/2013)

Would-be child bombers detained: NDS
Pajhwok (10/25/2013)

PJ (10/24/2013)

The Afghan dead find a list
Inter Press Service (10/24/2013)

10 runners shortlisted in 2014 presidential race
Pajhwok (10/24/2013)

Back to Top