Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 28 December 2005
Review: 105/05

Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai’s New Year challenges

On 19 December 2005, Afghanistan opened its first session of parliament. President Hamid Karzai conducted the swearing ceremony of 351 Members of Parliament - 249 from the Wolesi Jirga, lower house, and 102 Meshrano Jirga, upper house. Afghanistan took the final step for transition to democracy after three decades of war.

Realisation of democracy and rebuilding Afghanistan ravaged by wars for the last 23 years is really a Herculean task. The Members of Parliament comprise of former Mujahideen commanders, former communists, alleged opium barons and ex-Taleban figures, including Mullah Rocketi, famed for his past fighting skills, and large numbers of women politicians.

President Karzai faces many challenges. Asian Centre for Human Rights analyses a few of them.

I. Harmonization of conflicting interests

Given the combustible mix of Parliamentarians, harmonisation of diverse interests remains the key challenge. Majority of the 351 parliamentarians belongs to varied and conflicting background. Majority of them were elected as independent candidates. Ethnic conflict and factionalism is sure to echo in the newly opened Afghan parliament. Majority of the 68 women parliamentarians stated that many of their fellow male parliamentarians should be on trial for war crimes. The first full session of the new parliament almost broke down after vocal woman member Malali Joya called for all of Afghanistan's human rights abusers and "criminal warlords" to be brought to justice. More than 60 percent of the parliamentarians are former warlords responsible for decades of bloodshed in the country.

The election of Yonus Qanooni as the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house on 22 December 2005 has raised Afghanistan's prospect of facing a divided government. Yonus Qanooni had finished second to President Karzai in the last year's presidential elections. After four years of governing without a legislature, Karzai will face the challenge of sharing power with none other than his arch rival in the Presidential elections.

However, so far a clear majority of the new MPs back President Karzai. Many members of the lower house are President Karzai's fellow Pashtuns who comprise nearly half of the 27.2 million Afghan populations. Large numbers of the former Mujahideen commanders who are MPs are also believed to be Karzai supporters. According to a western observer who closely monitored the recent Afghan elections, "the proportion of MPs who are anti-Karzai and anti-system is low."

But only time will probe how President Hamid Karzai harmonizes these conflicting interests. This is vital for his government formation as well as for legislations.

II. Fighting drug trafficking

The remarks of Doris Buddenberg, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) Representative in Afghanistan, at a UN press briefing on 12 December 2005 in Kabul that in 2005 poppy cultivation was down by 25 percent compared to the previous year, but would likely to rise again in 2006, do not auger well for Afghanistan and the world.

Given the failure of the Government to keep the promises of providing jobs, building of infrastructure like roads and irrigation canal, the people are likely to resort to their easiest and highly paid business of growing poppy. There have been some "cash for work" schemes, employing people on basic infrastructure projects like clearing drainage ditches. But they don't pay enough to compensate people for losing their opium incomes, especially for the poorest farmers who are often deeply indebted to local drugs barons. Besides, it is believed that drugs profits directly fund Talebans in places like Helmand and Nimroz where Karzai’s presence is minimal.

Despite the drop in cultivation of poppy, Afghanistan still produces 87 per cent of the global produce of the drug and remains the base for nearly the entire heroin consumed in the Western countries. According to UN and Afghan government estimates, the total export value of Afghanistan's opium in 2005 stood at US $2.7 billion, equivalent to 52 percent of the country's official gross domestic product. Consistent campaign by countries like UK, USA since the fall of the Taleban in 2001 has not yielded encouraging results so far despite pumping in hundreds of millions dollars into Afghanistan specifically to fight against drugs. On its part, the Afghan Government has made significant strides in the campaign by improving counter-narcotics operations with stronger law enforcement. A Counter-Narcotics Judicial Taskforce (CNJT) was established, which so far has handled over 300 cases and over 500 drug traffickers have been either detained or imprisoned. More than 100 metric tons of drugs and precursors have been seized and destroyed. Although support among the public to tackle the issue had also relatively increased, it is still a long way to make Afghanistan “poppy free”.

III. Realisation of aid pledged by donor countries

Afghanistan has had its first democratic elections and adopted a new constitution that seeks to guarantee equal rights for all. However, insecurity remains all pervasive and depends on realization of aid pledged by the donor countries.

Nothing can be more precious New Year gift for President Hamid Karzai than receiving the remaining $2.7 billion of the $US4.5 billion that the donor countries pledged in the International Conference on Reconstruction Aid for Afghanistan held in Tokyo from 21-22 January 2002. Afghanistan received $1.8 billion of the $US 4.5 billion in grants and loans within 2002. However, aid was seemingly delayed and trickled slowly into the country. Throughout 2002, the Government of Afghanistan, NGOs, and multi-lateral institutions called on donors to "commit" or deliver on pledges made that are so vital to Afghanistan's reconstruction. Aid was dispersed, but in unexpected ways. Materialization of pledges has occurred, but most has reportedly not been channeled through the government.

The amount pledged was insufficient to restore even the most basic government and social infrastructure. The Tokyo pledging conference was only in response to a preliminary needs assessment for reconstruction, not taking into account that more than half of the pledges went to humanitarian efforts (so far $840 million of the already $1.2+ billion received has gone to humanitarian relief). Or as in some cases, pledges that were initially offered as grants turned into loans where the Government of Afghanistan decided to refuse the terms (i.e. Saudi Arabia).  According to UN estimates, a minimum of $10 billion was needed over five years, with $15 billion needed over a decade, while Afghani officials had put the figure at between $30 and $44 billion over a decade.

The situation appears optimistic if one were to go by the commitments of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). On 21 December 2005, the Bank approved the first part of a projected US $105 million programme to reform Afghanistan's fiscal management and public administration systems, with an assistance package totalling $55 million. Earlier, on 31 March 2005, ADB President Tadao Chino had made an announcement about ADB's plan to provide about $1 billion in assistance to Afghanistan for 2005-2008. As per ADB’s estimates, requirements for 2004–2006 are $600 million comprising $570 million in Asian Development Fund and $30 million in Technical Assistance Special Fund (TASF). The loan pipeline prepared in collaboration with the Government totals $570 million for 12 programs and projects—an average annual lending level of $190 million: $170 million in 2004, and $200 million in 2005 and 2006. This amount is in line with ADB’s annual lending to Afghanistan of $167.2 million in 2002 and $150 million in 2003.

Reconstruction of a country ravaged by war for 23 years largely depends of smooth and consistent flow of aid which has been only trickling.

IV. Building up Afghanistan's own security forces

The creation of a parliament through elections does not imply that Afghanistan is suddenly stable and capable of standing on its own. The establishment of a competent and well-equipped security force of its own remains vital to protection and promotion of peace and stability in any sovereign nation. This is perhaps one of the serious challenges before President Hamid Karzai given the re-emergence of the Taleban who have been continuously attacking coalition forces and election officials, killing aid workers and kidnapping foreigners.

President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership on 23 May 2005 at the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush. NATO troops have been partially successful in containing the Taleban guerillas but it is believed that local populations are the only ones capable of ensuring effective protection of domestic security in post-conflict situations. Further, President Hamid Karzai is not expected to be oblivious of consistent and credible reports of torture of prisoners by Allied forces in Iraq and by the US troops in his own country.

An independent and capable security force is indispensable not only for the survival of a sovereign nation but also for protection and promotion of human rights. An accountable and disciplined security force controlled by democratically elected civilian authority is the need of the hour to ensure that the rights of the common Afghanis are not battered any more.

© Copy right 2003, Asian Centre for Human Rights, C-3/441-C, Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, India