The Afghan Transitional Administration: Prospects and Perils
The Emergency Loya Jirga, or grand national assembly, held from 10 to 21 June 2002 in Kabul was a small but critical step in Afghanistan’s political development. It was an opportunity to accord national legitimacy to the peace process begun at Bonn in November 2001 but it produced mixed results. From a narrow perspective, it was a success: representatives from across Afghanistan came together to elect, or rather anoint, a head of state, and the major armed factions kept their hats in the political ring rather than resort to violence. Given the last three decades of war and turmoil, this is significant.
However, the Loya Jirga also failed in important respects: the opportunity to assert civilian leadership, promote democratic expression, and draw authority away from the warlords was squandered. An all-consuming concern for short-term stability caused key Afghan and international decision-makers to bow to undemocratic sectarian demands. The Transitional Authority that resulted will be hampered by their compromises. The imperatives of the Coalition forces to root out terrorism continue to overshadow their concerns for long-term stability and participatory governance in Afghanistan. Unless U.S. political and military goals in Afghanistan can be reconciled, today’s successes may become tomorrow’s problems.
The Taliban’s collapse precipitated the return of Afghanistan’s regional commanders and warlords – the same cast of characters that was responsible for the civil war in the early 1990s. This has meant an uneasy peace as they compete for power and resources. Tensions in this still-fractured nation are high, and stability is far from assured. The assassination of Vice President Haji Qadir underscores the vital need for arrangements to ensure security and promote reconciliation.
The Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) faces enormous challenges and perils in the next two years:
(a) a new constitution must be written and approved;
(b) the legal, logistical, and cultural grounds for “free and fair” elections must be prepared;
(c) national armed forces must be trained and deployed while up to 200,000 faction-based soldiers are demobilised; and
(d) a multi-billion dollar reconstruction program must be implemented.
All this must be done as the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban continues; heavily armed, largely unaccountable factions compete; and the economy remains moribund.
Within Afghanistan, the forces of democratisation are welling up from a long suppressed population – but they are up against warlordism, lingering ethnic and factional tensions, a deeply conservative bent within society, and virtually unprecedented post-war reconstruction needs. The international community’s commitment will also be challenged. Conflicts or potential conflicts like those between India and Pakistan and in Iraq, and others yet unknown, as well as Afghan internal strife, will distract attention and undermine the continued availability of military, political, and economic resources critically needed to carry Afghanistan through its transition.
Kabul/Brussels, 30 July 2002