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Thread: Step 1: Decentralize Afghanistan

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    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
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    Default Step 1: Decentralize Afghanistan

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    What I would take down from the shelf is a shift to a focus of attaining localized "goodnees" and doing so in a manner that minimizes any perceptions of legitimacy of the Coalition over whatever government the Afghan people choose to put in place.
    This statement by Colonel Jones from another thread, along with a recent post on Registan ("Afghanistan Needs a New Constitution, Not a New CEO") inspired me to advance for comment something I've been thinking of for a long time.

    Given Afghanistan's history and current ethnic, tribal, ideological, and geographic diversity, why are we (the West/Coalition) trying to create and enforce an unnatural governmental system by force? For example, how many rural Pashtuns think of themselves as having an "Afghan" identity, in that they believe the government in Kabul generally represents their best interests, and that projections of government authority (in the form of provincial governors, district sub-governors, ANP, ABP, various ministries)?

    It seems like we are forcing a square peg... why aren't provinces being treated more autonomously, like a loose federation of provinces/areas with strong identities rather than a monolithic "Afghanistan" (complete with fancy flag that must be flown at any opportunity to give the illusion of unity)?

    Would turning to such an approach be akin to admitting defeat, or would it be too difficult to wrest control from Karzai and his network of political allies and give it to locally elected officials? I can anticipate the "slippery slope" argument (if we start giving provinces autonomy, then the districts will want it, then the villages, yadda yadda yadda) which shouldn't be an issue if the areas are apportioned through intelligent criteria.

    After reading the RAND report on Bremer and the CPA, it seems we are making the same mistakes in Afghanistan as far as we are trying to push down an identity and code of behavior on people from the top rather than pushing up an acceptable, if somewhat different government from the grassroots.
    Last edited by IntelTrooper; 06-25-2009 at 11:00 PM. Reason: Removed redundancy.
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    Yes, I agree and have made arguments along the same line before. Unfortunately, few US or Afghan policymakers discuss, much less advocate, for such reformation.

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    What makes you so sure that if there is not a strong central government that some other other power will not rise, or try to rise to fill that position? Just because a given tribal or ethnic group bristles at having a central government imposed on them does not mean that they do not desire to do the same thing to their neighbors.

    SFC W

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    I also agree with IntelTrooper and Entropy. A while back I posted a comment on another forum expressing my concern that we might not be able to accomplish our mission of establishing a strong self-sustaining central government in Afghanistan because the people don’t have the sense of national identity that we westerners have. That kind of national identity has to be developed organically over a very long period of time and cannot be forced upon nor gifted to. In fact I think a western style national identity is the exception and not the norm in former colonial territories where the borders were drawn across tribal lines haphazardly by departing European powers.

    My vote is for a bunch of semi-autonomous states which are loosely linked by a central government that can coordinate matters of “collective security.” Undoubtedly as Uboat suggested somebody will try to seize power but that’s when these semi-autonomous states come together.

    Just my 2 cents.

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Post IntelTrooper, I'm all right with the premise of your argument

    Just a couple of points to consider

    First as it is even today exactly who has the most authority or leadership role in most provinces.
    Why or through what means

    Second what would you call the "political" maneuvering being done by Karzai to consolidate support for his candidacy with those leaders in mind.


    And third it may be very important to define exactly who is in competition with who for what roles (in Afghan contexts) and what actually is the role of any outside parties in helping to facilitate a more long standing and (friendly to our interests) outcome in that competition.

    Just thinking out loud that while your on the right track it may just be that their tracking with you more than you might think.
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    Registered User Christian's Avatar
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    I wrote about this issue here, if you want the whole argument. I don't feel like any identity is being pushed on Afghans by outsiders, but certainly a centralized government is (but contrary to popular opinion, certain Afghan rulers have had an effective level of control over the countryside). As it is, much of the tenants of centralize rule are on paper only.

    I was in a lecture by an Afghan PhD who argued for devolved power. Some of the NGO set in the crowd objected at the end with the "what about the warlords?" argument. They are actually partly right, the rural elite these days is not as accountable to its constituents as it once was.

    I would argue that at the moment people are still most threatened by people in and near their communities than by the central government. So if there is to be decentralization, it needs to be a gradual process. The National Solidarity Program is probably a good start.

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Very bad idea

    If you want to see what a loose confederation of provinces, etc. looks like, how it doesn't work but instead creates and encourages corruption & despotic warlords, take a hard look at FATA, Waziristan, the NWFP, all in Pakistan.

    Very bad idea, with all due politeness and respect.

    From an old retired Colonel who has been there and done that in Pakistan of yore.

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    Christian, thanks for coming by and commenting - your views are particularly valuable, but I would like to disagree on a few things:

    I would argue that at the moment people are still most threatened by people in and near their communities than by the central government. So if there is to be decentralization, it needs to be a gradual process. The National Solidarity Program is probably a good start.
    The first part is true - most threats are local. However, two points, which you raise in your excellent post at your blog:

    1. In several cases central government officials are the same people who create problems at the local level. These officials use their "official" government power to further their own, local agendas. In such cases central government is not the problem, but it exacerbates the problem. Look at the various governors of Helmand, for example.

    2. As you noted in your post, central authority is largely theoretical. In my view part of the reason for this is that local people realize that a strong central government is not going to serve their interests because of corruption - it's only going to serve the interests of the corrupt officials enriching themselves. They might be willing to accept and even enable more authority under a more decentralized system where money and services do not have to trickle-down through some ministry in Kabul.

    I really like what you wrote in your post:

    What do the people in these local communities want? Anecdotally, the want the state to provide services, protect them from harm and to act as an honest arbiter for local disputes. I would argue that many exasperated people in Afghanistan’s periphery are, at this point, willing to settle for a strong central state, but only if it is benevolent. The strong state is there in law but not in practice (beyond governor’s appointments) and the “benevolent” aspect is still often aspirational.
    My argument is that a strong, central and benevolent state is, at the very best, unlikely in Afghanistan. A strong state will have to be authoritarian in nature, but even that will be difficult given all the barriers to extending state control. Iraq is a case where centralization is theoretically much easier than Afghanistan, yet the Iraqi government is much less centralized than Afghanistan's.

    Agree with you on the NSP.

    George,

    If you want to see what a loose confederation of provinces, etc. looks like, how it doesn't work but instead creates and encourages corruption & despotic warlords, take a hard look at FATA, Waziristan, the NWFP, all in Pakistan.
    Here's how I see Pakistan: Pakistan as a nation-state is really just the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Most of the rest of the "country" is either administered and/or treated as colonial possessions.

    That isn't what I, at least, would like to see in Afghanistan, and would suggest there is a lot of room between the (theoretically) strong central government now in place and a "loose confederation" of provinces. Two ideas are to give the provinces some discretionary budget and more say in who is appointed to official posts.

    But the immediate problem is not necessarily what form of stable, effective government Afghanistan wants or needs in the long term. The reality is that the central state has shown time and again that it is not able to deliver at the local level. In the near and medium terms the problems with the Afghan government cannot be fixed and it also seems unlikely, in my view, that the central government's power will much grow. So what can be done?

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    Default Afghanistan Needs a New Constitution, Not CEO?

    Ground up may be the way to go.

    Registan has their take.

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default In Re: Uboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post
    What makes you so sure that if there is not a strong central government that some other other power will not rise, or try to rise to fill that position? Just because a given tribal or ethnic group bristles at having a central government imposed on them does not mean that they do not desire to do the same thing to their neighbors.

    SFC W
    Well said and often ignored by those who conveniently default to this idea that if we just let the Afghans tell us who/what type of gov't etc etc...

    I wish I had an answer as to which is best... I do know that despite whether we think the Westphalian World is disentegrating or not, we still live in a state-world, and the confluence of civilizations rubbing up against each other in that region demands our attention and a partner of some sort... a state seems to best fit that description (and a "good" responsible state is better than a corrupt negilent state).

    George's warning is also worth noting...

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    If you want to see what a loose confederation of provinces, etc. looks like, how it doesn't work but instead creates and encourages corruption & despotic warlords, take a hard look at FATA, Waziristan, the NWFP, all in Pakistan.
    Mr. Singleton, what do you think about the theory that the overall state of FATA and the NWFP is not due to decentralization, but rather excessive centralization on the part of the Pakistani state?

    A friend of mine's father (a former Senator of Pakistan for the PPP) once expounded at great length to me on how federalism in Pakistan was a dead letter due to the Pakistani military's fondness for coups. Military governments naturally centralized power rather than distributed it outwards to the provinces, and Pakistan has spent as much time under such governments as under civilian rule. Sindh's complaints about inequitable distribution of funds have existed since Partition, and the NWFP and Balochistan have been more often treated like colonies rather than actual provinces with rights and representations, especially given how often their provincial governments were dismissed by the center. With an eye towards exploitation of Balochistan's resources and simple maintenance of control in the NWFP rather than making either integral parts of the state, Pakistan's center instead created violent insurgencies in both.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Changing Afghanistan

    In view of the complexities described here and that we are debating reform, can I suggest there are plenty of models to follow. Personally I'd follow the Swiss route, not the German; better still give Afghanistan to the Swiss to administer. Two highly individual, conservative populations - there must be more in common.

    Given the common perception in Kabul recently that the West was not staying around, it is all a bit "blue sky" thinking.

    davidbfpo

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default I liked the late King of Afghanistan & that form of governance

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    In view of the complexities described here and that we are debating reform, can I suggest there are plenty of models to follow. Personally I'd follow the Swiss route, not the German; better still give Afghanistan to the Swiss to administer. Two highly individual, conservative populations - there must be more in common.

    Given the common perception in Kabul recently that the West was not staying around, it is all a bit "blue sky" thinking.

    davidbfpo
    You guys are again causing me to repeat my parochial 40 years ago point of view updated to 2009...bring back the monarchy in Afghanistan, it was there for hundreds of years and actually did a rather objective and good job.

    Democracy cannot take root where there is a vacuum and such a huge illteracy rate among the people nationwide as is the case in Afghanistan.

    My simplistic view.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
    You guys are again causing me to repeat my parochial 40 years ago point of view updated to 2009...bring back the monarchy in Afghanistan, it was there for hundreds of years and actually did a rather objective and good job.

    Democracy cannot take root where there is a vacuum and such a huge illteracy rate among the people nationwide as is the case in Afghanistan.

    My simplistic view.
    You're right, but the monarchy wasn't a very centralized system and the monarch usually had limited power. He still had to play the great Afghan game of tribal politics and even then monarchy wasn't exactly peaceful.

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    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Tequila question of Singleton about Pakistan decentralization vs. centralization

    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    Mr. Singleton, what do you think about the theory that the overall state of FATA and the NWFP is not due to decentralization, but rather excessive centralization on the part of the Pakistani state?

    A friend of mine's father (a former Senator of Pakistan for the PPP) once expounded at great length to me on how federalism in Pakistan was a dead letter due to the Pakistani military's fondness for coups. Military governments naturally centralized power rather than distributed it outwards to the provinces, and Pakistan has spent as much time under such governments as under civilian rule. Sindh's complaints about inequitable distribution of funds have existed since Partition, and the NWFP and Balochistan have been more often treated like colonies rather than actual provinces with rights and representations, especially given how often their provincial governments were dismissed by the center. With an eye towards exploitation of Balochistan's resources and simple maintenance of control in the NWFP rather than making either integral parts of the state, Pakistan's center instead created violent insurgencies in both.
    Apologies for the long delay to your question(s).

    It was my experience when serving there (long ago) in Pakistan, and today, from here looking over there, that the loose federation of provinces and areas in all of Pakistan, but particularly in FATA, NWFP, N. and S. Waziristan, Balochistan, etc. is self evident. Loose, more like a weak confederation instead of a nation. Lack of a unified civil law standard for all parts of Pakistan itself proves loose confederation instead of centralization.

    This decentralization historically since the founding of Pakistan in 1947 is in part due to the heavy influence of some Pakhtuns who culturally see themselves as apart from the other ethnic identities of all of Pakistan.

    Pakhtuns in my opinion are of three categories:

    1. Those loyal to their provincial areas but who are also loyal to the nation of Pakistan and who serve well in both the government and military of Pakistan, as well as being very good business people.

    2. Other Pakhtuns, many illiterate, others educated, who have chosen the route of the Taliban and al Qaida to misuse and misapply Islamiac oral traditions (the Pakhtuwana Constitution) which they in my view have heretically misrepresented vs. peaceful Islam, using their false interprestations (oral only) to misguide and mislead thousands into the terrorist guerilla war.

    3. A third grouping of Pakhtuns are the overseas Pakhtuns who kibitz from afar but who have found democracy and freedom of enterprise and thought to suit them in the West, Australia, and other more democratic regions of our globe.

    Pakistan's line of military dictators, I was there when Field Marshal Ayub Khan was President, have made "deals" with Pakhtun tribes in years gone by which these deal making Pakthuns helped "keep the peace" loosely speaking in the Northern parts of Pakistan, without the Government of Pakistan in fact having any heavy, centralized control in those areas. Anyone who has ever lived and worked inside Pakistan knows this to be a fact and true.

    Ayub Khan while I was in Pakistan was opposed in a national election by Miss Jinnah, the daughter of the founder of Pakistan. Even my same age then young Pakistani friends in the Pakistan government service privately felt Miss Jinnah won the Presidential election, but the results were about 60-40 in favor of Ayub Khan "as reported" by his in power national government at the conclusion of that election.

    The recent 2008 victory of the PPP, and to a lesser extent the ANP (which of course represents most closely the interests of the Pakhtuns in Northern Pakistan) over the more religious parties that backed Musharraf... was in my view a good new beginning...but it like all events in Pakistan gets muddled frequently with so many compromises, jirgas in the north, you name it, all of which again prove there is no strong, centralized governance of FATA, the NWFP, Swat, etc.

    Not to duck your toughest question: Yes, the people of both Wazirisatan and Balochistan provinces have been flatly dumped on by absentee ownership and economic exploitation of natural resources there without fair and equitable economic reinvestment into jobs and other basic infrastructure needs within these provinces.

    But, I have to add that the value of the plundered natural resources, as is all too often the case historically in Pakistan, are hugely exaggered and distorted to the point that you would think we are talking about one of the richest nations in the world instead of in fact one of the poorer nations in the world in terms of it's aggregate economy. This does not change the fact that these poor people have been ripped off, but not a Rockefeller level fortune...but any money into one's poor local economy is a great improvement, in a relative sense.

    My suggestion is to direct your discussion(s) in addition to here on the SWJ to the Alternate Solutions Institute in Lahore, on line, which is the single but a very good "think tank" in Pakistan:

    http://asinstitute.org/

    Getting many non-Pakhtun academics and business folks to talk openly in a clear forum designed for thinking through cool headed solutions is always time and effort well spent on your part.

    Again, my apologies for the delay of several weeks in attempting to answer your questions. Good luck to you.
    Last edited by George L. Singleton; 07-25-2009 at 12:50 PM.

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    Great comment George, thanks!

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