Advancing a new narrative for statebuilding in Afghanistan

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Dr. Ghani at Stanford University February 25, 2011
Photo credit: 
Sarina Beges

On February 25 and 26, the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, in partnership with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, hosted a symposium titled, "Addressing the Accountability Gap in Statebuilding: The Case of Afghanistan." This event brought together leading experts, government officials, diplomats, practitioners, and academics to examine the problems of accountability, corruption, and election fraud that have risen in the wake of international statebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.

This unique forum allowed participants-both Afghan actors and members of the international community- who are heavily involved in building the institutions of the Afghan state, to participate in an honest exchange with their peers to surface challenges and generate recommendations to improve the practice of statebuilding moving forward. 

Panels were designed around the following questions: how to establish accountability in statebuilding, address electoral fraud evidenced in 2009 and 2010, manage powerbrokers who monopolize informal governance networks, coordinate anti-corruption efforts, and develop a political strategy for Afghanistan's future. What surfaced throughout these presentations and discussion was the issue of the "double compact" in Afghanistan-the failure of Afghans to self-govern and the failure of the international community to construct the institutions of a functioning state.

Participants proposed a new framework for governance that adopts a more participatory approach with the international community, Afghan government, and the public as equal partners in statebuilding endeavors. While challenges emerged there were also a number of key recommendations and strategies proposed  that can be pioneered by this influential group of policymakers and practitioners to ease the transition of responsibility to the Afghan government in 2014.  

The keynote address was delivered by former Afghan Minster of Finance and 2009 presidential candidate Dr. Ashraf Ghani, to an audience of more than 100 students and members of the local community. Dr. Ghani provided an honest and pragmatic account of the parallel and conflicting systems driven by the international community, which have given rise to systemic failure and corruption in Afghanistan.

"We are dealing with a crooked playing field," Dr. Ghani said recognizing that both the Afghan and international community were jointly responsible for this outcome. "When the field itself is crooked the nature of reform and change that we must initiate are very different. "

Dr. Ghani spent considerable time discussing the outsourcing of development to Washington-based firms that manage million dollar contracts and outsource technical work to foreign technocrats. This in Dr. Ghani's opinion does little to strengthen the internal capacities of the state, provide training opportunities to Afghans or allocate resources effectively to the general public.

Dr. Ghani stressed the importance of speaking honestly about these dysfunctions in the development system, "We need to start talking truth to each other if we are going to deal with this phenomenon. This double failure now is the genesis of the present."

Dr. Ghani channeled the sentiments of the Afghan public into the room by emphasizing the uncertainty that defines their lives. "Today it is the sense of injustice that drives conflict," Dr. Ghani said. "The level of conflict is driven by injustice. What Afghans yearn for is normalcy-the sense that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be better and what my generation endured will not be repeated."

The level of conflict is driven by injustice. What Afghans yearn for is normalcy-the sense that the lives of our children and grandchildren will be better and what my generation endured will  not be repeated.                    -Dr. Ashraf Ghani 

 Looking forward, Dr. Ghani advised that accountability mechanisms and feedback loops must be implemented to ensure that the necessary auditing and accounting mechanisms are in place to control corruption and ensure transparency. In addition, he called for one coherent system of rules that must be developed and agreed upon to govern development and prevent parallel systems from circumventing these rules. Finally, he advised adopting national programs that model the success of the National Solidarity Program, which reduced child mortality rates by 16%.

Dr. Ghani commented on the unique position that Afghanistan occupies at the crossroads of Asia, in the middle of "four huge hubs of change," China, India, Russia, and the Gulf. "A new regional era has to be created, if France and Germany could overcome hundreds of years of conflict we must create another sense of opportunity."

Dr. Ghani concluded by placing the hope and responsibility for Afghanistan's future in the hands of its younger generation, "We must talk about the generation compact in Afghanistan, our sons and daughters-both literal and figurative-are the source of growth and the source of dynamism...The women of Afghanistan, the youth of Afghanistan, and the poor of Afghanistan are the three numerical majorities that have been reduced to political and economic minority. Without investing in women, investing in youth and tackling the challenge of poverty, we are not going to have stability."

At the end of the two day symposium, participants collectively called for a comprehensive political strategy to facilitate the peaceful and legal transfer of power in 2014, which marks the end of President Karzai's term in office. With this important milestone in the near future, the international community remains committed to working with their Afghan counterparts to introduce political reform measures that will strengthen accountability mechanisms between the Afghan state and society. 

As Dr. Ghani eloquently stated at the end of his presentation, "We have to have an agenda of the future, we must engage in writing the history of the future."