Currently, all roads lead back to President Hamid Karzai, who appoints more than 1,000 government officials throughout the country at all levels of government with minimal public input or oversight. While the Obama administration has emphasized strengthening local governance it has not gone far enough to push the Afghan leadership to improve the capacity and power of local governmental authorities and increase Afghan peoples’ access to government decision making.
Building a sustainable state requires the systemic institutionalization of checks and balances at both the local and national level between the branches of government and civil society. While not discussed in depth in this paper, clearly a strong, independent justice system is essential for creating this equilibrium.
The subnational governance plan passed by the government attempts to provide greater budgetary authority to local governing bodies such as the provincial councils and to clarify their different roles. It also states its intent to hold district and municipal elections. The international community must demand that these reforms are implemented and not just proposed, and that a clear plan is established for holding local elections.
The international community’s large contributions to the Afghan government offer leverage with which to press reforms, but these changes cannot be taken unilaterally. They will require negotiating with a Karzai government that is likely to resist changes that reduce its power. Policymakers must be cognizant that this shift risks returning to fragmentation absent a serious focus on institutional—rather than personal—decentralization, which establishes means of accountability and oversight on the actions of local authorities.
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