The South Asia Channel

Five of Karzai’s Mistakes Ghani Can Avoid

Karzai's administration made many mistakes; let's hope Afghanistan's new government can avoid these five.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) speaks to the juornalists as Afghan Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah (R) and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (2R) look on after morning Eid al-Adha prayers at a mosque in the Presidential Palace in Kabul on October 4, 2014. Muslims around the world celebrate the Eid al-Adha, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice, to commemorate Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. AFP PHOTO/Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) provides new hope for Afghans, as it offers an opportunity to restructure the political, social, and economic foundations of the country left by the Karzai administration. To be successful in such an endeavor, however, the unity government must avoid five old mistakes if the country is to become economically empowered, politically stable, and socially united.

1. Not Having a Clear Domestic Policy

Karzai was a significant obstacle to the successful building of Afghanistan — his government was widely perceived as corrupt even when it was compared to the main alternative, the Taliban. Instead of developing a clear domestic policy, Karzai systematically built a coalition of regional powerbrokers in preparation for a post-American Afghanistan. His sense of respect for the Taliban and release of criminals, including 88 dangerous prisoners from Bagram prison accused of terror attacks against Afghan and U.S. troops, frustrated Afghans and the world community alike as did his reference to the Taliban as his “brothers.” The toll of Karzai’s attempt to balance multiple competing powerbrokers rather than presenting a domestic policy agenda could be seen in the comments of those who dealt with him. In 2010, for example, Peter Galbraith, a former United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, called Karzai “slightly off balance” and suggested he might have a drug problem.

Ghani can avoid the same mistakes by building a strong domestic support base, implementing the Afghan national development strategy, and ending Karzai’s toxic domestic policy.

2. Refusing to Define a Regional Foreign Policy

During his 13 years of his leadership, Karzai failed to set a clear foreign policy for his government. He would often tilt toward India and use anti-Pakistan rhetoric including suggesting that Pakistan not Afghanistan was the correct target for the war on terror. At the same time, he stridently defended Pakistan even warning once that Afghanistan would support Pakistan if a war broke out between America and Pakistan. Then in early October 2011, Karzai forged a strategic partnership with India causing Pakistani officials to worry. The formalization of an Indo-Afghan strategic relation, which was the first of its kind, worried Pakistan’s military establishment, which believes that India intends to sandwich Pakistan through Afghanistan.

As in his domestic policy, Karzai presented a contradiction when it came to foreign policy and in particular the balancing of relations with Pakistan, India, and the United States. Afghanistan needs a president who focuses on mutual engagement and can ensure demands are reciprocated. Ghani and Abdullah need to convince India and Pakistan that Afghanistan will not be a tool of a third country but has its own agenda and interests.

3. Unequal allocation of aid across provinces

Another mistake of the Karzai administration was its unequal distribution of aid within Afghanistan. According to findings of a March 2010 report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, if Helmand were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest recipient of funds from USAID. According to data from the Afghan ministry of finance, following the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul- Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar are the top three provinces among 34 provinces of Afghanistan in terms of aid distribution. Afghanistan’s capital-centric governance structure put Kabul in the lead in term of aid distribution.

The distribution of aid across provinces during Karzai’s tenure was neither because of level of poverty rates, nor because of the population. According to the Afghanistan’s Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 – Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar are among the least poor of Afghanistan’s provinces. On the other hand, Balkh, one of the poorest provinces, is more populated than Kandahar and Helmand, yet far behind them in term of aid distribution.

The uneven aid distribution across provinces undermined the peace process, as people saw aid allocations as politically motivated rather than based on actual need risking the exacerbation of ethnic conflict between residents of different regions.

Ghani needs to stop being the mayor of Kabul or the President of Kandahar and Helmand. He must consider all 34 provinces as part of Afghanistan and allocate aid money across the entire country.

4. Sidelining Competent Afghans

Western nations provided Karzai the freedom to appoint his own cabinet without much opposition. Karzai used the lack of constraints to sideline potential Afghan politicians and policy makers, instead bringing to power those who had links to his patronage networks. Senior posts were distributed among family members and relatives, not according to their professional skills, or their education.

In one of many cases, senior officials in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry requested immediate action from former president Hamid Karzai to end nepotism, corruption and dictatorial despotism in the ministry during Anwarlhaq Ahadi’s term as the minister. Mr. Ahadi was accused by senior officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of signing gas and oil contracts with Iran and Russia and appointing about 130 of his close relatives and members of his party. In a previous incident, Afghanistan’s Attorney General’s office had sent a letter stating the head of the Ministry of Commerce had been appointed based on fake documents.

Facing the difficulties of making a living amid widespread corruption, Afghanistan’s educated youth have looked abroad for a brighter future fueling brain drain.

The new national unity government needs to produce an environment where capable policymakers are appointed based on merit and excellence. This will help improve governance and give hope for Afghanistan’s educated youth incentivizing them to stay in the country.

5. Ignoring Women

Although various documents protect women’s rights and inclusion in Afghanistan, women’s rights have been marginalized by Afghanistan’s justice and security sectors. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission documented 6,823 incidents of violence against women between October 2012 and September 2013 alone. Pervasive corruption has been one of the main challenges in implementing laws and agreements protecting women’s rights. Among the many individuals Karzai pardoned, seemingly in relation to his patronage network and support ties, were rapists. Despite the passage of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act in 2009, law enforcement and judicial officials have failed to properly investigate violence against women and girls and bring perpetrators to justice according to Amnesty International. Women and girls continue to face discrimination by authorities and threats by their own communities and families.

Ghani can show goodwill by taking practical steps towards implementing the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan, establishing the rule of law and prosecuting those who assault and discriminate against women. This will also help Western allies trust the new government and its leadership.

Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

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