Centre for Afghanistan Studies of the Academy of International Studies (AIS), Jamia Millia Islamia organized a talk on “Democratic Transition in Afghanistan, Institution-Building and Prospects for Stability” on Tuesday, 11 November, 2014 at Mir Anis Hall, Dayar-e-Mir Taqi Mir, JMI.
Afghanistan is a very important country in our neghbourhood which does not receive the attention that it should, said Dr. Shathie Mariet D’Souza, consultant and security and political analyst, who delivered the talk, whose proceedings were chaired by India’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Vivek Katju.
Dr. D’Souza, who has been to Kabul as an election observer, presented an overview of problems, challenges, political crises and prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan, ravaged by war, conflicts and in-fights especially since last three decades.
Speaking about transition, D’Souza said that transition has triple dimension which includes transition within the government, political transition with the fact that present government itself is a new kind of experiment, read transition. Elaborating on the last, she said that President Ashraf Ghani, who insists on having a modern and reformed state having institutions which are functioning even at the local and provincial level, needs to look how that has to happen with the fact that “Afghanistan has issues with security transition as well”. For that, she called Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s role very important.
Dr. D’Souza, who is presently working on projects on transition and prospects of long stabilization of Afghanistan, had apprehensions about Afghanistan army failing in case the international community fails to “sustain whatever work it has started.” This large army could be problematic “if the leadership is not able to have an effective control over the functioning of the army”.
She based her apprehensions on the fact that Afghanistan does not have a formidable revenue-generating system which will have bearings on the Afghan army because maintaining it involves a high cost. This will also impact its outreach to neighbouring countries, she added.
The measures to be taken against this backdrop, said she, are: Electoral accountability and reforms in time, an environment for political parties to function because Afghanistan does have a Parliament but it does not have a political culture, a huge infrastructure to generate revenue, the need to look at the reconciliation process because of the huge pressure that would come in its way from insurgent groups, and care that the aid given to the country does not go in waste like in cases of corruption. In order to achieve these, Afghanistan needs to start with electoral and constitutional reform on a priority basis, she suggested.
She said that Afghans are optimistic but the international community has to have a realistic benchmark and timeline for how to go about without putting much pressure on the government. She therefore felt that the international community especially the UN has to play a special role in this regard.
Participating in the post-talk discussion, Britta Petersen, Head, Development and Outreach and Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, asked what constructive role could India play in the process which has been at the heart of the effort which has been led by the Western countries which has not been successful for many reasons in order to start a new attempt in the direction of building regional knowledge. To which D’Souza said that India has played a very important role in terms of institution-building, but it has not been able to have transparency and accountability mechanisms in place which is required or it will fail. India has adopted the way to work with the Afghan government but it needs to diversify.
About democratic transition, stability and institution-building Anita Anand, consultant of Afghan Women’s Network doubting if anything has worked in Afghanistan raised the quesiton how mechanisms of consensus are built and what India needs as a global community to help the Afghans to move it to a democracy. Responding to her, Dr. D’Souza said that the nature of the Afghan State has been that it has weak control of the periphery and therefore rebuilding the intuitions which were destroyed over decades was very difficult, adding that the golden period of institution building from 2001 to 2003 was lost by the Bush administration which had a limited agenda in Afghanistan following the 9/11.
She said, “What most people call consensus building is also about bargaining which occurs in such a way that the long term goal of having institutions and stability is lost.” She further said that instead of putting in Western or modern state models, working on hybrid models of modern-cum-local and traditional mechanisms many of which do still exist, can be the best way forward for consensus building. A civil society activist, Anand termed media and civil society as vibrant bodies in Afghanistan.
On the question of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan D’Souza said that President Ghani is using multiple forums and has now made a departure from reliance on Pakistan and the US by going to China where he has also talked about Chinese intervention in terms of economic reconstruction and security. She said that Pakistan plays an important role in the stability of Afghanistan and it will still continue its strategy in Afghanistan and, its help would be needed.
In his presidential remarks Amb. Katju observed that the basic approach of Pakistan to Afghanistan has not changed which stems from its approach towards India. He also said that over the last decade under President Karzai the Afghans and the Chinese gradually and systematically had upgraded their relationship till it almost became a strategic relationship. So, what President Ghani is trying in his initial year is nothing novel. He said that the crucial ingredient is not India-Pakistan relationship and its shadow on Afghanistan but the Pakistan-Afghan relationship which is crucial.
Prof. Shri Prakash, Director of AIS, who coordinated the talk also presented vote of thanks. Prof. Ajay Darshan Behera, Prof. Syed Sulaiman Ahmad, Dr. Mathew Joseph, Dr. Aliva Mishra, Dr. K.N. Tennyson, Dr. Angira Sen Sarma, research scholars and students were present.