Afghanistan is considered by many a glowing paradigm of America’s success in the war on terror. It has its elected parliament and government, and the ministries are functioning smoothly. However, this calm is only apparent from a view from the surface, below which ethnic tensions and favoritism are plaguing the structure.
Irrespective of how this trend started, we must know it is everywhere—all ministries, directorates and sub-directorates are plagued.
A look, for example, at the Afghan National Army will reveal that it is comprised of 85% ethnic Pashtoons. Likewise, a look at the Ministry of Justice will reveal that there is less than 2% representation of ethnic Hazaras, one of the three largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Other ministries have similar situations. Ministers, in most cases, induct officials and personnel from their own ethnic group and generally neglect candidates belonging to other groups. This has caused a widespread disregard to merit and competence.
Even during the parliamentary and presidential elections votes were cast on ethnic lines. Almost all the people voted for a candidate belonging to their ethnic group. This, while may be called a manifestation of democracy, is severely endangering the competence and efficacy of the Afghan government. According to the minister of taxation, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi: “Many ministries lack the insight and ability required to draft acceptable development projects. Resultantly, most of their proposed projects are rejected. And, by the end of a fiscal year, they are not even able to use up the amount of funds—usually quite modest—allocated to them. This is coupled with the failure of these ministries on many occasions to successfully execute projects and produce desirable results.”
This is causing millions of dollars pumped into Afghanistan to go to waste.
Ethnic problems have even affected President Karzai: in all three of the offices he has held as head of the Afghan government so far, he has faced the specter of balancing ethnic representation. While trying to divide power equally, president Karzai is forced to discredit merit and competence. For example, in his current cabinet, the minister for water and power is Ismail Khan, an ethnic Tajik warlord. Khan has very little formal education and is certainly not capable of smoothly running the ministry. He has been chosen minister because President Karzai had to give the Tajiks an acceptable role in his government.
The entire political arena and the parliament in Afghanistan are dominated by three parties representing the three largest ethnic groups. Other parties, striving for a ‘united’ Afghanistan and advocating national reconciliation, have almost no say in the proceedings.
This ethnic dimension in the state of affairs in Afghanistan has already done much damage. It is still going unheeded; and, if this trend continues in the future, it can even endanger the very bases of democracy from the country; not to mention the fact that the international efforts may go to waste as well.
Nonetheless, it must also be known that eradicating this problem may require a considerably long time. Even on the common-man level, ethnic divides run deep. Ethnicities find it very hard if not impossible to rid themselves in a couple of years of the mutual distrust which has taken decades to build up. And, to build up confidence and a sense of solidarity among the masses, it is vital to use the media systematically and methodically. Also, inter-ethnic cultural festivals must be organized to bring the peoples closer. In the meantime, the administration must remain disinterested and unaffiliated to the maximum extent possible to any particular ethnic group. It is also very important not to offer governmental posts to warlords and other individuals who are notorious among the people due to their bleak track records in persecuting peoples of a particular ethnic group. The last two steps are difficult as they have almost had no precedent in the last one hundred years in Afghanistan. However, a gradual trend for change, coupled with the DIAG—disbandment of illegal armed groups—and a strong administration, can achieve this goal.
Note: This post was originally written by me, the author of MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan, and contributed to Publius Pundit.
Tags: Afghanistan Karzai