For more than a decade, Hamid Karzai has been given an opportunity to repaint Afghanistan. He has been given a generous timeframe, plus the assistance of tens of thousands of military and nongovernmental organization workers.
He has been equipped with the world’s most sophisticated technology, and a trillion dollars in aid. But what does Karzai’s masterpiece look like?
We expected the canvas to be filled with the colors of security, stability, rule of law, democracy, human rights and development.
Although some progress was made in the beginning, Karzai was not able to seize the momentum to address the needed reforms.
On April 5, Afghans go to the polls for the third presidential election since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
The 13-year journey has seen rapid changes in the Afghan political landscape.
But there is now an ongoing debate among Afghans and the international community about how to address the country’s security challenges in light of the withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2014.
The general consensus is that these years of significant efforts were too short-term. Karzai’s uncertain leadership resulted in wide mistrust on the part of the international community for a sustainable Afghan future.
Until recently, many Afghans put their faith in a positive approach which held that Karzai, along with all the technology and rational methods imported at mostly foreign expense, would lead the country to national unity and peace.
But Karzai’s progress has been almost nil. The poor are still poor, working conditions — both urban and rural — are the same, and insecurity is high and getting worse.
Although the international community played an important role in supporting the transition process, Karzai was not able to pave the path to ensure favorable conditions for economic growth, neither could he build or improve infrastructure.
But the more important question now is why he did not prioritize the core issues — security, stability and rule of law.
In retrospect, it would have been wise for him to resign after his first term when he could have shown some amount of progress towards those goals.
His complete inability to prioritize these challenges meant the last term was wasted as he clung to power. If he had resigned in his first tenure, he could have left a positive legacy instead of the massive failure he faces.
In order for Afghanistan to repaint the present and future, four key issues need to be addressed.
Today the core challenges of peace and stability remain; driven by concerns about the international community’s withdrawal and the transition of Afghan security in 2014, as well as the implication of a workable settlement with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups.
After 13 years of international intervention, the Taliban insurgency remains resilient.
According to some analysts, Afghanistan’s future stability depends on political reconciliation with the Taliban.
But to build self-confidence among ordinary Afghans, all individuals, including those who have committed human rights abuses, need to be barred from holding government office.
The 13 years of international efforts to curb poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, have been a complete failure. There has never been a comprehensive strategy and the country remains the world’s largest opium producer, providing 80 percent of global supply. It is estimated that one fourth of Afghanistan’s income comes from poppy cultivation, meaning that the country’s economy is highly dependent on dirty money.
The growing drug economy has become a source of high corruption in addition to helping fund the insurgency creating instability in and outside of Afghanistan and intensifying the domestic addiction crisis.
The seeming failure of the dozen-years of Karzai in power has left Afghanistan with a rapidly growing addiction problem of its own, with more than 5 percent of the population estimated to be using opium, one of the highest rates in the world.
The biggest beneficiaries of the illicit opium economy have been the Taliban. According to a 2013 United Nations report, poppy cultivation will increase in Afghanistan after 2014. Afghanistan is now on the edge of becoming a true narco-state.
Widespread and growing corruption is one of the key challenges in Afghanistan. According to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption index, Afghanistan ranks 174 out of 176. A practical anti-corruption strategy is vital — a war-torn Afghanistan cannot afford further economic isolation or even black-listing.
Education and women
Afghanistan is going through a nationwide rebuilding process, and despite setbacks, Afghans are still eager to attend schools. Education plays a vital role in the rebuilding process. Education is very poor in Afghanistan, with targeted violence against schools.
There are more than eight million students in Afghanistan, 37 percent of them are female. Yet, 50 percent of schools do not have buildings and other necessities, especially for women. It is widely believed that women’s rights in Afghanistan have improved in the last decade.
Women have struggled against many obstacles to gain freedom and reform a society that is primarily male dominant.
Even today, violence against women in Afghanistan is high.
President Hamid Karzai’s government has let Afghans down, particularly Afghan women.
Afghan voters heading to the polls have the overwhelming task of considering these crucial issues when casting their votes this week.
Naqsh Murtaza, a Hazara based in Indonesia, is currently seeking asylum