Nov 19, 2003

“Democratization Efforts in Afghanistan”

Barbara Haig,
House Committee on International Relations

Madam Chairman and members of the two subcommittees sponsoring this joint hearing,

I welcome the opportunity to be here today to comment on democratization efforts in Afghanistan.

As many of you know, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) does not fund governmental institutions, but aims to help build the social and institutional capacity of citizens to contribute to the political life of the country. Most Endowment support focuses on countries where the greatest needs are 1) the establishment or reform of institutions of governance to make them more accountable and responsive to the citizens they are meant to serve; and 2) the fostering of ideas, values and habits that will help ensure that free market democracy can emerge and endure.

These are ambitious objectives, and there is never any guarantee that any amount of effort on our part, or that of others, will succeed. Nonetheless, it is the mission of the Endowment to reach out to moderate, democratically inclined forces, no matter how marginalized they may be, and help to broaden their base and strengthen their prospects in the face of tyranny, repression, and violent conflict.

Before discussing the implementation of the Bonn Agreement, let me offer a few comments about the environment in which the Agreement exists. The Bonn Agreement was intended to put Afghanistan on the path to stability by mapping out a political process that calls for the drafting and ratification of a new constitution by a national Constitutional Loya Jirga by October 2003; promulgation of political party and election laws; organization of a census and voter registration, and finally, democratic elections by June 2004. Now, nearly two years since the Agreement was brokered, and with national elections only seven months away, much of Afghanistan is still dominated by regional warlords. Armed remnants of the former Taliban regime, as well as al-Qaeda, haunt the southern provinces, and economic reconstruction outside of Kabul is barely visible to the general public.

The power of the warlords, who still command their own heavily armed militias, was greatly strengthened by their role in the 2001 war against al-Qaeda. Ever since Bonn, they have succeeded in sidelining both the people and the central government, in large part by putting themselves ostensibly at the forefront of the antiterrorism campaign and the reconstruction process. In reality, these warlords and their private armies have taken the country and the state hostage and are putting Afghanistan’s future in jeopardy. Their gunmen are intimidating journalists and political opponents as well as robbing, detaining, and assaulting ordinary Afghans with impunity.

At the same time, coalition efforts conducted in cooperation with regional leaders have not succeeded in eliminating the Taliban and al-Qaeda, especially in the south and east of the country. Indeed, the Taliban and al Qaeda are reemerging as the biggest threats to overall security in the country. Terrorism is linked with drug trafficking, which also pays for the personal militias of local commanders. Furthermore, the lack of security in places such as Kandahar has ominous implications for the rest of Afghanistan since it is the heartland of the majority Pashtun ethnic group and tribal confederation that ruled Afghanistan for the past three centuries, and is where the Taliban began its rise to power in the late 1990s. Progress simply cannot be made in the rest of the country if the Pashtun south is lawless, which would mean more Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Implementation of Bonn

Madam Chairman,

You have likely heard already about the delays which have occurred in the constitutional consultative process and the unclear and imperfect manner in which the first phase was conducted.

I was in Afghanistan in the second half of June and early July as the consultations were underway and had the opportunity to discuss with some participants from both Kabul and Kandahar their experiences and views of the sessions. Although a network of Afghan civil society organizations was formed in May under the leadership of the international NGO Swisspeace and the Constitutional Secretariat to support nationwide public education on the constitutional process, it was clear that many of those who attended the consultations mistakenly expected to receive a draft of the constitution in the first round, and to have some discussion of the issues that need to be considered. Instead, they listened to small presentations on topics such as women’s rights, and were handed questionnaires to fill out and return. The reactions ranged from cynical and suspicious (mostly in Kabul), to simply confused. Nonetheless, as planned, many participants, especially women’s groups, teachers and NGOs did reach out to others and formed groups to further distribute and jointly complete the confusing questionnaire. I have heard reports that representatives of the Constitutional Review Commission attended somewhere between 555 and 800 public meetings, at which a cumulative total of 35,503 people were present, and distributed 484,450 questionnaires.

Next, the new political parties law bars parties that have links to armed groups from being registered. Some of the larger armed factions might easily form front parties that claim no links to their sponsors, but at least the marker has been laid down. The successful implementation of this law will be critical to a credible election process and Afghanistan’s future. Another important feature of the law is the requirement for parties to disclose their financing. This will be nearly impossible to enforce, but again, the marker is laid.

We also know that the Constitutional Loya Jirga was delayed two months, until December 10. While the delay is good in terms of the constitutional process, it complicates even further what is already a nearly impossible task of organizing and implementing national elections by June 2004. As far as I know, the security situation has made contemplating a national census impossible for now. Thus, I expect that voter registration will go forward on the basis of a pre-census. The decree on voter registration was issued, but the lack of security has pushed back deployment of registration teams to at least December 1.

The Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) Delegate Voter Registration and Elections were scheduled to occur to determine 450 delegates to the Loya Jirga, with another fifty to be appointed by President Karzai. Registration for CLJ delegate elections began September 21 and was completed on November 5. Elections for the Provincial Delegates of the 32 provinces will take place in the 8 regional capitals (Kabul, Bamyan, Mazar-I Sharif, Kunduz, Kandahar, Gardez, and Jalalabad). There are 42 seats for Afghan refugees, internally displaced persons and minorities, and 15 percent must be women. As of November 9, UNAMA reported that all electors had been chosen, and they will elect the candidates in the coming weeks. Sixty-four delegates are being elected by and for women among all 32 provinces. Two women are to be elected from each province; 15 provincial elections for women were complete as of November 9.

Although preparations for the CLJ are progressing, there are likely problems still ahead. Human Rights Watch has already warned in an October 29 letter to President Karzai, that “a climate of fear exists in every region of the country, and many representatives and former loya jirga participants are afraid to be involved in the forthcoming constitutional loya jirga.” We are also just hearing the tragic news of the murder of a UNHCR refugee worker in Ghazni

Distinguished members of the Committee,

Afghanistan is quickly approaching what may be the last chance it has for many, many years to establish enough stability for political and economic development to be able to proceed. The questions we are here today to examine – Are the Afghans ready to participate in the Constitutional Loya Jirga? Can there be reasonably free and fair elections by June? Can Bonn succeed and help set Afghanistan on the road to development and democratization?– can only be answered in the affirmative if there is greater security. And if the answer is no, what are the alternatives?

President Karzai is very aware that his mandate, and that of his government, runs out on June 22. In addition, the government as currently formed is constantly working against itself and can make only modest steps to improve security, which are often rapidly reversed by elements within its own ranks. This cannot be changed in any fundamental way without elections.

The current draft of the constitution calls for holding an initial election for President and Vice President in June, with elections for the legislature to come later, but still within 2004. In my view, this is the only way Afghanistan will be able to put into place the necessary building blocks for free and fair elections at all levels. While it will, and should, be the subject of debate until a final version is passed, the draft constitution is an amazing document to have come out of Afghanistan only two years after the end of the national nightmare that culminated with Taliban rule. But whatever final version emerges will be meaningless if there are no institutions capable or willing to enforce and implement it.

And yet, if sufficient security is established, I have little doubt that the Afghan people will carry through on the rest. Through our programs, we have learned how durable, innovative, and dogged Afghans can be. Even as outside organizations refrain from carrying out programs in areas where security risks are too high, or that require traveling dangerous roads, for Afghans with a mission, this is their country, and they find a way. Most Afghans are actually quite moderate, and yearn for peace and security and a chance to live without fear. They are willing to work for that.

What is Being Done in Civil Society?

NED has been involved in supporting programs for Afghanistan since 1984. As a result, as soon as the war of 2001 settled down and Bonn was negotiated, and with the help of many of our longstanding Afghan friends, our two party institutes, IRI and NDI, traveled to the region and into Afghanistan to begin planning their programs. A third core grantee of NED, the Center for International Enterprise (CIPE), also started early to develop and implement programs to help organize the business community to strengthen its leadership role and to build greater awareness within society of market and democratic values.

A range of Afghan groups is also receiving NED funding for programs that are reaching a cross-section of society–including teachers, local councils of elders, and religious leaders–with human rights, women’s rights and, basic democracy education; as well as training in leadership methods, conflict mediation, and democratic processes. Much of this work is being carried out in the very heart of village communities, with some programs using respected figures from local traditional structures to serve, in effect, as local level “democracy multipliers.”

Through NDI, newly emerging political groupings are being exposed to the arts of coalition-building, platform development, and organizing. IRI’s partners are providing professional reporting on ongoing political and reconstruction efforts throughout the country through the Erada newspaper, and a coordination bureau for Afghan NGOs has drawn in 275 NGOs which link thousands of Afghans to the government, the international community, and each other.

Nearly all NED grantees working in Afghanistan are implementing community outreach, training and advocacy programs , and are producing informational materials on the substance and procedures of each phase of the Bonn Agreement. When I visited Afghanistan last June and July, IRI, NDI, and CIPE were still able to operate only on the funding provided by NED, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, which has no NED funding, was functioning at a minimal level with funding from the Canadian government. AID funds began to flow to those organizations in late summer.

I could go on highlighting program activities, but I must take a moment to put such activities into context. In the best of times, these programs have reached into probably one-half of the territory of Afghanistan. In addition, being present in a province may only mean a few small workshops in the capital of a province and a few villages. All of our grantees and their partners have had to postpone or even cancel office openings, hold training sessions, or seminars because of security or because they could not get the approval of local officials, often the governor/warlord himself, which is absolutely necessary in Afghanistan. While some of the Afghan groups conducting programs are surprisingly skilled and sophisticated in the ways they plan, organize, and adapt their programs and organizations, some are nascent, mission-driven groups whose efforts show their lack of experience and training, and are unlikely to have great impact. However, in Afghanistan, even the weakest groups can help serve simply to transmit information and identify good people, who might otherwise be completely out of touch with the democratization process. A number of the groups we support make important internal decisions by voting, including deciding who will go to represent their interests at important meetings, or before key government officials. But most important, they are working with elements at the local level who wish to help restore security in their locales; fight corruption, drug production and trafficking and misuse of reconstruction resources; and serve as avenues through which citizen rights may be protected and local views are represented in political decision-making processes.

What Can Be Done?

– In order to improve conditions for activities related to both the Constitutional Loya Jirga and national elections, the international community must commit greater security forces and pair them with the Afghan National Army and Police. PRTs from the Coalition Forces and NATO-led ISAF both should be utilized for this purpose, in coordination with the UN and the Afghan Election Commission.

– On an urgent basis, the United States should deploy PRTs in Kandahar and Uruzgan, while the Europeans should take over from all American PRTs in the north.

– The United States and the United Nations should insist that all parts of the Pakistani government immediately cut off all forms of support to Taliban and al Qaeda leaders who are operating from Pakistan.

–Drug trafficking is an enormous source of support for warlords and terrorists, who are undermining all aspects of economic and political development. Immediate and well publicized efforts to shut down a few of the known drug processing labs would send a strong message to their operators and sponsors, and would serve as a great encouragement for the Afghan people.

There are, of course, great needs for increased numbers of international observers during all phases of the registration, campaigning and voting periods, as well as training, production and dissemination of voter information, rules about political parties, and much more. These are all things that international donors, including USAID, the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan, IFES, NDI, IRI, NED and its grantees are planning for and working on, but the recommendations listed above are, in my view, among the most critical things that must happen if the remainder of the Bonn Agreement is to be successfully implemented.

Madam Chairman and Members of the Committee, I thank you for your time, and look forward to any questions you may have. I have available some printed materials on NED programs.