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Next 18 Months Crucial for Afghan President
Karzai announces his intention to run for another term
Daud Khan (aimalkhan)     Print Article 
Published 2008-04-07 03:42 (KST)   
In a surprising move on Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has around 18 months left in office, announced that he would contest for another term as president.

The announcement came during a news conference at the presidential palace, also known as Gulkhana, or the place where flowers are grown, among Afghans.

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Karzai became head of the transitional administration in Afghanistan soon after the hard-line Taliban government was ousted from power in late 2001. Karzai was later elected president for a five-year term on Oct. 9, 2004.

Sweeping the polls with more than 55 percent of the votes in his favor, Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taliban movement, also had the fullest support of the United Nations, the United States and the Western countries that sent their troops and pledged billions of dollars in aid to rebuild the war-devastated country.

Looking back at 2004, when Karzai formally took the oath of office, almost all the institutions were in shambles; there was no infrastructure and the writ of the state was restricted only to the central capital of Kabul.

Warlords were kings of their respective provinces, districts or spheres of their influence, while arms-wielding gangs and private militias -- accused of human rights violations by the New York-based Human Rights Watch in its report last year -- were posing a challenge to the state and its institutions.

Beginning from ashes with the support of his Western backers led by the United States, President Karzai's administration concentrated on building institutions and the foremost one in this regard was the construction of a trained army and police force to meet external as well as internal challenges.

While the difficult, if not impossible, task of the construction of security forces is still underway and the government is far from amassing a well-trained army and police force, the bringing of an end to corruption in governmental offices was also a daunting task.

Reckoning the achievements and failures of the Karzai administration is a lengthy discussion; however, one of its biggest successes is the parliamentary election in September 2005 -- the first in Afghanistan in 40 years.

A bicameral house with a Meshrano Jirga, or Senate, and a Wolesi Jirga, or national assembly, was formed with nearly 30 percent representation for Afghan women. At the same time, members were also elected for provincial assemblies to represent the people in all 34 provinces of the country.

At the same time, many things went wrong, foremost security. The situation deteriorated between 2004 and 2007 as the Taliban, which had gone underground, started returning to their bases in Afghanistan in the latter half of 2005.

The militants strengthened their control in far-off and inaccessible provinces and districts in 2006 and started challenging the writ of the state in areas as close as Maidan Wardak, some 35 kilometers south of Kabul.

The worsening security situation can be proved from a United States intelligence report in February, which said that the Karzai government was controlling just 30 percent of the country more than six years after the US-led invasion.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell was quoted as saying that 10 to 11 percent of the country was controlled by the Taliban and the rest by warlords and tribal elders.

Although the Afghan government reacted sharply and rejected the report, it is clear that almost no Afghan legislators, from both the upper and lower house, can venture into the provinces and other areas they represent to meet their electorates for fear of the Taliban.

It is also a fact that almost all government officials serving in senior positions and belonging to the volatile southern and southeastern zone do not live in their respective villages and have taken up residence in main cities to avoid attacks by the rebels.

The Afghan government has also not done well on the reconstruction front. Roads and streets are still in a dilapidated condition even in Kabul, while more than three million refugees in Pakistan and Iran are reluctant to return to their country because of a lack of the basic facilities of life and a lack of security.

Unemployment and corruption in government departments are creating frustration among common Afghans. The pouring in of billions of dollars is bifurcating Afghan society into the haves and the have-nots while insecurity is becoming a serious threat to foreign as well as domestic investment, which is considered the lifeline of the economy.

Finally, warlords, as pointed out by an expelled female member of the Afghan parliament, Malai Joya, are still present in the two houses of parliament. They still have their private militias and a huge quantity of weaponry, and they are stronger than the fledgling Afghan National Army, which is to take charge of security from the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul next year.

The coming 18 months are of utmost importance for the incumbent Afghan president if he is serious about contesting the next election and remaining in power for another five years. He must not forget that Afghans in 2009 or early 2010 will not be the same as they were in 2004 (the year of the last presidential election) and late 2005 (during the parliamentary election).

Karzai will find a sea change in the behavior, level of education and political consciousness of his fellow citizens this time because they have passed through the experiences of 2004. They used their right to vote in 2005 and will do so next time.

At the same time, Afghans have also seen and followed the situations in its Iran and Pakistan, where the people have elected governments with their vote. The case of Pakistan is of very much importance, where the people defeated a dictator and said "no" to his policies despite all odds.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Daud Khan

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