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Let Afghans Lead Afghan Reform

NEW YORK – Although the outcome remains uncertain, Afghanistan’s presidential election has demonstrated that the Afghan people yearn for more accountable leadership. But it is no less clear that this aspiration is far from being met, and that the country’s poor governance is laying a dangerously weak foundation for international engagement.

The United States and its allies cannot succeed in Afghanistan unless the Afghan government itself succeeds. Despite the US Congress’s appropriate calls to establish benchmarks for American progress in Afghanistan, too few people are calling for the Afghan government to articulate its goals for improving governance and accountability, and how it plans to meet them. Until it does and international support is conditioned on Afghan progress in realizing goals set by Afghans, the country’s state institutions will continue to lose credibility. Meaningful success in Afghanistan will become elusive at any level of funding or international troop presence.

Today, many parts of the Afghan state are rotting from within. Systemic corruption can be found at all levels. A large number of government officials, including members of President Hamid Karzai’s own family, are alleged to be involved in trafficking narcotics, timber, gems, and other illicit goods. Karzai’s pardoning of drug traffickers with indirect ties to his re-election campaign also raised fundamental questions about his government’s commitment to the rule of law.

Afghans themselves are not solely to blame for this state of affairs. The US and the international community focused far too little on building a suitable structure of governance after the 2001 intervention. In the name of short-term expediency, too little was done to sack corrupt governors and police, or to counter involvement by high-level officials in the narcotics trade.