The cautious path to a stable state

The violent conflict in Afghanistan has been escalating since 2005, making the process of reconstruction that much harder. To bring stability to the country, the focus must be on strengthening the state and facilitating the rule of law.

The sovereignty and traditions of the country must be respected

If Afghanistan is to benefit from sustained stabilization and development, then the state must take center stage and not be subverted. There are two essential elements that should be at the core of any new strategy: transferring the duties of the state into the hands of Afghan institutions, and providing intensive support for the rule of law, while ensuring that the sovereignty and specific traditions of Afghanistan are respected.

From a fiscal perspective, the most important factor in bolstering reconstruction by Afghan institutions acting on their own authority and responsibi­lity is the availability of an adequate state budget. Since the Afghan state has only a negligible income of its own – likely to be around 887 million dollars in the current fiscal year – the country is dependent on external financial aid. This contribution to the state budget is estimated to total 6.5 billion dollars. Nevertheless, it is not hard to understand the criticism voiced by Afghan politicians who point out that, of the roughly 25 billion dollars promised since 2002, only around 15 billion have been released to date.

There is also the fact that a large part of these funds can be dispensed only through the medium of projects implemented by donor country agencies. As a result, around 40 percent of all funds are effectively repatriated in the form of salaries and company pro­f­its. This is not necessarily to be condemned, but it must be borne in mind in estimating the actual extent of foreign support for Afghanistan. Further funding is tied exclusively to specific projects. Thus, ultimately, the Afghan government has free access to only a very small part of the imposing sum quoted above. This money, for instance, is not enough to pay government employees adequate salaries that they and their families can live on. And from judges and public prosecutors to soldiers and policemen – those earning less than 100 dollars a month are suscep­tible to corruption and may even cross over, gun in hand, to join the ranks of anti-government groups that pay more money.

Considering the grossly disproportionate ratio between military and civilian spending, it is clear that there is money available to adequately finance the Afghan state. Spending on development aid is running around seven million dollars a day – which, in itself, sounds like an impressive sum. Then again, the international military deployments soak up well over 100 million dollars. One percent of that would suffice to pay Afghanistan’s judges and public prose­cutors, soldiers and policemen a proper salary.

In order to provide a stable framework within which to implement the available development strategies, efforts to strengthen the independent authority of the Afghan state must, from a legal perspective, be accompanied by intensive support for the rule of law. It would make sense simply to accept the formal existence of the rule of law as an initial target. That essentially means compelling the administrative system and the courts to observe the law as it stands in order to protect citizens from arbitrary oppression. Reports may no longer be coming in of events such as the attack by a Taliban on a defenseless woman as witnessed by Fahim, but the mistreatment of alleged offenders, unfair trials, judicial corruption and similar abuses are widespread.

Representatives of state institutions who allow themselves to be guided by “higher truths” have a tendency to breach both the constitution and the law

In this context, the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg is intensively supporting reform by training and educating Afghan judges, public prosecutors and senior police officers. Many of them hold conservative religious beliefs. Above all, it requires lengthy discussion to convince them that the constitution must be respected as the supreme law of the land. How­ever, there have been some clear successes. For example, the widespread refusal to acknowledge basic human rights, which are also anchored in the Afghan constitution, lessens as Afghan jurists come to recognize that most of these rights are compatible with Islamic principles, and that there are pragmatic solutions to be found to many of the remaining instances of conflict. This process of persuasion is tremendously important given that representatives of state institutions who allow themselves to be guided by religious or ideological “higher truths” have a tendency to breach both the constitution and the law.

It is also important to introduce judicial processes by which citizens can assert their legal rights even against the state. Such control mechanisms are almost entirely lacking in Afghanistan. They do not correspond with the traditional hierarchical perception of the relationship between the citizen and the authori­ties – which does not mean that it would be unrealis­tic to introduce such mechanisms. However, the rule of law also demands that the judiciary must be independent. Afghanistan is, as yet, far removed from this situation – though the principle at least is enshrined in the constitution. None of these elements fundamentally conflict with the teachings of Islam.

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