Subnational Government in Afghanistan

Aug. 16, 2011, 5:40 p.m.

Subnational Government in Afghanistan by Michael Shurkin is a primer to assist in strengthening local governments within Afghanistan.  The paper uses academic and nongovernmental studies, as well as civilian expert interviews to draw its conclusions regarding the subnational government in Afghanistan.  Some of the major findings were that the subnational government is too centralized and weak which decreases its legitimacy.  There are problems associated with ineffective service provision and a lack of representation resulting in local representatives not being accountable to those they are supposedly representing.  Recommendations the paper offers are to “make the system participatory and representative” at lower levels, strengthen the court system, obtain good intelligence to be aware of where flaws exist, and “gauge subjective perceptions of the legitimacy of the Afghan state, rather than objective outputs”.  The conclusions reached in the paper are provided below.

The challenge of the ongoing operations in Afghanistan is not to clear territory of Taliban presence but to fill the governance vacuum that helped make Taliban influence so strong in the first place. Subnational government in Afghanistan, however, suffers from numerous weaknesses, the most important of which, from the perspective of legitimacy and the desires of the Afghan population, is arguably an absence of performance and representation. Afghan government officials simply are not accountable to the people, who have little opportunity to communicate their interests anyway. In much of the country, the situation is compounded by acute insecurity. Much of the burden of addressing the Afghan state’s legitimacy deficit is on the shoulders of the Afghan state. However, its international partners can second their efforts. The goal should be to find ways to increase popular participation in government by engaging with informal fora, such as shuras, tribal elders, and the ulema, and by working with and trying to strengthen those few elements of the subnational state that offer an element of representative government, specifically the CDCs, DAAs, and DCCs. However, care must be taken to identify the individuals involved in these formal and informal bodies to ensure that they represent their communities and do not complicate our efforts. Courts can also be assisted in the short term, primarily by addressing judges’ security needs, providing training, and removing some of the material obstacles to their operations— i.e., the lack of court facilities, office materials, and legal references and manuals.

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