Officials and politicians in Afghanistan believe the country's political and security transitions in 2014 have set the stage for a secure and prosperous future for the war-wounded nation. But critics are skeptical about the optimism and believe a lot will depend on how the new Afghan leaders tackle the challenges in the wake of dwindling foreign financial resources.
An intensified Taliban insurgency coupled with daunting economic and political governance challenged Afghanistan in 2014.
The conflict-riven country succeeded in holding two rounds of presidential elections amid serious security threats, though the democratic process was marred by allegations of massive vote rigging.
Nationwide security responsibilities were also transferred from NATO to a relatively under-trained Afghan national security force. Janan Mosazai, Afghanistan’s ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, told VOA the two transitions have proved critics who made dire predictions wrong.
“There was a unanimity of view and assessment that Afghanistan is going to collapse in 2014 when Afghanistan will suffer a security collapse, a political crisis and then also an economic meltdown. Well, thank God, we have successfully implemented two of those transitions,” said Mosazai.
The election resulted in a so-called national unity government in Kabul which is headed by President Ashraf Ghani while the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, is the chief executive. Mosazai said the two leaders are determined to steer the country through the “decade of transformation” to ensure a successful economic transition.
“Looking to 2015, I can say with confidence that Afghanistan will enter the decade of transformation with a renewed determination under the national unity government and based on a strong national consensus for peace, and for security and for economic development. We are hopeful that we will make progress on finding a solution to the unacceptable violence that is still continuing in the country,” said Mosazai.
President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have repeatedly promised to work together to rid the country of violence, introduce democratic reforms and rid key institutions of deeply-rooted corruption. The new Afghan president reiterated his resolve at recent international conferences and appeared to be more than willing to work with his once bitter election rival.
“The government of national unity is committed to fundamental reforms to owning our destiny to ensuring that we are in the lead regarding reforms’ processes,” said Ghani.
However, despite public pledges, Ghani and Abdullah have not been able to come up with a consensus cabinet since taking office in late September. Both have dismissed reports of serious differences as misplaced, and maintain they are determined to work together. Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), however, is skeptical about the claims.
“We have got the [political] transition, we have got the two men in place. They strive to appear to be cordial in public and that’s all very good, however, we still don’t have a government, we still don’t have a cabinet. They have not managed to conclude the negotiations [on formation of the cabinet] with more than two months on from the establishment of their government. We still don’t know what Dr. Abdullah’s powers and authorities are, and we still don’t know whether this government is going to work or not,” said Clark.
Clark said the new Afghan leadership is running out of time in terms of dealing with worsening security in the wake of rising Taliban attacks and mounting economic problems after suffering setbacks due to the prolonged election process.
“Afghanistan is facing urgent problems. It’s got still a very violent insurgency. The Taliban showing no signs of wanting to put down their weapons. The economy has lost a lot of income. Yes, the economy has got huge problems. So, Afghanistan is facing, it’s facing very, very severe problems. And I don’t think we yet have any sense of urgency from the elites who would form the government that they need to get on with things they need to start really, really tackling some of those problems,” said Clark.
U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko in recent speeches and reports has also expressed reservations about the sustainability of Afghan institutions.
“If the Afghan government were to dedicate all of its domestic revenue toward sustaining their army and police, they still could only pay for one-third of the cost approximately. Moreover, all other costs - from paying civil servants, teachers, to maintaining roads, schools, hospitals and other non-military infrastructure - would definitely have to come from international donors. The bottom line: It appears we have created a government that the Afghans simply cannot afford,” said Sopko.
He said that much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without massive continued donor support.