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Creating a Government

December 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: And for more now on the challenges the new government in Afghanistan will face, we’re joined by Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

He has written widely on Afghanistan and a consultant to the United Nations team that helped organize the Bonn Conference, and Marin Strmecki, Director of Programs at the Smith Richardson Foundation, which funds public policy research.

He has been a foreign policy assistant to Richard Nixon, a Senate staffer, and a Defense Department official. He spent time in Afghanistan in the 1980s, researching the Afghan Soviet War.

Welcome to you both. Mr. Rubin, beginning with you, what does this new government– it has only six months life, what does it have to do, what are the most important things it has to do to be judged a success?

BARNETT RUBIN: The main thing it has to do is really to build up the institutions that will enable it to function as a government or as an administration, which is what it’s called in the Bonn agreement. We shouldn’t think that this is just a group of new leaders who are taking over some kind of existing structure. The institutions of governance in Afghanistan have been destroyed in 20 years of war.

So they will have to figure out how to pay the administrators, how to hire them, how to incorporate the various armed groups into official army and police, how to organize an effective national currency, a legal structure. And only after it is able to do some basic things like that can it then start presiding over solutions to the country’s immense problems.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Strmecki, what would you add to that?

MARTIN STRMECKI: I would say that the most important thing that it has to do is to overcome some of the agreements in the Bonn Agreement to try and achieve a true sharing of power that can lead to a broad representative government that will take over at the end of the six months.

I think the Bonn Agreement left the Northern Alliance with a disproportionate share of power, so there is going to be a struggle of power during this six-month period to see who will be able to control the Loya Jirga that will appoint the transitional authority next year.

MARGARET WARNER: And what would you say are the biggest challenges or hurdles for the government to be able to achieve that?

MARIN STRMECKI: The problem is that in this government, the Northern Alliance controls about half of the seats inside the cabinet, which enables it to do almost anything it wants to at will if it is able to pick off one person on the other side.

And the control of all the power ministries by the Northern Alliance really puts it in a position that it doesn’t have to cooperate, and it may use those instruments of force to intimidate the other political actors on the scene.

Now, in the previous report, we heard a lot of optimistic statements that the Northern Alliance has changed its stripes from the way it governed in the early ’90s. But the real challenge is to see whether or not this new government will behave that way and whether the international community will be able to enforce genuine transition to representative government.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Rubin, what do you see as the biggest challenges?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, of course that is one challenge, but the fact that the Northern Alliance — and actually it’s not the Northern Alliance per se, it’s core of the Northern Alliance which is the group organized by Masood, which is often in competition with other parts of that alliance, does control as Marin said the power ministries. That’s not a result of the Bonn Agreement. It’s the result of the decision of the United States to bomb the front lines North of Kabul before there was a political agreement and essentially let them into Kabul to control those ministries.

So the problem is that they’re the one organization in the country that really controls organizations of coercion that are effective and which can form the core of a government structure if they reach out and make political alliances — as Marin said — with other people in the country.

Now key to this will be the way that the international community, the way the donors, U.N., and others come in and start distributing money for reconstruction assistance. If they do it in a way that reinforces the institutions set up in the Bonn Agreement, then it will be possible to build those alliances. If they come in and each start acting on their own, that will reinforce the tendencies toward warlordism and clientalism in Afghanistan itself.

MARGARET WARNER: We’re talking a lot about the institutions of power and power sharing. But what about what we think of as government, which is taking control of things that actually affect people in their day-to-day lives?

Mr. Rubin, you helped– of course you were at the Bonn conference — is the intention here that this interim government will actually have authority over things like health or water and sewer or food, the things that really affect people day to day all over the country?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, yes–.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it something less than that?

BARNETT RUBIN: That’s the intention; that is the Bonn Agreement does not set up a U.N. administration like in Kosovo or East Timor. But at the same time these interim authorities, at this point, have very little capacity to carry those things out.

And the role of the United Nations and the donors then is to get in there, work with Afghans, help bring back the ex-patriot Afghans from Pakistan, Iran and the West, who have some of the skills that are needed, and set up the institutions that are able to do that. In order to do that, of course, you need security; you need effective administration and political power.

So you need those kinds of basic structures of legality and basic financial structures so you can pay people in order to do that. But the government will be working along side the international agencies and will preside over that process.

MARGARET WARNER: Marin Strmecki, what is your sense of Mr. Karzai? Is he the right man for the job, and does the structure that’s been set up give him the authority he needs?

MARIN STRMECKI: I think he is in a very difficult spot. He does not have a great deal of legitimacy, even among the Pashtun ethnic group from which he comes. He was someone picked by the United States, by the Central Intelligence Agency really to be our client in the Pashtun areas to try to challenge the Taliban.

And being chosen by an outside bar power is not a good way to achieve power in Afghanistan because you don’t have inherent legitimacy. He also didn’t help himself by having to be rescued by Special Operation Forces and basically to be shown that he didn’t have a great deal of military skill.

I think he is not a high ranking in the social structure tribal chief. He is a mid ranking person. And so he will not be viewed as a natural leader by many more senior individuals in the Pashtun tribal structure.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Rubin, what is your view of that, Mr. Karzai’s role here and whether he’s the man for the job?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, part of the difficulty is that no Pashtun leader has really emerged. Hamid Karzai was active for years trying to build alliances with Masood and with the core elements of the Northern Alliance to form what he always called not a broad-based government, but a national alternative to the Taliban. I’ve known him to be working on that long before he was chosen by the CIA, actually.

The problem is, he didn’t emerge as Marin said, as the leader of the Pashtuns; no one has. I think what he’ll benefit from right now is first, the need of the core elements of the Northern Alliance who really control the levers of power to legitimate their power by at least appearing to have something more broad based and they have a certain degree of confidence in him, and, second, the strong desire on the part of the ordinary people in Afghanistan and the major institutions of the international community to make him into an effective leader.

Now, that said, there are all kinds of obstacles to that in the warlordism, lack of resources, competition for power and so on, but if he can play his cards right, that he is in a position to turn what is, in fact, a position of weakness into a position of greater strength over the next six months.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Strmecki, let’s talk about warlordism and the history of Afghanistan. The recent history of course is that all these governments dissolve into sort of factional violence, ethnic violence, and so on, and there are pockets of lawlessness all over Afghanistan now with local warlords. Is that a big problem? Are these warlords going to have too much power?

MARIN STRMECKI: It is a major problem. In fact, I think it will take years to undo the warlordism that currently exists in the country. We made a mistake in this war in terms of not preparing the political groundwork before we started the bombing and the military action.

If we had forced the Afghans together into one political unit and then used them as an ally for channeling support to anti-Taliban forces, you would have had in place a provisional political authority that could have transitioned into a government and would have been able to avoid some of the problems with warlordism.

MARGARET WARNER: So what is the danger?

MARIN STRMECKI: Well, the danger is that the government in the central– in Kabul, will not be able to rule. And also in the warlord areas, external powers can easily arm people to essentially destabilize the central government in order to advance their regional influence.

MARGARET WARNER: How much of a danger do you see of that, Mr. Rubin?

BARNETT RUBIN: Well, obviously that is in a way, the central danger of the internal governance of the country. But these warlords are not a natural phenomenon, as Marin said. Actually, most of these warlords have been totally eclipsed and defeated by the Taliban. We brought them back because they were the most readily available military tools and they were funded and armed essentially by us.

And that’s why they’re back there. The challenge in the coming months will be to channel the funds that are now coming in through legitimate institutions so that the soldiers that are now serving those warlords have an incentive to shift the loyalties to the institutions so the warlords have the opportunities to become generals, politicians, businessmen or something legitimate within institutions that are just being built.

And key to that will be the regional actors, who, as Marin said, have been relatively quiescent now, in particular Pakistan and Iran, but may have motives to come back and muddy the waters.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, Mr. Strmecki, your view of the role of this U.N. peacekeeping force – is it really going to have much ability to affect the outcome here?

MARIN STRMECKI: I think this U.N. force is critical but I think it may be misshapen. The Northern Alliance would like to see its military forces transition into being the national military force.

I think a better use of U.N. military power would have been to essentially remove military forces and police forces from Kabul and then start anew with a new military force that would be loyal to whatever government comes out of the political process.

If the Northern Alliance succeeds in the transitioning its forces into the national army, then there will be an army loyal to the faction, not to the national government.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both.