An Afghan man drinks tea as he listens to conversation between U.S. Army soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Stryker Brigade, and other villagers, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. (Photo: AP)
As you read this post, over 12,000 NATO troops are fighting pitched battles with hardened Taliban fighters for control over Kandahar province. The New York Times is reporting that Western forces have “seized the initiative from the insurgents” and are assuming the commanding heights of the province. The overarching goal is to use every instrument of NATO power – military, economic, and political – to clear away insurgents, hold the population center, and build institutions and infrastructure. But I want to step away from all of that for a moment. Though this part of the conflict is significant, it’s also all-too-distant from everyday life. It’s really in the everyday struggles that this war will be won or lost.
Young female Afghan women from Mazur-i-Sharif display their inked fingers after voting. Photo: IRI
Barbara Broomell is the Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa programs at the International Republican Institute.
September 18, 2010, marked the date that members of the Afghanistan Youth National and Social Organization (AYNSO) prepared for all year. Thirty-five individuals endorsed by the organization vied for parliamentary seats among a field of 2,608 candidates, one contender for each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and one individual for a seat allocated to the Kuchi people, the nomadic people of Afghanistan. Several AYNSO candidates are showing strong returns with at least five currently placing in first or second place according to preliminary results. Final elections results are expected to be certified by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission at the end of October.
These 35 individuals represent Afghanistan’s diverse population. They are not chieftains, warlords or political elite and they are not alone. AYNSO boasts a network of nearly 16,000 members across the country whose average age is 27. They bring more like minded individuals into their fold with each new monthly-membership drive.
The latest Peace Brief published by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) highlights the challenges – and opportunities – facing Afghan women in the upcoming Wolesi Jirga parliamentary elections on September 18. Although women account for half of the country’s population and on paper possess equal electoral rights, in reality they are up against a number of factors that hamper their political participation. Physical insecurity remains one key obstacle that threatens the rights of all Afghans. Yet, women in particular have to deal with social and cultural constraints that limit their participation.
For instance, many Afghan women feel that they need explicit permission from their husbands to vote or to run for office. They often have a hard time registering to vote because in culturally conservative communities women are not allowed to interact with unrelated men – including voter registration officials. A practice of proxy voting, where when a man fills out voting ballots on behalf of the female members of his family, is also a common social norm.
Teaching young people vital business skills is one of the key elements of Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Since 2005, CIPE has been conducting a popular entrepreneurship course called Tashabos in select high schools around the country. The program, featured on Sky News, today reaches more than 33,000 students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade at 44 schools in Kabul, Bamiyan, Nangahar, and Parwan. CIPE Afghanistan staff interviewed several students who have started their own business after completing the Tashabos course to learn how they have benefited from the program. Here is what they told us:
Aqila Jafari, 10th grade student at Zinab-Kubra High School
“During my migration to Iran I learned handicraft skills as well as producing pickles. When I returned to my country, I enrolled in high school. Fortunately the school was one of the Tashabos target schools and I started to learn about entrepreneurship. This course illuminated the way to start my own small business. The story of Lima and Omid [characters from the Tashabos textbook] encouraged me to use my skills and start my business three months ago. The exhibition days at school were a big support for me to find a market since I am the one supporting my family.”
cover of the IWA survey on corruption in Afghanistan
The findings (summarized in this NYT story) of a recent Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) survey on corruption attitudes are interesting if not unsurprising: corruption is widespread, bribe amounts have increased over the years, and corruption is perceived as a normal part of dealings with the state.
Perhaps, the most startling statistic is that average bribes among those who paid them (28% of Afghan households have paid bribes at least once last year) amount to about 30% of per capita income (!!!). If that’s not enough to convince you of the magnitude of the problem, consider this – the amount of bribes more than doubled in the period between 2007 and 2009, reaching $1 billion. And, coinciding with trends in other countries – poor people (those with incomes of less than $60) are most exposed to corruption.
The authors of the report reflect on the findings by offering some reform recommendations. Those come down to strengthening the judiciary, increasing citizen’s access to information, modifying the operations and improving oversight of key government agencies, expanding definitions of corruption in the new penal code, and engaging civil society as an oversight and service delivery mechanism in key areas.
As the conflict in Afghanistan has dragged on, concern has grown over the slow development of democratic governance in the country. Although some improvements have been made, public services remain inadequate. Government policies are lacking or, when put in place, often confusing or contradictory. And above all, corruption is pervasive and pernicious. Transparency International ranks Afghanistan 179th of 180 countries.
The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit recently released a report on corruption in Afghanistan which raises some crucial issues in the efforts to build good governance in the country. The report is a qualitative report based on 400 individual interviews and 25 focus group discussions conducted throughout Afghanistan. It provides valuable insight in support of the quantitative surveys recently conducted including CIPE’s own Afghanistan Business Survey (see also this ABC poll).
A brief video travelog from a trip to Kabul, a place about which I’m often asked…