What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Empowerment II.

Here follows the promised second load on the issue of what "empowerment" could entail (link to first part here), beyond "we are empowering you to shoot our enemies on our behalf, at your peril."
This is also going to be a relatively short one.
In Afghanistan, qawms matter a lot. One's primary network of loyalties (which is not necessarily all about blood ties). The mosque community one belongs to, the feudal ties one is involved in, family and clan relations etc. The word qawm is sometimes used as a synonim of one's homeland, I was once told by someone wise whom I may return to quote more extensively in the upcoming days. This will be well-known by some, of course. What should follow from this, is what matters here. The "local" level, i.e. the level of largely isolated, small or not-so-small groups of populace, those matter a lot. Accordingly, essential democracy in Afghanistan cannot come with a strongly centralised state, yet that's the only thing being tried at the moment.
The West has Hamed Karzai to turn to/complain about, and that's it. Karzai could have all his attitudes and decisions even about his breakfast micro-managed by Western politicians if he would wish to conform to all expectations. Meanwhile, others around him, and below him, are pushing to have their way, too. On many issues, Karzai cannot be circumvented, but on the other hand he doesn't have the chance to exert real influence in some areas of the country.
At the same time, his views and decisions are not informed by the pressures of well-aggregated, structurally more stable interests from the direction of the parliament, where parties do not play an important role, and the game of parliamentary factions doesn't work much, given the way MPs are elected.
What happens on the provincial level?
Karzai appoints and sacks governors, in some cases with much frequency (Baghlan province, where the Hungarian PRT is, had a lot of governors in the last couple of years, for example). These governors then interact with the provincial council's elected members. Who has more say? The one who was appointed by the centre, the governor. At least formally. Most Afghans voted, in September, 2005, to elect members of the provincial councils, without being properly informed about the duties and responsibilities of these councils (details of which were worked out only by August that year).
Some relevant articles of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

"Article One Hundred Thirty-Eight
There shall be a provincial council in every province. Members of the provincial councils according to law, shall be elected for four years by the residents of the province, proportionate to the population, through free, general, secret as well as direct elections. The provincial council shall elect one of its members as President.
Article One Hundred Thirty-Nine
The provincial council shall participate in the attainment of the development objectives of the state and improvement of the affairs of the province in the manner prescribe by laws, and shall advise the provincial administrations on related issues. The provincial assembly council shall perform its duties with the cooperation of the provincial administration.
Article One Hundred Forty
Councils shall be established to organize activities as well as attain active participation of the people in provincial administrations in districts and in villages, in accordance with the provisions of the law. Local residents shall elect members of these councils for three years through free, general, secret as well as direct elections. Participation of nomads in these local councils shall be regulated in accordance with the provisions of the law."

This system can produce all sorts of governors. No concrete examples here, just think in an abstract manner. A governor in this case can be a total outsider who will just try to balance different interests as much as he (almost inevitably a "he") can. He can do it clumsily. He can do it in a selfishly rational way, playing off one faction against another and then happily watching the fighting. In some cases, the governor could be from one particular faction and play accordingly. Meanwhile, Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga members from the province can well be trying to smoke the guy out from his position.
Decisions like the appointment of a district police chief, or the distribution of money from the budget, those all hold significant conflict potential. The governor can easily act like a forced or a dishonest broker mediating between factions, as one, however, who wields formal power over them.
What about the picture overall?
The formal-institutional aggregation of interests does not really work in Afghanistan on either the central or the provincial level. This makes it more difficult to settle clashes of interests in formal-institutional ways in any case. The abundant availability of guns, on the other hand, in areas struck by multi-layered conflicts since decades... (insert educated guess here)
All this, for an important example, is something like the opposite of empowerment.

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