Afghanistan: End of Bonn process is only the start

Four years after the blueprint for Afghan democracy was set out at Bonn, much remains to be done.

By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif

(ARR No. 191, 05-Oct-05)

The last building block in the construction of a democratic Afghanistan, envisaged by the 2001 Bonn accord, was slotted into place with September's parliamentary and provincial council elections. But some analysts now question the strength of the edifice built on the ruins of the Taleban regime.

The blueprint was quite clear. As a first step, the conclave of Afghan politicians, warlords and diplomats and international community representatives who met in Germany in December 2001 set up an interim government headed by Hamed Karzai.

In Kabul, a disarmament commission was established to collect weapons from militias who ran their own fiefdoms - and opium empires - across the country. A national police force and army was slowly put in place, with foreign trainers.

An emergency Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, formally confirmed Karzai's position as leader and ratified his transitional government, and a subsequent Loya Jirga gave the country a new constitution. Last October, a presidential poll made Karzai Afghanistan's first democratically-elected president.

Finally, parliamentary and provincial elections were held last month, with final results expected on October 22.

All this has happened more or less in line with the original agreement, which was followed by pledges of international help totalling some 8.2 billion dollars.

But despite the apparent progress, there is still a sense of malaise on the streets and among political circles.

So what went wrong?

Pessimists say turnout for the September vote, estimated at 50 per cent of the electorate, was dismal even compared with the 70 per cent seen in last year's presidential election.

Meanwhile, complaints on the street in this capital city of over three million people are widespread. Kabul remains without electricity for more than half of each day, rubbish is left lying in the city centre to be picked over by goats, sheep and the poor, and most residents still get their water from public pumps.

While roadworks offer a visible sign of reconstruction work, for most people life has not improved since 2001.

Mohammad Younus Qanuni, leader of the National Understanding Front, who stood in both presidential and parliamentary elections and attended the talks back in 2001, agrees that the creation of a parliament is "the final brick" in completing the Bonn process, but insists that the ultimate goals agreed at the conference have yet to be attained.

The basic mechanisms decided on in Germany, such as creating a constitution, holding elections and pursuing reforms to ensure human rights, were intended to create a secure atmosphere and improve ordinary people's lives. But Qanuni charges that the Karzai administration implemented these changes in such a way as to defeat its political rivals.

"So now the Bonn accord has come to an end but it has not brought major change to people's daily lives," he said.

Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, leader of the Democratic Party and head of the Lawyers Union of Afghanistan, says the Bonn agreement laid down strong foundations for change, and the money pledged by the international community was supposed to make that change possible.

But instead of this, he says, the funds were spent on the technical and logistical aspects of holding the Loya Jirgas, running elections, creating the mechanism for disarmament, and improving security. And none of this has brought any great change to the lives of ordinary people.

"Despite the huge amounts of money spent on security and administrative reform, and the fact that the process is now perceived as finished, the country is growing less and less secure day by day, and Taleban attacks have increased compared with three years ago," said Ranjbar. "And instead of administrative reforms, corruption has increased in government offices."

He acknowledged there had been some changes for the better, such as "freedom of speech, the media, girls' participation in education and the return of millions of refugees to the country".

But he warned that if the government cannot improve the economic situation and create jobs, it will face further security problems and other crises.

Political analyst Qasim Akhgar echoed this view, saying, "The most important aim of the Bonn conference was stabilising peace and security in Afghanistan. Yet the elements of war still exist, and only the presence of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] has prevented possible war."

Some of the warlords still have their weapons and are now more prominent in government than ever, he said. Insurgents are still being trained in Pakistan, and the Taleban are carrying out attacks in southern Afghanistan. The illicit drug trade remains a powerful force and ethnically-based factionalism remains strong. Taken together with the overall situation of destitution and poverty, all this is a recipe for possible civil war, Akhgar believes.

"Unfortunately, the Bonn accord [process] has ended without success," concluded Akhgar.

Analyst Qayoum Babak, who is also director of the Jahan-e-Now newspaper in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, offers a more optimistic view, "Although the Bonn resolutions were implemented imperfectly in Afghanistan, these imperfections cannot destroy the entire legitimacy of the process."

While disarmament has not been carried to its conclusion, and the army and police forces are not yet fully formed, the approval of a constitution and the holding of elections have given the government a degree of legitimacy, and hold out the possibility that the country can be led out of the years of misrule.

But corruption and other failures of government have hindered efforts to resolve many of the nation's problems, particularly unemployment. "If honest people were in government and the Bonn accord had been properly implemented step by step, the problems which the new government is going to face in the future would not have existed," said Babak.

Four years after the ousting of the Taleban regime and the drawing up of the Bonn accord, Zarmina, a female student at Balkh university in northern Afghanistan, expressed mixed feelings that reflect a widespread view.

"I was barred from going to university under the Taleban, and now I can attend," she said. But she cautioned that this kind of advance alone will not solve people's problems.

"My father is unemployed and I don't believe I will find a job for myself after I graduate. Too many students who graduated in the past are still jobless."

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.