The National Unity Government has struggled to create a coherent administration out of the two rival camps of its leaders, say critics. (photo: Uzra Shamal) (photo: Uzra Shamal)
One year into the National Unity Government's tenure, the Taliban's storming of Kunduz this morning illustrates the current administration's inability to hold major Afghan cities against the growing insurgency, let alone fulfill basic election pledges.
Taliban forces entered Kunduz this morning, releasing hundreds of prisoners from jail and forcing government officials to flee. The government says reinforcements are en route to Kunduz and they are now pushing back the Taliban from the city. Yet videos by residents on social media show senior officials and police fleeing towards the city’s airport.
Broader headache than Kunduz
The situation elsewhere may not be as a bad as Kunduz but alarm bells are ringing. Afghanistan still does not have a new Minister of Defence, the economy is in tatters and the National Unity Government leaders cannot even agree on a timetable for rolling out biometric ID cards. The nationwide security situation is deteriorating and relations with neighbours have worsened too, according to experts, primarily because the government's two key figures cannot agree on a viable modus operandi.
“Both leaders failed to merge their teams to create one functional team,” says Abdul Qahar Sarwari, professor at Parwan University. “They continue to be opponents and it has impacted their performance.”
The National Unity Government was inaugurated on September 29, 2014, after the US led negotiations for a coalition between the top two candidates following months of infighting in the presidential election: Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank technocrat who became president and Abdullah Abdullah, who became the country's first ever 'Chief Executive'.
At its inauguration, the National Unity Government (NUG) pledged to reinforce security, fight corruption and improve relations with the country's neighbours. President Ghani signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in early October 2014, ensuring approximately 12,000 US and NATO troops would remain in the country until the end of 2015.
Hot and cold relationships
In his first month in office, President Ghani made simultaneous overtures to the West and to its traditional foe to the east, Pakistan. A trip to Islamabad led to a joint Af-Pak security agreement and an initial round of negotiations between a delegation from the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership in July this year in Mari, Pakistan. But the death of Taliban leader Mullar Omar and a spate of devastating attacks on Kabul this summer – which Kabul accused Islamabad of supporting – has reignited the frozen conflict between the two neighbours. The attempts to woe Pakistan thus backfired and the attempted rapprochement alienated Indian investment and support in Afghanistan. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan both see Afghanistan as a proxy extension of their own toxic cross-border entanglement. Relations with Iran have similarly deteriorated, leaving the Afghan government more regionally isolated than former president Karzai's administration.
Analysts meanwhile point to an increase in insecurity on the domestic front as the government's biggest failure. “Expeditious and a questionable transition of battle from the south to the north, coupled with the deterioration of security in previously relatively safe provinces, armed anti-government insurgents' change of strategy from attacks to battles, new fronts in strategic places, the emergence of ISIS groups and the peace deadlock are issues of concern that indicate deep security and political problems in the country,” wrote Kabul newspaper Afghanistan Daily in an editorial piece last week.
Formerly stable northern provinces like Badakhshan and Kunduz have been the staging ground for battles between Afghan forces and anti-government insurgents throughout 2015.
Both NUG leaders admit insecurity across the country has stalled the government's performance. In a recent meeting with influential Kandahar elders in Kabul, Ghani said Afghan forces had “survived” in his first year in office. Chief Executive Abdallah admitted the government “had not been able to deliver on its promises” because of the need to focus on security.
"Some tangible outcomes" against corruption
One of the National Unity Government's key manifesto pledges was to fight endemic corruption. A year after its inauguration, the results are mixed. One of President Ghani's first acts in office was to reopen the investigation into fraud at Kabul Bank in 2011. While critics say the marquee anti-corruption campaign is all hot air, the government claims it has recovered nearly 500 million dollars in missing assets. Ghani also cancelled a high-profile fuel contract for the Ministry of Defense because corruption was suspected in the bidding process. A recent report by the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee evaluating the NUG's efforts to put in place anti-corruption measures between January and June this year says “some tangible outcomes have been achieved” - the report emphasizes the sacking of “key officials” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Urban Development - but that the next six months will be key.
Sayeed Ekram Afzali, chair of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, told a conference in late August in Kabul “that the National Unity Government deals with corrupt individuals politically:” Afzali said that those who were truly behind the collapse of the Kabul Bank are walking free.
The climate of insecurity has taken its toll on the economy. The afghani continues to depreciate as supply chains break down and business stagnates. There is widespread unemployment across the country and thousands of young men have left Afghanistan in the last year seeking opportunities elsewhere.
"The government is way too focused on non-strategic issues, like distributing electronic ID cards. It seems as if they have forgotten about strategic issues like security, the economy and employment," says Abdul Qahar Sarwari, a politics analyst at Parwan University. "Given the sensitivity of the situation in the country, it is devastating."
As critics argue for and against the current government, public opinion seems decided. A survey commissioned by Tolo TV and released in August found that only 20 per cent of Afghans are satisfied with the performance of their current administration.
“When the National Unity Government came to power, we thought this government would perform better than President Karzai’s, but time has proven that the NUG has turned into a malfunctioning government. Unemployment, insecurity, corruption and kidnapping have exacerbated the situation. The problems have quadrupled in this government,” Kabul-resident Sajjad Alowi told Afghanistan Today.