Six Things part Four: Democracy, Governance and Courage in Afghanistan

June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow Afghans are voting – in a second round – for the President to succeed Hamid Karzai. I think all of us who care about Afghanistan and democracy should thank candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani for their courage and commitment to their country.

I remember an American general officer telling me “We can’t solve this problem by killing more Taliban.” Ultimately, it was understood that the military work was meant to enable the priorities of formal and legitimate Afghan civilian governance to reach the people. It’s hard, but best, when security and governance arrive simultaneously to replace the predators.

State abandonment, or weak, corrupt and illegitimate government enables, and even invites, insurgency. This makes civilian governance dangerous in the extreme for those who enter the arena of democracy in a country in conflict.

Many of those brave Afghans with whom Canada worked in Kandahar made the ultimate sacrifice for governance. The Chief of the Kandahar Police Khan Mohamed Mujahaddin was killed on April 14, 2011. The Mayor of Kandahar City, Ghulam Haider Hamidi was killed July 27, 2011. Faizluddin Agha, District Governor of Panjwa’i, which was the primary focus of the military effort at the time of our departure, was killed on January 13, 2012; Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Chairman of the Provincial Council, was killed July 20, 2011. Fortunately, the excellent Governor of Kandahar, Dr. Tooryalai Wesa has not been harmed by repeated attacks. Within seven months of the completion of the Canadian military and civilian mission in Kandahar, four of the five most important civilian officials in Kandahar province were assassinated. The Taliban insurgency understood, as did we, that it is all about governance.

In the large scheme of things, these men were killed because basic civil governance is utterly incompatible with the Taliban aspiration of the return of the Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan. Like Mount Everest where they say the hardest part of the climb is the last vertical hundred meters, state extension to the most disadvantaged and needful zones and people is the most difficult increment of post conflict governance.  This has led me to the fifth thing I learned in 30 years as a diplomat: development, peace and security are all about governance – its quality, political culture and geographical extension. This idea has also led me to a shift in my diplomatic perspective. When we have willing partners, it is usually more effective to base our diplomacy on how to help states be successful for their citizens, than to try to criticize and constrain them. We want our friends to be successful.

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