Thoughts on an Interim Government

Today’s NYT article on the potential from an interim government (see here) raises some interesting points and concerns.  Increasingly, the delicate balance between trying to move quickly towards a new government and the need for a thorough review of the ballots is difficult to find.  Every day that passes hurts the economy and Afghanistan’s stability further, but rushing the process could be incredibly costly to the long term legitimacy of the government.  For this reason, an interim government makes sense on several levels, but would it really help solve the crisis?  Here’s a quick run down of some of the costs and benefits that such a deal might create:

Reasons to support an interim government:

  • The reason many in the international community will support an interim government is because it would facilitate key negotiations with at least some form of government in Afghanistan.  For NATO and the Americanmilitary, this could mean a signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on the status of foreign troops in the country.  Just as importantly, it would allow NGOs and other major donors to negotiate with a government ministries more effectively.  (Before we get too carried away, however, these external pressures, I don’t think, are a reason to rush an internal political process), furthermore, there are real questions about whether an interim government would be any more effective than the current lame duck government – would the government that then followed honored all the negotiations?  It’s certainly not clear.)
  • The best reason to support an interim government is the economic impact that it would have on millions of Afghans.  Currently economic development is at a standstill.  Businessmen are investing abroad and almost everyone is in a wait-and-see holding pattern.  An interim government or any government at this point, would alleviate some of that pressure and would allow for the economy to begin growing again.
  • Related, though perhaps less convincing, an interim government might help push back on some of the recent Taliban gains.  While it is unclear how coordinated this is, the Taliban seems to have taken advantage of the current political crisis and made something of a push across the country, and a more coherent government response could slow this.  That being said, the ANA is fairly separate from the political wrangling in Kabul and its not altogether clear that new political leadership would really change military approaches.

 

Reasons for concern:

  • What would Karzai’s role in the government be?  It’s difficult to see Karzai simply stepping aside for an interim president, however, keeping him on would certainly give the sense that the interim government would be pushing for a Ghani presidency.  The NYT and other suggests the government would be made up of ministers and other key leaders from the Karzai government and even this would clearly still allow Karzai’s patronage network to remain in control of the key political resources in the country.
  • Relatedly, is it even possible to set up an interim government that seems even slightly impartial?  Almost every major actor in Afghan politics has come out aligning themselves with one of the two candidates.  The religious leaders of the past who were seen as impartial either no longer have the same influence or have come out in support of the two candidates.  In general, it’s difficult to see how one could find enough key figures who would appear to be impartial mediators.
  • Would it be constitutional?  It is hard to tell, but it seems likely that it would not be, particularly if Karzai remained in power.  However, the constitution has already be delicate set aside on a couple of key issues over the past two months, but this seems like a much ruder shove that would be difficult to justify for those claiming to respect the constitution in resolving the crisis (which John Kerry and both the candidates have professed to do).
  • If a interim government now, what next?  It seems like an interim government could be the next step down the rabbit hole of political negotiations and manipulation by the political elite.  If the international community supports this move, would they be in a position to stop another step later, for example, by Karzai trying to retain power more long term?

In sum, the economic argument is a strong one, but the causes for concern could all have long term repercussions.  Afghan leaders and the international diplomats who support them, should think hard before they further complicate the process and open up another political pandora’s box.

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