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AFGHANISTAN


  
  


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Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai

 



Update No: 057 - (25/08/06)

Karzai fights battle for political future
Faced with his decreasing popularity, President Karzai has hinted for the first time in August that he might not re-candidate himself in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2009. Under pressure from many sides, Karzai is now forced to admit that the Afghan state is very corrupt, which does not in the view of some observers, preclude himself. He is still trying to play all sides, conceding something to reformers and international donors and something else to regional strongmen and conservative clergy- perhaps the only way that Afghanistan can be run as a nascent democracy! Most recently, he accepted the need to modernise the Supreme Court, but at the same time he promised to create 500 state-funded positions for religious scholars. In August Karzai managed to complete his cabinet with the parliamentary approval of the last five ministers. Karzai's previous candidates had been rejected by parliament. The new ministers are all new faces, except for Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang, who had been Economy Minister and was previously rejected. He has now been approved as Minister of Commerce and Industries.

New judiciary in the making?
With the parliamentary approval of the new Supreme Court judges, Afghanistan might finally be beginning to reform its inefficient, ultra-conservative and corrupt judiciary. The new judges finally all have degrees in law, although some are from Islamic law faculties and some from secular law ones. Some of the judges also have experience of western countries. Their appointment is the result of Karzai's failure to have his former candidates accepted by the parliament and it is the first positive achievement of the new parliament, even if it might have originally have been meant to embarrass Karzai more then to improve the quality of the judicial system. It is very likely that future steps in reforming the judiciary will be much more difficult. 

Electricity supply: little and decreasing
On the economic front, there was not much good news in August. Although only 10% of the Afghan population has access to any electricity, the government is struggling to provide even that little. In Kabul, even during the summer electricity is now only available for 6 hours a day during the summer. Next winter, even that level of service will have to be halved. International donors do not want to pay for the fuel to be used in the state-owned generators, which are not an efficient way to generate electricity, while the government's attempt to seek alternative sources of electricity will take years to yield results. US$70 million were provided by the US last year for generator fuel, but this year aid was scaled down to US$20 million as US aid is increasingly targeted at insurgency-ridden south and the government failed to appeal in time for alternative sources of help. About 80% of Afghan businesses rely on private generators, which is a major factor in making Afghan industry uncompetitive with that of the neighbours. 
At the same time it is becoming clearer what is the scale of the new drought which is hitting Afghanistan, with a yearly shortfall in cereal production of 1.2 million tonnes out of a total consumption of 6 million tonnes. It is estimated that 2.5 million Afghan are at risk and the government is appealing for international help. 
The hopes remain mainly focused for a distant future. In August the Afghan government announced that it would soon invite Afghan and foreign companies to invest in Afghanistan's oil and gas sector. It is estimated that Afghanistan has reserves for 1.6 billion barrels of oil and 15.6 trillion cubic feet of gas. Some Turkish and US companies have already expressed interest for investing in the sector, but the government has not yet decided how to regulate foreign investment in oil and gas. 

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