Books on Afghanistan
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.