Sunday, August 1, 2010

Background Info: Subnational Governance.

Before I get any further along, I think it's time to dig a little bit into the subject of Sub-National Governance -- that is, the structure of local politics in Afghanistan.

Doing so is terrifying for a handful of reasons:

1. It's complicated as hell and I'm pretty likely to get some things wrong, which is bad because it's in no small part my job to know and understand this stuff.

2. It's entirely possible that I'll get all wrapped up in the subject (I won't lie: this stuff turns my crank) and get carried away, and in the mean time the few readers of this blog may slip into a coma at the how dry the material is.

3. Saying too much or (worse!) editorializing on the topic would put me WELL out of my lane and get me thumped on the head. And I nobody wants that.

With that in mind, here's a quick sketch of how the politics of Afghanistan functions at the provincial level:

At the top, you've got the Governor. As you might expect, he's in charge. Here's the thing, though: the Governor is not an elected official. He's appointed by the President, and he's not necessarily from the same province he's appointed to. It's as if Obama were allowed to choose the Governor of, say, Georgia, and it wouldn't be unexpected for him to pick a Michigander for the post.

The Governor isn't democratically elected, but the Provincial Council or PC is. In Farah, the PC is nine people, and it's mandated by law that a certain percent -- a third, I believe -- be women. They're the elected representatives (at the Province level) and are sort of a conduit for the cares and concerns of the people whom they represent.

Here's the thing, though: neither the Governor nor the PC have a budget to work with. There is, in fact, almost no such thing as a Provincial budget. Ponder that for a minute: if the Governor or the Council want to build a road or a school are accomplish any of the other millions of things a functioning local government does, they have no money to do so.

When things need to be accomplished, it's up to the Provincial Line Ministers, also known as Provincial Department Directors, to make it happen. In order for them to do so, THEY have to contact Kabul to get the money. So the Ministry of, for example, Education, has a guy on the ground who's the Province-level head of education, and he -- or, very occasionally, she -- has some money that comes from Kabul for opening or closing schools or what have you. It's not a lot of money, because the nation of Afghanistan is pretty cash-strapped as of now, although obviously that big mineral find of a few months ago may change that.

So, if the Governor and the PC determine that they want, say, a road built, they can't just authorize it. They have to work with the Line Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, who himself may have to lobby Kabul for funds. It's supposed to something resembling checks and balances, though it's hard to say how effective the checking and balancing actually is.

Being wholeheartedly American, it's easy to come in and try to Monday morning quarterback the whole arrangement and "fix it" with a bent towards democracy as we know and love it: have the Governor be popularly elected, give him a budget and the PC veto power, tie PC seats directly to districts so there's some semblance of geographic representation, and move on from there.

But the part that's easy to overlook that we so firmly lack in America is that the physical geography of Afghanistan is overlain with an extraordinarily complex human geography called tribalism. Tribes are generally associated with (but aren't strictly limited to) the Pashtun majority. They tend to end in 'zai, the Pashto word for "sons of" -- the Popalzai and the Barakzai, the Nurzai, Alizai, and Achakzai, what have you. There are tribes upon tribes, and (because it's not already complex enough), there are also sub-tribes to contend with.

By definition, an election means that there are winners and losers, and in a tribal environment, that would translate directly to a win or loss for an entire tribe. Accusations of corruption in elections would be magnified by the stakes involved in getting one's own tribe elected. By bringing in a Governor from another province, entrusting ministers from Kabul with the budget and having them be advised by a group of locally elected officials, you reduce the influence of tribalism in the distribution of public goods. It's not perfect, but it does, to a degree, make sense.


Dave said...

Interesting stuff, Mark.

Random sidebar: The mineral find actually happened years and years ago. For some reason (positive spin?), it was simply re-announced a few months ago. I believe the biggest problem is no mineral company wants to get in there and actually remove the minerals, given concerns about logistics and security.


Dakota said...

Indeed. Apparently it was the Soviets who first stumbled across them, but the war and general chaos meant their analysis was more or less lost. Then we found it, confirmed it with some truly fancy pants technology, and then let the cat out of the bag.

I for one am spending most of my free time panning for lithium.

Adam said...

Nicely put Sir Mark. I now know more about Afghan politics than 99.9% of my fellow countrymen.

Matt said...

Interagency Provincial Affairs.

Dakota said...

Really? Interagency? For some reason I don't like that, though god knows I have no idea why.