Democracy is not new in Afghanistan anymore. In the last fifteen years, the country has gone through three presidential elections. The 2014 presidential election went totally wrong. Massive election fraud resulted in a political crisis. Finally, the National Unity Government (NUG) formed, and the power is shared between President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah. The NUG is extremely fragile. We often hear about the war and insecurity, but the other causes of the political, economic and security crisis, is not widely debated.
Although the election could not secure the legitimacy of the NUG, the formation of the coalition government has prevented Afghanistan from another civil war. Still, key democratic institutions have less or no legitimacy. The regular term of the parliament ended on June 22, 2015. The Lower House of the parliament with the total of 249 seats must be elected every five years, but the term of the parliamentarians has extended through a presidential decree for an unknown time.
Legal experts and politicians have distinct views on the legal status of the parliament. Some expert argues that the extension of the parliament's term through a decree, is legal, but the constitution and no existing law can determine the legitimacy of the legislative body beyond its term. Some parliamentarians have already left their seats, endorsing the lack legitimacy of the parliament.
Afghanistan has 34 provinces and around 407 districts. According to the laws, there amust be elected provincial councils, elected district assemblies and elected municipal officials for each province and district. Though there are 34 functioning provincial councils, the elections for the district assemblies and municipalities have never held, and millions of people in more than four hundred districts have no local elected representative.
The mayors and members of municipal councils are appointed, and the district assemblies do not exist. The appointed members of municipalities are not accountable to the local people, and it has changed these institutions from a service delivery to a hub for corruption.
Various public servants' positions are either vacant or have filled by political appointees. Against the given mandate, the NUG has an extremely centralized the government. Meanwhile, the authorities of the public servants have been limited through several presidential decrees and commissions led by the president and his CEO.
There are dozens of registered political parties in Afghanistan, but the country is still missing a strong political opposition. The Afghan president is independent and as a leader of a democratic republic, he does not want to associate himself as a member of any political party. Most of the key political parties and oppositions are part of the collation government. Consequently, the NUG does not have any strong political opposition to hold them accountable.
Lack of such political opposition has further weakened the culture of democracy and accountability. The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index of 2016 lists the NUG among authoritarian regimes. So, by all means, the NUG is an authoritarian. Unfortunately, it is on the verge of becoming a totalitarian regime.
Corruption remains as the mother of all issues in Afghanistan. In 2017 Transparency International reported slight improvement of Afghanistan. Still, the organization's 2016 annual Corruption Perception Index placed Afghanistan among the most corrupt countries, ranked 169th from 175th countries.
There are several thousand Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), associations, councils, unions, and other registered entities working in the country. While the CSOs and NGOs are doing an outstanding job, but the government has never allocated any fund for these institutions in the national budget. Therefore, these institutions remain dependent on foreign aid and fragile.
The constitution allows conditional freedom of the press and freedom of expression. However, some stories cost the lives of our journalists, but they have been doing an incredible job, and the fast growing free press remains as the backbone of our democracy in Afghanistan.
Daesh (ISIL), the Taliban and other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to journalists. Afghanistan is still the most dangerous country in the world for the journalists, but many Afghan journalists work tirelessly and fearlessly to inform the public.
The government does not guarantee freedom of speech. The Freedom of the Press 2016 report released by the Freedom House introduced Afghanistan as "Not Free." Meanwhile, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Afghanistan 120 out of 180 countries. The RSI called the year 2016 as one of the deadliest for journalists in Afghanistan.
Despite all the challenges, the free media and CSOs remain vital for the democracy in Afghanistan. The tremendous progress of a free press is one of the greatest accomplishment of the Afghans and the international community during the last fifteen years.
The country is in dire need of reform. Other than insecurity, poverty, and instability, Afghanistan faces extraordinary challenges of bad governance and vulnerable democracy. Despite all these challenges the Afghans are striving towards a better future. All these problems cannot be resolved overnight. It requires hard work and long term dedication. The fragile government can change the country to a failed state. To save Afghanistan and overcome the obstacles, the NUG and its international partners must identify, acknowledge and work on the real causes of the ongoing crisis.