Public institutions in Afghanistan have experienced decades of conflict and corruption, leading to systemic distrust of government among the Afghan people. Building Afghanistan’s democratic capacity became a priority for Canada, as better governance was viewed as a necessary precondition for achieving our other priorities in Kandahar.
Canada’s established objective under this priority stated that, by 2011, national, provincial and local institutions, particularly in Kandahar province, would exhibit an increasing capacity for democratic governance in the deliberation and delivery of public programs and services and in carrying out democratic elections. More specifically, Canada established seven targets aimed at improving Afghan democratic governance, institutions and public support. In particular, Canada’s contributions included the promotion of electoral reform; measures to combat corruption; support for human rights; and initiatives to build capacity for public institutions.
Given 30 years of conflict, cultural differences in regard to governance and the stifling of democracy in the Taliban era, the challenges in meeting this priority were daunting throughout the 2008–2011 period. Nevertheless, important progress was made.
Canada’s contribution in the area of electoral reform in Afghanistan focused on improving the political participation of women as voters, candidates or elections workers; civic education; the monitoring of election preparations; and pressing the Government of Afghanistan to undertake electoral reforms, building on the lessons learned from the flawed elections of 2009 and 2010.
Canada further supported the electoral process in Afghanistan by providing expertise and financial support with partners such as the UN Development Programme (since July 2008), the National Democratic Institute (March 2009), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, now UN Women) (July 2009) and the Asia Foundation (July 2009).
Canada funded the Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (ELECT) project, which facilitated the delivery of the 2009 presidential and provincial council elections and the 2010 Parliamentary elections, including enabling the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) to recruit and train temporary election staff and helping the IEC to procure election materials and deliver them across the country in time for the elections.
The holding of national elections in Afghanistan is inordinately challenging. In addition to security concerns, logistics are particularly difficult, requiring the setting up of separate male and female polling stations, and the use of mules and donkeys to transport ballots to and from some remote regions. Allegations of fraud following the 2009 presidential and provincial council elections suggested that democratic development in Afghanistan would require continued support for some time.
Nonetheless, as a sign of emerging democratic practices, the 2009 allegations of corruption were addressed by an independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), three of whose five commissioners were appointed by the UN. Canada helped to establish the ECC, and publicly expressed concern when President Karzai signed a presidential decree that attempted to amend Afghanistan’s Electoral Law and weaken the independence of the ECC by granting the President control over its appointments. The decree was rejected by Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament.
Together, the creation of the Afghan-run Independent Elections Commission and of the ECC proved to be an important step on the road to democratic reform in Afghanistan, bringing greater legitimacy to the electoral process in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Canada placed particular emphasis on supporting women’s political participation in the 2009 and 2010 elections. In addition to supporting efforts aimed at promoting greater participation of women voters, Canada supported programs for voter education and for women candidates, and helped to establish a support hotline for women in politics that fielded hundreds of calls.
In 2009, a record 328 women ran for elected office in Afghanistan, a 25 percent increase from the 2005 provincial council elections. In total, women won 121 seats in provincial councils throughout the country; of that number, 20 women won contested seats without the assistance of the quota system.
In advance of the provincial council elections, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), organized and facilitated campaign workshops for 225 candidates, with a curriculum specifically adapted to the needs of women in all regions of Afghanistan. Following the inauguration of provincial councils throughout the country, NDI conducted an orientation program for 111 newly elected women councillors. In addition, NDI held a Post-Peace Jirga Symposium of Afghan Women for 73 councillors, parliamentarians, civil society activists and journalists to develop strategies for increasing women’s roles in political and peacebuilding processes.
The September 18, 2010, election of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) presented a critical opportunity for the Government of Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s electoral institutions to demonstrate their willingness to implement lessons learned from the serious challenges of the 2009 presidential and provincial council elections. Through the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) administered ELECT program, Canada provided significant support to Afghan electoral agencies in their efforts to plan and administer these elections and build on the experience of 2009, including measures to mitigate fraud.
Importantly, women demonstrated greater confidence in stepping forward during the 2010 elections. A record 406 women candidates ran for office in 2010, up from 347 in the 2005 elections. Women candidates successfully secured 69 of 249 seats available in the Wolesi Jirga, with 18 women winning contested seats without the assistance of the quota system. As a result, 27 percent of Afghan parliamentarians in the Wolesi Jirga are women.
Canada provided electoral support materials and funded training for 248 women from 31 provinces who were running for office. They represented 62 percent of all women candidates in the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections. Of the 69 women elected to parliament, 25 women (36 percent) attended the campaign workshops. Thirty-five women from 24 provinces (51 percent of all women parliamentarians) attended the CIDA-funded orientation sessions conducted by NDI; NDI in turn observed an improvement of participants’ knowledge of laws, regulations and the rules of procedure for the Wolesi Jirga during the orientation program.
Project partners also reached thousands of women voters, teaching them about their democratic rights using radio broadcasts, theatre productions and face-to-face interaction. By strengthening women’s engagement in the 2009 and 2010 elections and their voice as elected representatives, Canada contributed to creating an environment where women can advocate on matters of policy, run for political office, govern effectively and participate meaningfully in every facet of civic and political life.
Canada also worked closely with Afghan authorities and the international community to strengthen the country’s electoral process as part of a wider, longer-term effort to marginalize the insurgency and help forge a sustainable connection between the Government of Afghanistan and the Afghan people. Canada fully met its commitment to support the 2009 and 2010 elections through the UNDP.
The considerable challenges surrounding electoral reform in Afghanistan meant that certain efforts were not as successful. For example, the security environment created difficulties in collecting comprehensive census information. As a result, voter turnout and, at times, opportunities for citizens to vote were diminished.
Nonetheless, a combined total of almost 4.5 million voters were added to the voter registry for the 2009 and 2010 elections. This far exceeds the combined target of 2.5 million additional registrants. The participation of women in Afghanistan’s electoral process since 2009 is also a clear indication that Afghan women have made significant progress toward the development of political and civics rights since Taliban rule.
Corruption continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan. It hinders economic growth and good governance, and engenders distrust of government. As a result, strong, accountable governance is critical to the recovery of Afghanistan and anti-corruption measures are critical to building the trust of the Afghan people in their institutions of governance.
Under this priority, Canada provided assistance to the Government of Afghanistan through a number of anti-corruption initiatives and projects. These included the deployment of a Canadian anti-corruption adviser to the Afghan Attorney General’s Office; assistance from Canadian police mentors in developing an anti-corruption strategy for the Ministry of Interior; and measures to foster Afghan capacity for sound public financial systems and management. The latter included participation in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund Incentive Program Working Group, supporting the Afghanistan government’s domestic revenue agenda, asset declaration and public sector reform. Canada also played a key role in supporting Government of Afghanistan efforts to strengthen public financial management and combat corruption by supporting the forensic audit of the Kabul Bank in 2011.
To address the key drivers of corruption, the Government of Afghanistan further pledged, as part of commitments made during the London International Conference on Afghanistan in January 2010, to lay a foundation through clear benchmarks and plans, including the empowerment of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption to investigate and sanction corrupt officials. Canada was active in the international effort to create a further initiative of the London Conference, the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. An independent, joint Afghan-international body that monitors progress on anti-corruption measures, the Committee tracks the work of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption.
Through the Accountability and Transparency project, CIDA is helping to enhance transparency and accountability in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education. Within the Ministry, Vulnerability to Corruption Assessments (VCAs) were launched; a draft action plan for implementation of the VCA recommendations was prepared; and with Canada’s support, a complaints and investigation process, several complaint offices, and an Integrity Promotion Office were established.
Sustained action to address corruption is essential for improving governance in Afghanistan and building a relationship of trust between the Afghan people and their government, and Canada will continue to vigorously advocate reforms to establish strong, democratic and accountable institutions in Afghanistan.
It is critical to respect and support human rights in order to secure and maintain the trust of citizens in their nation’s institutions of governance and civil society.
Through 2008–2011, Canada served as a lead donor to human rights initiatives in Afghanistan. Our contribution to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) furthered the promotion and protection of Afghans’ rights, notably those of women and minorities. The AIHRC is the only Afghan body with the constitutional mandate and capacity to promote, protect, monitor and document human rights violations in Afghanistan. As such, it has trained approximately 10,000 Afghan politicians, teachers, health workers, police officers, lawyers and military personnel on their duties and responsibilities to promote and protect the human rights of their fellow citizens.
On January 1, 2011, Canada assumed the chairmanship of the AIHRC Donor Committee, which was tasked with coordinating support to the AIHRC and providing facilitation between the AIHRC and stakeholders, including donors and the Government of Afghanistan. The AIHRC continued to build on its leadership through activities such as human rights training and awareness sessions.
Supported by a Canadian technical expert, the AIHRC developed a 2010–2013 Strategic Action Plan that included a provision for 30 percent of its budget to be covered by the Government of Afghanistan—in line with Kabul Conference commitments supported by the international community. This crucial administrative success will ensure that AIHRC activities are sustainable into the future.
Since its establishment, the AIHRC has focused on advocating for efforts to strengthen the rule of law, end impunity and improve national legislation to ensure better compliance with international human rights treaties. The AIHRC has successfully released several public reports monitoring political rights, in addition to actively and independently briefing the media on the status of human rights in Afghanistan.
The AIHRC has had a very positive impact on the human rights landscape in Afghanistan, primarily through its legal/policy advocacy, monitoring, capacity-building, and awareness-raising efforts. In addition to its key value-added areas, the AIHRC has made a significant contribution in institutionalizing and legitimizing human rights discussions as well as building and maintaining political space for other human rights efforts in Afghanistan.
The AIHRC’s monitoring of detainees and detention centres and its interventions, for example, have secured widespread access to facilities. This has also led to improved detention conditions and awareness of legal rights by detention staff and detainees. The AIHRC is attributed with establishing a strong, effective system for processing, handling and referring domestic violence cases and opening up awareness and debate on this issue.
Additionally, with Canada’s support, the Canadian non-governmental organization Rights and Democracy helped the Afghan Family Law Drafting Committee to finalize the recommendations for family law reform, which were sent to the Ministry of Justice by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in April 2010. Rights and Democracy trained 180 community trainers from six provinces, most of whom conducted replication training and engaged their communities in dialogue on the topics of women’s rights, family law and marriage contracts. Workshops were conducted for Afghan civil society organizations as well as women’s rights advocates, so that they could develop their advocacy skills. Monthly radio shows about women’s issues have been produced and broadcast through seven radio stations in Afghanistan.
Importantly, Canada coupled its policy engagement with its program support to human rights in Afghanistan, particularly support to the human rights of women and girls. In 2009, for instance, Canada advocated strongly alongside Afghan and international actors for revisions to the Shia Personal Status Law to ensure that the rights of Afghan women were respected and protected.
Similarly, Canada actively engaged in the 2010 London and Kabul Conferences to secure a commitment by the Government of Afghanistan to accelerate implementation of the National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan and to implement its new Elimination of Violence against Women Law. Canada remains committed to supporting the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Under this priority, Canada has focused on working with Afghan officials on initiatives that will enable the Government of Afghanistan and institutions of civil society to build on and maintain the hard-won progress that has been made on democratic governance.
Through the National Solidarity Program (NSP), Canada supported the development of democratically elected Community Development Councils (CDCs) across much of Afghanistan. The NSP empowers communities to implement development projects that are of critical importance to their local communities through grants for projects such as road building and repair, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, electricity and education. Thanks to the NSP, over 27,900 CDCs have been formed, giving communities a key role in developing their own future. The NSP has also played a key role in formalizing the role of women in decision-making processes, and mobilized women on an unprecedented scale.
The NSP has further provided a unique opportunity for women to participate in the development process from a government-sanctioned platform, allowing women to gather and discuss their development priorities within a formal framework for the first time and have their concerns taken seriously. It has also provided many women with the possibility to learn skills or become literate. Infrastructure projects have changed the quality of life for women and men in communities throughout Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Canada also provided Afghanistan with support for institutional capacity building in the area of sub-national governance, which is key to stabilization efforts in Kandahar province and to the provision of services to the Afghan people. For example, Canada’s support for the Afghanistan Sub-national Governance Program (ASGP) enabled the Independent Directorate of Local Governance to hire 120 coaches to serve in provincial and district governors’ offices, providing advice in areas such as engineering, project design and local economic development, and it helped the ASGP to develop a Sub-national Governance Policy for Afghanistan.
Canada’s support for the ASGP also assisted with efforts to advance the development of provincial strategic plans (PSPs) in five selected provinces, including Kandahar. Each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces is expected to have PSPs in place by 2013, which will serve as a strategic road map for each province, addressing governance, security and development issues and needs.
Canada also worked with the provincial and local governments of Kandahar on measures designed to strengthen governance, including the provision of qualified Afghan advisers, equipment and training to the Office of the Governor of Kandahar; support for building the capacity of the Kandahar City Mayor’s Office to respond to core needs such as land title registration and dispute resolution; and technical assistance to the Provincial Development Committee.
Canada further supported the organization of civil servant job fairs held in key districts of Kandahar. These were well attended and resulted in the hiring of 180 new civil servants for provincial and district jobs in a number of ministries. By reinforcing the presence of the Afghan government and building the capacity of the local government, Canada helped to generate greater acceptance of and participation in those institutions.