Kabul greatly needs to strengthen governance at all levels and to think about sustainable development, with the NATO summit in Chicago having clarified the date of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In an attempt to contribute to public policy capacity building and long-term stabilization of the country, several governments from around the world have offered various forms of assistance in training and re-training the national cadres of professional and effective civil service officials. Among these, the government of Kazakhstan has designed a special program in which the doors of this country’s most prestigious universities are opened to about 1,000 graduate students from Afghanistan, to study under Kazakh governmental scholarships.
BACKGROUND: Afghanistan heads for 2014 with a strong need for governance capacity building, especially at the local and provincial levels, and strengthening of its public administration sector. To this end, a number of countries have provided different forms of assistance in reforming the public administration and training and re-training cadres. Kazakhstan, which signed a special agreement on education, has become an important player in this field. The agreement signed in November 2009 envisioned training about 1,000 students from Afghanistan over the course of ten years, under special scholarships fully funded by the government of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan–Afghanistan cooperation in educating a new generation of cadres capable of dealing with governance and administration may produce meaningful results. These two countries have an almost 40-year-long history of cooperation in education, and share some similarities in culture and administrative and organizational systems. Kazakhstan can share with Afghanistan its achievements and know-how in electronic government, as over the last five or six years, it has introduced and drastically improved the quality of e-government services in the country. These efforts were reflected in the UN E-government Survey where Kazakhstan ranked 38th out of 190 countries in the E-government development index and second in the E-participation index in 2012.
The realities of building a stable state administrative system in the current political and security environment in Afghanistan require innovative and creative approaches. Building the institutions of the modern state and complex systems of governance is not an easy task in any developing country environment. It is even more challenging in a post-war environment. The process of utilizing international assistance in building viable governance systems – including rebuilding old universities and building new training and retraining institutions around the country as well as setting up e-governance facilities – has been quite hectic.
Yet the government of Afghanistan has managed to achieve some formidable improvements. According to the latest UN E-government Survey (2012), Afghanistan is indexed as holding the 184th position in the world (out of 190), ahead of only a very few of the least developed countries. However, in the “online service index and its components” it holds the 147th position (just behind neighboring Tajikistan, but ahead of Syria, Nigeria and Turkmenistan). This index also clearly points out the area where improvement is vital – capacity building among government officials at all levels – as Afghanistan is in the 183rd place in the Survey’s “human capital index.”
One area in which Afghanistan’s government has shown significant improvement over the last few years is building a better environment for private businesses and foreign investors. According to the World Bank Doing Business ranking (2012), Afghanistan was in 160th place out of 183, just behind Ukraine, Senegal and Mauritania, but ahead of Cameroon, Iraq and neighboring Uzbekistan. However, it was in 63rd position in the paying taxes indicators, well ahead of Tajikistan, Russia and Ukraine. Afghanistan took the impressive 30th place in starting a business, ahead of neighboring Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – and of Russia.
IMPLICATIONS: Indeed, the stability and development of Afghanistan in the 21st century fully depends on the quality of its civil service sector. Building a workable public administration and effective governance is quite a challenge in a country with a literacy rate just above 60 percent and an urban population between 23 and 30 percent. Public administration officials should be capable of working on the challenging task of delivering the array of state services required in this vast country: providing educational services, collecting taxes, maintaining infrastructure, and enforcing law and order. The quality of those deliverables will define the stability of government and sustainable development in Afghanistan in coming decades.
The civil service in Afghanistan includes more than 200,000 people working at various levels of government. The quality of those government officials should be in the center of attention not only in the context of sectors, but also in the geographic context, as the quality of human resources varies significantly from province to province. There are highly trained government officials who received education and training in the best educational institutions inside and outside the country, and there are a number of public administration officials who manage to handle very complex national financial institutions, the national currency, rebuilding education, etc.
On the other hand, the public administration unfortunately faces severe shortages of personnel capable of meeting the everyday challenges of running the state institutions. Human capacity building is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, especially at the local level. In this regard, e-government could be an effective tool to deliver administrative services over e-platforms to every corner of Afghanistan in a much more effective way, being both cheaper and faster than other administrative systems.
The future of effective governance in Afghanistan rests on two pillars. First is the training of results-oriented state administration cadres at all levels of government. Basic training mechanisms within and outside the country have been created over the past few years. Now, it is important to establish comprehensive training modules in order to improve the efficiency and practicality of these training and re-training courses through electronic education, including distance learning programs. These educational programs should be delivered to all levels of government and to all corners of the country.
Second is e-government via e-government stations introduced in all major towns and cities. The government of Afghanistan, international donors and the United Nations Project Office on Governance (UNPOG) should increase their efforts to adapt e-government technologies to the realities of the country, including building permanent and mobile e-government service terminals in all provinces.
CONCLUSIONS: New technologies including Internet and social media should be integrated into the e-government system and should be delivered over all kinds of platforms – from the Internet to cell phones. This step will greatly increase public e-participation and would in turn allow a drastic improvement in the efficiency of administrative services, contributing to stability. In this regard the targeted efforts of Kazakhstan and other donors in capacity building will greatly contribute to enhancing effective governance in Afghanistan.
AUTHORS’ BIOS: Rafis Abazov, PhD, is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University. He also teaches at SIPA, Columbia University, NY. He is author of The Formation of Post-Soviet International Politics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (1999), The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and The Role of Think Tanks in the Policy-Making Process in Kazakhstan (2011). He has been awarded an IREX 2010–2011 EPS fellowship (Title VIII program) for research on public policy reforms in Kazakhstan. Dr. Alexei Tikhomirov is acting head, United Nations Project Office on Governance, UN DESA, Seoul, Republic of Korea.