Afghanistan’s Presidential Decree of July 21 has been billed as an “anti-corruption decree,” setting forth the Afghan government’s concrete plans for fighting corruption. But even a cursory reading reveals the decree is about far more than just anti-corruption. In fact, it appears to be a detailed short-term work program for 32 government ministries and agencies, also including suggestions for actions by the National Assembly and the Supreme Court.

August 16, 2012

Afghanistan’s Presidential Decree of July 21 has been billed as an “anti-corruption decree,” setting forth the Afghan government’s concrete plans for fighting corruption. It follows President Karzai’s speech to the National Assembly on June 21 and the Tokyo international conference on July 8.

But even a cursory reading reveals the decree is about far more than just anti-corruption.  In fact, it appears to be a detailed short-term work program for 32 government ministries and agencies, also including suggestions for actions by the National Assembly and the Supreme Court.

Wading through the long list of action items – over 150 of them – it is not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, but here are a few examples of initiatives that may be important:

  • The Supreme Court, in the course of six months, should complete and finalize all dossiers currently in process, especially those related to corruption, land usurpation and serial killings.
  • Within six months, private institutions' and government officials’ suspicious wealth should be assessed and a report sent to the president every two months.
  • An organized and transparent election platform should be prepared that guarantees people's participation, and a schedule for presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections within three months must be created. The electoral law should be completed and sent to Cabinet for approval within two months.
  • Complete the work on the Kabul Bank matter assigned to the Kabul Bank Audit Delegation, whose report should be presented to the President within one month.
  • Publish all contracts, with all details not just summaries, online and through other media outlets.
  • Publicize the list of individuals and companies who engage in unauthorized and illegal mining extraction within two months.
  • Finalize a specific plan to provide for transparency regarding mining contracts in the country and present it to the Cabinet within three months.

This list provides an indication of the breadth and depth of the measures the decree calls for. There are major issues and problems, however. First, the number of actions is very large, and they are not prioritized at all between those that are most critical and others which may be less essential. Ironically, whereas the Tokyo Declaration was relatively disciplined in not including too many areas or benchmarks (20-plus benchmarks for the government in five areas), the decree takes a “Christmas tree” approach including the full gamut of government agencies and seemingly almost every conceivable action item. It would have been better to focus on no more than two or three key actions for each ministry and agency, and also to leave out of the decree those ministries or agencies whose work is less critical for implementing Afghanistan’s transition objectives. 

Second, the decree is overly ambitious. Not only are there a huge number of benchmarks, but also there are extremely tight deadlines for many of them—as little as one month in some cases and most in the three to six-months range. Some of the actions called for are difficult, in some cases representing a backlog from past years, and it seems very doubtful whether such issues could be effectively addressed within a few months.  And not least, the sheer number of documents and amount of paperwork requested is daunting. So the question naturally arises as to whether the decree might have been set up to fail.   

Third, many, if not most, of the actions are process-oriented rather than action-oriented, failing to specify concrete results. The words “prepare a plan for” or “submit a report on” are littered throughout the decree. Indeed, it is possible that many of the benchmarks in the decree could be met, but without achieving intended results or significantly improving Afghanistan’s situation.

Fourth, the quality of actions and results is not specified, let alone guaranteed. Only a careful review would be able to ascertain quality. A mechanical assessment focused on “checking the boxes” (i.e. just determining whether something was done) would be insufficient. 

Fifth, the decree sometimes makes general exhortations which may not mean much in practice and will be hard to monitor. Examples include the prohibition against unlawfully imprisoning, arresting, or placing anyone under investigation, the prohibition against entering into contracts with people in high government positions or their associates, and exhorting high-ranking officials to separate themselves from supporting criminals, and to refrain from hiring based on intermediary recommendations.

And finally, the decree is silent about whether there will be any sanctions for failing to get any of this done. On the contrary, the decree notes that it should not interfere with the daily work of agencies and ministries.

So there is both more and less than meets the eye to this decree. It is about far more than anti-corruption, and even if a select minority of the most important actions is wholeheartedly implemented, a great deal would be accomplished. On the other hand, the decree is overly ambitious, and by its very breadth and failure to prioritize what items are most important, it risks losing focus. Many of the actions are process-oriented rather than results-oriented, and the sheer amount of documentation and reporting required may undermine the effort by diverting limited government capacity away from substantive actions. A best-case outcome might be if a few of the most important and essential provisions (such as those related to elections and anti-corruption actions) are genuinely implemented in a way that makes a real difference in these crucial areas. Negative outcomes could range from the decree soon becoming ignored and irrelevant—which would become apparent within a few months, to an inundation of documents as ordered in the decree but which don’t significantly improve Afghanistan’s transition trajectory or prospects.

Related Publications

Even After Withdrawal, U.S. Retains Leverage Over Taliban

Even After Withdrawal, U.S. Retains Leverage Over Taliban

Thursday, April 29, 2021

By: Karen Decker

President Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops would withdraw by September 11 has many Afghans and observers warning of a quick collapse of the Afghan state and a new phase in the country’s civil war. Without minimizing the challenges ahead, the United States should avoid any self-fulfilling prophecy of imminent collapse by insisting that the only future for Afghanistan is one that advances the gains of the past 20 years. As troops begin to depart, it is an opportune time to examine three forms of leverage the United States has to promote a political settlement.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Democracy Is the Afghan Government’s Best Defense Against the Taliban

Democracy Is the Afghan Government’s Best Defense Against the Taliban

Thursday, April 22, 2021

By: Scott Worden; Belquis Ahmadi

The Biden administration’s announcement last week that U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by September 11 came as a blow to the current peace talks and many Afghan citizens who appreciate the rights and freedoms that international forces have helped to defend against the Taliban. Still, President Biden made clear that the United States continues to support the Afghan government and democratic system, and, to that end, the administration has indicated it would request $300 million from Congress in additional civilian aid. But Biden explicitly de-linked U.S. troops from that equation — stating that they would not be “a bargaining chip between warring parties.”

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes; Gender; Democracy & Governance

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: End to an Endless War?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Scott Worden; Johnny Walsh; Belquis Ahmadi; Ambassador Richard Olson

President Joe Biden formally announced on Wednesday that the United States will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks that led to the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban. The decision comes a month after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looked to jump-start the moribund intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar with a sweeping set of proposals. Although the withdrawal would mean an end to America’s longest war, the implications for Afghanistan’s hard-won progress are immense and many fear the possibility of a rejuvenated civil war after U.S. troops leave.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

The Current Situation in Afghanistan

The Current Situation in Afghanistan

Thursday, March 25, 2021

In February 2020 the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement that paved the way for the first direct talks between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan republic since 2001. This nascent peace process has sparked hope for a political settlement to the four-decade-long conflict, although slow progress and increasing levels of violence threaten to derail the process before it gains momentum.

Type: Fact Sheet

View All Publications