Afghanistan is an Islamic republic. Citizens elected Hamid Karzai president in October 2004 in the country's first presidential election under its January 2004 constitution. Three and one-half years after the first presidential election and more than two years after the establishment of the parliament, executive, legislative, and judicial institutions are still fragile. The political system is strained by the process of organizing the presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections in 2009 and 2010; the pressure for the government to address the unmet needs of the population; the ethnic dynamics that shape the political debate; and an ongoing insurgency. While the government deepened its authority in provincial centers, the Taliban or factions operating outside government authority controlled some areas. A new Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG) is contributing to stronger links between the government and the people. Enhanced police training and investment in the legal system have resulted in improved performance. The country's human rights record remains poor due to the insurgency, weak governmental and traditional institutions, and corruption. Human rights problems include extrajudicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; official impunity; prolonged pretrial detention; increased restrictions on freedom of press; restrictions on freedoms of religion, movement, and association; violence and societal discrimination against women, religious converts, and minorities; trafficking in persons; abuse of worker rights; and child labor.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan is guided by the principle that a functioning, responsive, and sustainable democratic system that provides basic services, applies justice fairly, and respects the human rights of its citizens is essential for the government to maintain the support of the people. The United States maintains a continuing dialogue with local civil society and indigenous groups to help ensure that initiatives will have resonance with citizens. Priorities include good governance; democratic elections; strengthened rule of law; media freedom; and protection of the rights of all persons, including women and children.
High-level U.S. officials use meetings with government counterparts and public events to underscore the importance of democratic values, good governance, and human rights. The ambassador emphasizes these themes in speeches and private meetings, including during visits with officials and local groups in the provinces. In January 2008 the secretary of state visited the country and delivered public and private messages on governance, human rights, security, and counternarcotics. Other senior U.S. officials also highlight U.S. support for elections; good governance; and protection of basic freedoms, including media freedom.
U.S. assistance priorities include helping the government strengthen democratic institutions, improve accountability, and increase capacity throughout the country. Capacity-building programs focus on ministries that address the education, health, and security needs of the population, as well as the civil service commission and parliament. Parliamentary programs include support for emerging political groups that speak for underrepresented segments of the population, including women; training and technical support for parliamentary administration, committees, and budget review; and development of a parliamentary training institute. The United States supports the efforts of the IDLG to improve outreach to local groups and populations and create greater accountability. Provincial reconstruction teams play a critical role in this effort through mentoring and resources to support local governance. A current International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for provincial governors focuses on constituency outreach. Other IVLPs concentrate on local government; community approaches to social issues, NGOs, and civic activism; and human rights activism and awareness. In 2002 the U.S. government funded the establishment of the constitutionally mandated Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and continues to support its activities.
The U.S. government is a primary supporter of a national rule of law program designed to strengthen the legal system to meet international human rights standards. Assistance includes training and equipping judges, attorneys, administrators, and corrections personnel to build the sector's limited capacity. The United States has trained more than 650 sitting judges, rehabilitated judicial facilities, supported the Supreme Court in establishing its own judicial education and training committee, and continued legislative drafting training for Ministry of Justice employees. The United States also created the first online database of the country's laws, as well as a simplified case file and tracking system that will be established in all courts by the end of 2008. The United States helped educate the public about the legal system by distributing approximately 72,000 sets of comic books on legal rights. Other U.S. programs include training police on the protection of human rights and community-based policing, with an emphasis on women's and children's rights, and training more than 1,200 corrections officers on human rights. The U.S. government worked with other donors to persuade the government to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2007. The U.S. government will assist the parliament in meeting the UNCAC requirements and adopting other anticorruption measures.
U.S. programs promote independent press and electronic media by facilitating the development of a network of independent community-based radio stations and investing in training and business plan development to ensure the sustainability of independent media organizations. The U.S. government assisted in creating 32 independent community-based radio stations, nine of which are now generating over half of their own revenue. In 2007 journalists traveled to the United States for an IVLP focused on the role of professional print and broadcast media in a democratic society. The U.S. government consulted with parliament and media experts regarding the development of the country's draft mass media law, which is currently under review by parliament. In cases where media freedoms were threatened, the ambassador and other U.S. officials made public and private interventions to underscore the importance of media freedom in a democratic society. The U.S. government also supports the production of an original radio series that addresses principles of respect, human rights, and democracy as they relate to rights within Islam.
The U.S. government supports the international community's effort to assist the government in preparing for the upcoming presidential, parliamentary, and provincial council elections, which are scheduled to take place in 2009 and 2010. In preparation for the elections, the United States identified a priority of increasing the capacity of the Independent Election Commission, which will administer the first Afghan-run elections since 1969. The commission is responsible for working with civil society and other stakeholders on voter registration and education, as well implementing the elections. The United States also provided election law advisors to assist the government as it drafts the new law.
The United States has integrated women's issues into virtually all of its programs, with the goal of increasing women's political participation, education, economic opportunities, and role in civil society. The United States continues to provide support to the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the provincial departments of women's affairs to facilitate the role of the ministry as an effective advocate for women. The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council is a public-private partnership designed to mobilize private sector resources to empower Afghan women. The U.S. government organized participation in an IVLP program on women as political and social leaders. In 2007 U.S. assistance ensured the participation of Afghan girls in the World Cup Soccer Youth Delegation and arranged for the manager of a successful Afghan women's literacy program to address the Global Conference on Literacy in New York.
U.S. officials work with civil society organizations to promote religious tolerance, antitrafficking efforts, and refugee services. In 2006 several influential clerics and provincial religious scholars participated in an IVLP examining the role of religious leaders in a democracy, which enabled them to see first-hand the expression of faith in a multi-denominational society, observe the practice of Islam in the United States, and participate in interfaith dialogues to strengthen mutual understanding. The U.S. government consistently highlighted to the government and civil society concern over human trafficking issues. The United States assisted the government in developing a national antitrafficking action plan to combat human trafficking in both the short and long-term to address the problem and encouraged proposals for U.S.-funded initiatives. The United States also provided grants to NGOs to facilitate the provision of shelter, services, education, health care, and livelihood opportunities to more than 365,000 refugees who returned to the country in 2007 from Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. The United States provided assistance to establish a legal and regulatory framework for NGOs in addition to a small grants program that provides direct support to NGOs.