An Agenda for a National Compact for Stable Change

Dr. Ashraf Ghani

We, the people of Afghanistan, are entering a period of unprecedented risks and opportunities. Do we give into our fears that 2014 will be the repetition of 1992 or do we seize the opportunity to overcome our inherited divisions by altering what is in us? A national team offering a national program for building a national consensus on internal reforms and external strategic partnerships can lead Afghanistan to a democratic, stable and prosperous future.

To be credible, the process of formation of the team and the articulation of the program must be firmly rooted in an understanding of the context, developing a balance sheet of the past decade and identifying key categories of stakeholders. Building national consensus requires us to alter ourselves sufficiently to confront our common pains and resolve to develop solutions to our major challenges. Three challenges stand out in this regard. First, we have to articulate a compelling vision of our unity and resolve to overcome the past as we enter the decade of transformation, translated into a feasible program of action to make the vision credible. Second, we have to forge an agreement on a constitutional, democratic, and orderly transfer of power from President Karzai to his successor. To make democracy the enduring framework for governing ourselves, we must deepen and broaden public participation, turning the state into an effective instrument for realizing the citizens’ aspirations. Third, as foreign and domestic policies have become deeply interwoven, we need to formulate a balanced foreign policy that addresses the intersecting circles of international relations that envelop our country.

The goal of this paper is to stimulate a national discussion, with the objective of reaching consensus on the process of our alteration and of securing the future of our homeland. It first analyzes the context in which we must act, then briefly discusses each of the three critical tasks, and concludes with suggested next steps. A product of a group dialogue, the paper will be refined by further discussion.

At the outset, however, we must be clear on our understanding of consensus building. Five key steps are involved in the process of building shared sentiment and thought and a general agreement on shaping and owning the future. First, we must ascertain our common bonds and the key issues on which we agree and disagree. Second, we must identify interest groups, perceptions of their interests, and the compatibility and sustainability of their interests in a changing context. Third, we must construct a cost-benefit analysis of compromise and conflict. Fourth, we must seek a realistic agreement on the key legitimate institutions for governing ourselves. It is through definition of these institutions that we will be able to establish the criteria for identification and dealing with spoilers. Fifth, while we begin by acknowledging the diversity of interests, aspirations, and values that exist among us today, our focus will be on emphasizing the ties that bind us, foremost among which are our Islamic faith and our place as a nation forged in the crucible of history.

Producing a national consensus for the up-coming decade of transformation, which extends forward from 2014 into 2024, requires intense work. The process entails facing issues such as the legitimate exercise of authority, defining our national interests and sharing the responsibility of acting on them, the legitimate expression and reconciliation of individual and group interests, and the articulation of principles to translation of aspirations into visible results for the citizens. The complexity of these challenges requires us to focus our minds on finding enduring solutions. Surrendering to our fears will condemn both the living and the future generations to a vicious circle of conflict, insecurity, and poverty. By contrast, our success in altering ourselves will launch a virtuous trajectory for creating a just and stable order devoted to ensuring that we live in dignity, peace, security, and prosperity.