Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitution created a highly centralized government with a strong presidency. This model was endorsed by the international community on the grounds that Afghanistan needed a strong leader and that the previous governments in Afghanistan had employed such structures. Five years on, it is apparent that the Kabul government has been unable to bring stability to the country. While most critics have focused on failures of leadership and endemic corruption as root causes, too little attention has been paid to the structure of government itself. It may well be that a highly centralized government, the goal of the Kabul political elite for more than a century, was in fact always a dubious proposition for a country with so many distinct regions and ethnic groups.
In late June 2009, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue and the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) convened leading experts from Afghanistan, Europe, Turkey, and the United States in Istanbul for a three-day conference, entitled “Fundamentals of Governance in Afghanistan,” to explore governance, widely seen as central to Afghanistan’s progress. The conference focused on three crucial areas: central government capacity; the rule of law; and subnational governance.