The focus on Afghanistan has been on treating the symptoms of the growing instability and not the cause: weak governance by the NUG.

The fall of Kunduz in late September sent shockwaves throughout the international community, the once perceived notion that the Taliban were incapable of threatening major population centers appeared to erode overnight.  Recent gains by insurgents in southern Helmand, the strategic focus of U.S. efforts during the 2010 surge, once again have come into the spotlight as insurgents threaten the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Analysts and pundits have centered much of their attention on the plight of Afghan security forces, their equipment, training, size, and capabilities, as various factors and reasons behind the sudden gains of insurgent elements. Excuses for the erosion of security in Afghanistan have been diagnosed as a lack of air support for Afghan forces or the fast pace of America’s withdrawal from the region, and the ensuing security vacuum. However, these issues are symptoms of a much larger problem, weak governance under the National Unity Government (NUG), brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry last October.

The anniversary of the NUG, October 1, 2015, witnessed the collapse of the first provincial capital by the Taliban since the U.S.  invasion in 2001, a message designed to embarrass and bolster public support against the central government.

Since coming to office,  Ashraf Ghani has dedicated much of his Administration’s time to the eradication of corruption, with little attention paid to the delicate balance of Afghanistan’s patronage network, something his predecessor Hamid Karzai mastered. As a result, many key offices and ministries have been left vacant, a result of disagreements between President Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah.

The first cabinet nominations, a power agreed to be shared between President Ghani and CEO Abdullah, were delayed until January 2015, far beyond the constitutionally required 30 day window, and not confirmed by the National Assembly until mid-April 2015. The NUG has failed to complete appointments for the 34 provincial governorships, with accusations being levied against President Ghani that he favors Pashtuns, creating resentment amongst other ethnic groups.

The ever important post of Defense Minister still remains vacant with reports that American General John F. Campbell, the commander of the Resolute Support Mission, is seen as the acting de facto Defense Minister in Afghanistan.  The appointment has been held up over ethnic tensions.  Tajiks believe the position should be held by a Tajik, as the positions for Director of Intelligence and Interior Minister went to Pashtuns, hardening Pashtun control over the security apparatus of the state.

With Obama’s announcement last month that 9,800 troops would remain in Afghanistan through much of 2016, the focus has been on treating the symptoms of the growing instability and not the cause: weak governance by the NUG.