Afghanistan’s Shaking Politics

(Abu Hassan, UAE)

Waheed Ashraf & Nabeel Hussain

Afghanistan is in state of war from more than three decades and the country desires for an ultimate peace and stability. Since the Russian invasion, Afghanistan is lacking a sustained democratic government. The United States, after its invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, brought a puppet government of Hamid Karzai (December 2001- September 2014).

Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic nation with 38% Pashtuns, 25% Tajiks, 8% Uzbeks and 19% Hazaras, while the remaining 10% are other minor groups. According to the Ministry of Justice Afghanistan, total numbers of political parties in Afghanistan are 67, while the other are religious groups and Taliban. Major political parties in Afghanistan are Afghanistan Motahid Millat Gowand, Hizbut-Tahrir, Hezb-e Islami, Jamiat-e-Islami and Afghan Mellat. The political parties mostly have Islamic charter, although some have their tilt towards secular and socialist groups.

In 2014, the US installed National Unity Government (NUG) of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah which led this brokered leadership to the point where Dr Abdullah publicly accused Ghani in August 2016 of acting unilaterally and refusing to meet him regularly. When the ANU government was formed, Ghani and Abdullah agreed to share the role of appointing a cabinet and tried to balance competence and factional interests. It was decided that NUG should fulfill that agreement whichpledges to hold a constitutional Loya Jirga to formalize the CEO’s position as a “Prime Minister” within two years; such an assembly cannot be constituted without elections that allows setting up district councils. However, their differences over appointments caused the first cabinet nominations to be delayed well beyond constitutionally required 30 days period.

Ethnic fault lines are cause of major differences within the ANU government. Ethnic divisions created by Ghani and Abdullah, former being Pashtun and latter a Tajik, has created rift in the ANU government and instability in Afghanistan. According to data, collected by a diplomatic mission on ethnic identities of appointments of the NUG cabinet and provincial governorships, 14 of 23 were appointed by Abdullah who were Tajiks, 5 Hazaras, and only 3 Pashtuns or Uzbeks. Ghani appointed 40 members, 29 were Pashtuns, 5 Uzbeks, 5 Tajiks and Hazaras. A data set that compared 150 appointments found that over ethnic grounds President’s team favoured Pashtuns whereas Abdullah Abdullah supported Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. This division also had a spillover effect on the appointment of certain Ministers in the cabinet. The appointment of Defence Minister has long eluded consensus. The chief of staff Afghanistan National Army (ANA), Sher Mohammad Karimi, was the original nominee, but he was voted down in large part of Tajik parliamentarians as they argued that Pashtuns were striving to dominate appointments into the security institutions.

Ghani’s inner circle is exclusively Pashtun which serves as an attempt by Ghani to consolidate the power of Pashtuns and isolate other groups’ moves that could further weaken the government as ordinary Afghans lose hope in Ghani, and could play into the hands of ethno-nationalist elements of other groups. Dividing along ethnic lines is something Afghanistan cannot afford right now. The NUG and especially Ghani — has so far failed to gain the trust of other groups therefore creating a vacuum for other pressure groups to intrude in and take stage. The major consequence is ANU peace deal with Gulbadin Hikmatyar. Peace deal with Hezb-e-Islami turns out to be a major breakthrough for ANU in the pursuit of securing stability, having a constructive impact on the Taliban insurgency too. Taliban insurgents are threatening to overrun LashkarGah, capital of strategic poppy-growing province, Helmand. In addition to the recent hype of ISIS-K in Afghanistan, rising economic issues and declining foreign aid, continuous patronizing of one ethnic group over others in government appointments is the worst strategy being applied by Ghani that could further hammer down peace in Afghanistan. Such ethnic division would polarize the country on ethnic lines, feeding into longstanding historical mistrusts, and further delegitimizing the national government.

The ANU government remained under intense pressure and criticism over such ethnic divide and ill security situation. After 31 May blast on diplomatic enclave near German embassy, Jamat-e-Islami held a protest and demanded that ANU government leaders should resign, because it lacks capability to provide security. The protest resulted in killing of 7 innocent civilians by Afghan National Army. It’s important to ascribe that not only external factors are responsible for instability in Afghanistan, but internal political in-dispensationis responsible for this as well.

The parties which have been formed since 2001 represent the three traditional political currents of Afghan politics; Islamism, Socialism and the ethnic nationalism followed by new theme of democracy. Different parties have their base of support in different regions such as, in North: Jamat-e-Islami, Wahdat Mardum, Harakat, Jombesh, Kangara, and Hezb-e-Islami in South: Hezb-e-Islami and Afghan Millat. In East: Dawat-e-Islami, Hezb-e-Islami and Afghan Millat in West: Afghan Millat, Jamiat, Wahdat Mardum and Dawat-e-Islami and in centre: Wahdat Mardum, Harakat andWahdat Islami are influential.

India’s approach in Afghanistan which centered on developmental projects and aid now seems changing by revisiting its Afghanistan policy, attuned to the changing dynamics, likely by opening official channels with the Taliban. New Delhi and Kabul will operationalize their first air-freight corridor in coming days opening new routes to trade and other economic ventures. India has stepped up security assistance in recent years, including military equipment, to bolster the Afghan security forces against the Taliban.

Russia’s initiative to open lines of communications to the Taliban and a dialogue process along with China and Pakistan could not achieve much. The regional power equation requires a transformation, ably supported by China who brought in the Russians onto the same side. While the ISIS-K has made its appearance in the eastern Afghan province of Nangrahar, its influence and ability to launch terrorist strikes has been exaggerated to achieve this. American missteps and the Iranian tendency to adventurism meant that over the past decade, Iran and the Taliban have become close tactical allies leaving severe spillover effect on peace in country. At this point US must get serious about a political settlement in Afghanistan that involves all elements of Afghan society, including the Taliban. The long held American policy of security fixation and the military means required to address it has proved out to to unfruitful and counterproductive.

Conclusively roots of Afghanistan's problems require a political surge in support of ANU govt. The security deadlock is a symptom of three inter-related political impasses: in Kabul within the Afghan government, regionally with Afghanistan's neighbors, and ultimately between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. Regional approaches have been discounted and focused on stabilizing Afghanistan from within, which cannot possibly work. In Afghanistan, the Trump Administration encounters a case where political approaches will prove decisive in the long run. As in all conflicts, military tools are only a means to a political end. Focus needs to be on what matters most: breaking the political stalemate and addressing the prerequisite for a political surge. (ENDS)

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