Category Archives: Parliament

Budget Rejection

The parliament has rejected proposed budget for 1391 for the second time on Monday. It was first rejected on March 18 asking the Finance Ministry for some amendments. The quorum was 126 MPs, out of whom 123 voted against the proposed budget, while only 3 approved of it. MPs were mostly critical of the bailout package for Kabul Bank and uneven allocations of development funds for provinces against the constitutional term of equal and balanced development for all parts of the country.

Following are some major points of contention mentioned in the official disapproval letter of Wolesi Jirga to Finance Ministry:

  • Bailout package for Kabul Bank is illegal and cannot be endorsed
  • The “balanced development” principle is violated in provincial budgets distribution.
  • More appropriate amount of budget should be allocated for Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education.

Last year when Finance Minister Zakhilwal was under fire from MPs about the $73million bailout package for Kabul Bank, he had promised to recompense the payment, but not only the government has taken no action against all those who were responsible for the corruption that led to collapse of Kabul Bank, rather the Finance Ministry has once again come up with an unbelievably ridiculous bailout package of $80million this year. No serious progress has been made in the investigation and trial of Kabul Bank shareholders. It was their irregularities and corruption that almost took the banking system down in the country.  Now why should the taxpayers’ money go to recover the amount gone to luxurious villas of Dubai? The bigwigs in the Government who were shareholders of Kabul Bank have not paid their loans back. The influential ones were not even charged for an investigation and trial.

The huge amount allocated for the Supreme Court and Attorney General’s office is also criticized by MPs. Another major point of contention is the budget for Presidential Palace, particularly the allocation for security. The amount for security guards of the Palace is more than the budget for parliament! Its more than the amount of budget allocated for many ministries. The amount for budget of Presidential security and Palace administrative expenses is about $80 million, while for the entire Ministry of Commerce and Trade its $14million and Ministry of Women Affairs $4million.So more than $15million of the Palace budget is allocated for Presidential Protection Service, which alone surpasses the amount for many ministries combined.

Though the Finance Ministry after first rejection of the budget by parliament amended with addition of $2 million for the Ministry of Higher Education, $2 million for Health Ministry and $5 million for the road construction projects in Herat that MPs had asked for, but other major changes requested about the Kabul Bank bailout package and “balanced development” for provinces have been ignored.

MPs should have a special sessions on the Palace budget and discuss legislative introductions. The amount for Presidential Office constitute more than one percent of our all national budget. President Karzai is the only President in the world who has more than 100 advisors. According to an investigative report by Afghan journalist Malyar Sadiq Azad of 1TV, President Karzai has 110 advisers, most of whom rarely see him. Each of them get $5000 monthly salary with luxurious benefits. They enjoy a vehicle, two body guards, three service personnel and other benefits. Some of them have been allotted luxurious villas in Sherpur, while others have offices in Shashdarak paying 12000 USD rent monthly. More than $4million is allocated for salaries of the army of Karzai’s advisers. Only 10 of these advisors meet the President regularly and are asked for actual advice on affairs of the Government, while the remaining 100 are fill-in-the-blanks in Karzai’s patronage politics of networking to buy power brokers and regional influential figures and a waste of the national budget.

The objection on imbalanced development budget allocated for provinces is not new. For the last several years, budget gets rejected for this reason. The parliament should take a more practical step by bringing a no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Zakhilwal.

Our rulers have no regard for democratic institutions. The Presidential Palace does not give a damn about resolutions of the parliament. It again proves that the nature of centrality of power to one person in our administrative system is the root cause of an incapable government that has failed the system.

The Government is violating the Constitution by ignoring some clauses on balanced development. Some provinces have been receiving all the attention and mega-million projects in the last decade, but the poorest parts of the country have been totally ignored.

The parliament is doing what it should do. If the Government had taken the parliament serious, the budget draft proposal should not have been rejected for second time. But in a country like Afghanistan, the Government will not shut down even if the budget approval takes months as it was the case last year. The Government must respect the representatives of masses and Constitution, and not make a mockery of the system.

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The Kingdom of Kabul

Cartoon from Daily Afghanistan by Alizada.

Op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Jan 24

While inaugurating the new session of National Assembly after its winter break, President Karzai spoke in reference to the meeting of some Afghan politicians and US congressmen in Berlin. Leaders of National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Muhammad Muhaqiq, Rashid Dostum and former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh met a bipartisan group of US congressmen in a session organized by Aspen Institute in Berlin recently. They released a joint statement calling for decentralization of power and parliamentary system in Afghanistan.

President took the opportunity at parliament’s inauguration, the house of peoples’ representatives, to strongly condemn the increasing calls for reforms. He used very strange language, with the cover of his usual punching bag when talking to public—the foreigners.   He said, “Afghanistan is not the political laboratory of foreigners to test new systems”. And went on saying he will defend the current system with his life. Inappropriate as it is in public, such a language shows the violent mindset of our political elite in the new era of a democratic Afghanistan, where unfortunately the traditional dictatorial attitude still prevails. It will take us long to reach to a normal political arena of harmony where debate and dialogue would push the cycle of our political evolution, not violent thinking.

The entire current setup in Afghanistan is running by the grace of foreign support. When President Karzai was called on his Thuraya satellite phone ten years ago to tell that he has been chosen as the leader of interim Afghan authority, to all expenses of the Government until very this moment and for years to come, all has been possible only because of foreign support. Absolute domestic power has made President Karzai a victim of selective amnesia and ingratitude towards the international community. His criticisms of foreigners are always selective, when and where it fits his political interests.  Much of the anti-foreigner sentiments among ordinary Afghans other than sympathizers of Taliban are as a result of President Karzai’s calculated accusations all the time.

By using the reference of unpopular tag of “foreign intervention”, President Karzai wants to distort public opinion about the calls of decentralization of power before there is a real mass mobilization campaign on ground by the opposition factions. Aside from the fact that Western countries involved in Afghanistan have sacrificed blood and money for the last decade supporting the Afghan Government, Karzai’s tricks of playing with public sentiments for personal political agendas making foreigners a punching-bag is no good for our own fragile society and the whole current setup.

Apparently it is portrayed as if the hellfire erupted after the Berlin meeting of Afghan politicians and some US congressmen.  But these demands are as old the current setup. There were deep disagreements about Afghanistan’s future political system among Afghan participants in the Bonn process of December 2001. And since then, it has been discussed. Some prominent presidential candidates in the last two elections had manifestos promising federal and parliamentary systems. Neither National Front leaders are calling for decentralization of power and constitutional reforms for the first time, nor are they the only ones with such agenda. NF leader Ahmad Zia Massoud was calling for parliamentary system even when he was Vice President. Once he openly said in a public gathering that Vice President has no power. It is a symbolic role. Very simple notifications of office of vice presidents have to go through the office of President Karzai’s Chief of Staff and approved.

National Coalition, an important opposition faction led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former rival of President Karzai in election, calls for electoral, constitutional reforms and parliamentary system in their manifesto. Similarly, another important faction of opposition Right and Justice Party of intellectuals and former leftists also demands electoral reforms.

Are they all acting on behalf and pursuing agenda of “foreigners”?

President Karzai’s reaction saying “I will defend the current system with my life” is not only our example of what English historian John Dalberg-Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, since we have that honor consecutively for the last several years as second most corrupt country in the world, but also, absolute power makes blind and self-destructive.

Our presidency enjoys absolute power. He controls appointment of governors, district chiefs, mayors, judges from supreme court to the lowest district level,  provincial and district police chiefs, one third of Senate, members of the Election Commission and even members of the ‘Independent’ Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan. The powers of parliament other than legislation are nonexistent in practice.

There is no respect for rule of law and constitution even in the current system. The list of violations of constitution just in last two years is long. In the parliament inauguration speech, President told MPs that cabinet nominees to replace acting-ministers will be sent for approval soon. It has been almost two years that six ministries are being run by acting-ministers. According to law, an acting minister cannot run office for more than a month, and a nominee rejected from parliament cannot serve as acting. The acting-ministers have been rejected thrice. In the Kingdom of Karzai, one could go to Supreme Court against such violation of law and mockery of the system, but the Chief Justice of Supreme Court himself is on acting-service, in violation of constitution, as his tenure has ended. This system has been made a mess undermining the very essence of the entire process of Afghanistan’s democratic journey. The over-centralized concentration of administrative powers has made the current setup more like a kingdom. Constitutional reform is inevitable.

But President Karzai with his remarks to defend the current system with his life is actually threatening the opposition parties calling for constitutional reforms. This is the self-destructive direction of absolute power when one thinks he is the king of jungle and can roar against political realities

The year 2012 is going to mark the start of a movement towards new political realities in Afghanistan. The increasing calls for reforms are reacted against with threats, which will result in opposition factions getting a united stance on their mutual demands, such as electoral reforms and rally mass mobilization and generate political awareness and activism to a new level among ordinary Afghans.

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Time to Move Ahead

My editorial on Outlook, August 22, 2011

Finally the Independent Election Commission announced its decision to unseat nine MP’s. In a press conference on Sunday, IEC Chief Fazal Ahmad Manawi revealed names of the MP’s to be unseated and their replacements. This was the deal made a day before President Karzai issued the decree authorizing the IEC to finalize the deadlock and crisis on parliamentary elections. Manawi had to surrender, though not to all the demands of President Karzai, and change the results he had said it will be a “dream and impossible” in his defiant interviews since December, when the pity Special Tribunal was set up to alter results.

Those 62 candidates who were declared winners by President Karzai’s Special Tribunal have said they will not accept the decision unless all of them are reinstated. The most outspoken of them, Daud Sultanzoy, was saying in a press conference on Friday that even if one of the 62 MP’s remain, they will not accept the decision. Very ridiculously and sadly, he was saying the decision of Special Tribunal is a Sharia law, and it should be implemented. Seeing his Sharia statements about this crisis and the fact that he is not among the new faces to replace the unseated MP’s, it is obvious he will go on a rant of Jihad against the IEC in coming days.

On the other hand, the sitting MP’s have said Fazal Manawi with changing the election results is making his way to jail. They were saying no change will be accepted. However, there has not been very unexpected reaction from both sides after Manawi announced the changes on Sunday.

The replacement of MP’s is not a decision which could change the majority of Karzai-critic parliament. The new faces to come in the parliament are no bigwigs or warlords, nor the unseated MP’s are prominent opposition figures.

There might be some outcry from both sides in coming days, but this decision will mark the end of a deadlock and crisis caused and provoked by the Government. Whatever reasons, deal or President Karzai’s manipulation, this decision must end the crisis and everyone should move ahead. Already we have become a joke to the world with this ridiculous manipulation.

However, what President Karzai should have learned from this crisis, is the fact that not always all his attempts of manipulation to turn the affairs in his favor work. He gained nothing, but a rival parliament after months of attempts to alter the election results. Though he was successful to replace nine MP’s after several tactics during months of pressure on IEC, but still he could not change what exactly he wanted. Now he faces a parliament that will be more reactionary to President Karzai and his cabinet.

The judiciary got serious damage to it’s not-so-good reputation after the way it was used by President Karzai. The office of Attorney General is now known as a pressure-tool for the political battles of the Palace. The latest episode is allegations of drug trafficking against MP Zahir Qadir.

Waiting for years, the people know it is a political pressure by the Government after the fiery speeches of Zahir Qadir exposing the manipulation tactics in this crisis. The first thing parliament after this replacement has to do is to impeach the Attorney General and bring changes in the legislation about the extraordinary powers granted to the office of Attorney General.

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The Crisis Continues…

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 18

The parliamentary crisis with its turns and twists from the day one, has reached to an interesting and important stage where the turning point could either end the year-long political battle among the three pillars of state, or mark the origin of a political calamity that could lead to the unimaginable and irreversible. The protest demonstration of MPs from the Coalition for Support of Law on Tuesday was not what it was expected seeing the fiery speeches of its leaders. But it does not mean it was the ultimate show of street-power by the protesting MPs and their supporters. In Afghanistan, there is no culture of incessant protest. But the crowds get out of control easily, and turns into a mob, or worse than that. The reason protesters were stopped by MPs before they reach center of the city is also the fear that once the situation gets out of control, the loss can be huge. We have witnessed it.

The Palace played well by releasing two different versions of the Presidential Order about the stalemate. The decision announced are same in both versions, however the one released with the signature of President Karzai is more like a Sharia statement from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It makes the matter more complex by defining ominous ‘judicial’ authorities of the President. The media version of that Presidential Order was released by the office of Presidential Spokesman. Seeing the unclear wording of the Presidential Order, a deal was imminent.

You needed a constitutional lawyer to translate that order. TVs in Kabul were reporting totally different from each other, some saying the Special Tribunal has been dissolved and the Election Commission assigned to finalize the election dispute, while others were reporting that the President has asked the Election Commission to implement decision of the Special Tribunal. Such was the ambiguity of the statement that both sides of the conflict, MPs in parliament and the ‘protesting candidates’ claimed victory. It was intentional to cause the confusion, keep space for a deal, and depict the ‘order’ in way that seemed like President Karzai has made a very rational decision about all this crisis by assigning IEC to resolve the conflict. But in reality, there is already a deal of sort. I would name it the Plan B of Karzai for this crisis.

The Presidential Order had kept the criminal issues of this dispute exceptional while baring all state organs to cease dealing with this except the IEC. Among the list of 62 MPs, 17 of them come into the category of ‘criminal’. And sources say Karzai after intense meetings with leading political figures and Jihadi leaders have ‘found the middle way’ of this crisis, which is removal of 17 MPs, to be replaced by the ‘protesting’ guys. There was another interesting report by the McClatchy newspaper about UNAMA Special Representative Staffen de Mitsura proposing IEC Chief Manawi about removal of 17 MPs—Karzai’s Plan B for this crisis. This report also mentions that Manawi is looking for removal of ‘five or six’ that might include the rumored names I mentioned in the beginning.

The current battle among the government, parliament and judiciary has many dimensions. This can’t be generalized as a battle between the pro-Karzai camp and opposition, with judiciary, the government, attorney general and the Special Tribunal on one side, and majority of MPs, the Election Commission and Complaints Commission on the other. There are cracks within the divide. For instance, on Tuesday a group of MPs formed another coalition called Reformists.

It included all pro-Karzai folks, who condemned the Coalition for Rule of Law in a press conference that day. Insiders say there was a sale of MPs when players from Karzai-camp were busy buying off their loyalties, trying to split the Rule of Law group. There are different rumors about what IEC might announce in its final verdict this week. Some say five MPs might be unseated. The rumored names include Hafeez Mansoor, Sarwar Usmani, Tahir Zaheer and Simeen Barakzai.

The fun is that it does not include Daud Sultanzoy. If it turns out to be the actual decision of IEC, Sultanzoy might declare the verdict ‘Haram’ and issue a ‘Fatwa’ calling IEC an un-Islamic body. These days he has been making statements defining Islamic Sharia. His fans did not know he was an expert on Sharia. While talking to his group of 200 supporters in Kabul the other day, he said,

“the court decision [Special Tribunal] is binding and enforced by Islamic Sharia law. Nobody can defy the injunctions sanctified by the law. If they stand in the way of implementing this decision they will be considered ‘mumtamarid’ [defying Islamic principles]. We all know that what Sharia prescribes for dealing with such people.”

Mr. Sultanzoy has been very critical of the Independent Election Commission. He is an intellectual, no doubt, but the above Sharia statement and his self-centered stance during this entire crisis shows the ‘pro-democracy’ face of our intellectual.

Daud Sultanzoy’s statement is not just a random rant, but as per the script, this crisis has been shaped to end with such episode. President Karzai has motivated judges and prosecutors in different provinces. Meetings were held with statements in favor of President Karzai. Besides that, the Kabul Appeal Court had also condemned the MPs rejecting the Presidential Order, saying they are opposing Sharia. Ulema Council of Afghanistan in a statement has hailed decision of the Special Tribunal. They all are putting indirect pressure on IEC to follow a certain line this week.

As I mentioned above, the Presidential Order twist with two different versions was part of this script. The one released with sign of President Karzai include a long paragraph not included in the version of the Order released by the Office of Presidential Spokesman for media. Below is the translation of that paragraph by AAN;

Given that ruling no. 22 (13/05/1390) of the Civil Affairs and Personal Status Division of the Appeal Court of Kabul province on the disputes arisen from the parliamentary elections of 1389 [2010] determined that the right to be an MP (hagh-e wekalat) in the Wolesi Jirga is a right of political privilege and representation (hagh-e emtiazi-ye siasi-ye eghtezai) and the use of this right, in the face of the current tensions that are running high in the country and in view of the highest national and social interest of the community, country and nation, has been vested within the authority of the person of the president, as the judge who has the authority to inaugurate the judiciary, the Ol-ul-Amar [the Amir whose authority is not given by people but is based on religious principles], and the leader of the national policy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, so that the implementation of whatever decision he deems best serves the interests of the country and the nation and matches the realities of the society, may put an end to the existing confusion.

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Rumors of Emergency Rule and the Parliamentary Crisis

my Daily Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published on August 08

The rumor and news reports of President Karzai thinking to impose emergency rule in the wake of standoff with parliament spread fast among the political circles of Kabul. There were quick reactions, but before it became more of a credible news, sources from the Palace jumped in and denied. It was the International Crisis Group report which predicted that Karzai might announce emergency rule to end the tussle with Parliament. MP from Kabul, the youngest in lower house, Baktash Siawash in a speech in the house said the President could not impose emergency rule without consultation with the parliament. He went too far saying, “If the President imposes an emergency, he will meet the same fate as Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak”.

This statement came on media with reports about former Egyptian President being shown behind bars, with the news of his trial. He added, “The imposition of emergency rule is a fanciful dream of those sitting in the Presidential Palace.” All such rumors are result of the ridiculous drama with parliament. The next morning when I was in taxi, the driver made a humorous comment.

He said, “Karzai says he has not even dreamt of emergency rule, the MP’s have already seen it happening in next few days.” But more funny was a comment from a friend on twitter. She quoted a Palace insider saying, “President Karzai did not even discuss declaring emergency. He might not be aware that he has that option. International experts coined this concept.”

I don’t believe if Karzai did not know about his options of emergency rule authority. There were such speculations in the beginning of all this drama when the crisis on results of parliamentary elections emerged for the first time. However, Karzai is not in a position to declare emergency. As a friend said, “It will be like declaring a war with all opposition.” It’s too early for the President to impose emergency. He will keep that option for 2013, when the second term ends and Karzai will not be eligible for third time as per the constitution.

The current crisis with elected and loser MP’s is producing uglier episodes, latest of which is the wandering rumor about emergency rule. This is getting very ridiculous. It’s more than a year now, the election results still being manipulated. What could we expect from this administration regarding the huge responsibility of transition and coming 3 tough years ahead? The Government itself is creating problems making the crisis deeper.

President Karzai is having intensive meetings with MP’s and former Jihadi leaders to ‘find out’ a solution. Talk of a political deal is getting out of the palace meetings nowadays. In the latest of these meetings on Saturday, Vice President Qasim Faheem, Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, National Assembly Speaker Rauf Ibrahimi, Senate Chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, Attorney General Ishaq Aloko, Chief of High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani and Sibghatullah Mujadedi, Chief Mullah of the Ulema Council Maulvi Qiyamuddin Kashaf, Head of the Constitutional Oversight and Implementation Comission gul Rahman Qazi, Judicial Board Director Nasrullah Stanikzai, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Humayon Aziz and others. Previous meetings were held separately with different groups of the protesting candidates and MP’s who are declared unseated by the Special Tribunal. What I want you to see by listing all the names is the fact that none of these ‘elders’ and former Jihadi leaders are relevant to the crisis. For instance, what the Ulema Council chief got to do with this at all?

President Karzai is trying his old tactic by making a deal using the group of ‘compromise people’, and the so-called elders who are irrelevant on the political landscape. On the other hand, he is holding separate meetings with the MP’s who have been declared unseated, trying to split them by making offers to some, while ignoring others. Already we have seen the difference. A big shot from the opposition, Dr. Mehdi is apparently taking a very soft stand on this crisis after the parliamentary break.

The loser candidates are also once again active with daily press conferences nowadays. The other day Daud Sultanzoy, the politician-turned-TV anchor , was saying the verdict of special tribunal is ‘final’ and must be implemented. TOLO TV should not let its platform be used by Sultanzoy to discuss the crisis in his talk show. Regardless of the legal aspect and eventual outcome, he is part of this crisis, thus biased against the MP’s who have been declared unseated by Karzai’s Special Tribunal.

It was joke of the week when Adviser of Government Media Center Rafi Firdous compared the standoff between Karzai and the parliament with the recent tussle between the US Congress and White House. He was saying this shows the ‘beauty’ of our ‘democracy’. What can be more ridiculous to compare the fraud and manipulation in our system with the process in the Congress of mother of all democracies?

Where in the world we find an example that Chief Justice and several judges of the Supreme Court continuing working beyond their constitutional tenure, and nobody gives a damn about it? The parliament says all decisions and verdicts coming through the current judges and Chief of Supreme Court have no legal credibility, while the Government says all resolutions and demands passed in the current parliament have no legal basis since the decision about 62 MP’s are pending. It all happens only here in the ‘beautiful’, as Rafi Firdous says, ‘democracy’ of Afghanistan, a state in deep crisis, of which the international community expects great responsibilities to be achieved in the coming 3 years of transition process. There is a local slang that goes like, “What have you done today, that you claim to do tomorrow”. Seeing the state of affairs in the current administration, where the system is cracked up from within, there is less hope for the transition.

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Unconstitutional Moves of the President

My Outlook op-ed June 19, 2011 

A commission headed by Sibgatullah Mujadadi has started preparations for the so-called Loya Jirga which is said to be convened after Eid, about two months later, to discuss and decide on the matter of the US long-term military bases in Afghanistan. Members of the Preparatory Commission have been ‘appointed’ by President Karzai to decide participants of the Jirga.
There are several questions on this. Firstly, why is the President by passing parliament on this matter? And secondly, what is the legal mandate or status of the so-called Loya Jirga? When we have a parliament elected by the votes of the masses, we don’t need any Jirga to decide a matter of national interest. But the President has other aims to play with.

Loya Jirga is indeed regarded as a constitutional process, but it has become a joke referred to with disrespectful views by common Afghans because of the ways President Karzai has called so many Loya Jirgas during his two terms in office. According to the Afghan constitution’s Article 110,

Loya Jirga is the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan. And the constitution says, “It consists of the following: a) members of the National Assembly, b) Chairpersons of the provincial, and ‘district councils’. c) The ministers, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court; they can participate in the sessions of the Loya Jirga without the right to vote”. The constitution makes further specification in Article 111; Loya Jirga is convened in the following situations: 1) To take decision on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and supreme interests of the country. 2) To amend the provisions of the Constitution. 3) To prosecute the President in accordance with the provisions of Article 69 of the Constitution.

Decisions made by such a Jirga become the word of law. But basically with the absence of district councils, any Loya Jirga is unconstitutional and without any legal status or mandate.

And the Constitution does not mention about types of Jirgas with different references like Consultative, Traditional and so on, as Thomas Ruttig of Afghanistan Analysts Network calls it, “Innovative Loya Jirga-ism”. What is this, if not violation of the Constitution by Mr. President? A tradition to make joke of the rule of law, which will be common for successors of President Karzai in inheritance.
The outgoing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says President Karzai has privately told him to step down after 2014, when his term ends. According to Afghanistan’s constitution, a president is limited to two terms, and cannot run for the office for the third time. Normally it doesn’t need to be told to the official of another state in private about doing something which is required by our constitution. However, majority of politicians in Afghanistan believe or rather fear that Mr. Karzai is ambitious for third term in office. There have been many other such promises made in private by the President none of which were made. And he can bring changes to the constitution by his unconstitutional moves. Actually most of the steps taken by President Karzai since his second term in office have been in violation to the Afghan Constitution, from his extension of stay in office during the Presidential elections to the games played on the parliamentary elections and establishment of the pity Elections’ Special Tribunal. The Loya Jirga to be convened for ‘consultation’ on the US bases will be another addition to the list.

The ridiculous game of exchanging letters between the Parliament and Elections Special Tribunal is another tactic of the President to blackmail MPs. Where on earth such a national issue of importance takes months for decision? Whenever the Palace faces resistance from the parliament on any issue, the Elections Special Tribunal statements predicting its decision to unseat dozens of MPs come in media. This game of Mickey-Mouse will continue for long, since it’s a good tool for blackmailing the parliament. But MPs should take strong and decisive action to end this ridiculous practice. They have been observing silence in the parliament for days, asking the President to introduce his remaining cabinet members, but President Karzai is acting like a deaf. It has been more than a year and half of the acting-ministers who were rejected by previous MPs for many times of nominations are working in their respective offices. Constitutionally, they are for maximum one month, but it’s now more than 18 months those rejected nominees are working as ministers. President Karzai didn’t give a damn to the will of parliament and appointed those as ministers who were rejected thrice.

The international community has ignored all such manipulations of the rule of law by President Karzai. Members of the Oversight Committee for Implementation of the Constitution are chosen by the President; therefore they have never bothered to question these moves.
Now it is responsibility of the Afghan parliament and political forces to pressurize the President and boycott the coming Loya Jirga objecting to its unconstitutional nature. Historians of the nation will condemn President Karzai for starting a tradition of violating the constitution.

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Acting-Ministers for One & Half Years Now!

My op-ed on Daily Outlook Afghanistan, March 17

It has been more than one and half year that six ministries are being run by acting-ministers who were rejected by parliament for several rounds. Last year after introducing his cabinet, President Karzai had tough times getting his ministerial nominees approved from parliament. It took three slots of nominations, but the same people coming again and again were rejected consecutively by the lower house. Though ministers with important portfolios were approved, but still six remained a matter of bargaining game between the President and the lower house. Our President is so stubborn that he didn’t give a damn to the will of parliament and appointed those same rejected candidates as acting ministers to run the cabinet positions. Then it was the period of parliamentary elections crisis as tenure of the lower house was extended.

Acting-ministers are to be appointed at an emergency or time of crisis when there is no parliament, or other hurdles. And it is only for maximum of one month. Behind all the long and disputing parliamentary elections followed by a crisis of the results and then another stubbornness of the President with setting up the pity elections Special Court for allegations of fraud, the acting-ministers faced no question on their unconstitutional service as there was not a parliament. That cannot be an excuse for the violation of the constitution by the President himself, who does not shy to blame foreigners very blatantly for “interference” in the implementation of our constitution, while himself ruining it under his feet. Until the previous parliament was working, the acting ministers completed about six months, while the law allows the acting-ministers to run the offices for only one month.

Now it has been weeks the new parliament has started its work with their speakers and deputies elected. But the President is, as we say in local slang, “acting dumb” on his six acting-ministers. What makes the President think he can go on with it for long? It’s very ridiculous that such a violation of the constitution is happening by the President who blames others for that.

Last year in May, when it was about some months that the acting-ministers were serving in offices, in an op-ed on this page, I had asked “how long will it remain so?” The issue was followed in media but lost in dispute caused in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections. Now it is exactly one and half year that the acting-ministers are working as cabinet members. The other day members of lower house of the parliament asked President Karzai to introduce his cabinet members to be replaced with the acting-ministers. The new parliament has started an active term with the first achievements it has already made. The six ministries are not the only offices run by acting-heads, the Supreme Court has an acting chief.

It’s unbelievable how the rulers have made a mess of the system with no regard for constitution and rule of law. The budget of new solar year has part of suggestions and planning by the acting-ministers who have been rejected by the parliament! This is the way our rulers are making good of governance. That makes not only unconstitutional, but also hurdles in approval of the budget from parliament and its implementation. While presenting the budget to the house, Finance Minister Zakhilwal was saying they should approve it on urgent basis because of the delay due to the crisis with inauguration and elections’ results. But how could it be done when the entire budget is based on planning of acting-ministers working beyond the legal tenure they are allowed under the constitution. Simply they are working illegally! And they have no right to be implementing the budget after approval. The MPs should not hurry and debate the budget thoroughly as there are much to review and suggest changes. The distribution of development budget allocated for different sectors and regions are not balanced. Zakhilwal told the parliament 60 per cent of the budget has been allocated for security and defense expenses. Its almost a double increase compared to last year, but it is needed due to rush of withdrawal and security transition to Afghan security forces by NATO and the US. About 20% is allocated for agriculture sector. Spending all 20 per cent on agriculture doesn’t make sense when a huge population is jobless and we need spending for job creating sectors, infrastructure development and health services. Education should be the top most priority, and MPs must make sure to review this.

MPs have asked President Karzai to introduce his cabinet members within two weeks to get vote of confidence. Now it will be the next interesting episode after the recent disputes between the house and the President on issues of inauguration and the establishment of Special Court for investigation of alleged fraud cases. Seeing his political alliances, the President would like to send the same ministers who are working right now as acting, for approval. It seems like the new house won’t repeat the previous episode of cabinet nominees getting vote of confidence.

There are reports that the President will soon dissolve the elections Special Court. A delegation of MPs met President Karzai last week asking for that, but he rejected saying he won’t “interfere” in “judicial process”. Then the MPs threatened with questioning many issues including the acting-ministers, acting chiefs of some departments and the Supreme Court. In a second meeting, the President had no option but to back down from all his previous statements and agreed to dissolve what he calls the tribunal. And a beautiful drop scene came on Wednesday when the head of the Constitution Oversight and Implementation Commission said, “The President can dissolve the tribunal”. Gul Rahman Qazi was saying “a person who can establish a court can also abolish it.” Ok fair, but why had your Commission kept mum on all the crisis during the last some weeks? When the Independent Elections Commission asked the Constitution Oversight Commission to explain its position on the establishment of the special court, the commission people didn’t respond. Now they are giving a cover to wash away the disgrace of the Government. Waheed Omer used to say President Karzai cannot interfere in the “judicial process” and will not dismiss the Special Court. And now pressures from the new parliament have changed that view, the President had asked the delegation of MPs not to utter the word of Special Court’s abolition with media. What is more funny is the vague statement of the Constitution Implementation and Oversight Commission saying “a person who can establish a court can abolish it.” Does that mean their stance is that the establishment of the court was fine according to the constitution, as is its abolition now? Well, who cares now!

 

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Parliamentary Crisis in Cartoons

The deadlock on election of speaker for lower house (Wolesi Jirga) turned into another ridiculous show today (Wednesday) when the Parliamentary Commission set up to recommend ways for solution of the standoff ended with fighting of words and punches among MPs. Pajhwok has the report here. After five rounds of failed attempts to elect the speaker of the house, a special commission was set to either suggest changes in the regulations of the speaker election, or recommend other solutions. Already the commission had asked for two more days, on Monday, when they were supposed to present their recommendations in the house. But today, the standoff entered another bitter scenario of MPs punching each other.

After weeks of conflict on parliament inauguration blocked by President Karzai, now it seems the MPs, who took a strong united stance against Karzai for the inauguration postponement, are now unable to continue the process. What is the problem? Why they can’t go on with a simple election of a speaker? The answer is known by all, but it is not discussed openly, rather shown by actions, as today when two women MPs started punching each other after Nasima made comments regarding the inter-ethnic bitter accusations of civil war era. The real problems are on ethnic, tribal, linguistic, regional and sectarian lines. This is the most serious problem of Afghanistan with its nation-building, and function of governance institutions. Insurgency, corruption and lack of capacity can all have solutions, but the issue which will keep Afghanistan a crumbling failed state will be the ethnic and tribal rifts in politics. These same factors have been the reasons why Afghanistan never became a stable functioning and successful nation-state in its history. Unless the society comes to a stage where all population is educated and understand the need to compromise the conflicts throughout our history and find a “new way” of going ahead, we can’t hope Afghanistan on the path of stability and a properly functioning democratic state.  I will write further about the “new way” later. Right now i wanted to share with the readers of this blog some cartoons about the parliamentary crisis by Khaliq Alizada, a famous Afghan cartoonist of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. His works appear on Outlook and Daily Afghanistan (Dari and English papers) everyday. In recent weeks, he had several cartoons about the parliamentary crisis.

 

The banner reads “Independent Election Commission”, the box resembling ballot box and IEC building, which has been locked. This cartoon came the day when Attorney General’s Office raided IEC building with police and seized the ballot boxes on Feb 14.

 

 

“Ouch!” says the guy on the chair, where the text on its side reads “Speaker of Lower House”, and the text on the black-hand that pulls the chair reads “Government elements” referring the speaker-election standoff in lower house, which is partly a Karzai game.

This cartoon is a mockery of the blank votes by MPs during the rounds of election for speaker of the lower house. The sign above reads “Shurai Milli/Lower house”. The guy with white coat is an MP asking “should it be white or black” in response to the offer of money. We say “white vote” for the blank votes. Horse-trading is common in Afghanistan, when MPs are bribed to vote as demanded by the bribing parties, most of the times the Government.

This one is hilarious. The number-plate in front of the vehicle reads “New parliament” and the guy is saying “Its punctured, doesn’t work!”. This cartoon came after the failure of MPs to elect speaker for 4rth round of nominations in lower house.

 

The guy sitting on the edge has a banner hanging on its feet which reads “the winner candidates” of the lower house, saying to the hand “Government” that holds it “Ouch…ouch…don’t shake too much, feeling pain in lungs”. This cartoon is about the Special Court and Attorney General warnings to the winner candidates about cases of fraud in polls and the Government dodging them with parliament inauguration.

The direction sign reads “Parliament inauguration”. The man crying depicts President Karzai asked by the guy “loser candidates” saying “Don’t Go, Mr. President” to the inauguration of the lower house, which President Karzai was compelled to inaugurate after winning candidates warned to go on without him (Next cartoon). The loser candidates were on a 48-hours sit-in strike in the Presidential Palace asking Karzai not to inaugurate the parliament. Karzai in the cartoon says, “I swear to God, i am also not happy with this”.

Text on the vehicle reads “Second term of lower house/Wolesi Jirga” and the driver, depicting Karzai with his typical Afghan national dress and hat, holding the banner which reads “Departure Date; January 26″. The guys riding behind are MPs saying “will you move or…” holding a stick!, referring to the warning of MPs to start the lower house without Karzai’s official inauguration, which has been shown by depicting Karzai as a “driver” of this vehicle.

This cartoon is about the Tom and Jerry game for some days between police and the former MPs who were insisting to enter the parliament building after the term of the house had ended. Heavy police was deployed to avoid their entry. The guy with a flag reads “formers members of lower house” and the police with stick says, “Don’t bother anymore…” The building behind is the “Shurai Milli or Lower House”.

This cartoon is about the fight between Attorney General’s office and Independent Elections Commission on announcement of election results. When the IEC announced election results of lower house, the Attorney General’s office warned them not to do. The button which is “on” is of the election results and the guy in white coat is “Attorney General” saying “turn it off” (the election results) and the guy with stick is “Independent Election Commission” saying “if you have the gut, touch it!”. Literally it reads “if you are male, touch it!”, which is an expression to say “if you have the gut”.

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Karzai’s Parliament Inauguration Speech, and the Special Court

My Outlook op-ed on Jan 27.

The parliament inauguration which had become a ridiculous lead story in every news hour around the world for days was resolved yesterday. President Karzai had to give in finally and do what the Constitution requires him to do. Actually our rulers are so stubborn in pushing the issues for a favorable situation that always underestimate the scenario and outcomes. Even when the official statement was released from Presidential Palace confirming Wednesday’s inauguration, I was still fearful of another dramatic episode erupting out of nowhere. Though there were some, like the sit-in of losing candidates in the Presidential Palace for a day, as a protest asking Karzai not to inaugurate the house. They were sitting until 11am when the house was inaugurated and their hopes ruined. This fearful perception more alerted me when some Senators walked out of the house just before the inauguration. Then it was clear that they are walking out because of lack of seats reserved for them.

President Karzai said some important stuff in his inauguration speech, while some sentences were the same reiteration. He again blatantly accused foreigners of meddling in elections and pushing him to open the house today. The diplomats of different countries sitting in the house that time might have smiled with themselves without making the amusement appear on their faces on Karzai’s accusation. General Petraaeus and Ambassador Eikenbery might have very much felt this sentence of the President. Besides the usual accusations that are now habitual from President Karzai, he said some very important points. “Afghanistan must have sovereignty without any limits and conditions”, he said while emphasizing on “legalization” of the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. “PRTs and other unnecessary offices of international organizations are serious hurdles for governance and state building”, this was quite confusing from the President adding that “the Government must abolish these governing and security parallels step by step.” These were tough messages to the US and NATO countries, who are in a rush of withdrawal from 2014, which President Karzai said “the Afghans are capable of security transition”.

President Karzai talked of Afghanistan’s good relations with Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, India, Iran and Pakistan. But he mentioned the last two countries particularly that Afghanistan will never be used against Pakistan and Iran. “To our brother country Pakistan I say Afghanistan will never be used against Pakistan security and sovereignty. Peace without mutual cooperation is impossible.” Talking about corruption, Karzai against focused more on foreign contracts, rather than the corrupt ruling elite.

However, the only part of President Karzai’s speech I liked was when he addressing the Taliban said they are responsible for trees and jungles’ destruction by foreign troops’ bombardment. “You must stop fighting, so that villages are not destroyed, trees are not burnt by foreign troops,” he said. In interesting to note that in his parts of speech particularly about Pakistan and the US, he spoke in Pashtu, while the rest in Dari. President’s former election rival Abdullah Abdullah was also present, and warmly congratulated Karzai for inauguration by shaking hands.

Now that the parliament has been inaugurated, the real battle starts. The crisis is avoided just temporarily. Because the Special Court is still a controversial issue. Besides that, election of the Speaker of the House will be the first battle of the house. Abdullah Abdullah publicly announced his support for former speaker Younas Qanooni, while other potential candidates include Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, Mirwais Yasini, Muhiuddin Mehdi and probable candidates like Ahmad Behzaad and Mansoor. However, political bargaining has yet to begin from today.

Aside from the world headlines, the parliament inauguration crisis had started a heated debate on TV talk shows in Afghanistan. But in countries like Afghanistan, people know one good trick to bring a sudden complete change in the course of public opinion and the concerned debate. Here when someone has no logic and reason for argument, they take refuge in references of “Islamic Sharia” and bring about provocative religious terms which are, in most cases, totally irrelevant to the debated topic or issue. Same is happening nowadays. The other day, Mr. Marastyal in a talk show on ToloNews was saying “Afghanistan is an Islamic country, and Sharia rules are our preferences”. He mentioned this sentence with emphasize on the word “Islamic Sharia” in the middle of a discussion about the Special Court, which I think, was completely irrelevant, rather a negative approach in discussion when you are weak in argument, and bring about “Sharia” which the person sitting opposite to you cannot dare say a word in disagreement. Because then it becomes a matter of public sentiments with religious terms, where people are easily outraged or convinced with.

Despite the inauguration, the real problem is still not resolved. The issue is still whether Special Court is constitutional or not? Well, all those sitting in the Constitution Implementation and Oversight Commission are the most respected legal experts of the country. They have said, though not officially in response to the IEC letter yet, that the Special Court is unconstitutional. The Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission have repeatedly said the Special Court is unconstitutional. It is not about whether fraud has happened or not, but those allegations must be proceeded with normal courts. Setting up a Special Court for elections with selected judges is very much unconstitutional. As I have been mentioning in my previous columns on this page, there are only three cases in which the Constitution allows formation of a Special Court. I had also quoted those articles 69, 78 and 127 of the Constitution which explains the three cases for Special Court, which are impeachment of the President, cabinet members and the judges of the Special Court. Those arguing against this give references of other articles about right of taking part in elections or other irrelevant stuff, but fail to provide Constitutional reference particularly on Special Court. And in case of public debate, try to disrupt with references of “Islamic Sharia” rather.

Even if it is not about the constitutional discussion, why didn’t the Attorney General or President Karzai didn’t ask for a Special Court during the vastly rigged and controversial Presidential elections? Even continuing the fraud allegations after the investigations by IEC and ECC, it is undermining these two election bodies, and then there is no space for further debate.

The Constitutional Oversight Committee is under intense pressure from the Palace after IEC officially requested them to file their response on legality of Special Court. They must be bold and say what they have said in private that the Special Court is unconstitutional and must be dismissed. If the MPs fail to do this, rest assured for future extensions of authoritarian power by the palace.

 

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The Year in Review

"Happy New Year" says NATO to Taliban. Cartoon by Alizada

I know i am too late for this post and there are already too many commentaries on blogs about Afghanistan regarding the year in review. I am trying to review the year from an Afghan perspective, which might be a bit different from the ones you have read on western media outlets and blogs by foreign journalists.

For the U.S and NATO, 2010 was another bloody year of failure to speed up transition in Afghanistan. We remained on downward spiral, not only from security perspective, but also governance, nation-building and the socio-economic change. The year ended with stories of corruption at its worst, such as the bags of cash coming from Tehran to the Presidential Palace. The uniqueness and peculiarity of this corruption story was that both Karzai and Tehran confirmed the reports. The promises of a holy war  against corruption made by the President while taking oath for his second term in office was not in action in 2010. Favoritism and tribal political centralism was still a phenomenon at a time when Afghanistan needs promotion of merit and nationhood the most. But alas we are the unluckiest of nations on earth, faced up with the most corrupt and inefficient leaders, who rather than leading us towards a hopeful future, are becoming crisis mongers buried in their personal interests and tribal mindset.

In 2010, many more provinces in North and South East went to militants. The major military operations in Helmand and Kandahar have not proved the expected results. Nor the insurgents are on a position of hide-and-run to be compelled for negotiations. While the efforts of our President who had made the fight against corruption and efforts to persuade Taliban for talks as his prime tasks of the year, brought no success. The story of talks about talks with the Taliban culminated with a beautiful imposter fooling the entire Government of Afghanistan and NATO which exposed the whole episode of talks about talks with insurgents.

It started with hope, but all those London to Kabul conferences, the Jirga and then finally producing the Peace Council has not shown a positive outcome so far.  Besides the civilian casualties, increasing insurgency, rampant corruption and talks about talks with Taliban, below are some other important incidents of 2010 for Afghanistan.

Salang Pass Catastrophe

Over 160 people died in the catastrophic avalanches of the 12,700-feet-high Salang Tunnel on Feb 08. That was a deadly catastrophe, but the Government has learnt nothing from it. Salang Pass is the only road connecting capital Kabul to Northern parts of the country. It goes through heavy snowfall every year and dozens of people die during January and February. The tunnel built by the Soviet Union is now in a deplorable condition, and can bring any tragic catastrophe again, if the Government does not pay attention for repair and reconstruction work. There should be an Emergency Committee ready for any unexpected incident, and the Government should have learnt from the tragic incident of last year.

The Acting-Ministers

The cabinet nominees of President Karzai were rejected for three times from the Parliament, but still after one year, many ministries are run by acting ministers. It seems these acting ministers will complete the whole tenure of five years. The previous parliament, that rejected them could not compel the President to respect their mandate and the Constitution.

First Parliament

The very ineffective first parliament of the democratic history of Afghanistan completed its tenure in 2010. They could not even implement their own resolutions, while the Presidency could easily and completely bypass them. They will be remembered as the first parliament of Afghanistan, who were most disorganized, divided, rubber-stamp and weak house of ragtags. Quorum was not complete for many of the important sessions of the house. Members were not seen once during the entire year in any session of the parliament. The story of bribery to MPs for buying up their votes was the story of every town after nominations, impeachment of ministers of some important voting session. It was this first infamous and ineffective parliament that approved the shameful drafts like the “Rape Law”—the so-called “Shiite Personal Status Law”—which allowed marital rape of women. The hottest discussions of our first parliament was all about banning TV serials, talking about ban on jeans and paint for boys and girls.

Now the new parliament is again with a similar fate. We don’t know what will happen with the constitutional crisis. The rulers are taking the country toward a crisis by their efforts to alter the election results.

The Kuchi-Hazara Dispute

Do you remember that blood Friday in Kabul in the holy month of Ramazan when an armed clash between the Kuchis and Hazara claimed several lives? Every year there is a bloody episode of Kuchi-Hazara conflict in Behsud, but 2010 brought it to the edge of catastrophe when the conflict reached in capital Kabul. That Friday the firing of Police and civilians pelting stones was terrifying for Kabulities. Police failed to control the situation that day, as angry mob burnt down a police station. Half a dozen people died that Friday. The Karzai Government has not been serious about the resolution of the Kuchi-Hazara conflict. Every year dozens die in the dispute between the two groups in Behsud, which reached Kabul in 2010. It can still become a burning fire this summer, the time every year conflict starts. The Govt. and all parties need to get serious for a permanent resolution of the issue.

The Kabul Bank Saga

The Kabul Bank crisis had panicked masses, as well as the Government and international community, but now it seems nothing had happened. I am not sure to credit the Central Bank for its success to manage the crisis, at a time when thousands of people were lining up in front of branches of the bank across the country to withdraw their deposits, but actually it was the Government that created the panic and mayhem with the sudden takeover of Kabul Bank and public announcement of it.

And those responsible in the crisis went unpunished. The shareholders of the bank were bigwigs and allies of President Karzai including one of his brothers. Their corruption and luxurious villas in Dubai caused the crisis that almost brought a financial crisis in the economy and banking meltdown.

Conscript Military Service

There was an intense debate on electronic and print media, as well as among people about the idea of conscript military  service proposed. President Karzai talked about it first time in Munich Security Conference. Afghanistan had conscript army service mandatory prior to 1992. After the fall of the central government and eruption of civil war, the military structure was destroyed. In the wake of difficulties for recruitment for army, the idea of conscript service was proposed. But the history of forced military service is not very positive in Afghanistan. People used dozens of tricks to escape their service, while the influential tribal people and those having ‘good-relations’ with officials were always let go without service. However, the discussion did not come up with something, nor the Government pursued the idea.

Hope for 2011?

I don’t see prospects of any improvement this year too. President Obama announced his last year’s review and there was no change in the policy, nor he indicated any strong support for the talks with Taliban that is being pursued by the Peace Council nowadays. I hope the surge strategy under the leadership of General Petraeus will weaken the insurgency and help the process of talks. But the US and NATO should not close their eyes in hope of talks, while the Northern provinces become the next Helmand and Kandahar. I am also very skeptical of any success regarding the talks with Taliban. Unless the leadership of Kandahari Taliban, mainly the so-called Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani Network under any divine miracle change their Jihadi agenda and thinking, things won’t work. I am skeptical that even if Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment try to support the talks and attempt to persuade these elements, its hard to make a political compromise with them. The Obama Administration should press hard Pakistan, giving the military establishment its wishing ‘role’ in talks with Taliban on some conditions, for the last chance. If even then, such a strategy does not work, the only way  is ultimate defeat of Taliban leadership, which is possible through more successful ground operations, drone attacks on the leadership hideouts of Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and increase of intelligence on ground to chase and track the insurgent leadership.

Websites of the Year!

At the conclusion, i am also telling the readers of this blog the two best websites of year about Afghanistan for me. The Afghanistan Analysts Network is my website of 2010, with the best analysis about Afghanistan. Though not as known as the mainstream media reporting on Afghanistan, but their writers are most accurate and unmistakable, even compared to those breaking reports of NYTimes or Washington Post and BBC. My second best is the AfPak Channel, not only for the great AfPak news links they share on twitter, and daily briefs, but also the quality of commentary on Afghanistan by their contributors.

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Filed under Insurgency, Karzai-Obama, Parliament, Parliamentary Elections 2010, Taliban, US Troops in Afghanistan