Tag Archives: Afghan Politics

Talks of Federal System

My op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Jan 16

After Taliban’s confirmation of opening an office in Qatar, the domestic Afghan debate on talks with the Taliban has intensified among the political circles of Kabul, media, civil society organizations and ordinary Afghans. It is optimistic to see the efforts of talks for a political settlement with the insurgents to end the conflict in Afghanistan has opened up a broad and realistic debate among Afghans. Taliban have more problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community. The direct US-Taliban talks are a significant improvement towards hopes of an end to violence. Whatever the result of negotiations and whether it can lead to a breakthrough by 2014 is early to say. However, the intra-Afghan reconciliation is more important for the end of conflict in Afghanistan. The Government has been emphasizing and attempting to control the current process of negotiations with the Taliban. The Islamic Emirate says only parties in talks are the United States and Taliban. They also renounce the Afghan constitution and have made it clear that opening of a formal office in Doha will not mean an end to suicide attacks and bomb blasts against Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF.

Even if the Karzai Government joins the negotiations process with the Taliban later, the Administration does not represent the real anti-Taliban constituency, as former Chief of NDS Amrullah Saleh says. And this has to be seriously considered by the international community, if a genuine reconciliation and end of the conflict in Afghanistan is to be achieved.

Nowadays the Government has launched a storm of criticism campaign against those who met some Republican and Democrat US congressmen in Berlin last week. The state-owned media outlets and analysts affiliated with Government supported think-tanks are all propagating in a malign campaign of distorting the agenda of meeting in Berlin. Four US congressmen, including Republicans and Democrat held a session with some Afghan politicians including prominent opposition figures and leaders of the National Front, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Muhammad Muhaqiq, Rashid Dostum and former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh.

The session discussed the recent Bonn Conference and stability in Afghanistan beyond 2014. In a joint press release, the US congressmen criticized Obama and Karzai administrations for ignoring a huge segment of the Afghan society in the current process towards negotiations with the Taliban. They said forces that helped the US topple Taliban regime in 2001 are being sidelined. Such an approach without participation of all segments of the Afghan society will not result in stability beyond 2014. With the US and NATO withdrawal plan of 2014, Afghanistan needs a broad-based inclusive peace and genuine reconciliation process for stability.

Their joint statement pointed out the roots of governance and nation-building failure in Afghanistan. They said:

our concern is that the present political system is dysfunctional because all the power is centralized in a way that no American would tolerate in the United States… This centralized power has led to massive corruption, disenfranchisement of a large segment of the Afghan people, obstacles to economic development, massive abuse of power, political instability, poor governance, and a vast undermining of law and order.”

The Afghan leaders called for “a national dialogue on a revised Constitution to correct the inherent flaws in the present power structure by decentralizing the political system, making it more compatible with the diverse political, social and cultural nature of Afghanistan.”  They further said that the current process of talks with the Taliban is flawed because it excludes the anti-Taliban Afghans. They also called for change in the electoral system, from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Proportional Representation.

All of the above demands have been discussed in media in Kabul, and often expressed by the mentioned politicians. But it seems the Karzai Administration wants to shut everyone up. There is an increasing domestic dictatorial attitude and approach from the Government. The President can dismiss the decisions of Election Commission and force them to change election results, bypass parliament by calling a Traditional Loya Jirga on national issues, and manage to go away with his acting-ministers for more than one year now. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is an acting-judge.  The President fires the most prominent human rights activists of this country, from what is an ‘Independent” Human Rights Commission.  All but some dictatorial and clear violations of the Constitution by the President that nobody should dare to question, otherwise they will be accused to be plotting “disintegration” of Afghanistan.

Participants of the Berlin meeting called for decentralization of power and a parliamentary form of government. I quoted most of their points in the joint statement released to media. There was no talk of federal system, or anything against constitution. The Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Ludin knows it, but he needs some experience with diplomatic behavior and manner to talk with media. Some ethnocentric elements around President Karzai are advising him with the increasing dictatorial behavior.

Foreign Ministry slammed the meeting of Afghan National Front leaders and former NDS Chief with the US congressmen in Berlin, saying it was “against the Afghan Constitution”. Can it get more ridiculous than this? The Ministry has “warned” against repetition of such meetings in future, calling it an inference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. One wants to laugh out loud at such idiocy. Taliban, who are sworn enemies of the National Security Forces of Afghanistan and slaughter innocent civilians, do not forgive women and children and blow up in mosques, are “brothers” for the Government, but when one talks about a national dialogue for change in constitution, which is allowed in the Constitution itself, you are accused of plotting partition of the country. And the Taliban who loudly say they don’t give a damn about the Constitution, the Government welcome decision of their office in Qatar with diplomatic privileges.

Soon after the Berlin discussion, Government media outlets and their “analysts” started planting distorted lies in media. The Government-supported Afghanistan Regional Studies Center held a session to denounce the calls of National Front leaders. The Center’s Chief Abdul Ghafor Lewal said the Berlin meeting was “a plot to disintegrate Afghanistan”. He believes federal system will lead to partition of the country.

There is nothing unconstitutional about such a discussion or demand for national dialogue and debate about any changes in constitution. Whenever one dares to discuss decentralization of power in Afghanistan, proponents of the Government react very strongly with propaganda. One wonders why? Even if the National Front leaders or any Afghan call for federal system, what’s wrong in it? Calling for a federal system is not an agenda to disintegrate the country, rather it strengthens our multi-ethnic and pluralistic society with political stability.  Many successful, pluralistic countries around the world have federal system including the United States or another perfect example is of our neighbor and biggest democracy of the world India.

A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic pluralistic society. American academic Dr. Thomas Barfield in his book Afghanistan: a Cultural and Political History says the successive failures of monarchs, republicans and communist governments for the last century in Afghanistan have been because of the attempts of centralization of power. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. A federal system would also be the only solution for reconciliation with insurgents and long-term political stability in Afghanistan.

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Our Mobocracy

My op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan Oct 18

It is now more than a year, but the parliamentary elections crises still produce a new chapter each time the older drama reaches its drop-scene. The latest victim of this manipulation is female MP Simin Barakzai. She was among the nine MP’s replaced by the IEC decision after Karzai’s decree. Ms Barakzai went on hunger strike after her plea, asking President Karzai to order review of her case, was ignored. She set up a tent camp near the parliament building. After ten days without food, Health Ministry officials declared her health was in severe condition and she could suffer kidney failure.

On the 12th day of her strike, on October 14, Afghan Police in the dark of night dragged her out of the tent, beating supporters, and took Ms Barakzai to Daud Khan Hospital. Some others who had joined her in the strike were arrested and kept in police station for a night.

The Karzai Administration has had two tactics throughout this crises, bribe and use of force. When they saw people flocking in the tent of Ms Barakzai and other MP’s joining her hunger strike, the geniuses in the Palace came with a new tactic. The Ulema Council issued a statement condemning hunger strike as Haram. They said, “It’s forbidden in Islam to reject drinking and eating. If anyone dies because of hunger strike, they will go to hell. Hunger strike is un-Islamic.”

The Ulema Council should be ashamed. They are selling out the little respect left for clerics in the hearts of Afghans. They have never been so quick and active in condemning suicide bombings and slaughter of civilians by Taliban, but a Fatwa against hunger-strike of a female is all a bunch of cowards can do. They are afraid of Taliban intimidation, and none dare to come on TV talk shows to denounce Taliban violence. Isn’t suicide attack Haram in Islam? How about using children for suicide bombing, and killing innocent civilians? How Islamic is that? The Ulema Council needs to look into their conscience. Independent religious scholars should come out to denounce this trend set by Karzai’s Fatwa Factory using the name of Ulema. This Council has become all, but a blackmailing tool of President Karzai being used for his political aims.

Bribing MP’s to form the Coalition of Reformists, or escorting the new ones into the parliament building with help of security forces has been common throughout, but asking the Ulema Council to issue Fatwas about democratic rights is a hit at the core of our crippled democracy and Government’s political cowardice at its lowest.

And that too against a female MP, whose last option was hunger strike, not for a seat in the parliament, which is not worth, but against the manipulation of this system at the hands of those who are in power for the sake of ruling, without any vision and agenda for this country. They could not dare to change a big-shot or any warlord; else we would see how they would threaten to take up arms.

As expected, Daud Sultanzoy did not come late with cheap comments about Ms Barakzai’s strike. He said she is doing it all for publicity. There you go. Someone refuses to eat, announces her will and is ready to embrace death for a cause. For Sultanzoy, it’s all about publicity. It is obviously his own agenda. He wants to get back to the parliament somehow, despite the fact that several reviews by the IEC and ECC could not find any vote rigging in his constituency. He is better off flying an aircraft, not the shameless self-promotion declaring himself as the pioneer intellectual of the nation in a TV talk show. We have not yet forgotten the farce in this ridiculous process of manipulation, when he declared Special Tribunal’s verdict as a Sharia law. Probably Sultanzoy shares the views of Karzai’s Ulema Council on hunger strike being Haram.

I am not arguing whether Ms Barakzai’s disqualification is right or wrong. But she deserves our support because she is setting an example of non-violent political activism by raising voice against a system that is being run with manipulations and force. Something that we have never seen in this country.

The mess started from the day first. President Karzai should have accepted the first ‘final’ decision of Independent Election Commission after the reviews from Election Complaints Commission. We would not have to see the parliamentary deadlock for one year, and crises between the legislature, government and judiciary, setting an example of a system founded with manipulations.

Ms Barakzai’s activism exposes the core problem with our society. We don’t hear about her on media after the tent was removed. Today she is on 17th day of her hunger strike going without food at Daud Khan Hospital. She has not stopped, despite forceful attempts of Government officials to feed her. However, the government should not have feared her. Even if Ms Barakzai dies—God forbidden—it will not make any difference to the dead collective conscience and reaction of our society.

The much gloried Afghan nang and ghairat might tremble, and mark a new example of non-violent resistance in the political history of our country where power struggles have always led to bloodbath. It might fasten the flow of blood in veins of those who still hold their hopes for the future of this country.

Watching the video of Ms Barakzai’s tent being removed amid screams of children, it reminds me of the statement by Rafi Firdous Adviser of Government Media Center who had compared the standoff between President Karzai and the parliament with the tussle between the US Congress and White House. He had said, “It shows the ‘beauty’ of our ‘democracy’.” Some folks have already compared Ms Barakzai’s hunger strike with the recent anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare in India. It’s all ridiculous. Ours is not a democracy, it is mobocracy, where rulers have no respect for rule of law and rights.

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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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Why a Breakthrough is Unlikely at Bonn II

On 5 December, on the tenth anniversary of the Bonn Agreement, Germany will host the Bonn II conference. A preparatory meeting was held in Kabul on 27 June 2011 with representatives from more than 50 countries, under the auspices of the International Contact Group (ICG). At the meetings it was decided that Afghanistan will chair the conference and that there will be one delegation from Kabul. This means that President Karzai will chair the conference. He will also decide about the composition of the Afghan delegation. All previous high-level conferences on Afghanistan have been chaired by the UN and/or the host country, with the Afghan government as a co-chair. Still, it is hard to believe that Karzai will really be setting the agenda.

Read more here my guest post for Afghanistan Analysts Network.

 

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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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