Tag Archives: Afghanistan Politics

Karzai’s Manipulations Underway

Op-ed published on Outlook Afghanistan, June 25

There were lots of rumors and expectations of new announcements on reforms by President Karzai before his annual speech to the special joint session of parliament and judiciary. Interestingly, the rumors were hyped by leaks from Palace insiders. From plans of radical reforms against corruption and nepotism to the coming Presidential elections, none of issues expected to be discussed were mentioned by the President. Some informed circles say Karzai might have changed the content of his speech at the last minute.

It was apparent from an disorganized speech, probably due to interruption by MP’s, which , he actually expressed displeasure about when Lower House speaker Ibrahimi asked MP ‘s to be quite and listen, by saying, “In Afghanistan, it is not like the rest of the world.”

President Karzai, in a rare confession, said “corruption, nepotism, tribalism and ethnic-nationalism are all failures of the Government.” Now after almost a decade in power, and two years left to the end of his second term, he cannot actually deny the fact that we have already lost a golden opportunity in Afghanistan’s history to rebuild the country as a modern nation state based on democratic values with socio-economic development.

With uninterrupted flow of billions of dollars and presence of more than 50 countries, today Afghan society is more polarized than any time in history. And, the achievements of last ten years? It is huge, but it is all at risk with an uncertain situation. When people talk of Karzai’s legacy in media, I wonder if there is anything at all that we can credit to the individual leadership and vision of President Karzai, if it was not the push from international community to make the system get working.

President Karzai said nepotism has reached its peak and it must be cured. How? A day before his speech, UK’s the Telegraph newspaper had a report on a 25-year oil extraction deal awarded to Watan Oil and Gas, owned by President Karzai’s notorious cousins Rashid and Rateb Popal, who served nine years in jail in New York in 1990’s on drug charges. Watan and China’s National Petroleum Company will extract an estimated 160 million barrels of oil from three fields in Amu Darya Basin. Now connected to this, Gen. Dostum is being maligned into a smear campaign after National Front’s popular political rallies in North in recent months. The Karzai Administration called him “national traitor” saying local commanders loyal to him are ‘bullying’ Chinese engineers for money.

But it backfired when NF leader Ahmad Zia Massoud said national traitors are those who have looted Kabul Bank, rigged elections and built townships in Kandahar on grabbed lands of Ministry of Defense. A delegation from NDS and Attorney General’s Office are being sent to ‘investigate’ the issue. President Karzai, who is responsible for the culture of patronage politics, has now launched a campaign to eliminate political dissent.

The President talked of huge corruption saying if the US wants to end it, they should handover former governor of the state bank. It is ridiculous. The country is slipping down in all international rankings recently. We are now the sixth failed state in the world. Similarly, our rank at the corruption index is going down.

Not a single case of corruption involving high-ranking officials has been prosecuted. Rather many cases were shut down. When the anti-corruption body launched investigation and Chief Administrator of National Security Council Zia Salehi was arrested, President Karzai personally intervened and he was released. Later, investigations into the corruption case against former governor of Kapisa Ghulam Qawis Abubakr were blocked.

While talking of his Government’s achievements, President Karzai said Afghanistan was back on world stage during the last ten years. He added that his Government has signed strategic partnership agreements with many countries and Afghanistan has smooth relations with countries and organizations from Russia to the US and NATO to SCO. He also mentioned the upcoming Tokyo Conference saying the international community will pledge $4 billion in civilian assistance.

But this time it is not going to be a blank cheque. With the mess of corruption in the Government of President Karzai, and his lack of interest to fight against it and clean up, the international community will not pledge money when they know it will go to luxurious villas of Dubai or mega-million commercial townships owned by bigwigs of the Palace power corridor. The Karzai Administration cannot deliver the expectations of international community.

There are greater worries. Rumors about reforms and new announcements by President Karzai in his much-hyped-but-empty speech also included call for a Loya and the presidential elections.
In April, President Karzai had said he is considering early elections. The Presidential elections are due in 2014. He said it could be brought earlier to 2013 due to the withdrawal deadline of international troops and security concerns. There is a constitutional limit of two terms in office and Karzai cannot run for next elections. All opposition political parties welcomed early elections in case President Karzai resign. However, now it appears the geniuses in Palace have other intentions.

Recently President Karzai had called members of the Committee for Oversight and Implementation of the Constitution for a consultation. If he resigns earlier in 2013, technically he would not be completing two terms, the constitutional limit, would he be eligible to run for next elections, members of the Committee were asked. President Karzai is looking for some solution to the constitutional limit of two terms in office. There are other options too. He will not hesitate to manipulate the constitution through an engineered Loya Jirga, or deal-making with any faction of the opposition groups.

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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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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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Irrationality at its Worst

The Afghanistan Regional Studies Centre's forum in Kabul to discuss the Bonn 2 conference. Photo Pajhwok

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 06

A roundtable discussion was organized by the Afghanistan Regional Studies Center this Tuesday in Kabul to talk about the Bonn Conference. Some political analysts, most of whom were pro-Karzai folks, made speeches about the coming conference. They were saying that only the Afghan government representatives should attend the second Bonn Conference, which will be held in Germany on December 5, 2011. Among them, Zubair Shafiqi, editor of the state-run Wesa newspaper was the most aggressive. He was saying only the official delegation of the Afghan Government should attend the Bonn Conference. His point was that if civil society organizations, political forces and other institutions are ‘allowed’ to join the gathering in Bonn, it will create further problems for Afghanistan.

Besides making rage against the media discussions about the possible agenda and objectives to be discussed at the Bonn Conference, Mr. Shafiqi made very irrational and unjust remarks about Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and its director Thomas Ruttig. In a derogatory tone, he was saying a German civil society organization led by Thomas Ruttig with an office in Qala Fatahullah has started talks with civil society organizations. Zubair Shafiqi accused that this group [AAN and other civil society organizations] want to propose a federal system in Afghanistan at the Bonn conference.

Mr. Shafiqi has been writing editorials on the state-run Wesa accusing AAN with such comments since last two weeks. I have read more than three editorials in Pashto on Wesa in this regard just in the past week. In one editorial, he had accused Thomas Ruttig of promoting the idea of federalism and making it to be part of the agenda in Bonn conference. Shafiqi calls it a conspiracy with international support.
This gathering on Tuesday was a meeting of mostly pro-Karzai folks, while the state-media reported it as a conference of ‘Afghan experts and analysts’. It’s unfair when local and international press outlets report such events under a generalized dubbing.

I have read most pieces by Thomas Ruttig. AAN is one of the most respected research organizations on Afghanistan, not only in my personal view, but according to most Afghan and foreign journalists I interact with. They publish policy research papers and blog posts on different topics. From what I understand, the accusations of Zubair Shafiqi are irrational and against the facts. Recently there was a post on AAN by Thomas Ruttig discussing representation of Afghan civil society in the Bonn conference. His commentary was about an interview of German Special Envy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Michael Steiner on TOLO TV. I have not come across any post by Thomas discussing federalism for Afghanistan. Even if he does, what is wrong about it?

In the post published on June 08 on AAN, Thomas Ruttig discusses and suggests the very rational and right objectives for the coming conference. It contains nothing of a ‘conspiracy’ against the ‘interests’ of Afghanistan, as Wesa Editor Zubair Shafiqi accuses. One doesn’t understand what really has pissed off Zubair so much. Following are excerpts from Ruttig’s post:

“The ongoing preparations for Bonn 2, with multilateral working groups on the three Bonn agenda points (civilian aspects of transition; post-2014 international involvement and ‘political process’, i.e. ‘reconciliation’), are government-only. Civil society is not involved formally, although these preparations are much more important than the conference itself. Why is the process of (s)electing Afghan civil society reps not given to one or – better – a group of Afghan umbrella organizations the West knows and funds since years anyway? Why, again, are there attempts to hand this over to German or other organizations? The Berlin government has approached non-governmental organizations and foundations to organize a ‘civil society event’ – working title ‘At the bottom of the Petersberg’ – on its behalf. It is not known yet whether any of them will agree to do it. And why such top-down approach again? Don’t Kabul and Berlin want a real democratic and inclusive process, prefer to handpick their own favourites and banish the rest to side-‘events’?

Instead of hearing speeches of some dozen international delegations, the […] conference should devote a significant part of its time (or an additional day, both preferably before the government-level talks start) to listening to representatives of Afghan civil society. In contrast from previous conferences – from Bonn [1] to The Hague [2009] –, they should sit at the main table and not be confined to venues in a secure distance with minimal time allotted to present their ideas. And governments should make sure that high-ranking people listen to them, not just desk officers who, at most, can take notes [as it was the case in Berlin 2004]. Even if the remaining time is short, civil society representatives that do not only speak for themselves or their particular organizations can still be determined. The international community – in particular the UN and the European Union […] – should take urgent steps and allocate resources for it.

Possible implementers are umbrella groups like the Afghan Civil Society Forum, ANCB, ACBAR, the Afghan Women’s and the Human Rights Network with their country-wide networks […] – preferably in cooperation with each other. Their member groups as well as ‘traditional’ civil society (local shuras etc.) could be invited on the provincial or at least the regional level by the UNAMA offices there, to trigger the process. In these meetings, priority issues to be discussed in [Bonn] and delegates could be determined for a gathering in Kabul that, in turn, would send a delegation to [Bonn] that is not hand-picked by the host country. This staggered process would ensure that not only Kabul-based groups speak for the whole of Afghanistan.”

According to Zubair Shafiqi, all those who write or talk on topics like proposing or discussing a federal system for Afghanistan are agents of foreigners and promoting conspiracy. On this page of Daily Outlook Afghanistan, I have written several op-eds discussing and supporting the idea of a federal system as a viable solution for the political instability and crisis in Afghanistan. And the logic of Zubair Shafiqi makes me an agent of foreigners making conspiracy.

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The Egypt Uprising Lesson for Afghans

My op-ed column on Outlook Feb 10.

Nowadays there are talks of Egypt-like public anger against the government in Afghanistan in the blogosphere and Afghan news websites. Popular Afghan Dari and Pashto news and commentary websites have run editorials with titles such as “Karzai should learn from the uprising in Egypt”. An editorial of a famous Dari website comments, “Karzai and his infamous team with failures know that their political survival has not many days. Today, tomorrow or day after tomorrow they will be replaced by a just rule of law.” Another commentary on a much-read website says that a country like Afghanistan where unemployment rate is over 50%, and the residents of palaces take it as granted right of inheritance to rule, the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia should alert them.”

It’s not only on famous Afghan news commentary websites and blogs, but also there have been such comments by foreign analysts. A commentary on the GlobalPost titled “Afghans can only watch and envy as Egypt revolts” talks about the constitutional manipulation by President Karzai to bring his allies in Parliament and links the Egypt uprising with Afghanistan as a “hypocrisy of American foreign policy”. The author has quoted an Afghan democracy activist saying that Karzai is becoming an autocrat adding that “when an autocrat sweeps the problems under rug for too long, the situation becomes volatile. We can see the evidence of that now in Egypt.” Some other Afghans quoted in the report also say the same stuff that the corrupt rulers of Kabul should learn from Egypt and avoid becoming a dictator.

However, the editorials on Afghan websites calling the people to stand up for their rights are dead wrong on the Egypt uprising and a similar public anger against the failure of governance in Afghanistan. It is impossible to happen in this country. The uprisings in Egypt and some other neighboring countries following the ouster of a dictator in Tunisia are firstly against authoritarian rulers who have been in power for decades. Secondly, the populations in those countries have been repressed of all their basic rights of speech and expression, with huge unemployment, poverty and other issues. These problems exist in Afghanistan, but people know that the solution to poverty and unemployment is not all due to Government failure. If such an uprising or public reaction would have been possible in Afghanistan, people should have stood against the rigging in Presidential elections or the huge corruption, bribery and favoritism. In a previous op-ed about the Kabul Bank corruption story, I had written “If this was a country like Tunisia, the latest report about corruption details should have caused a revolt against the great looters and robbers of Kabul and kick them out of the country to their villas in Dubai, like Tunisians did with Ben Ali.” The mass illiterate population in Afghanistan has not the political awareness, even to the level the people of Tunisia or Egypt living under repression for decades have. We have free media where dozens of news channels and hundreds of newspapers criticize the Government for corruption and governance failure every other day. Documents of corruption are published online. Every single Afghan goes through the deep rooted culture of bribery in the machinery of state. People even commit suicide because of unemployment and poverty. Insecurity should have been the biggest reason to bring people with a strong mass reaction against the Government or insurgents. But have you ever heard of any public reaction? NO. Why is it like that? The answer is that the Afghan society is much divided on social, political, religious, ethnic and tribal lines that such a unified civil movement against corrupt rulers is almost unimaginable. During the last nine years, there has not been a single huge public demonstration against the very common problems like poverty, unemployment, insecurity, favoritism and corruption. All the public demonstrations or show of anger against the Government have been based on political conflicts and those protests have been led by political tribal or religious figures. Remember any big mass protest rally in any corner of the country including capital Kabul in the last nine years? Yeah there has been, but not one about social problems, poverty, corruption, unemployment, favoritism or bribery in every institution of the Government. It doesn’t mean that the people are not tired of the present corrupt ruling elite who have allied for looting. Watch TV programs or news hours in the evenings, every citizen interviewed complains about the smallest problems to the bigger and most common ones like bribery and corruption. But there is not a sense of civic activism to raise voice against these problems in a more effective way of public demonstrations threatening the rule of the looters forcing them compelled to take steps in resolving those problems. If there is such a sense, it is limited to some editorials online, which is read by a small number of middle class urban citizens who are educated and have access to the internet while majority of the population in Kabul have no electricity.

The uprisings in Egypt and its neighboring countries are by the urban middle class who have burst out of reaction after enough of suppression. In Afghanistan, the middle class is not a big part of the urban population in cities like Kabul, Mazar, Kandahar, Herat and the rest. There are the small ruling elite who live in a lifestyle like that of Hosni Mubarak and his family or Ben Ali and his tribe. Like those dictators, our “democratic” corrupt ruling elite apply the same tactics to control masses. You wonder why public demonstrations have never been on social issues; rather it has always been either in support of Palestinians and against Israel or countrywide violent rallies against a crazy Christian pastor living in a far away corner of the US who had warned to burn Qur’an. Because public sentiments are controlled by the religious fanatics and the state won’t bother with them, as long as they don’t threaten or challenge the corruption of rulers.

The huge majority of people in Afghanistan are living below the poverty line. Their political awareness has been controlled by the right-wing extremist fanatic Mullahs with political agendas, provoking the most reactionary public sentiments through religious slogans and taking out rallies either to say “Marg Bar Amrika” (Death to America) or “Down with Zionism”. These right-wing led public demonstrations have never been about social issues, unemployment, poverty, insecurity, corruption or bribery. When they have to score a political agenda, public sentiments are provoked with religious slogans. Such a trend has always controlled and habituated the public reaction and protest in a particular way with only specific issues of religious sentiments, while the greater problems like corruption have never been a matter of mass demonstrations.

In Egypt and Tunisia the uprisings were without a leader. In Afghanistan, public movements have always been led by individuals, mostly ethnic and tribal figures with their self-interested political agendas.  Afghan TV channels nowadays have extensive news coverage of the uprising in Cairo. I wish the people here learn the lessons that their greater issues are insecurity, unemployment, corruption, bribery and favoritism of the rulers. They should also learn the facts about the uprisings on Tahrir Sqaure of Cairo, where Christian and Muslim Egyptians are hand-in-hand standing in front of the rubber bullets and police torture against a dictator who has the political and financial support of a superpower. In Afghanistan, religious unity among followers of different beliefs is beyond imagination; here people from same religion have never been unified on ethnic and tribal lines for their collective issues and rights. And that’s the reason I believe an Egypt or Tunisia-like uprising will never happen in Afghanistan. It will be great if only people learned that demonstrations can also be against corruption and rulers, not only about Palestine and Israel. That’s the lesson from Egypt uprising for Afghans.

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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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8 Saur and Beyond

There has never been a peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan’s history. It has always been the bloody coups and takeovers, or family rifts that had been the dominant factor in deciding who and how should rule the country. Though very changed in nature from the previous bloody coups, the regime of Dawood Khan was also toppled by a military coup by the Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan. This was not just a takeover and regime change, but a day that would mark the start of an ideological battle and bring the cold war in Afghanistan, followed by the collapse of Soviet Union and Afghanistan indulging into a bloody civil war that took three and half decades and yet it is fought on this soil with an unknown fate.

When the corrupt Dawood regime was overthrown by the Khalqis, it started a new chapter of violent-politics that led the catalyst bloodshed in the coming decades. Though the communists’ takeover took the country into the bloodiest period of its history, but there have always been some neglected aspects of that initial period. Educational reforms and social justice initiatives introduced during that period were for the first time in the history of Afghanistan. With an ultraconservative nature of people’s beliefs, our society would have improved with some positive progressive changes. Some times i think if communism had remained for some years, it would have been the best answer to the extreme religious fanaticism that gave birth to Taliban who provided safe havens for Al-Qaeda breeding an entire generation of Jihadi terrorists from Afghanistan.

April 28, 8th Saur is celebrated as the victory day for Mujahideen when they overthrew the Soviet puppets in 1992. But that victory, unfortunately, was another bloody transition into dark era of the civil war among Mujahideen factions that took thousands of lives and made Afghans the largest refugee Diaspora in the world.

The US and NATO is on a rush of exit from Afghanistan today. Other than internal rifts and failure of Mujahideen leaders, another reason for the start of civil war was that the international community, mainly the US, left Afghanistan alone after the collapse of Soviet Union. Thus different factions indulged among themselves and Taliban emerged. That teaches the lesson for today, if once again the  the international community leaves Afghanistan before completing the job,  it would not be impossible that Afghanistan once again go to the era of 90s.

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