Tag Archives: President Karzai

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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Political Transition and Calls for Electoral Reforms-I

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 15

As we get closer to the withdrawal deadline of US and NATO troops in 2014, security transition and political and economic stability tops among domestic concerns. Despite the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, NATO has an exit schedule but lacks a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. Transitory plans are based on assumptions of success in peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban for a political settlement. There is not a Plan B scenario when insurgent attacks will increase, getting deadlier, and negotiations fail to reach a breakthrough by 2014. Flawed as it has been, a major blunder made in the negotiations is that political opposition is left out in the entire process. International stakeholders and the Karzai Administration are moving with contrary objectives and interests out of it. The two dominant groups in the Palace circle have their own designs for manipulation of the situation.

However, regardless of the results of peace talks with Taliban, the political opposition that consists of three major blocks—The National Coalition led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, National Front led by Massoud, Muhaqiq and Dostum and Rights and Justice Party of former leftists and intellectuals—are anticipating a smooth political transition in 2014, the election year when President Karzai cannot participate for third term as per the Constitution.

There are talks of early polls discussed among inner circles of President Karzai. Last month after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, he mentioned possibility of early elections. With huge security threats, the power transition in Kabul is also a challenge for the international community. There is less optimism about talks with Taliban to succeed in a settlement on terms acceptable to of the Karzai Administration, political opposition groups and the international community. Therefore, it is required of the situation that polls be held before the bulk of US and NATO troops withdraw to ensure its security.

President Karzai’s tenure will end in May 2014, and constitution requires the polls to be held by the end of 2014. President cannot change election schedule. However, if Karzai resigns, it is possible to conduct earlier election. He has time and again reiterated that he cannot be and will not attempt to be nominated for elections. But opposition groups have expressed concerns that manipulation designs are underway in the Palace. President’s brother Qayom Karzai might be a nominee. Other options include power-sharing deals with one of the factions of opposition.  It will be welcoming if President Karzai resigns, and supports his brother or bring any other candidate from among his circle, and an earlier election is scheduled. But an adventure with manipulation of the constitution through bogus Loya Jirga-ism or attempts of deal-making with any opposition group to arrange a ‘solution’ for the two-term limit to remain in power would derail the hard-won political legitimacy and credibility of the entire system.

Two important political blocks, the National Coalition and National Front in a joint press conference two weeks ago said changing the election dates is unconstitutional, unless President resigns, which they would welcome. They issued a joint charter of demands with following proposals:

  • Amendments in Electoral Law and the Law of Organization and Authority of the Independent Election Commission (IEC)
  • Computerization of voter lists countrywide
  • Conduct the electoral process in partnership with the international community/UN
  • Security transition plan and US/NATO withdrawal schedule must consider election challenges in particular.
  • National population census and distribution of electronic national ID cards be completed six months prior to elections.
  • As per the Constitution, elections of provincial and district councils, and municipalities must be held before Presidential polls.

Free and Fair Election Foundation for Afghanistan (FEFA) has also called for reforms in the Electoral Law. IEC has issued a new draft with amendments, which are yet to be presented to the parliament and approved. The amendments do not include major proposals from organizations like FEFA and political parties.

There are concerns about impartiality of the IEC commissioners and its administrative procedure. Opposition parties have expressed concerns on neutrality of five IEC commissioners appointed earlier in January. They are considered supporters of President Karzai. With the amendments introduced in the Electoral Law, the Karzai Administration wants to limit participation of international community in the monitoring and transition process for a free and fair elections.

After the joint press conference and talks of alliance between National Coalition and National Front, the third major group Right and Justice Party also called for major electoral reforms. In a press conference last week, Right and Justice leadership said they would field a consensus candidate for polls. They called for establishment of an Electoral Reforms Commission.

All opposition groups are calling for legal participation of political parties in the elections. It is the biggest crack in our political system that parties have no legitimate role in the electoral process and parliamentary affairs. It is time the Government heed to the demands of opposition groups and take practical steps for reforms. Legal role of political parties is inevitable for political transparency and credibility. It will increase mass political participation and activism, generating awareness, something that an overly centralized concentration of power in the Presidential office, which is more like an electoral authoritarianism, does not want. The international community must push for steps to ensure long-term political stability in Afghanistan, which should not be ignored for transitory strategies.

To be continued…

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Strategic Pact and Uncertainties

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 08

President Obama’s short stay in Kabul was more of a symbolic political visit on the eve of Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary. Addressing Americans from Afghanistan before launching reelection campaign, President Obama reminded them that he sent the Navy SEALs to kill Osama.

He said the tide of insurgency has turned and the Taliban’s momentum has been broken. He spoke to Americans with a victorious tone, about a situation that is more of a quagmire of uncertainties for us in Afghanistan. It shows the sophisticated reach and strength of the Taliban who were successful to launch an attack in Kabul as soon as President Obama’s arrival was breaking news on Afghan media. Several, including some foreign security guards were killed when some insurgents breached the high-security zone of Kabul and attacked Green Village, a compound where foreign aid workers and diplomatic staff live.

Talking about the security transition and Afghan forces taking control, he mentioned the decrease in size of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2015, a plan proposed by the Obama Administration to reduce the burden of military costs on the US and its NATO allies. Details of the plan might be endorsed in the NATO Chicago Summit next week.

The size of ANSF is projected to reach 352,000 before October this year, of which 195,000 number of Afghan National Army has already been completed. The Obama Administration is considering a plan to downsize ANSF to 230,000, reducing a third of it starting gradually from 2015 to 2017. It is estimated that the current strength of ANSF will cost annually about $10billion. But the reduced size of ANSF has an estimated $4.2billion annual cost. The United States is urging its NATO allies to contribute about 1 billion Euros to this, while Washington would channel about $3 billion. But among NATO allies, only Britain has pledged $110million annually. It is expected that Afghanistan add about $500million to $1billion annually to the cost of its security forces.

However, Afghan security officials have been critical of the Obama Administration’s plan to heavily downsize the ANSF. Afghan officials say the plans are a conceptual model based on certain assumptions of improved security and a possible deal with insurgents for a political settlement.

Presidents Obama and Karzai also signed the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). After two years of contentious negotiations on Afghan-control of US-run prisons in Afghanistan and the limits of Special Forces’ night raids agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding on the Transfer of US Detention Facilities and the Memorandum of Understanding on Afghanization of the Special Operations, the announcement of SPA was expected to bring a sigh of relief.

But the SPA is a general framework short of specifics. It talks about the generals of US-Afghanistan relations after ISAF withdrawal in 2014. Details of the US military presence and commitment to Afghanistan will be part of another Bilateral Security Agreement to be finalized by next year.

Domestically, the SPA has been criticized. We could not expect more than this from the ruling circle who have made sure to secure their domestic narrow-interests in the SPA. President Karzai at the press conference next day was saying the SPA clearly rejects change of system in Afghanistan.

One instance is the intentional wrong translation of some terms in the English, Pashto and Dari versions of the SPA. At the end of the text, it is mentioned that all three translations are equally authenticated. The original SPA text in English says “Afghanistan shall strengthen the integrity and capacity of its democratic institutions and processes, including by taking tangible steps to further the efficiency and effectiveness of its three branches of state within its ‘unitary’ system of government, and supporting development of a vibrant civil society, including a free and open media.”

In Dari and Pashto versions, they have replaced ‘unitary’ with ‘central’ (markazi). All major political opposition blocks are calling for decentralization of power, with more administrative authorities to local governance bodies and parliamentary form of government. They are strongly criticizing this part of the SPA. But the fact is that our visionless rulers with narrow-interests are playing domestic politics with the strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US.

It must have been push by the Palace negotiators to avoid a single mention of the Taliban in the SPA. It glosses over by mentioning “Al-Qaeda and affiliates” avoiding the name of Taliban or other insurgents, keeping room for manipulations of Karzai and Co’s power-sharing designs to strike deal with elements of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami after 2014.

But the question is, why should Afghanistan’s system of Government be mentioned in a strategic partnership agreement with any country? It is a matter of constitutional and internal affairs that can be changed on popular demand, not a concern for our strategic relations with the US.

Amrullah Saleh says by avoiding mention of Taliban, some Palace elements are furthering the agenda of their neighboring foreign patrons to ignore the safe havens of insurgents and their leadership across the border. He adds that after ten years of ruling, the Palace has no definition of national security for Afghanistan and a vision for enemy and friend.

Besides all these, the NATO summit in Chicago was supposed to come up with concrete security plans and commitments after its fundamentals were to be detailed in the US-Afghanistan SPA, but uncertainty seems to loom for another year.

The US and NATO are in rush with an exit formula, but without a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. It is not clear how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan. There are no clear US commitments on military and economic support to Afghanistan in the SPA, and it will not be any clear in the NATO Chicago Summit too. NATO countries should come up with clear pledges of continuation of aid to Afghanistan.

The decrease of ANSF strength should be based on ground realities and conditions of improved security. Long-term stability and security should take precedence over cutting costs in determining US support for ANSF. It cannot be based on assumptions of success in talks with Taliban and better cooperation from Pakistan. There is no Plan B for a scenario when insurgency will increase much deadlier after 2014 while Afghan forces will be reduced to half and the bulk of US and NATO troops will withdraw.

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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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A Tale of Karzai’s Anticorruption Efforts

My op-ed for Outlook Afghanistan, Oct 23

It’s an irony to see high-ranking anti-corruption officials making tours around the world to attend seminars on ‘how to fight corruption’, but having no single case of success, in large-scale corruption that has plagued the Karzai Administration top to bottom. To their credit, we always top the list of shame in ranking among world’s nations. Afghanistan is the second most corrupt country. It has been at top of the list for the last decade.

President Karzai is going to complete his two years of second term next month. While taking oath in November of 2009, he promised to make the fight against corruption his top priority. He made this promise live on TV, and in presence of VIPs from more than 45 countries including the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At a time when talk of corruption in Karzai Administration was a common story, western donor countries and Afghans took the promises with hope.

After coming to Palace for second term, President Karzai ordered establishment of a new anti-corruption task force. It was such hyped that the US and British ambassadors were present in the press conference when former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar announced the new unit. Hillary Clinton had said future US civilian aid to Afghanistan was conditioned to reform in governance and anti-corruption efforts of President Karzai. The so-called anti-corruption unit was announced to work with support from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Britain’s Scotland Yard and EUPOL.

However, nor President Karzai has kept with his promises of ‘war on corruption'; neither the international community has bothered to put pressure on him. Though the Obama Administration in the beginning was serious on this, in the days when Vice President Joe Biden had once walked out of a lunch with President Karzai on an argument about corruption, but they too have other priorities now, and it seems issues such as corruption and opium production is of no significance to the US anymore.

The US congress has also ignored it. Though in July 2010, they blocked a $4 billion aid to Afghanistan on concerns of corruption, President Karzai rather than taking serious action, chose to confront with the US. During the same time, it was reported that $4.2 billion cash had gone out of Kabul Airport for the luxurious villas in Dubai.

With extreme criticism, and corruption being the lead story from Afghanistan on international media, President Karzai did take some symbolic steps. The Supreme Court issued arrest warrant of a former minister, and mayor of Kabul was trialed. Some lower ranking officials were sacked. But it was all symbolic for making media reports, because none were punished in actual trials.

Then later in August, we had the story of Zia Salehi, Chief Administrator of the National Security Council, who was released after direct intervention from President Karzai. Later we had reports of cash flowing out of Kandahar Airport. Nobody bothered to question or investigate it.

Just after an year, the promises of fight against corruption is a tale now. It’s obvious that President Karzai cannot take action, because it is not just about the story of a Zia Salehi, but prevailing on a very large scale. Last week, AzizullahLudin, the head of High Office for Oversight and Anticorruption said high ranking officials, including cabinet ministers, are involved in corruption. He added that these officials consider themselves to be above the law and do not cooperate with the anticorruption agency’s investigations. Mr. Ludin added that he had told President Karzai about this. As if President Karzai doesn’t know. But whenever faced with criticism in media or by officials of western donor countries, the favorite mantra of President Karzai is to blame the internationals. It’s what we say in Dari “bigir ki nagirit“.

Recently the Government has blocked investigations into the corruption case against former governor of Kapisa Ghulam Qawis Abu Bakr. He was removed from the governor’s post after former US Commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus handed over proof to President Karzai that he was helping the Taliban insurgents. He is a former commander of Hizb-e-Islami.

The allegation of corruption against Abu Bakr includes the case that he received $200,000 (about 9.5 million Afghanis) in exchange for a construction contract. Other allegations are that he used the foreign donations for roads, schools and clinics for stone and gravel of his three luxurious houses in Kabul, and a large house in Kapisa. Local small construction companies were asked to ‘contribute’ truckloads of gravel and stone for his homes, otherwise their projects would be shut down.

Abu Bakr’s case is a single example of how deep the Administration of President Karzai is plagued with corruption officials. He cannot take action for several reasons, including his political and tribal alliances.
There have been about 2000 cases investigated by the anticorruption unit since 2009, but most have been blocked, because all those who were found involved in corruption were high-profile officials and aides of President Karzai, like Zia Salehi and Abu Bakr. Only in 28 cases of small level corruption involving low-ranking officials, convictions have taken place.

Its true that due to three decades of war, destruction of governance institutions and infrastructure, corruption has become a deep-rooted cancer in our society. It’s not just limited to the bigwigs in Karzai Administration, but to the bottom in society, including the private sector. President Karzai has to keep his promises to fight against this plague and get rid of his corrupt officials. But there is no serious commitment.

The U.S. is equally guilty in this mess. It’s all the money of US taxpayers that go into pockets of our corrupt officials, but the Obama Administration has decided to keep quiet on the huge corruption in Karzai Administration. All the donor countries must make sure their money do not end up for luxurious residences of our governors and ministers.

The US Congress should take serious notice of this and pressurize the Obama Administration for investigations of the billions of US dollars gone to the villas of Dubai by the gang of corrupt mafia in Kabul. All aid money coming to Kabul should be conditioned for accountability and transparency. On domestic level, unless there is a strong commitment from President Karzai himself, there won’t be any success.

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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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Ahmed Rashid on Karzai-Obama Relations

Prominent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has written the cover of Foreign Policy magazine’s March/April issue. The lengthy piece serves more like a press release by Karzai, giving readers a very misleading impression with its title “How Obama Lost Karzai”. As usual, referring to the stories of his meetings, Ahmed Rashid makes the case for Karzai very well with stuff that we have heard a lot before. He argues about how the relationship between Karzai and the US turned bitter with the departure of Bush from White House and Obama’s carrot and stick approach. Rashid concludes that “the fault is not the Obama administration’s alone, of course.” He wants everyone to believe that it has been the fault of Obama Administration to press Karzai for the huge corruption under his leadership in Kabul, the opium mafia partly run by his family members and Karzai’s ineffective governance without any vision for the future of his country.

Contrary to what Ahmed Rashid argues, it has been the fault of Bush Administration to let Karzai enjoy weekly video-conferences with President Bush, who didn’t care much about Karzai’s corruptionistan and the way he ran his administration infiltrated by drug mafia. Actually Obama Administration is suffering Bush’s free hand given to Karzai to run the country as a family business.

Eventually what Ahmed Rashid is suggesting the Obama administration is to keep a close eye on the huge corruption in Afghanistan, don’t give a damn about how Karzai is becoming increasingly autocratic making mess of the fragile democratic system in Afghanistan, and tells Obama to make a Bush-era like relations with Karzai, who misses that “golden age” like a nostalgia, and give the ruling robbers of Kabul a free hand.

Ahmed Rashid’s conclusion sounds exactly like one of Karzai spokesman saying,

“It is too late, however, for the Obama administration to bring Karzai back into the fold with more promises of troops and aid. What is needed is genuine common ground: a shared political strategy to end the war. Both sides already agree on the need to win over Taliban foot soldiers and have put forward a common plan and money to do it. But there is still no agreement on trying to engage top Taliban leaders.”

Basically he concludes the piece more like an anti-war rhetoric that its none of the US business to pressurize Karzai for cleaning his corrupt administration, end the drug-mafia ties of his family members, and that the US has no responsibility in Afghanistan other than packing up and leave as soon as possible–even if needed to talk with those individuals who provided safe haven and supported the perpetrators of 9/11 and still keep ties with Al-Qaeda–repeating history as the US left Afghanistan on its own and the mercy of our neighbors after Soviet withdrawal with the arrival of international Jihadis and rise of Taliban who protected them.

The problem with Ahmed Rashid’s peice, as he mentions repeatedly in his article, is his meetings with Karzai which has made an impact on his thinking that Karzai is innocent and Obama should not press him for doing more. Though he has made few visits to Kabul in the post-Taliban Afghanistan, but his insights from the days of his embed with Taliban are expired after a decade now. Karzai is probably the only Afghan Rashid can refer having met several times in the past many years, until recently last year when he was in Kabul in November for some days.

Indeed the Karzai-Obama relations are needed to be improved, but not the way Ahmed Rashid suggests. Karzai has to realize that Obama is not Bush who had the carrot, but not stick! President Karzai must end the huge corruption in his administration and have a clear vision for everything from good governance to the strategy of reconciliation with insurgents and the war against terrorism. He has initiated the efforts of talks with Taliban, but without a clear vision of the process. The way he is doing things is for the sake of his rule, not the future of Afghanistan. President Obama should press Karzai for more efforts against corruption in his administration and better governance. He should not close his eyes on what is going on in Kabul with millions of dollars of aid going to the villas of Dubai and people turning to Taliban because of the corrupt and inefficient officials appointed by Karzai across the country.

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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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