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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