New Political Alliances

My Outlook op-ed published on Nov 14

Months of active meetings and discussions among political heavyweights and mid-level players in the ‘opposition block’ of Afghan political scene has produced two new coalitions last week. Hizb Haq wa Edalat (Right and Justice Party) was launched declaring itself as a ‘reformist’ and ‘opposition’ party. Made up of politicians, former MPs and intellectuals from different backgrounds, mostly former leftists, and including a former Talib, Haq wa Adalat calls itself a ‘reformist’ party, which sounds very vague, considering the fact that despite 14 months of preparations, a 2-days conference of its 420 founders, their 4 spokesmen did not have any manifesto or clear policy guidelines to present to public during its launching ceremony.

It was quite confusing to see the lack of common understanding among its founders on the day of launching when many of them did not agree to what four spokesmen told while responding to different questions from journalists. After such intense preparations and meetings, I had expected a very clear agenda, policy guideline or rather a manifesto by Haq wa Adalat, which calls itself an ‘opposition’ party, but offers no debate or agenda different than those of the Karzai Administration.

The other addition in the political scene was announcement of a new ‘coalition’ National Front among three heavyweights, former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud, leader of Junbish Abdur Rashid Dostum, and head of Hizb-e-Wahdat Muhammad Muhaqiq. Meetings for a consensus and coalition among major opposition ‘figures’ of the former Northern Alliance were going on for several months. In my previous op-eds on this page, I had expressed doubts about the possibility of a grand alliance with the Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. With initial announcement, there was a rumor in media about former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh to be part of the new coalition, but he was not in the press conference. It’s not confirmed whether he will be part of the coalition or not, however he had actively attended the meetings prior to the announcement, but has left the country for some conferences abroad. He might confirm or deny it later if he is part of the National Front or not.

The official launching of Right and Justice Party and the National Front coalition a week before the traditional Loya Jirga called by President Karzai is not a coincidence. The new political alignments before the coming Bonn Conference in December want to show their presence and have a say in the process. The traditional Loya Jirga this week is to ‘recommend’ about the strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan. Though Haq wa Adalat said they are not opposed to the Jirga, but National Front calls the gathering ‘illegal’ and in violation of the constitution.

While National Front is a coalition of politicians with ethnic vote-bank and clear previous electoral performances, Right and Justice Party is made up of former MPs and political activists with uncertain electoral popular support. National Front is a coalition made of three heavyweights of former Northern Alliance, without any major representation from Pashtuns. But Right and Justice is more of a multi-ethnic centrist party, without a known vote-bank and popular support.

Contrary to the lack of a clear policy guideline at the launching ceremony of Haq wa Adalat, National Front had a clear agenda announced. Following were the main points in the National Front declaration announced;

  • NF calls the national and international stakeholders in Afghanistan to reassess the current problems with an alternative administrative system.
  • NF calls for ‘radical change’, decentralization of power from a Presidential to parliamentary system
  • NF called the traditional Loya Jirga unconstitutional saying it will not attend the gathering, asking Afghans not to participate.
  • NF supports reconciliation with the Taliban.
  • NF emphasized on the “need” for “longer presence” of international community “within a mutually defined framework”.
  • NF called for a change in the electoral system from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Proportional Representation
  • NF calls for “radical reforms” in the judicial sector and its “independence from the Executive”.

Though its ethnic diversity gives a more positive perception about the Right and Justice Party, but I am doubtful if the newborn alliance of politicians and activists from varied backgrounds and opinions will emerge as a strong political group, or even exist for too long. During the last ten years, we have been witness to many new political parties and groups, but none has proved as a strong, influential and persistent political force on the national stage.

Haq wa Adalat calls itself an ‘opposition’ party, but does not offer a program very different from the policies of Karzai Administration. I am confused over their “reformist” self-description without offering any program or agenda of reforms. Haq wa Adalat clearly distinguished itself from the Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and the new National Front of Massoud-Dostum-Muhaqiq alliance who are with a clearer agenda of ‘reform’ calling for a fundamental change in the administrative system.

Right and Justice Party said it supports the current system and that the traditional Loya Jirga is a “constitutional right” of the President, while in fact the Afghan Constitution has no such ‘constitutional’ right for the President. The only major demand/agenda of Haq wa Adalat common with Change and Hope and the National Front is a call for reforms in the electoral system. Also, all the three coalitions support the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement. However, the coming months will decide the fate of Rights and Justice Party during its campaign for mass support in provinces and districts.

Afghan political activist and former chief of staff of the Foreign Ministry, Wahid Monawar says the new parties lack clear agenda. He says,

“communicating one’s platform is a vital part of any political party or campaign in order to succeed. While, critique of Karzai administration is a departing point, it’s fundamentally important to communicate one’s platform. I was hoping to read some ideas on how to influence policies that are different than Karzai’s”.

Women rights activist Wazhma Frogh is hopeful of the new political parties. She says,

“seeing those who were once part of a civil war into a civil movement, is of a new hope for Afghanistan’s future”.

Similarly, National Front is also not a strong opposition block since it failed to make a grand alliance with Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah and other smaller groups. Its early to say if their coalition is more of an alliance for the coming elections, or gathering of like-minded ‘figures’ to come with a united-stance on particular issues and events like the Bonn Conference and withdrawal of foreign troops.

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