Category Archives: President Karzai

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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Blunders to be Undone

my Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 13

Five months ago when the first preparatory meeting for Bonn II was held in Kabul under the auspicious of International Contact Group, I wrote on this page that there were no expectations of a breakthrough in the peace and reconciliation process. It was what organizers of the conference initially aimed all about to achieve on the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference of 2001 that established the Transitional Authority in Afghanistan and the set up later.

There was one big mistake at the time—absence of the Taliban on the table. The international community and the Karzai Administration tried to undo this mistake after 10 years again in Bonn, but despite all-out efforts, they could not make the least of progress on it.

Rather serious blunders were made, once again. For instance, the Afghan delegation was a Government delegation, completely bypassing the political opposition forces—none from the three strong opposition blocks Hope & Change, National Front and Right & Justice Party were invited.

They invited former Taliban figures such as Mutawakel and Hakim Mujahid for the sideline meetings. Whom the international community want to satisfy with such moves? Their media? These former Taliban are now Government’s Taliban of name. They no more represent or have any contact with the insurgency’s leadership based in Quetta and Karachi. It’s waste of time to engage with them. Militants say they will not talk to and through the Afghan Government, but Karzai Administration has been ineffectively trying with the mantra of “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process. This was even added as primary principle for peace talks and reconciliation process in the final communiqué of the Bonn Conference.

Seeing the result of three years of efforts so far, it is unlikely that the Afghan Government will succeed in the reconciliation process prior to NATO withdrawal in 2014. They are yet confused what to call it, “peace talks”, “reconciliation” or “political settlement”?

Since his second term in Arg, President Karzai—whose administration faces serious lack of political mandate and credibility compared to the political popularity after the first Bonn Conference in 2001—has made all-out efforts in this confused process of peacemaking with insurgents under different official programs of reconciliation and reintegration.

We have witnessed that so far nothing has come out of the efforts of Karzai Administration other than a shameful incident when a Taliban imposter and shopkeeper from Quetta deceived the entire intelligence apparatus of the Government taking handsome amount of money back to Quetta. The second blow was recently when a suicide bomber assassinated Ustad Rabbani . President Karzai has only read Fatihas for the martyred Ustad Rabbani on each official political occasions, no initial progress is made in the investigation. The delegation, who were denied visas for Pakistan, could finally go to Islamabad after Turkey persuaded Pakistan to cooperate on this in the Istanbul Summit.

After the tragic assassination of Professor Rabbani, President Karzai announced to halt the “process of talks” with the Taliban. Karzai admitted for the first time that all his efforts had failed and that Taliban had no address. But he changed mind quickly, without any clear vision of direction. The Traditional Loya Jirga of his hand-picked “elders” was staged and asked for “advice” on talks with the Taliban.

The Government has not the capacity and political mandate to be able to succeed in the peace process. The last three years have been ultimate failure. But unfortunately the international community has decided to ignore this. The Bonn Conference should have discussed a UN-led peace process involving regional countries and international stake holders which could be effective, transparent and dynamic.

The Bonn communiqué included nothing significant to undo the mistakes of last 10 years. It once again reiterated the uncertain assurances of the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan from a period of Transition to Transformation Decade of 2015-2025, but not discussed the reasons of slow progress and failure in many areas.

There is an increasing perception in the western media that the military operations have been complete failure. Analysts such as Ahmed Rashid advocate for talks. That has been what the Karzai Administration has desperately tried to do in the last three years, but failed.

The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The Administration in Kabul has not only disappointed Afghans, but failed the entire efforts of the international community. The root cause is in the system which was imposed by the international community in Afghanistan focusing on individuals rather than institutions. The Bonn communiqué mentioned the following;

Afghanistan reaffirms that the future of its political system will continue to reflect its pluralistic society and remain firmly founded on the Afghan Constitution.

It was enforced by President Karzai in retaliation to the increasing demand for change in the system. A strongly centralized system of Government has been against the nature of Afghanistan’s political and social order.

During the last 70-80 unstable years of Afghanistan’s history, all regimes and ideologies that tried to impose a highly centralized system, contributed to instability. For turning the international efforts into quantum success before the withdrawal, it is important to bring fundamental changes in the whole system in Afghanistan.

Even analysts like Ahmed Rashid have started realizing this. In his latest article on the Financial Times mentioning the increasing demands for change in the system from a presidential to parliamentary form of government, he says, “these demands come from important segments of all ethnic groups and need to be addressed by the government and the foreign powers before they leave. Failure to do so could lead to civil war.”

I believe unless there are radical changes in our constitution before the international community leaves, Afghanistan will not be on path of stability. We need rapid institutional decentralization of power and change of system from highly centralized presidential to a federal parliamentary government. We need reforms in electoral system, judicial sector and much more. This could be the only recipe for the Taliban peace process, reconciliation or political settlement whatever you name.

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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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New Policy for Negotiations with Pakistan?

Op-ed published Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Oct. 04

The 11-minutes speech of President Karzai to the nation live on RTA last night was expected to announce a strategy or roadmap about the post-Rabbani peace, the strategic partnership with the US, or making a sense of his vague statements regarding direct talks with Pakistan, instead of Taliban. But he repeated the same rhetoric, which he has been saying after the assassination of Ustad Rabbani.

He called another Loya Jirga, to ‘decide’ about the US strategic partnership and fate of negotiations. Listing the recent deeds of the Taliban, whom he used to refer as his “angry brothers”, their serial assassination campaign, including the murder of his own brother, President Karzai said, “one-sided desire and efforts for peace will not bear a result and peace can only be made with those who believe in it.” So, after all these Jirgas, commissions and regional meetings, and to mention the joint commission with Pakistan, now we come to know that everything is in a dead end. However, there was a hint of what the new policy might look like. He said, “We have to fight with determination against those who do not believe in peace”. Though not making it clear what the framework of his “direct talks with Pakistan about Taliban” would be, President Karzai added, “Pakistan has not cooperated with us, which is unfortunate. We need to reconsider peace. In reality, we need to deal with governments, not with their proxy groups.” Clearly he was referring to Taliban’s Quetta Shura and Haqqani Network as proxies of Pakistan. And probably if there is any such direct talk with Pakistan about Taliban, Islamabad will certainly deny presence of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan and that of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan.

Pakistan has been demanding a “role” in what they call the endgame in Afghanistan. And President Karzai’s “direct talk” is more of an offer, than a reaction for them. But it comes after the failures of joint Af-Pak commissions and exercises of Kabul-Islamabad visits in the past year. More importantly, Rawalpindi would not like to involve the US in such a “direct talks”, resultantly, rest assured not to expect anything positive out of it.

There are certain things that President Karzai should make clear with Pakistan. For now, there is no framework or a new strategy on how to proceed. When the Afghan-Pak Joint Peace Commission was established in April after the visit of Pakistani power trio—the Army Chief General Kayani, ISI Chief Shuja Pasha and Prime Minister Gilani—in Kabul, much hopes had been tied, by President Karzai and his advisors who are to be most blamed for a policy which has produced nothing in last six months, except the fact that we have lost many high-profile figures. It was President Karzai who had requested inclusion of military and intelligence officials of both countries in that Peace Commission, of which Ustad Rabbani was also a member. Now seeing the total failure of the Joint Peace Commission, that involved the military and intelligence of Pakistan, what could be a new strategy that President Karzai calls for direct talks with Pakistan, instead of the Taliban? Actually the Joint-Commission was a practice of the same.

Then and now, President Karzai thinks his efforts to persuade militants to denounce violence will only work if the military establishment of Pakistan supports it. It did not work during the last six months, and will most probably not work in future, because the perception of Pakistan’s military-intelligence about their “role” in Afghanistan is like a fifth province of their country.

Kabul says the Taliban leadership of Quetta Shura is hiding in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network has sanctuary in North Waziristan, and most suicide bombers come from that region. But Pakistan is not only in complete denial of these all, they also do not admit the fact that not only Haqqani Network, but terrorists with links from Xinjiang to Chechnya are in North Waziristan, and Pakistan Army has categorically denied any military operations there.

For his new policy of “direct talks with Pakistan instead of Taliban”, most importantly President Karzai needs to make nice with the US. The strategic partnership should be finalized as soon as possible. Calling a Loya Jirga is nothing, but a hurdle and waste of time to discuss the strategic partnership, or policy about Pakistan. There is the Wolesi Jirga and Senate, which must be prioritized for such national decisions.

The new policy should make certain things very clear; Pakistan should be urged to persuade the Haqqani elements and all other terrorists to leave North Waziristan or join negotiations with Kabul, otherwise Pakistan should launch military operations there. They must ask the Taliban leadership of Quetta Shura to either join a respectful peace process with Kabul, mediated by the help of ISI, or leave Pakistan.

Kabul can better deal and fight with determination if these elements have no safe havens in Pakistan. In return, Kabul and Islamabad should discuss the legitimate interests and demands of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have been talking about a post-US withdrawal Afghanistan. The US has more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 will remain long beyond 2024, so Pakistan need not to make “strategic depth” plans about a complete US withdrawal.

Afghanistan and the US have similar concerns about Pakistan, and President Karzai’s administration, while in a cold war with Washington, cannot achieve any of the above. It is also important for the US to get serious with their so-called carrot and stick policy towards Pakistan. It has been just the carrot so far, with more than $20 billions of aid, mostly to military, but at the end, a threat from Pakistan that Washington might lose a so-called ally in the war on terror.

To add a note at the end of this column about the inquiry delegation of Rabbani’s assassination, led by Defense Minister Rahim Wardark, the inquiry committee is supposed to visit Islamabad soon, but it seems this will be just another visit, seeing the headlines in Pakistan press that “Pakistan’s Foreign Office laughs on Afghan evidence”. The delegation will achieve nothing by going to Pakistan.

Even if there is strong evidence to prove Quetta Shura and elements from within ISI are behind the assassination of Ustad Rabbani, there should be no expectation that Taliban leaders will be arrested. They can be moved from Quetta to Karachi, or some other place. However, President Karzai has said if Pakistan does not cooperate in the investigations, the case will be taken to the UN, which might produce some satisfactory results.

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Time to Move Ahead

My editorial on Outlook, August 22, 2011

Finally the Independent Election Commission announced its decision to unseat nine MP’s. In a press conference on Sunday, IEC Chief Fazal Ahmad Manawi revealed names of the MP’s to be unseated and their replacements. This was the deal made a day before President Karzai issued the decree authorizing the IEC to finalize the deadlock and crisis on parliamentary elections. Manawi had to surrender, though not to all the demands of President Karzai, and change the results he had said it will be a “dream and impossible” in his defiant interviews since December, when the pity Special Tribunal was set up to alter results.

Those 62 candidates who were declared winners by President Karzai’s Special Tribunal have said they will not accept the decision unless all of them are reinstated. The most outspoken of them, Daud Sultanzoy, was saying in a press conference on Friday that even if one of the 62 MP’s remain, they will not accept the decision. Very ridiculously and sadly, he was saying the decision of Special Tribunal is a Sharia law, and it should be implemented. Seeing his Sharia statements about this crisis and the fact that he is not among the new faces to replace the unseated MP’s, it is obvious he will go on a rant of Jihad against the IEC in coming days.

On the other hand, the sitting MP’s have said Fazal Manawi with changing the election results is making his way to jail. They were saying no change will be accepted. However, there has not been very unexpected reaction from both sides after Manawi announced the changes on Sunday.

The replacement of MP’s is not a decision which could change the majority of Karzai-critic parliament. The new faces to come in the parliament are no bigwigs or warlords, nor the unseated MP’s are prominent opposition figures.

There might be some outcry from both sides in coming days, but this decision will mark the end of a deadlock and crisis caused and provoked by the Government. Whatever reasons, deal or President Karzai’s manipulation, this decision must end the crisis and everyone should move ahead. Already we have become a joke to the world with this ridiculous manipulation.

However, what President Karzai should have learned from this crisis, is the fact that not always all his attempts of manipulation to turn the affairs in his favor work. He gained nothing, but a rival parliament after months of attempts to alter the election results. Though he was successful to replace nine MP’s after several tactics during months of pressure on IEC, but still he could not change what exactly he wanted. Now he faces a parliament that will be more reactionary to President Karzai and his cabinet.

The judiciary got serious damage to it’s not-so-good reputation after the way it was used by President Karzai. The office of Attorney General is now known as a pressure-tool for the political battles of the Palace. The latest episode is allegations of drug trafficking against MP Zahir Qadir.

Waiting for years, the people know it is a political pressure by the Government after the fiery speeches of Zahir Qadir exposing the manipulation tactics in this crisis. The first thing parliament after this replacement has to do is to impeach the Attorney General and bring changes in the legislation about the extraordinary powers granted to the office of Attorney General.

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The Crisis Continues…

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 18

The parliamentary crisis with its turns and twists from the day one, has reached to an interesting and important stage where the turning point could either end the year-long political battle among the three pillars of state, or mark the origin of a political calamity that could lead to the unimaginable and irreversible. The protest demonstration of MPs from the Coalition for Support of Law on Tuesday was not what it was expected seeing the fiery speeches of its leaders. But it does not mean it was the ultimate show of street-power by the protesting MPs and their supporters. In Afghanistan, there is no culture of incessant protest. But the crowds get out of control easily, and turns into a mob, or worse than that. The reason protesters were stopped by MPs before they reach center of the city is also the fear that once the situation gets out of control, the loss can be huge. We have witnessed it.

The Palace played well by releasing two different versions of the Presidential Order about the stalemate. The decision announced are same in both versions, however the one released with the signature of President Karzai is more like a Sharia statement from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It makes the matter more complex by defining ominous ‘judicial’ authorities of the President. The media version of that Presidential Order was released by the office of Presidential Spokesman. Seeing the unclear wording of the Presidential Order, a deal was imminent.

You needed a constitutional lawyer to translate that order. TVs in Kabul were reporting totally different from each other, some saying the Special Tribunal has been dissolved and the Election Commission assigned to finalize the election dispute, while others were reporting that the President has asked the Election Commission to implement decision of the Special Tribunal. Such was the ambiguity of the statement that both sides of the conflict, MPs in parliament and the ‘protesting candidates’ claimed victory. It was intentional to cause the confusion, keep space for a deal, and depict the ‘order’ in way that seemed like President Karzai has made a very rational decision about all this crisis by assigning IEC to resolve the conflict. But in reality, there is already a deal of sort. I would name it the Plan B of Karzai for this crisis.

The Presidential Order had kept the criminal issues of this dispute exceptional while baring all state organs to cease dealing with this except the IEC. Among the list of 62 MPs, 17 of them come into the category of ‘criminal’. And sources say Karzai after intense meetings with leading political figures and Jihadi leaders have ‘found the middle way’ of this crisis, which is removal of 17 MPs, to be replaced by the ‘protesting’ guys. There was another interesting report by the McClatchy newspaper about UNAMA Special Representative Staffen de Mitsura proposing IEC Chief Manawi about removal of 17 MPs—Karzai’s Plan B for this crisis. This report also mentions that Manawi is looking for removal of ‘five or six’ that might include the rumored names I mentioned in the beginning.

The current battle among the government, parliament and judiciary has many dimensions. This can’t be generalized as a battle between the pro-Karzai camp and opposition, with judiciary, the government, attorney general and the Special Tribunal on one side, and majority of MPs, the Election Commission and Complaints Commission on the other. There are cracks within the divide. For instance, on Tuesday a group of MPs formed another coalition called Reformists.

It included all pro-Karzai folks, who condemned the Coalition for Rule of Law in a press conference that day. Insiders say there was a sale of MPs when players from Karzai-camp were busy buying off their loyalties, trying to split the Rule of Law group. There are different rumors about what IEC might announce in its final verdict this week. Some say five MPs might be unseated. The rumored names include Hafeez Mansoor, Sarwar Usmani, Tahir Zaheer and Simeen Barakzai.

The fun is that it does not include Daud Sultanzoy. If it turns out to be the actual decision of IEC, Sultanzoy might declare the verdict ‘Haram’ and issue a ‘Fatwa’ calling IEC an un-Islamic body. These days he has been making statements defining Islamic Sharia. His fans did not know he was an expert on Sharia. While talking to his group of 200 supporters in Kabul the other day, he said,

“the court decision [Special Tribunal] is binding and enforced by Islamic Sharia law. Nobody can defy the injunctions sanctified by the law. If they stand in the way of implementing this decision they will be considered ‘mumtamarid’ [defying Islamic principles]. We all know that what Sharia prescribes for dealing with such people.”

Mr. Sultanzoy has been very critical of the Independent Election Commission. He is an intellectual, no doubt, but the above Sharia statement and his self-centered stance during this entire crisis shows the ‘pro-democracy’ face of our intellectual.

Daud Sultanzoy’s statement is not just a random rant, but as per the script, this crisis has been shaped to end with such episode. President Karzai has motivated judges and prosecutors in different provinces. Meetings were held with statements in favor of President Karzai. Besides that, the Kabul Appeal Court had also condemned the MPs rejecting the Presidential Order, saying they are opposing Sharia. Ulema Council of Afghanistan in a statement has hailed decision of the Special Tribunal. They all are putting indirect pressure on IEC to follow a certain line this week.

As I mentioned above, the Presidential Order twist with two different versions was part of this script. The one released with sign of President Karzai include a long paragraph not included in the version of the Order released by the Office of Presidential Spokesman for media. Below is the translation of that paragraph by AAN;

Given that ruling no. 22 (13/05/1390) of the Civil Affairs and Personal Status Division of the Appeal Court of Kabul province on the disputes arisen from the parliamentary elections of 1389 [2010] determined that the right to be an MP (hagh-e wekalat) in the Wolesi Jirga is a right of political privilege and representation (hagh-e emtiazi-ye siasi-ye eghtezai) and the use of this right, in the face of the current tensions that are running high in the country and in view of the highest national and social interest of the community, country and nation, has been vested within the authority of the person of the president, as the judge who has the authority to inaugurate the judiciary, the Ol-ul-Amar [the Amir whose authority is not given by people but is based on religious principles], and the leader of the national policy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, so that the implementation of whatever decision he deems best serves the interests of the country and the nation and matches the realities of the society, may put an end to the existing confusion.

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Appeasing the Militants, Karzai to Sell out Our Rights

Children in the Nawruz Concert in Helmand. Photo UK Forces AFG

My Outlook op-ed March 28

The Deputy Governor of Helmand, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal has been sacked from his position after the Nawruz concert in Lashkargah, in which he invited female singers. Thousands of people attended that concert. When I was watching the photos on BBC Pashto, the crowd looked bigger than any of religious gatherings. More than 200 women also attended the live music. The above photo of exciting children enjoying the concert and clapping on the beat of music gave me the most pleasant feeling, seeing the young cheerful faces having fun in the heart of an insurgency-hit province where children and women are the worst victims of terrorism, and living with the mental torture in such an environment. Afghan police managed the security of the concert, and it was a success for Helmand, one of the 8 places to be transferred to Afghan security forces in July by NATO troops. Recently a similar passion was seen in the concert of Farhad Darya, where thousands came, despite the risky security situation. Such events are rare in the volatile provinces of South, where people have little opportunities of entertainment.

During the dark period of Taliban repression, not only our centuries’ old festival Nawruz was banned, but also music was not allowed, and declared “sinful” for the ears. Since the fall of the forces of darkness, we have been defiant to fight extremism and religious fanaticism. Kudos to Farzana Naz and Rita Wagma, the female singers who made the crowd of 12,000 people cheer with entertainment, for their bravery to go there. It was the first time female singers perform in front of a big crowd in Helmand, not to mention their half-sleeves and no-hijab or head-scarves appearing in public in the heart of insurgency. But this event and “female” singers’ performance was not something to be “acceptable” for the radical Mullahs and Ulemas of the province. They all complained to Karzai about Mirzakwal, and threatened with repercussions, then the Deputy Governor was sacked soon. Karzai bowed in front the religious radicals and took action quickly on their demand, even not consulting IDLG (Independent Directorate of Local Governance), the body responsible for appointing and dismissal of governors, district chiefs and other officials.

The question is, why the President has to react on the “complains” of some medieval-thinking extremists against the will of thousands of people? If it was that un-Islamic and against our traditions, why thousands of people, who are very religious, didn’t raise any objection, rather enjoyed the concert? This is one of the most shameful and ridiculous moves by President Karzai recently. Sacking an official for the complaints of a handful of religious extremists is like agreeing to what Taliban did to the people while holding an AK-47 on their head. There are such concerts happening all over the country, but why should Helmand or Mirzakwal be a victim? What violation of Islamic laws and our traditions have been committed in a concert where a female singer appears on the stage and make the crowd of thousands cheer in delight? Well, if we listen to the interpretation of Islam by these radicals, music is Harram (taboo) and their male-honor and ethics say that “female” are a species to be kept under veils at homes, and subjected to a treatment like an object. They think entertainment is bad for public, and people should not rejoice.

The hypocrisy and cowardice of President Karzai is not understandable when locals have no problem with such an event, but he reacts on the “complains” of some fanatics who consider themselves the self-righteous guardian of peoples’ belief and ethics, who think it’s not proper that a female singer come on stage , and people listen to music, children clap and smile. They want the people to live in a medieval lifestyle where no one but the village Mullah has the right to set limits to the lifestyle of people and declare what is good and part of our traditions, and what not.

It’s an irony that even we are afraid to comment on it. Violence is the weapon for extremists, but our sacrificial compromise cannot be silence. Officials of Karzai Administration say there will be increased violence in Helmand with such “concerts”. What a shame! They want us to live on the conditions of terrorists, even in areas where the Government is confident enough to call for transfer of security responsibility to Afghan security forces from ISAF troops.

President Karzai is very keen with his efforts to negotiate with militants and make compromise deals on their conditions. He is even ready to give up some of our basic rights and freedoms, such as celebration of our cultural festivals, a music concert and performance of a female singer. He wants to appease the militants by bowing down to the “demands” of fanatics. That is the kind of peace that Karzai wants to buy by selling out our freedoms and rights, even before we exercise them. We have fought to gain such rights and freedoms, and we must defend them, not sell out to militants with a peace that will come at the cost of these rights.

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