My op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Jan 16
After Taliban’s confirmation of opening an office in Qatar, the domestic Afghan debate on talks with the Taliban has intensified among the political circles of Kabul, media, civil society organizations and ordinary Afghans. It is optimistic to see the efforts of talks for a political settlement with the insurgents to end the conflict in Afghanistan has opened up a broad and realistic debate among Afghans. Taliban have more problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community. The direct US-Taliban talks are a significant improvement towards hopes of an end to violence. Whatever the result of negotiations and whether it can lead to a breakthrough by 2014 is early to say. However, the intra-Afghan reconciliation is more important for the end of conflict in Afghanistan. The Government has been emphasizing and attempting to control the current process of negotiations with the Taliban. The Islamic Emirate says only parties in talks are the United States and Taliban. They also renounce the Afghan constitution and have made it clear that opening of a formal office in Doha will not mean an end to suicide attacks and bomb blasts against Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF.
Even if the Karzai Government joins the negotiations process with the Taliban later, the Administration does not represent the real anti-Taliban constituency, as former Chief of NDS Amrullah Saleh says. And this has to be seriously considered by the international community, if a genuine reconciliation and end of the conflict in Afghanistan is to be achieved.
Nowadays the Government has launched a storm of criticism campaign against those who met some Republican and Democrat US congressmen in Berlin last week. The state-owned media outlets and analysts affiliated with Government supported think-tanks are all propagating in a malign campaign of distorting the agenda of meeting in Berlin. Four US congressmen, including Republicans and Democrat held a session with some Afghan politicians including prominent opposition figures and leaders of the National Front, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Muhammad Muhaqiq, Rashid Dostum and former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh.
The session discussed the recent Bonn Conference and stability in Afghanistan beyond 2014. In a joint press release, the US congressmen criticized Obama and Karzai administrations for ignoring a huge segment of the Afghan society in the current process towards negotiations with the Taliban. They said forces that helped the US topple Taliban regime in 2001 are being sidelined. Such an approach without participation of all segments of the Afghan society will not result in stability beyond 2014. With the US and NATO withdrawal plan of 2014, Afghanistan needs a broad-based inclusive peace and genuine reconciliation process for stability.
Their joint statement pointed out the roots of governance and nation-building failure in Afghanistan. They said:
“our concern is that the present political system is dysfunctional because all the power is centralized in a way that no American would tolerate in the United States… This centralized power has led to massive corruption, disenfranchisement of a large segment of the Afghan people, obstacles to economic development, massive abuse of power, political instability, poor governance, and a vast undermining of law and order.”
The Afghan leaders called for “a national dialogue on a revised Constitution to correct the inherent flaws in the present power structure by decentralizing the political system, making it more compatible with the diverse political, social and cultural nature of Afghanistan.” They further said that the current process of talks with the Taliban is flawed because it excludes the anti-Taliban Afghans. They also called for change in the electoral system, from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Proportional Representation.
All of the above demands have been discussed in media in Kabul, and often expressed by the mentioned politicians. But it seems the Karzai Administration wants to shut everyone up. There is an increasing domestic dictatorial attitude and approach from the Government. The President can dismiss the decisions of Election Commission and force them to change election results, bypass parliament by calling a Traditional Loya Jirga on national issues, and manage to go away with his acting-ministers for more than one year now. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is an acting-judge. The President fires the most prominent human rights activists of this country, from what is an ‘Independent” Human Rights Commission. All but some dictatorial and clear violations of the Constitution by the President that nobody should dare to question, otherwise they will be accused to be plotting “disintegration” of Afghanistan.
Participants of the Berlin meeting called for decentralization of power and a parliamentary form of government. I quoted most of their points in the joint statement released to media. There was no talk of federal system, or anything against constitution. The Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Ludin knows it, but he needs some experience with diplomatic behavior and manner to talk with media. Some ethnocentric elements around President Karzai are advising him with the increasing dictatorial behavior.
Foreign Ministry slammed the meeting of Afghan National Front leaders and former NDS Chief with the US congressmen in Berlin, saying it was “against the Afghan Constitution”. Can it get more ridiculous than this? The Ministry has “warned” against repetition of such meetings in future, calling it an inference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. One wants to laugh out loud at such idiocy. Taliban, who are sworn enemies of the National Security Forces of Afghanistan and slaughter innocent civilians, do not forgive women and children and blow up in mosques, are “brothers” for the Government, but when one talks about a national dialogue for change in constitution, which is allowed in the Constitution itself, you are accused of plotting partition of the country. And the Taliban who loudly say they don’t give a damn about the Constitution, the Government welcome decision of their office in Qatar with diplomatic privileges.
Soon after the Berlin discussion, Government media outlets and their “analysts” started planting distorted lies in media. The Government-supported Afghanistan Regional Studies Center held a session to denounce the calls of National Front leaders. The Center’s Chief Abdul Ghafor Lewal said the Berlin meeting was “a plot to disintegrate Afghanistan”. He believes federal system will lead to partition of the country.
There is nothing unconstitutional about such a discussion or demand for national dialogue and debate about any changes in constitution. Whenever one dares to discuss decentralization of power in Afghanistan, proponents of the Government react very strongly with propaganda. One wonders why? Even if the National Front leaders or any Afghan call for federal system, what’s wrong in it? Calling for a federal system is not an agenda to disintegrate the country, rather it strengthens our multi-ethnic and pluralistic society with political stability. Many successful, pluralistic countries around the world have federal system including the United States or another perfect example is of our neighbor and biggest democracy of the world India.
A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic pluralistic society. American academic Dr. Thomas Barfield in his book Afghanistan: a Cultural and Political History says the successive failures of monarchs, republicans and communist governments for the last century in Afghanistan have been because of the attempts of centralization of power. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. A federal system would also be the only solution for reconciliation with insurgents and long-term political stability in Afghanistan.