Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Failure of Security Transition?

My op-ed Outlook Afghanistan published on August 13

Bamiyanis took to streets on Sunday protesting against insecurity on Bamiyan-Kabul roads. Members of provincial council and civil society activists led the demonstration rally. As usual, it did not get due coverage in mainstream Kabul TVs. Slogans on banners warned the Government to maintain security on roads connecting them to the capital, otherwise people will have to take steps for their protection.

According to civil society activists, 32 residents of Bamiyan have been killed during last six months, mostly in Jalrez District of Maidan Wardak and Ghorband District of Parwan on the way to Kabul. They say fuel tankers are torched by Taliban militants. Prices have gone skyrocketing in the province.

In their resolution, protesters have offered volunteer community cooperation to be equipped with ANA forces and maintain security on roads. It shows the declining confidence of people from the most peaceful part of Afghanistan on Government capability and security transition, and must be an alarm for the Karzai Administration as well as ISAF.

Insecurity has increased on roads leading to Bamiyan since the withdrawal of US troops from the Combat Outpost Conlon in Jalrez District in February this year. Bamiyan was the first province to be fully transitioned to the control of Afghan security forces from ISAF troops. With third phase of transition going on across the country, the protest in Bamiyan is an early sign of its failure and alarms of descent into chaos. These incidents are more concerning due to another fact that Taliban militants are particularly targeting individuals from Bamiyan and Hazara ethnic origin regardless of their connection with government or international forces. It could fuel ethnic tensions and seriously undermine perception about capability of Government providing security people in most peaceful parts of the country who have been most supporting and cooperative with Karzai Administration.

Two weeks ago, 11 people were slaughtered by Taliban in Jalrez. Five passengers were taken off a vehicle at Kote Ashro area on Wednesday, August 01. They were brutally tortured, their hands tied behind, eyes taken off and bodies thrown on the highway after beheading. All five were civilians. They were buried in Kabul later. Thousands attended the funeral in Kabul, expressing outrage against the Taliban and Government failure. Speakers were accusing negligence.

Six others were killed in similar brutality on Monday, July 23 in the same area of Jalrez. Their bodies were cut into pieces. All of the 11 civilians butchered belonged to Hazara ethnic group. They were massacred within one kilometer of distance from an ANA check post. Not a single person has been arrested, despite repeated incidents in the same area. Taliban stop vehicles of civilian passengers in Jalrez and Ghorband almost on daily basis. It was always a security risk for government officials and those working with foreign organizations and NGOs, but now ordinary people hesitate traveling to Bamiyan from Kabul by road.

Two New Zealand troops and four agents of National Directorate of Security were killed in a gunfight with insurgents in Shiber, Bamiyan on August 04. Bamiyan is known as the safest province of Afghanistan, but it seems that title no more applies. Insurgent ambushes and IED attacks on ISAF troops and ANSF in the province are limited to Shibar and Saighan districts, which border Baghlan.  However, militants have been able to carry more sophisticated attacks in recent months. Last month in July, the news of ambush on police officials shocked all, marking the worst insurgent attack in Bamiyan with highest death toll in a single attack.

With the local population welcoming and supportive of NATO troops, Taliban have failed to make local presence in Bamiyan. It seems they have started to indiscriminately punish Bamiyanis and terrorize the population. ISAF and ANSF should launch special operations in Shibar, Saighan, Jalrez and Ghorband districts to clear the areas from insurgents.

It must be of serious concern to the Government and ISAF that ordinary civilians from a particular ethnic group are being targeted by the Taliban. The beheadings in Jalrez has already stirred a sense of uncertainty among the people of Bamiyan and Daikundi, increasing their doubts about Karzai’s claims that Afghan National Security Forces can maintain security after foreign troops’ withdrawal. More such incidents can fuel serious ethnic strife. It should be an alarm for the Government to pay serious attention, otherwise the sense of uncertainty can decrease confidence of people and they will prepare for the worst to come.

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Power Transition Key to Post-2014 Stability

Nowadays most analysis and opinion pieces on op-ed pages by Western media pundits talk of Afghanistan returning to civil war after the NATO and US troops’ withdrawal in 2014. They express concerns about the fragile tribal atmosphere and fear fragmentation of Afghan National Security Forces along ethnic lines.

Political stability is prime factor to determine reliability on strength, will and integration of security forces, and continuation of the current democratic process. Security challenges are secondary threats for larger instability and eventual chaos. Our history tells whenever there has been bloodshed that has led to national crisis; it has been caused by political instability, not the traditional domestic security challenges to the writ of state, which has always existed.

The sophisticated Taliban insurgency will remain a challenge. But factors that can lead to fragmentation of ANSF after NATO withdrawal will not be primarily the fact that suicide attacks will increase in Kabul and other cities, and insurgency will grow deadlier. However, unconstitutional attempts for power grab can cause our quick descent into chaos. Political transition in 2014 is equally important in parallel with full security transition to Afghan forces after NATO troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.

The international community, particularly Washington should pay attention to the preparations for a peaceful and transparent political transition in 2014. Political opposition groups express serious concerns regarding President Karzai’s pledges to ensure legitimate transfer of power.

An election campaign is already launched in the Presidential Palace, and meetings are held for bargaining. The upheavals in cabinet and impeachment of key ministers are part of the game.

Domestically, there are preparations and uncertainties about the 2014 polls. It is clear that without strong support—financial, technical, political and security—from the international community, it would be impossible to hold peaceful elections for a smooth transition of power. But political opposition groups fear the Karzai Administration intends to use all state-resources and institutions in favor of their designs for the coming polls.

Only a transparent elections and legitimate transfer of power can ensure political stability and continuation of the post-Taliban democratic process. Any attempt by the current Palace dwellers to clench to power will mean violent episodes of power grab and eventual civil war. The international community should ensure peaceful transition of power strengthening our fragile and infant democratic process.

Washington should pay heed to the concerns of Afghan opposition groups. The recent calls for restoration of credibility to the electoral process are being ignored by the Karzai Administration. Political parties’ demands for amendments in the draft Electoral Law are ignored. The international community should make sure that a free, fair, transparent, credible and independent election is held in 2014.

The new US Ambassador for Kabul James B Cunningham has said the coming Presidential election in 2014 is crucial for stability in Afghanistan. While testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said the international community has key role in ensuring smooth transfer of power in Afghanistan. He further said, “Key to Afghanistan’s future stability will be a credible and inclusive presidential election in 2014, followed by a constitutional transfer of power. President Karzai has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to a peaceful, constitutional transition of power at the end of his second term. All Afghans, whatever their gender, ethnicity or religion, have much to gain from a successful political transition, and the United States is committed to working with  international partners to support the Afghans as they choose their next leader.”

I hope efforts for transparent power transition in 2014 is a priority task for Ambassador Cunningham, as it should be a concern for the next US Administration.

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On the Conflict Mapping Report

My op-ed Outlook Afghanistan published Aug 01

Recently bits and pieces of the report detailing war crimes and atrocities of 80s and 90s has been hitting media. The 800-page report titled “Conflict Mapping in Afghanistan since 1978” is prepared by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and group of 40 international and Afghan researchers over six years of field work. It names about 500 individuals—including former militia leaders who denounced violence after the fall of the Taliban and joined the new setup and democratic process in Afghanistan—in detailed reporting of the evidence of over two decades of atrocities, including mass graves. The report was supposed to be published months ago, but President Karzai and his international backers have supressed its publication fearing backlash from those named in the report, who now hold strong positions in the government, or have mass political backing.

Human rights and civil society activists are concerned if the report will ever be published. Some express fears that publication of the report could lead to serious troubles and ethnic strife, as it names figures like national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud. Some Afghan analysts and human rights activists are calling for a watered down version of the report excluding names of perpetrators, saying ‘something is better than nothing’.

I don’t see any prospects of this crucial report being published under the current Administration. President Karzai’s stay in power is dependent on his alliance with many of the warlords responsible for 90s carnage. Karzai’s promotion of patronage politics has formed the foundations of the current setup in a way that official action on the report means collapse of the system. Those 500 individuals named in the report are all in strong power positions, from Presidential Palace and Parliament to district level.

On the other hand, President Karzai is making efforts for release of Taliban leaders from Guantanamo, including two notorious commanders responsible for the massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif and named in the report. He will not let it be published. When Karzai calls Taliban, who slaughter Afghans everyday, his “brothers” and ask Mullah Omar to contest elections, the entire concept of transitional justice becomes a joke.

The Conflict Mapping report was commissioned under the Action Plan for Peace Justice and Reconciliation in 2005, which later led to parliamentary approval of the blanket immunity bill, the National Stability and Reconciliation Law in 2007. They kept space for themselves even in the Action Plan commitments with vague phrases such as accountability and acknowledgement of Afghans’ suffering with improvement of ‘national unity’. President Karzai will now use that law for negotiations with Taliban.

Besides, there is lack of interest from the international community for publication of the report. President Karzai’s backers, particularly the US, will seek to prevent its publication given the NATO withdrawal deadline and Obama Administration’s rush for a political settlement with the Taliban.

However, the fears that publication of the Conflict Mapping report could lead to serious civil strife are geniune. Far from official action, mere public debate about the report could increase strife given the fragile ethnic atmosphere in Afghanistan. For instance, country’s national hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud is one of those named in the report. Every ethnic figure from 90s is hero for one, and villain for the other in public. Our people are highly sentimental on such issues, and it can easily fuel the fire of ethnic tensions across the country.

The report could change minds of some educated urban Afghans about the images created around the ethnic figures, but it can lead to tensions among majority ordinary people who are more vulnerable to the manipulations of warlords, who can take cover behind ethnic walls and fuel strife to protect themselves from accountability.

Under the current circumstances in Afghanistan, with increasing fears of civil war after withdrawal of international troops, and the fact that the Karzai Administration has no will to publish the report, and its international backers shy away, the urgency of it’s release is more important as a history lesson than prospects of justice for victims. It is to tell our people what civil war does, and that, more or less, everyone suffered.

It seems the Karzai Administration will supress the report, but it will come out in public one day, leaked, if not officially. Realizing the fragile atmosphere and fears of increased tensions among people, now rights activists are increasingly calling for publication of the report, without naming anyone as perpetrators. Perhaps that’s better than entirely suppressing the story of our wounds. If justice cannot heal, telling the story might.

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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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Supremacists of Academy of Sciences

Op-ed published on Daily Outlook June 20

President Karzai has fired Chief of Afghanistan’s Academy of Sciences and three of its other staffers after publication of the Ethnography Atlas that includes extremely offending and derogatory claims about a particular ethnic group, which has sparked reactions from political circles and ordinary people. The Attorney General has been ordered to launch investigation against the authors of the chapters with fascistic claims that can damage ethnic harmony and fuel clashes.

It is a welcoming and timely move. I hope it can help calm down an expected extreme reaction in Kabul and other parts of the country that could create a serious trouble for the Government and cause dent in the efforts of international community for political and social stability in Afghanistan, particularly at the current sensitive transition period prior to the withdrawal of international troops in 2014.

The Academy of Sciences has published a book titled “Ethnography Atlas of Non-Pashtun Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan”. Its contents are claimed to be a collection and compiling of research papers by certain Afghan authors. The Academy says publication of the Atlas was aimed to promote national unity and increase inter-ethnic cultural awareness and understanding. However, soon after some copies of the Ethnography Atlas were obtained by independent researchers and political circles outside the Academy, reactions have sparked since.

The controversial chapter about Hazaras start from page 600. After seeing the content, one rub eyes in disbelief. While reading some parts, one wonders how such nonsense ever got approved by the leadership of the Academy and went to publication? In some parts, the sentences are referenced with explanations that for the sake of national unity, many lines have been omitted not to ‘hurt’ people of certain ethnic groups. I wondered it was for national unity and promotion of inter-ethnic cultural understanding that the level of fabrication in academic claims were such offensive and humiliating that, if spread among ordinary people, the book could fuel our descent into countrywide chaos of ethnic violence quickly.

The book includes fabricated quotes from foreign sources and Afghan historians such as Faiz Mohammad Kateb. Hazaras are described as “liers, dishonest, unreliable and ignorant people who are always indulged in tribal violence among themselves.” On page 664 of the book, Hazaras are declared sons of Mongo Khan, grandson of Ghengiz Khan living in the mountains of Afghanistan. Going further low, another lines goes, “Hazara women have hair on their head and under armpits. The rest of their body is hairless. Hazara women are superior than their man. Surprisingly, the Hazara man discuss family affairs with women and value their advice.”

The book also includes extremely offensive sectarian claims labeling the Hazaras as Rafizi—something lower than infidels in the eys of Islamic radicals. This branding is an intentional attempt to fuel sectarian hatred and cause enmity among people of different sects. Such claims can fuel Shia-Sunni rifts and conflict in the country, sadly coming from so-called academics who claim to promote national unity and inter-ethnic cultural understanding. One could expect such a supremacist attempt under the totalitarian regime of the Taliban, but it comes from the torch-bearers of liberal nationalism and so-called secular academics.

It is a timely move that President Karzai has ordered immediate dismissal of the Chief of Academy of Sciences Abdul Bari Rashid, his deputy Syed Muhammad Amin Mujahid, Chief of Social Sciences Department Abdul Hakim Safi, Deputy of Human Studies Department Nasrullah Sobman for offending the Hazaras, under the section 13, article 64 of the Constitution.

Some sane voices around President Karzai alerted him quickly to avoid a serous trouble that could spark nationwide conflict and put us on edge of polarization at this sensitive times of our history when Afghanistan has last chance to choose stability after decades of wars and conflicts. The book was published two weeks ago at the cost of $50,000 from public taxes.

However, the fact that biased elements with their ethnic politics and agendas of hate can infiltrate our national institutions, particularly academic organizations to spread their ideology of discrimination, it should be a matter of serious concern for the international community who have sacrificed blood and money to bring stability in this country during the last ten years, which could be derailed overnight by such moves of some fascist elements around President Karzai.

The President has ordered Attorney General to launch investigation against the authors and researchers of the Ethnography Atlas published by the Academy of Sciences and trial them for insulting entire people of a particular ethnic group.

MP and head of People’s Unity Party of Afghanistan Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq in a press conference on Sunday had strongly condemned the ‘offense to Hazaras’, saying it could spark ethnic clash across the country and damage national unity. He demanded full dismissal of the Academy of Sciences and asked for equal representation academic experts from all ethnic group in the Academy of Sciences.
President Karzai in remarks during the Palace meeting about the issue said freedom of expression in Constitution does not mean one can use the language of hate to insult others. He added that Ethnography Atlas published as research work is an offense to all ethnic groups of Afghanistan and the nation.

The Academy was under fire recently for another controversial issue when it published Encyclopedia of Aryana with census statistics. It had shocking figures on ethnic composition of the country. It has put Pashtuns at 62%, Tajiks 12 %, Hazara 9% and Uzbek 4% of the total population of Afghanistan. Political circles have condemned the claims published by the Academy and demanded the Government to dismiss officials responsible for fueling ethnic clash and polarization of the country. The head of Afghanistan’s Statistics Office has dismissed the figures as “unofficial” and “unacceptable” saying that there has not been any census, how could Academy of Sciences publish figures.

Lets hope the dismissal of Abdul Bari Rashid and his colleagues will put waters on the hot temper of reaction among those offended by the Academy of Social Sciences and it can prevent further polarization of our society.

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Political Transition and Calls for Electoral Reforms-II

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 16 

Read Part I of this op-ed here.

Heading towards challenging times of power transition ahead, we need radical electoral reforms. The parliament should make the amended draft of Electoral Law, which has to be submitted by the Independent Election Commission soon, top working priority. Fundamental amendments should be introduced into the Electoral Law to clarify parameters of Presidential authority regarding the opening of election campaign, monitoring of polls and certification of results. Nowhere on earth a sitting President ‘certifies’ results of Presidential elections, except in our mobocracy. The Electoral Law also needs further clarification on structure and administrative procedure of the Independent Election Commission and Election Complaints Commission.

In 2009, parliament adopted a law calling for approval of IEC commissioners from parliament. It was rejected by President Karzai. The current commissioners’ political sympathy for President is no secret.

There are serious flaws in the structure and administration of Independent Election Commission. Nomination of its chairman and members should be subject to parliamentary approval. Presidential nominations should be based on consultations with legislative, political parties and civil society. Members should have the authority to vote and elect their Chairman and Executive Body, rather than it being appointed by the President.

Parliament should open debate on other radical electoral reforms such as party laws and overhaul of Single Non-transferable Vote (SNTV). The Proportion Representation System should be adopted. The Electoral Law should clarify and provide for a transitional administration if polling cannot be conducted within the constitutional calendar.

The incumbent President’s term will end on May 22, 2014. Law must provide legal provisions for a caretaker administration. In last presidential election, when polls were postponed, President Karzai simply continued serving in office in contrary to the constitutional provisions. The current Administration has intentionally kept the law unclear on such circumstances.

For some changes, we need constitutional reform on electoral affairs. Schedule of presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections are needed to be amended in coordination with the challenges and limitations experienced in previous elections and with incorporation of new demographics.

It would take pages to repeat the story of 2009 Presidential elections debacle and 2010 parliamentary elections crisis. Results were delayed for months. The last two elections particularly undermined credibility of the entire process. However, in the last six elections held for presidency, parliament and provincial councils over the past decade, we have learned about range of structural flaws, logistical limitations and demographic changes which need to be updated and improved. Our infant dysfunctional democracy has to be institutionalized. For that, we need radical reforms, and electoral process is its fundamental to start with.

It will take years to achieve all requirements of an improved electoral process, beginning with an electoral database. The international community bogged with other issues and priorities in Afghanistan have ignored institutionalization and strengthening of the foundations of a democratic system. For instance, The “Annex II, Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan” of the Bonn Agreement signed in December, 2001 in Germany mentions that the UN should conduct census and develop voter registration, which never happened.

Lack of an accurate census database has slowed down the entire process. Work needs to be started on development of an advanced electoral database with voter registration through biometric ID. All of it can be possible when a census is conducted and biometric IDs issued throughout the country.

One of the constitutional requirements which the Karzai Administration has failed to implement is elections for district councils and municipality. The Government should start it from now, on a phased schedule with most secure provinces first. President Karzai has been appointing his favorites as district governors and mayors, while the constitution requires that these officials come on popular vote.

The parliament should start debate as soon as the new amended draft of Electoral Law is submitted for approval. They should prepare legislation for reforms by the end of the year and changes should be introduced by mid-2013, to bring into effect by coming Presidential polls.

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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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Filed under Karzai-Obama, US Troops in Afghanistan, US-Afghanistan

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.


Filed under Parliament, President Karzai

Talks of Federal System

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.


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