Viktor Korgun, D.Sc. (Hist.), head of the Afghanistan Sector, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Early in 2005, the north betrayed its annoyance with the freshly formed Cabinet. On 1 January, representatives of eight northern provinces came to the Mazar-i-Sharif to declare that the number of ministers of the ethnic minorities of the north in Hamid Karzai’s new government did not correspond to their contribution to the jihad against the Soviet troops in 1979-1989 and to the counterterrorist struggle. The final resolution emphasized that the majority of the country’s ethnic groups, especially those of the north, was disappointed with the new cabinet. It also objected to the distribution of ministerial posts, the most important of them going to Pashtoons, members of the country’s largest ethnic group, and called on the president “who represented all Afghans” to revise his government’s composition.
It appears to be General Abdul Rashid Dustom, leader of the Afghan Uzbeks, who stirred up discontent in the north: at the presidential election on 9 October, 2004, he won 10 percent of the votes, which were never transformed into a government seat for himself, while his supporters obtained only two seats in the new cabinet. Late in December 2004, he voiced his displeasure about the inadequate representation of Uzbeks and other national minorities in the upper echelons of power. Mass rallies with similar slogans took place in the northern provinces of Balkh, Jauzjan, and Faryab. A power struggle was evidently gaining momentum in the ethnically split country.
This led to an aborted assassination attempt on General Dustom which took place on 20 January in the village of Sibergan, the Jauzjan provincial center and the general’s turf. Dustom, who escaped with his life, blamed the people connected with the Taliban and al-Qa‘eda. The local authorities, however, preferred to blame Pakistan, their version being denounced by a spokesman of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. The investigation teams have so far failed to offer a final version.
Al-Qa‘eda might be involved: the general, who wields a lot of influence in the north, is a thorn in the side of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) headed by Tahir Yoldosh, one of al-Qa‘eda’s allies. The IMU camping along the Pakistani border would like to move closer to Uzbekistan’s southern borders. Shortly after the attempted assassination, Reuters received information from an unknown person who represented the Taliban. He said that the failed attempt on the general’s life was intended as revenge for the mass murders of Taliban members perpetrated by Dustom’s units involved in the counterterrorist operation in October 2001.
General Dustom annoyed the central government as well: for a long time the general, who headed the National Islamic Movement Party, toyed with the idea of federalism to create a wider autonomy for the Afghan Uzbeks. In recent years, General Dustom was also involved in a protracted conflict with General Ato Muhammad, comrade-in-arms of former Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, thus undermining political stability in the country’s north. In the wake of the presidential election, though, the general gradually became a legitimate figure to the extent of disarming his private army, albeit unwillingly. Later President Karzai lured him onto his side by giving him the purely decorative post of chief of staff of Armed Forces under the Supreme Commander. The general quit his post of head of the National Islamic Movement.
To be more exact, the general was not appointed chief of staff. President Karzai instituted the high-sounding new post, which had no real power, in order to detach the general from his cronies and lure him into the presidential palace in order to control him without humiliating either him or his comrades-in-arms. Under pressure, the general came to the capital to take the post—this was the first step toward gradual disarmament and integration of the warlords. Hamid Karzai, who resolved to put an end to the warlord system, had no ready means to do this, therefore he gradually narrowed down the power of the warlords by pushing them onto the road of legal political activities, where all played according to the rules.
What happened next was prompted, directly or indirectly, by the coming parliamentary election. Scheduled for October 2004 to coincide with the presidential election, it was moved to a later date—first to May and then to September 2005. This was explained by the complex domestic situation, the need to train more people to organize elections across the country and to re-register the voters. On 17 January, 2005, however, the head of state appointed the Central Election Commission of nine members who represented all major ethnic groups: Pashtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmens, and ethnic Hindus. Later it was transformed into a Joint Commission for the Elections. The race began.
Meanwhile, the country’s leaders never abandoned their efforts to draw the former Taliban leaders and fighters onto their side. This was done within the 2004 amnesty of those Taliban members who had withdrawn from fighting against the government and the international counterterrorist coalition. In February, four former top bureaucrats accepted an invitation to join the national reconciliation process: Abdul Hakeem Mujahed, who was expected to represent the Taliban in the U.N., but was never accredited; Arsalan Rahmani, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Ramatullah Wahidyar, Deputy Minister for Martyrs and Repatriation, and H. Fawzi, former charge d’affaires ad interim of Afghanistan in Saudi Arabia.
This was a demonstrative rather than political step. In 2004, Hamid Karzai supported by the United States called on the Taliban members to lay down their arms and go back to peaceful activities. A group of about 100 Taliban leaders either connected with al-Qa‘eda or guilty of grave crimes against the nation were excluded from the amnesty. According to official information, the four members who sided with the government were clean of suspicious ties or crimes. All of them came from the same province (Paktika); all of them, especially Arsalan Rahmani, a highly respected religious leader in his province, could be used to convince other Taliban members to lay down arms and go onto the government’s side. The campaign was slow to take off: about 300 people laid down arms by mid-2005, while the terrorists and Islamic extremists started fighting with renewed vigor. This became especially evident as the parliamentary election drew nearer. In fact, the nation was divided over reconciliation with the Taliban.
As the election campaign gained momentum, new centers of power appeared in the country: early in March, a political New Afghanistan party headed by Yunos Qanuni, former minister of education, announced that it was prepared to register. Another newly formed party—the National Authority Party—was headed by former minister of commerce Mustafa Kazemi. With his 16 percent of votes at the presidential election, Yunos Qanuni, former member of the Islamic Society of Afghanistan Party headed by then president Burhanuddin Rabbani, became one of the opposition leaders. Hamid Karzai approved of his desire to set up an opposition party and compete for parliamentary seats. After the presidential election, Yunos Qanuni was busy forming his image of an independent politician who claimed a leading role in the nascent opposition. M. Kazemi, a former member of the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan headed by Vice-President Abdul Karim Halili, announced that he had dropped out of this party five years earlier because the country was moving toward peace. In view of this, said he, independent parties headed by intellectual politicians willing and capable of addressing new tasks should replace the militarized parties representing hostile factions.
The process of building parties headed by prominent politicians testified that political forces had been set in motion as the election date was drawing nearer. Even though the election law spoke of independent candidates rather than political parties, it was clear to all that many of the political structures would nominate their allegedly independent candidates to be able to set up parliament factions and coalitions on an ideological and party basis.
Late in March, twelve political parties, which in the past belonged to the Northern Coalition, united into a National Reconciliation Front of Afghanistan headed by Yunos Qanuni: New Afghanistan under Qanuni; two groups which formerly belonged to the Wahdat Islamic Unity Party and retained the name headed by former minister of planning Mohammed Mohaqiq and Mohammad Akbari; the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan headed by former minister of transport Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed; the Islamic National Revolutionary Movement under Ahmad Nabi, as well as other less prominent structures which represented the three largest ethnic groups: Pashtoons, Tajiks, and Hazaras.
The bloc leader identified its purpose as coordinating all the opposition parties with the aim of winning a parliamentary majority. His more specific aims were monitoring the government, strengthening democracy, amending the constitution, and guaranteeing social justice. “We are not at loggerheads with the government,” said he. “Government monitoring is part of democracy and typical of any democratic society.”
Other political figures of the Front—Mohammed Mohaqiq, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed, Mohammad Akbari, Qarabek, Abdul Mansoor, Nasrulla Barakzai, Ahmad Nabi, and S.D. Hussayni—were all typical warlords and heads of military-political groups, many of them accused of numerous human rights violations. On the whole, the Front seemed to be a weak, artificial, and loosely tied structure with no inner unity. There was an opinion shared by most of the experts that the Front had no chance of survival because of the leaders’ egocentrism, clan and religious preferences, and its political patchiness.
The leaders, Qanuni and Mohaqiq, undertook to represent the mojahedin while trying to leave behind their jihad-associated past. In an effort to acquire a new identity, they announced democracy, pluralism, and values of civil society their aims. People like S.M.A. Jawed, the Front’s speaker, and A.Sh. Ahmadzai, the Front’s deputy head, represented two different dimensions in the coalition. The former, with no social support, has spent much time in politics playing up to all sorts of politicians. He joined the Front for purely personal reasons. Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai rejected democracy altogether; a rich and influential figure under the Taliban, he abandoned the armed struggle and represented the Pashtoons in the new bloc. There was a group of young and ambitious Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras of the Abdul Mansoor type ready to go to all lengths to reach their own ends. While sticking to the old dogmas, they wanted changes and were not alien to experimenting. On the other hand, after abandoning their old ideas and embracing new realities, they had nothing to offer. They were fundamentalists and political modernists devoted to tribal values, but with no social support.
On the whole, the Front stood a good chance of getting enough seats in the parliament because of the large number of parties involved and several independent political personalities. There was no guarantee, however, that they would represent the classical opposition—all the more so since Yunos Qanuni was successfully cooperating with the government on many issues.
In May, the unfolding election race created a background for the events outside Afghanistan which echoed throughout the Muslim world. I have in mind the defilement of the Koran by American guards in the American base of Guantanamo (Cuba). On 10 May, the day after the newspapers carried information about the incident, a large student rally took place in Jalalabad, in the country’s east, under the slogans “Death to America!” and “Death to Bush!” accompanied by massive unrest and loss of life in clashes with the police. On 11 May, thousands of protesters came out into the streets again, with new victims ensuing. Kabul also had its share of student protest rallies, which formulated concrete demands aimed at the United States. In other cities, too, unrest was accompanied by violence and deaths.
The response of the country’s leaders, forced to balance between their loyalty to the United States and the need to take public opinion into account, proved easy to predict. Hamid Karzai said in Brussels, where the news reached him, that the rallies were an obvious sign of democracy, added that Afghan society was still not ready to embrace democratic values, and suggested that the rallies were incited by religious extremists both inside and outside the country. Other Afghan officials made similar statements.
The demonstrations revealed the growing dissatisfaction of part of the nation with America’s presence and activities in Afghanistan; this became even clearer when the status of the American bases in Afghanistan was widely discussed. While the Guantanamo incident did not undermine the Afghans’ trust in Washington, it increased the number of anti-Americanists in all social groups and supplied the Islamic extremists outside the country with another chance to say that the U.S. was fighting Islam, not terrorists.
On 29 May, the country was shaken by a bloody event in Kandahar: Maulawi Abdullah Fayaz, prominent religious figure, staunch supporter of President Karzai, and Chairman of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan, who actively denounced the Taliban, died in a terrorist attack. Soon after that, on 1 June, a suicide bomber carried out a terrorist attack in the Abdul Rab Ahundzada Mosque in Kandahar where hundreds of people had gathered for the Fayaz funeral service. Head of the Kabul Security Service Akram Khakrizwal was among the twenty-one killed. Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai hypothesized that the Arab terrorist was connected with al-Qa‘eda. These events were the first in the series of terrorist acts carried out by those who had learned a lot from their Iraqi “colleagues.”
At the same time, Karzai’s closest circle began to doubt his policy of reconciliation with the Taliban. It had become more or less clear that the growing tension between the president and his opponents in the cabinet might increase the public’s radical sentiments and open heated debates on this issue. This, in turn, might negatively affect an advance toward national unity and provide external forces with more opportunities to destabilize the situation at home.
New leftist and rightist radical forces joined the election race, together with the traditional and well-known political, religious, and public leaders. After many years of absence, General S. Tanai, defense minister in President Najibullah’s communist government, came back to Kabul on 5 August. In March 1990, after an aborted anti-presidential riot he had himself organized, the general fled to Pakistan under the wing of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Party of Islam which supported him. Later, Hekmatyar pooled forces with the opponents of the Karzai regime. Even before he came home, the general set up a Peace Movement. Back home, he announced that he wanted to put his people in the parliament. Warmly greeted by his tribe, he was severely criticized by the Afghan media for his repressive policies as minister and his ties with the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) of Pakistan.
Several leftist politicians, former members of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) which was in power in the 1980s, also claimed parliamentary seats. They were: Nur al’Haq ‘Ulumi, founder of the National Unity Party of the social-democratic type, who arrived earlier in the same year from Russia; Sayyed Muhammad Gulabzoi, former member of the CC PDPA and former minister of the interior, and K. Ranjbar, former president of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan. New candidates appeared on the right, too. They were those Taliban members who had moved away from their former leaders, including Abdul Wakil Muttawakil, former foreign minister. In 2001, at the very beginning of the counterterrorist operation, he abandoned the Taliban, gave himself up, and spent two years under home arrest. Today, he supports Karzai. Former deputy interior minister hajji Abdussamad Haksar, who claimed a parliamentary seat to represent Kandahar, joined the former foreign minister. The notorious former minister for religious affairs, Maulawi Kalamuddin, also ran for parliament. In the past, his people had been known to roam the streets detaining women without hijabs and beardless men. The list of candidates contains the well-known names of former Taliban warlords, Rais Bagrani from the Hilmand Province and Abdussalam Raketi from the Zabol Province. The loyalty of the latter four to the current authorities is highly doubtful, yet their presence in the government might improve the feelings in the areas where fighting is still going on.
The very fact that all sorts of political figures, including those who defend opposing ideas, were involved in the election race pointed out two important factors present in the country’s domestic policies. First, that different political forces were increasingly eager to rule the country, which meant that the nation’s political mobility had increased. Second, by admitting the obvious pluralism of candidates, President Karzai demonstrated that his position was firm, while he himself was prepared to enter into a dialog with the opponents, even the most radical of them.
The election took place on 18 September. The last few days prior to that date were filled with even more bitter political rivalry: the candidates’ portraits were everywhere, while the press carried numerous autobiographies and election slogans. There were 12,400,000 registered voters across the country, who had to elect 249 deputies to the parliament’s lower chamber (Wolesi Jirga) and provincial councils. The latter, in turn, were to elect 64 senators, or two-thirds of the parliament’s upper chamber (Meshrano Jirga); 32 senators were appointed by the president. There were 5,800 registered candidates, 2,707 of them ran for parliament (there were 68 women among them); 3,025 ran for the provincial councils (247 women), and 68 for the lower chamber from the nomads, including 7 women. All of them ran as independent candidates free from party obligations.
The National Army (28,000), the national police (55,000), forces of the international counterterrorist coalition (20,000), the international peacekeeping corps (the numerical strength of which had risen by election day from 9,000 to 11,000), paramilitary units of the people’s police and border police—over 100,000 in all—were engaged in ensuring security on election day. Pakistan increased the number of its troops along the border with Afghanistan from 70,000 to 79,500 to prevent Taliban members camping near its territory from crossing the border.
The turn-out was fairly high, but much lower than at the presidential election on 9 October, 2004: 6,400,000 came to the polls (52 percent compared with over 80 percent on 9 October). Many of the voters were undecided for several reasons. Those who ignored the election argued that nothing had changed after the presidential election on which they had pinned their hopes; that the deputies had already been hand-picked, therefore voting was useless; that the richest and most influential among the candidates (warlords and drug barons) would be elected; that the parliament staffed with the same people who had been plundering the nation would do nothing to improve the situation; that it would have no real power, etc.
Contrary to fears, the election was relatively peaceful; the Taliban could not disrupt the process. In some places, there were attempts to frighten the voters away; several polling stations were blasted causing eight deaths. International observers confirmed, on the whole, that the election campaign was absolutely legitimate, even though they pointed to several minor violations of the laws. The complaint commission received over 5,000 statements about violations of the voting procedure. It took a lot of time to study them all, therefore the preliminary election results were not made public until late in November.
The political community expects that the new parliament (the National Assembly) will complete the process of creating a new statehood, thus providing the regime with much needed legitimacy, while the people are looking forward to peace and stability. Everybody expects that the parliament will urge the cabinet to effectively reconstruct the country, ensure national security, put national policy on a firm foundation, etc. As a post-Taliban democratic institute, the parliament is expected to work together with executive power to address all the priority problems, jolt the government into action, and prevent it from taking steps not conducive to the country’s rehabilitation, economic growth, and higher social status for the country’s citizens. The executive and legislative powers are expected to work together irrespective of their ethnic, geographic, or clan interests. The parliament should ensure equality for all Afghans regardless of sex, ethnic affiliation, and political preferences; it should create a system of checks and balances in full conformity with the constitution.
With powerful support from the West and from President George W. Bush in person, official Kabul spared no effort to promote the idea of parliament opening up the road to democracy and genuine power of the people. This sounded plausible since free elections of legislatures are an element of democracy, yet the term cannot be fully applied to the Afghan realities. Islam and conservative ethnic traditions dominate politics and everyday life; the country has no experience of democratic development, while the people, exhausted by never-ending wars and poverty, know nothing about the democratic ideals imposed from abroad.
Against the background of general optimism aroused by the parliamentary election, Karzai’s regime betrayed a certain amount of instability. On 27 September, Minister of Internal Affairs Ali Ahmed Jalali, a technocrat educated in the West and a former journalist who came back from the United States in 2002, resigned from the cabinet. He said this step was for personal reasons and his intention to return to his academic job and research, yet he did not exclude the possibility of coming back to politics. According to people from the ministry, however, his resignation was due to disagreements with the president over appointments of provincial bureaucrats. The former minister resolutely disproved this by saying that the time had come to fight corrupt bureaucrats and those involved in drug dealings. Jalali carried a lot of weight with the country’s political elite, therefore his resignation might make it harder to create a cabinet of technocrats.
On 19 December, the newly elected parliament met for the swearing-in ceremony and for its first sitting—events of symbolic importance for the country. The head of state described it in the following words: “This meeting is a sign of the unity of the peoples of Afghanistan and a step toward democracy… The Constitution and the National Assembly will gather us under one roof to discuss our problems.” Even though the new government is a patchwork of tribal chiefs, former Westernized émigrés, warlords, women, and members of ethnic minorities, it should be described as a milestone created by the people trying to leave a devastating civil war behind.
Hamid Karzai is overly optimistic—the new legislature is unlikely to become a constructive political force. Indeed, over half of its members are influential provincial figures able to stem all efforts to reform the administrative system and bring to court those responsible for the protracted bloodshed. Many of the newly elected deputies, who have no administering experience or even basic education, will have to learn fast in order to be able to deliver the country from poverty, terrorism, and drug trafficking. Under the constitution, the president outweighs the parliament, though it can pass laws and even veto the cabinet suggested by the president.
Its first sitting attended by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney as a guest of honor (he also attended the swearing-in ceremony) elected Yunos Qanuni as speaker (not without behind-the-scenes bargaining), who immediately announced that he relinquished his role of opposition leader to support President Karzai’s course aimed at the country’s rehabilitation. “I am convinced,” said he, “that the parliament should support the government’s positive policies. The parliament, the judiciary, and the president should work together to help the people of Afghanistan.”
The sailing would not be smooth, though: the very first session was nearly disrupted by deputy of the Farah province Ms. Malalay Juya, who tried to read a statement about the need to bring to court the “criminal warlords” present at the session as deputies. Loud protests drove her from the hall. In an interview to local journalists, she said that she had been upset to find so many warlords, war criminals, and drug dealers in the country’s legislature. In future, the parliament will surely be confronted with no less debatable issues.
Still, the parliamentary election formally completed the process of political transition (the so-called road map) to a new stage of independent development initiated in December 2001 in Bonn by various groups of Afghans.