AFGHANISTAN

From a coun­try that has been tra­di­tion­ally ruled by the Pash­toons, Afghanistan is now fast mak­ing way for pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives from other eth­nic groups such as the Ta­jiks and Uzbeks.

Southasia - - Front page - By Raza Khan

Par­tic­i­pa­tion of eth­nic mi­nori­ties in main­stream pol­i­tics prom­ises a sta­ble fu­ture for Afghanistan.

Even­tu­ally the newly-elected Afghan par­lia­ment’s lower cham­ber was able to hold its maiden meet­ing af­ter its mem­bers re­moved the many stum­bling blocks erected by Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai in its path. How­ever, con­tin­ued at­tempts by the pres­i­dent’s of­fice to prove elec­tion fraud against many of his op­pos- ing mem­bers cast se­ri­ous doubts on the fu­ture of sta­bil­ity of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and demo­cratic process in the war-torn coun­try.

The main bone of con­tention be­tween Karzai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and mem­bers of the new Wolesi Jirga (‘peo­ple’s con­gre­ga­tion’ in Pashto), or the Afghan Na­tional Assem­bly, is the elec­tion of many anti-Karzai mem­bers to the lower house. Mem­bers of the Wolesi Jirga were elected in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions last Septem­ber amid large-scale com­plaints of fraud and rig­ging pro­vid­ing a pre­text to the ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­lay in­au­gu­ra­tion of the Jirga. In or­der to ‘probe’ into the com­plaints, Karzai es­tab­lished a spe-

cial tri­bunal with pow­ers to un­seat the fraud­u­lently-elected par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. So far the Tri­bunal has dis­qual­i­fied 24 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that also in­clude some of Karzai’s sup­port­ers but the axe has fallen mostly on the Pres­i­dent’s op­po­nents.

Fraud and rig­ging in elec­tions in a third world coun­try, par­tic­u­larly a war-rav­aged Afghanistan, where the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has nom­i­nal de jure writ, is al­ways ex­pected. How­ever, Karzai has lit­tle concern for the de­ceit­ful tac­tics which many mem­bers may have used to win elec­tions through the eth­nic and gen­eral com­po­si­tion of the Wolesi Jirga. It is worth not­ing that the 249-mem­ber new Afghan Na­tional Assem­bly is dom­i­nated by Ta­jik, Uzbek and other non-Pash­toon eth­nic groups. Pash­toons, the largest eth­nic group in Afghanistan to which Karzai also be­longs, does not have a ma­jor­ity in the Wolesi Jirga though they have been the tra­di­tional rulers of Afghanistan since 1747, when the mod­ern state was formed by Pash­toon tribal chief­tain, Ahmed Shah Dur­rani.

Lack­ing dom­i­nat­ing stakes in the new Afghan Wolesi Jirga , the Pash­toons will demon­strate their great­est short­com­ing. Grad­u­ally the par­lia­ment will be seen as non-rep­re­sen­ta­tive and its work­ing would be se­ri­ously ques­tioned as it may in­tro­duce laws which would com­pro­mise Pash­toon in­ter­ests. The eth­nic con­fig­u­ra­tion of Afghanistan it­self and the re­la­tions be­tween var­i­ous eth­nic groups in the last 30 years has been such that if one com­mu­nity at­tained or achieved dom­i­nat­ing in­flu­ence or stakes in the state’s power struc­ture, the rest of the com­mu­ni­ties felt be­trayed and this con­tin­ues. Afghanistan’s Pash­toons de­vel­oped an in­tense sense of de­pri­va­tion since the ouster of the Tal­iban regime and its re­place­ment by the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion dom­i­nated by mi­nor­ity groups in 2002.

The re­sults of the Septem­ber par­lia­men­tary elec­tions have ex­ac­er­bated this feel­ing. Due to their his­tory and strength of pop­u­la­tion, Pash­toons have al­ways con­sid­ered a lion’s share in ev­ery state in­sti­tu­tion as their ‘right’. They also want to dom­i­nate the Afghan par­lia­ment with­out con­sid­er­ing it be­ing a demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion. This in­di­cates the pit­falls a tribal so­ci­ety may face in the process of po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. In the con­text of Afghanistan it also shows how the so-called demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions could re­flect tribal and eth­nic re­al­i­ties and an­i­mosi­ties and in­deed be­come cap­tive to and in­ca­pac­i­tated by these neg­a­tive in­flu­ences.

Per­son­ally for Karzai, the dom­i­nance of non-Pash­toons in the Afghan Na­tional Assem­bly means crit­i­cal checks on his pow­ers. Ac­cord­ing to the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion, im­por­tant, pres­i­den­tial de­ci­sions in­clud­ing ap­point­ment of min­is­ters, ad­vi­sors and high of­fi­cials is sub­ject to ap­proval of the Wolesi Jirga. The pre­vi­ous jirga gave an ex­cep­tion­ally tough time to the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion and on sev­eral oc­ca­sions did not ac­cept his ap­pointed min­is­ters and of­fi­cials. Seem­ingly the pres­i­dent and his hench­men have in­ter­nal­ized this ex­pe­ri­ence to such an ex­tent that they have de­cided to doc­tor the com­po­si­tion of the new par­lia­ment through an elec­tion fraud tri­bunal ap­pointed by the Pres­i­dent.

How­ever, in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts be­lieve that more than any­thing else, the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mis­rule and abuse of power is re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tion of many antigov­ern­ment MPs. Be­cause Afghans in gen­eral and Pash­toons in par­tic­u­lar are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing large-scale gov­ern­ment corruption on the one hand and Afghan Tal­iban threats to keep away from the elec­toral process on the other, it is not con­sid­ered worth­while to come out and vote in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. No­tice­ably the same fac­tor also played its part when Karzai got away with a nar­row win in the 2009 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Keep­ing in view the com­po­si­tion of the new Afghan Na­tional Assem­bly and Pres­i­dent Karzai’s ef­forts to cut its pow­ers and to en­gi­neer its mem­ber­ship, both these im­por­tant state in­sti­tu­tions would be on a col­li­sion course. This would se­verely af­fect gov­er­nance be­sides cre­at­ing hur­dles in de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of this tribal and war-rav­aged so­ci­ety. The writer is a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and re­searcher and is cur­rently work­ing on his doc­toral the­sis: Ex­trem­ism-Terrorism in Pak­istan: Causes and Counter-Strat­egy. He has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on Pak­istan and Afghanistan, par­tic­u­larly on po­lit­i­cal-econ­omy, re­li­gious rad­i­cal­iza­tion, terrorism, so­cio-eth­nic and de­vel­op­ment re­lated is­sues and has also served at sev­eral se­nior po­si­tions in Pak­istani gov­ern­ment min­istries and de­part­ments.

Pres­i­dent Karzai ad­dress­ing the in­au­gu­ral

cer­e­mony of the Par­lia­ment.

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