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.
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.