Eth­nic mi­nor­ity lead­ers push for Afghan re­forms

Un­rest has been build­ing since ter­ror­ist bomb­ing on May 31 in Kabul

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY PAMELA CON­STA­BLE pamela.con­sta­ble@wash­post.com Walid Sharif con­trib­uted to this re­port.

kabul — Lead­ers of Afghanistan’s three ma­jor eth­nic mi­nor­ity po­lit­i­cal par­ties, all of whom hold se­nior po­si­tions in the gov­ern­ment, an­nounced from Turkey on Satur­day that they have formed a coali­tion to save Afghanistan from chaos, is­sued a list of de­mands for re­forms by Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani, and vowed to hold mass protests un­less they are met.

The stun­ning devel­op­ment fol­lowed weeks of gath­er­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and public un­rest af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing ter­ror­ist bomb­ing in the cap­i­tal on May 31. It brought to­gether a group of pow­er­ful exmili­tia lead­ers, once ri­vals in a civil war, in an ex­tra­or­di­nary al­liance that could present Ghani and his shaky gov­ern­ment with its most se­ri­ous chal­lenge since tak­ing of­fice in 2014.

The group’s state­ment was is­sued from Ankara, where Ab­dur­rashid Dos­tom, an eth­nic Uzbek strong­man who is still tech­ni­cally first vice pres­i­dent in the Ghani gov­ern­ment, moved re­cently on grounds of ill health de­spite be­ing un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Kabul for sex­ual as­sault against an el­derly po­lit­i­cal ri­val. Dos­tom’s aides cir­cu­lated the state­ment on so­cial me­dia.

The other lead­ers — Mo­hammed Atta Noor, an eth­nic Ta­jik and pro­vin­cial gover­nor; Mo­hammed Mo­haqeq, an eth­nic Hazara leader and deputy to the gov­ern­ment’s chief ex­ec­u­tive; and For­eign Min­is­ter Salahud­din Rab­bani, a mem­ber of Noor’s Ja­maat-e-Is­lami party — have been vis­it­ing Dos­tom in the past week for a fam­ily wedding in the lav­ish home where he has of­ten lived in pe­ri­ods of ex­ile.

The group, call­ing it­self the Coali­tion for the Sal­va­tion of Afghanistan, said their aim was to “pre­vent the col­lapse of the gov­ern­ment, avoid chaos and re­store public trust.” They de­manded that Ghani de­volve power to cab­i­net min­istries and prov­inces, stop “over­reach­ing” his au­thor­ity for per­sonal mo­tives, sched­ule long­promised elec­tions, and obey the con­sti­tu­tion and the law. It also called for Dos­tom’s full au­thor­ity to be re­stored and a gov­ern­ment at­tack against him to be in­ves­ti­gated.

Ghani’s of­fice re­sponded coolly and calmly to the provoca­tive salvo. Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Shah­hus­sain Mur­tazawi told news out­lets that the gov­ern­ment “wel­comes any move” that con­trib­utes to na­tional in­ter­ests, but he noted that the in­di­vid­u­als lead­ing the coali­tion are “in­volved in the gov­ern­ment” and thus also “ac­count­able for its short­com­ings.” If the group has “any al­ter­na­tive plans for over­com­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion,” he said, “they should share them.”

There was no com­ment from the of­fice of Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer who has been es­tranged from Ghani for many months. Ab­dul­lah, from the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami party, has dis­ap­pointed party fig­ures such as Noor for mak­ing too many con­ces­sions to Ghani in an ef­fort to keep the strug­gling gov­ern­ment afloat.

A va­ri­ety of po­lit­i­cal fig­ures and ob­servers re­acted skep­ti­cally to the news, sug­gest­ing that the eth­nic mi­nor­ity lead­ers, all of whom have had dif­fer­ences with Ghani while in of­fice, may be less in­ter­ested in gov­ern­ment re­forms than in us­ing a pe­riod of public anger and un­hap­pi­ness to press for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. They also noted that Ghani, an eth­nic Pash­tun, has been crit­i­cized for con­cen­trat­ing power in the hands of his eth­nic and tribal al­lies and marginal­iz­ing other eth­nic groups.

A spokesman for Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar, the Pash­tun for­mer fugi­tive war­lord who re­turned to Kabul re­cently in a peace deal with Ghani, said the new coali­tion seemed “sus­pi­cious” and might be more in­ter­ested in “per­sonal de­mands” than public ones. “Why have they been silent for so long?” asked the spokesman, Ka­reem Amin. “You can’t be in­side the sys­tem and crit­i­cize it too. “

Hek­mat­yar, in a sep­a­rate state­ment Satur­day, called on all Afghans to unite and sup­port the Ghani gov­ern­ment at a time of cri­sis. The coun­try is suf­fer­ing from high un­em­ploy­ment and a pro­tracted in­sur­gent con­flict. The May 31 bomb­ing was a ma­jor blow to the na­tion’s con­fi­dence in its rulers.

It was un­clear whether the eth­nic op­po­si­tion lead­ers, who have called for city­wide demon­stra­tions start­ing Mon­day, would be able to draw much sup­port from the pro­test­ers that filled the streets of Kabul for most of June af­ter the huge bomb­ing and sev­eral sub­se­quent vi­o­lent in­ci­dents.

The groups erected tent colonies on ma­jor streets where speak­ers de­manded change night af­ter night. The tents were dis­man­tled by se­cu­rity forces on June 20, but protest groups vowed to re­turn to the streets in force af­ter Ra­madan and Eid, the Mus­lim fast­ing month and hol­i­day that ended last week.

But al­though many of the pro­test­ers’ de­mands were sim­i­lar to those listed by the eth­nic lead­ers, the com­po­si­tion and tone of their im­promptu move­ment, called “Up­ris­ing for Change,” was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. A mix of stu­dents, aca­demics, lib­eral ac­tivists and women’s groups, as well as fam­i­lies of bomb vic­tims, called mainly for jus­tice, se­cu­rity and more re­spon­sive gov­er­nance.

The most stri­dent voice in the new coali­tion has been that of Noor, a wealthy north­ern gover­nor who un­til re­cently was ne­go­ti­at­ing with Ghani to ob­tain a greater share of power. Dur­ing the fraud-plagued 2014 elec­tions, which both Ab­dul­lah and Ghani claimed to have won, Noor threat­ened to cre­ate vi­o­lent un­rest if Ghani was de­clared the win­ner.

Last week, de­liv­er­ing a mes­sage to a large crowd at the end of Ra­madan in the north­ern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Noor warned that if Ghani did not meet the group’s de­mands, “we will come by the thou­sands and thou­sands to Kabul.” Sources in the se­cu­rity com­mu­nity said the group planned to gather its forces in sev­eral sub­ur­ban lo­ca­tions and march to the pres­i­den­tial palace.

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