Akbar Jan Marwat
IT is well-neigh impossible not to empathise with the people of Afghanistan, who have faced civil war and internal strife for almost four decades. The future of Afghan people does not seem very rosy either. The war between Taliban and the Afghan government; the looming refugee crises; the fractious unity government, and tense relations with Pakistan are some of the most disconcerting developments that point to an uncertain future for the people of Afghanistan.
Let us examine some of the recent developments and looming deadlines to be met by the Afghan government; which will determine the future course of events that Afghanistan will undergo. After the failure of the quadrilateral peace talks with Taliban, the biggest breakthrough achieved by the unity government of Afghanistan has been the signing of a peace agreement with Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s faction of Hezb-i-Islami. Hekmatyar’s forces may not pose a significant military threat to the government, but, in an expending war with Taliban and Islamic front, the peace agreement with Hikmatyar certainly has an important symbolic value.
Despite a largely favourable international response to the peace deal with Hekmatyar, many Tajik warlords and politicians in Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s camp have not taken kindly to the peace deal. They term the agreement as a pact with the devil, which is tantamount to compromising on the blood of thousands of Afghans killed by HIG. They also feel that an agreement with Hekmatyar would be negating hard-won constitutional freedom, women’s rights and progress of the last 15 years. We will return to the significance of the peace agreement with Hekmatyar and the possible role-played by Hekmatyar in Afghanistan’s future later in this write-up. First we need to look at some of the immediate internal challenges being faced by the Afghan National Unity government (NUG).
When the NUG was hammered into existence with the active involvement of John Kerry the US Secretary of State, it was decided, that the NUG within two years will introduce a number of political and electoral reforms to pave way for Parliamentary elections. The Parliamentary election would be followed by the convening of the ‘Loya Jirga’ to amend the constitution to convert the CEO’s office into that of the Prime Minister. Due to the dysfunctional nature of the NUG, it has not been able to honour its commitments. If the required constitutional amendments were not introduced before September, the cut-off date — which looks very unlikely – the power sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah, would be in serious jeopardy.
Relations between Ghani and Abdullah have been tense from the beginning. The situation, however, took an ugly turn, when last month Abdullah openly castigated Ghani in a speech and declared him unfit to rule. Abdullah’s tone became particularly bitter after Ghani made certain important constitutional appointments without consulting Abdullah. Ahead of the approaching dead line, Abdullah and his supporters are asking for more concessions, including political power sharing, financial incentives and a bigger share in the Cabinet. This is apparently the price that Abdullah and his coteries are demanding for continued political support. Ghani’s weak political credentials and a lack of political constituency have isolated him, and he has to desperately depend on local political groupings.
According to some Afghan specialists, in this back drop, three main political alliances have evolved, which are vying for political mileage or even replacing NUG. These political alliances are: a Group led by former President Hamid Karzai; Abdullah’s supporters; and Afghanistan protection and Security Council formed and led by former Mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Of these three groups, the first two seem more powerful. Former President Hamid Karzai, in spite of handing power over to Ghani peacefully, in 2014, still remains politically active and thinks of himself as a saviour of Afghan people. Karzai seems to believe that he is indispensible for the country’s future survival and stability. He has been a harsh critic of the various policies of the NUG, especially its initial peace overtures to Pakistan. Ahead of the September dead line, Karzai is seen hobnobbing with key political players to shore up his support. He, perhaps, hopes to influence the Loya Jirga in appointing him the transitional head of the state in case of a dead lock.
The Second group comprising of Abdullah’s Supporters, include warlords of northern alliance like Abdul Rashid Dostim, Ismail Khan the former Governor of Herat, and Atta Muhammad Noor the former Governor of northern Balkh Province. This alliance has raised its own private militias to fight the Taliban. They have a deep distrust of the government forces, and are also against any peace agreement with Taliban.
The third opposition group under Sayaf is more of an opportunistic pressure group, rather than a real contender for power. It tries to pressurize the government to fulfil its commitments regarding anti-corruption, electoral reforms and holding of Parliamentary elections. Secretly this group also hopes to extract political concessions from President Ghani by supporting him in case his alliance with the northern alliance comes apart.
The peace agreement with Hikmatyar becomes all the more important under these Circumstances. In case the Ghani-Abdullah alliance goes pearshaped, Ghani could count on Hikmatyar (a fellow Pustoon) who has some support in various pockets of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar could also be valuable in creating a conduit between Ghani and the Pakistani defence establishment. Ghani, perhaps knows in his heart that the Afghan quagmire could not be solved without active support from Pakistan. His anti-Pakistan rhetoric could be seen, in the context of his need to mollify his partners in NUG. Afghanistan needs a fresh political agreement, so that the present dispensation completes its tenure, and focuses on pressing issues of security, economy and governance. The alternative would be a political melt down, which would make the future of Afghan people all the more uncertain.
—The writer is author, citizen journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.