Afghanistan: NUG’s fragility and tackling terrorism

Spearhead Analysis – 03.08.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Political contentions are innate to any state’s political arena. In this sense, Afghanistan is no different— various groups bound to find themselves at loggerheads, at some point, in the multiethnic Afghan cauldron, eventually. Oppositions, also cater to perpetuating a system of checks and balances— as long as they are led within the bounds of law and order. In Afghanistan, however, years of wars have created a precarious law and order situation, coupled to that—the interlinkages between power and corruption tends to accentuate the divisiveness of the multi ethnic Afghan Politics and deepens uncertainties’. The recent divide which has taken place at the heart of the Afghan center, only raises those uncertainties’.

Many note that General Dostum’s effectiveness does not stem from his abilities as a strong statesman, but instead as a strongman capable of crushing dissidents. In November last year, the Vice President got mired in an assault case against Ahmad Ishchi—the former governor of Jowzjan. The internal growing demands for investigation, many believe, prompted Dostum to travel to Turkey in May 2017.

Soon after his exit, Dostum’s Jombesh Party split and created a faction called ‘the New Jombesh Party’, led by Mohammed Sai. This, as Thomas Rutting notes, is primarily comprised of a group of a Turkish educated breed of former Dostum supporters, who had become weary of his anti-reformist approach.  The New Jombesh party, at the moment, is extending and simultaneously seeking support from Ghani’s camp.   

The Jombesh split prompted a convergence between Ghani’s critics, leading to the formation of the ‘Ankara Coalition’ heralded by VP Dostum of Jombesh, the acting foreign minister Salahduddin Rabbani and Atta Noor, both of Jamiat, and Mohammed Mohaqiq of Hizb-e-Wahadat.

The president himself is said to be at odds with VP Dostum, but even so, wary of the adverse implications stemming from triggering strongmen, some claim that Ghani sent his close aide, the NDS chief Stanekzai to Turkey, in hopes of pacifying Dostum’s resentments. The ARG refused to officially comment on the purpose of Stanekzai’s visit to Dostum.

The alliance has called on the President for its set of demands to be met or else mass protests would be initiated. Some prominent demands include further devolution of power and legalization of the CEO’s status.   Many Afghan analysts view this coalition as a brewing storm which could derail the government structure, as the opposition is essentially being led by serving members –who are largely seen as risking further disruption for the enhancement of personal gains. Interestingly, the CEO Abdullah Abdullah has not commented on the tripartite alliance – which stands to challenge the governments stability—perhaps, due to concerns of long term relevance, as his own Jamiat is involved.

The Presidents footing seems tumultuous, his previous efforts of reaching out to Atta Noor seem to be at a stall, the relationship with the CEO remains estranged, his rifts with Dostum are said to be deepening—especially after Ghani denied Dostums flight to land in Mazar-i-Sharif upon his recent arrival back home. Some of his other accountability measures have also unfortunately backfired—former NDS chief Rahmattullah Nabil and Ahmad Zia Massud have also joined hands with the growing opposition.  

Hekmatyar, in continuation with conflicting statements, has called for reforms similar to those proposed by the opposition, but has also hinted at support for the President.

Another concern, which Thomas Rutting recently noted is that of deepening ethnic polarization in politics. Ghani’s favoritism towards Pashtuns, is a common pretext used by opposition. This evident segregation of ‘Uzbek/Tajik/Hazara’ and ‘Pashtuns’ could have detrimental impacts which may enhance infighting and provide space to terror groups.

Pashtuns, being the dominant ethnic group, are unlikely to be sidelined because such attempts are bound to enhance retaliations and possibly strengthen armed struggles. On the other hand, under the pretext of ethnic grievances, groups such as IMU and Jundallah are noted to have amassed some support from the non-Pashtun Afghans— one cannot ignore that such groups have also provided space to IS in Afghanistan— thus any attempts to sideline the ‘others’ is also daunting.  An Afghan news agency recently quoted some Pashtun and Uzbek elders claiming they are willing to tolerate any insurgency provided it doesn’t target their local civilians.

This is also one of the concerns that has prompted various states to engage deeper in the Afghan arena, in order to carve out ‘post-collapse’ contingencies, that largely aim to contain the spread of groups like IS. There is also increasing pressure from the Taliban and the IS as is evident from the massive surge in violence. This may be an opportunity for Pakistan to reach out and mend relations with Afghanistan if the US comes out strongly in support of the Afghan government and continues a cooperative relationship with Pakistan. Failing this there will be continued uncertainty as bets are hedged.

At this point, implementing some form of political reconciliation—which provides adequate representation to key national groups– is a necessity so that Afghan politics become more inclusive and moves towards evolving their own system of checks and balances.