Afghanistan: The evolving national politics

Spearhead Analysis – 17.04.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Afghanistan’s development process continues to witness hiccups, one of the key reasons attributed to these lags is the nation’s political disunity.

The intense discords that preceded the 2014 elections created the  ‘out of the box’ power sharing solution. But, that solution has not proved to be an elixir.

Tensions between the President and the CEO remain consistent, followed by back and forth maligning statements.  Both contenders continue to dispute the  text of the NUG agreement. Ashraf Ghani views the CEO’s role as limited whereas Abdullah views it as an equal partnership.

The CEO’s position was meant to evolve into premiership within two years since the ratification but the required electoral reforms , local body elections for setting an informal jirga and the Wolesi Jirga elections still remain pending. In the center’s discourse such lags are due to a weak parliament, polarised politics and deteriorating security, thus instigating any changes at such a time could lead to further political instability.

However, according to a report by International Crisis Group, the power struggle at the center could be a cause of deteriorating security conditions, because as means to consolidate power both leaders are allegedly recruiting favourites – without a solid merit based criteria, including in the security apparatus.

The heightened tensions between the two prompted Ghani to dissolve the CEO’s office last year. But, it is believed that the motion was halted due to Abdullah’s considerable international support.

However, with the elections due in 2019, the rapid flux within the political landscape appears to be underway, showing that the subnational power struggle transcends the bilateral contentions of the chiefs.

Speculated rifts are believed to be surfacing within Abdullah’s main support base: The Jamait-i-Islami, supposedly over his failures to halt Pashtun empowerment, shortfalls on representing minority groups–he is said to have lost a vast majority of support from the Hazaras and the Uzbek who view his alleged Tajik empowerment as unfair. He is also said to have lost support of some prominent Uzbek and Turkmen leaders in Khost and parts of Baghlan. And thus, for now leaving him primarily with a strong hold on the Jamiat’s Panjshiri faction.

The end of last year presented another significant blow to Abdullah’s position when the Wolesi Jirga, called to dismiss key ministers over incompetence including prominent Jamait members such as Salahuddin Rabbani–though the final decision still remains pending with the supreme court; Abdullah was nonetheless,  criticised for not standing up for fellow party members, many also suspect a possible rift between Rabbani and Abdullah.

On the other hand, the powerful Balkh governor Atta Noor–who in the recent past , became a virulent opposer of Abdullah, for not abiding by the core Jamiat policies, also initiated talks with Ghani on Jamiat’s behalf over a renewed power sharing agreement. But, instead it appears he decided to side-line himself from the Jamiat name and has recently announced his decision to run as an independent candidate for either VP or President’s post; in the wake of burgeoning tensions between Jamiat and Abdullah; Atta has also managed to harness support of key members like Rabbani and Ahmad Zia Masoud. The Abdullah- Atta camp divisions could create significant changes to the political landscape. A report by Thomas Rutting describes Atta’s expansive strongholds and sees his continued role as a major stakeholder in national politics.

On the other side–Ghani’s end of the deal is not trouble free either.  In hopes to stop any unforeseen political instability; following the Wolesi Jirgas decisions– Ghani halted further dismissals and ended up witnessing a major backlash for not adequately standing up against corruption.

Post these dismissal crises; the Vice President General Dostum has been lashing out on both chief leaders; denting Abdullah’s precarious internal support base even further; — claiming Abdullah has lost support from within his own Tajik bases as well and accusing Ghani of nepotism and incompetence; though a popular view is that Dostum’s maligning of Ghani stems from the latter’s attempt to initiate an investigation on assault charges levied on Dostum .

The centre, at present–appears wobbly; opportunities are also being utilised by a wobbly opposition to gain momentum. One prominent opposition leader; who is viewed to be making a comeback is Hamid Karzai, though he has not made any official announcements yet– it has been noted that he has built a wide base with local and international supporters. Standing as a harsh critic of the government, his current rhetoric is primarily centered around demands for holding an informal jirga in order to initiate reforms as per the NUG text, calls for Taliban reconciliation , calls for US to stop military action and Pashtun nationalism.

But, both Ghani and Abdullah remain skeptical of Karzai’s motives; and largely view him as destabilising the government especially after he initiated the Enlightenment Movement.

Several other opposition groups– such as:  National front of Afghanistan, High Council of Jihadi and National Parties and Afghan Protection and Stability Council–containing some of Karzai’s former key aides along with other prominent local players including some members of Jamiat —  are also gaining some momentum; as a collective force they could create an impact. A major push from their end appears to be towards forming a Jirga to decide the fate of the NUG.

As Afghanistan gears up for another round of elections, some of the key declared candidates for the upcoming elections so far include : Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdulla, AbdurRab Rassoul Sayyaf, Omar Zakilwal, Ahmad Zia Massoud and Atta Nur.

Currently, Ghani –despite alongside greatly expanding the roles of the security apparatus — appears of the view that peace may not be accomplished solely via military action; to attain that– he seems on board to engage in dialogue with Hekmatyar.

Though Abdullah, so far has maintained silence on this issue. Hekmatyar’s return to the political scene is likely to create certain changes and if all goes smoothly , it could turn out to be Ghani’s ace card provided he manages to subdue insurgency and reach a largely agreed upon inclusive political settlement prior to the upcoming elections.

The US too, while hoping for an inclusive political system also  remains adamant on making the current NUG work; and similarly even though the bilateral ties of the two chief leaders appear in turmoil, neither seems eager to disrupt the current status quo either, and could likely work under the current agreement till the set date. However, internal reforms of sorts would have to be expedited in order to ensure a smooth transition in the upcoming elections.

So far, alliances are still in flux and uncertainties are heightened.

The fate of: the Jamiat’s unity, brewing political oppositions challenging the government, Karzai’s attempted comeback, and lastly the fate of the NUG are yet to be seen.