Clash of Wills behind Political Crisis in Afghanistan

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues

Following the announcement of preliminary results of the second round of presidential election in Afghanistan by the Independent Election Commission and rejection of those results by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the country has entered a new phase of political crisis. Now, the main question is what future prospect awaits this country? Any effort to find a realistic answer to this question should involve careful review of political developments of Afghanistan within their historical context in which the power should be considered from the viewpoints of ethnic monopoly or distribution. In this way, it would be possible to provide a clearer picture of what has happened during the second round of presidential polls in the country.

It should first be noted that Dr. Abdullah’s Reform and Partnership Team strongly believes that the second round of the country’s presidential polls has been marked with widespread and organized vote rigging by the Independent Election Commission under direct supervision and intervention of the Independent Election Commission's (IEC) Secretariat Chief Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail. Dr. Abdullah believes that there are 11,000 suspicious ballot boxes which contain between 1.5-2 million fake votes. Therefore, he has refused to accept the results declared by the IEC according to which his rival, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has won the election by winning 63 percent of the vote. Dr. Abdullah has also cut all cooperation with the IEC. The Reform and Partnership Team of Dr. Abdullah is also of the opinion that three political currents joined have hands in order to ignore the final victory of Abdullah and it is the same currents that has unrightfully declared Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner of the second round of presidential election and the next president of Afghanistan. Those three currents include:

1. The political current originating from the presidential palace and led by the incumbent President Hamid Karzai;
2. The political current within the IEC under direct order from Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail; and
3. Ashraf Ghani’s election team.

However, it seems that the problem will prove to be more complicated and will evolve into more complex dimensions. This issue is of utmost importance because Dr. Abdullah has documents to prove his claim and he has already disclosed some of them as a result of which Amarkhail resigned his post as head of the secretariat of the IEC. The main issue, however, is to find a sound way for transfer of power along the ethnic lines via such democratic and modern mechanisms as election. In reality, there were three kinds of wills at work through the second round of the presidential election in Afghanistan, which played their separate roles in forming the results that have been declared. In short, those three wills can be summarized as follows:

1. The will of the ruling technocrat and liberal team, which was the product of political arrangements reached during the first conference on Afghanistan in the German city of Bonn in 2001. This team is led by President Hamid Karzai;
2. The will of the Pashtun ethnic group with a special mentality that has arisen from 300 years of monopoly on power in Afghanistan, which is now represented by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; and
3. The will for distribution of power and peaceful transfer of power, which is represented by Dr. Abdullah.

In reality, the first two wills, both of whom believe in the continued monopoly on power by members of the Pashtun ethnic group, have joined hands and engineered the presidential polls in such a way as to prevent the advocates of the distribution and peaceful transfer of power from coming to power through election and by winning people’s votes. Widespread cheating in the election, which has been pointed out by Abdullah and as a result of which he has not been ready to accept the results of the election before a final decision is made on 11,000 suspicious ballot boxes, is closely related to this reality. However, this is not the sole problem. The fate of Afghanistan, peace and war, national unity and territorial integrity and the way that developments in Afghanistan may affect the entire region are much more important than the mere issue of how the power is distributed and transferred or whether the monopoly of Pashtun ethnic group on power continues or not. Now, following the rejection of the declared results of the election and victory of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s Reform and Partnership Team, he has only two options to choose from:

1. To stick to his position on election results and continue his protests through civil means by bringing people into the streets and continue to disclose more information on what has actually happened; or
2. To establish a shadow government as proposed and requested by Mohammad Muhaqqiq, Abdullah’s second vice-presidential running mate, and Atta Muhammad Nur, the powerful governor of Balkh Province.

The important reality is that both these options have their own special limitations. As a result, if a logical and mutually acceptable political solution is not found and if the dispute over the election result is not taken out of its current state of stalemate through peaceful means, the risk of a civil war breaking out in Afghanistan would be higher with the option of forming a shadow government. Apart from all common risks and losses of all wars, such a civil war may finally end in territorial breakup of Afghanistan. It was through a correct understanding of this issue that Dr. Abdullah took part in the first meeting with his supporters just one day after the preliminary results were announced and asked people to give him time to make a final decision in consultation with his aides and possibly foreign advisors. In doing so, Abdullah practically avoided announcement of a shadow government. Of course, there is a more radical faction among the former commanders of Afghan Mujahedeen, which is of the opinion that the historical tradition of keeping a monopoly on power is so powerful among Pashtun ethnic group that they will never allow for peaceful transfer of power through ballot boxes to other ethnic groups. Therefore, other ethnic groups should either give in to this reality and do nothing against Pashtuns, or establish their own ethnic territory. Dr. Abdullah is currently under tremendous pressure from this faction. Proponents of this view believe that disintegration of Afghanistan is the sole and also the most suitable option for getting the country out of the historical deadlock of ethnic monopoly on power. They even mention the nine-month rule of Habibullāh Kalakani, also known as Bach-e-Saqaow, and the two-year government of Burhanuddin Rabbani both of which failed as a result of strong opposition and even uprising of Pashtuns.

During his speech, however, Abdullah Abdullah put strong emphasis on his commitment to protecting national unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, establishment of peace and stability in the country, and peaceful distribution of power. In doing so, he clearly indicated that he is willing to resort to civil means in a bid to end the election deadlock, which has turned his certain election win into failure through vote rigging. Nonetheless, there are serious doubts among members of the Reform and Partnership Team of Dr. Abdullah about whether the opposite side is ready to give a suitable response to this issue. In view of the current intricate situation, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, chairman of the country’s National Security Council, has proposed reconciliation and establishment of a coalition government. In his proposed coalition government all three political currents with a claim to power; that is, the ruling technocrat and liberal team, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s election team, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s Reform and Partnership Team would play their respective roles in and help the distribution of power to take place smoothly. The problem is that it is not clear whether the two teams that were rivals in the election will accept such a formula or not. Therefore, the eyes are now riveted on intervention from the United Nations and the United States and everybody is waiting for them to interfere and prevent further escalation of crisis and possible breakout of an all-out ethnic civil war in the country.

At any rate, judging from what has happened up to the present time, it is clear that Afghanistan is facing a serious threat of civil war. Such a war will also enjoy a high potential for taking an ethnic turn, if a rapid solution is not found to avert this risk and if two parallel governments are formed by two election candidates, Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom have a claim to have won the vote. Such a war may be also ensued with breakup of Afghanistan into two northern and southern parts along Pashtun and non-Pashtun geographical lines. It goes without saying that such a development will be able to affect the entire region and catalyze other instances of ethnic secessionism to which all regional countries will be losers in the long run. It is through correct understanding of this situation that some observers of South Asia developments believe that developments in Afghanistan are just part of a major plan which aims to reduce the size of regional countries along ethnic or religious lines. A similar plan has been already formulated for the Islamic world by dominant world powers in the form of the Greater Middle East plan. What is going on under present circumstances in the Middle East, from North Africa to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf and all the way east to Afghanistan and Pakistan is just part of that major plan to reduce the size of regional countries by banking on radical ethnic or religious currents. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that the ongoing developments in Afghanistan are part of a bigger scheme which will affect the entire region in the long run and should be actually considered from this viewpoint. Last but not least, from the viewpoint of Iran's strategic interests, a powerful government should be in place in Kabul regardless of what person or what political current controls the central government and Iran should not focus on a single person. Keeping Afghanistan within the sphere of Iranian and Islamic civilization should be Iran's foremost strategic goal with regard to its eastern neighbor and this goal can be only achieved by supporting the establishment of a powerful central government in Kabul.

Key Words: Political Crisis in Afghanistan, Presidential Election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Independent Election Commission, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, Mohammad Muhaqqiq, Abdullah, Pashtuns, Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Ethnic Civil War, Mollazehi

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*Photo Credit: Today's Zaman