Power Sharing, Best Solution to Afghan Crisis

Saturday, October 4, 2014

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

The recent concession to a plan for accepting division of political power in Afghanistan by the country’s presidential candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and his rival, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, following the controversial presidential polls in the country, has revived hopes about possible reduction in tensions and disputes. In his first public speech addressed to his supporters, Abdullah described the power sharing formula as the best option under the current sensitive conditions for his country and noted that it also conformed to the country’s constitution as well as the good and expediency of Afghanistan and its people. Since Abdullah had already claimed that his election rival had rigged the vote by a margin of 2-2.5 million ballots, his felicitation to Ahmadzai as the new president of Afghanistan seemed somehow odd, but without a doubt, it was also realistic and rational.

However, without any premature judgment, we must first accept that equal division of power between Abdullah’s Reform and Partnership Team and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s Change and Continuity Team was the best possible option out of all available options. In fact, the election deadlock, which continued for a period of six months, offered limited options as the way out of the crisis, which if rejected, the country’s election turmoil, would have simply worsened. Out of all options available to the two sides, the following three options were taken more seriously:

1. The first option was the establishment of a parallel government by Abdullah in case he failed to achieve an agreement with his rival;
2. The second option was the continuation  of Hamid Karzai’s government and arranging a reelection; and
3. The option of reconciliation.

In reality, the option of reconciliation was only option which was also recognized as the best option. It also gained domestic, regional and international support in the last steps of the dispute and through mediation of the US Secretary of State John Kerry. The other two options could have led Afghanistan into domestic war and possible disintegration along ethnic and regional lines. The option of forming a parallel government would have greatly increased the risk of violence and forceful transfer of power, which was not a favorite choice for any of the involved parties. Although the option of reconciliation is not totally free from problems and serious differences may surface in the course of its implementation, at least, it was advantageous in that it paved the way for the peaceful transfer of power from one president to his successor. Such a state of affairs has had no precedent in the tumultuous history of Afghanistan during the past four decades, at least since 1976 and the coup d’état against Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan.

Of course, this peaceful transfer of power has been incomplete and incompatible with democratic norms and has also deprived the Afghan nation of a historical opportunity which would have allowed the nation for the first time after about 300 years to break the Pashtun people’s monopoly on power and make way for transfer of power through the democratic mechanism of ballot boxes to a non-Pashtun ethnicity. However, even in its current state, such a reconciliation should be considered a step forward under special conditions that rein in Afghanistan. It is a step forward because the division of power has taken place between two rival political currents with ethnic roots. The acceptance of such a reconciliation was a civil move and its importance should be assessed apart from its main weakness, which was bypassing the ballot boxes as well as the expectations of the Afghan society. The power sharing formula is significant because in its totality, it is a clear demonstration of the ethnic equation of power in present-day Afghanistan. This means that one side of this equation is the Pashtun people with its monopolistic mentality according to which, it considers the control on power as its historical and natural right. However, this ethnic group has now conceded to accept other ethnicities as a partner in power. On the other hand, there are non-Pashtun ethnic groups that were not ready to give in to the monopolistic power of Pashtun people without a question. As a result, they were mentally ready to go ahead as far as the division of their country. However, now all of them have accepted the power sharing in spite of all signs that show they were actual winners of the election.

Now, there should be no doubt that implementation of the power sharing formula between Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who has been announced as the winner of the election and the country’s new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the runner up who has been appointed as the chief executive of the country, will have its own difficulties. As a result, the government of Ashraf Ghani may face problems over the next five years and even fail. This would be especially true because the formula for establishing a national unity government has been developed in such a way that it prevents emergence of Afghanistan as an independent power from a strategic viewpoint and when national interests of Afghans are taken into consideration. Consequently, Afghanistan will always remain in need of the effective intervention by the United States. Signing of the security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan by the country’s new president, while former president, Hamid Karzai had refrained from signing it due to his own concerns, clearly proves that the United States will have the upper hand in the country. As a result of the conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the two countries, the US Army will keep, at least, five permanent and a number of non-permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will, as such, maintain its influence on the future developments of the country.

Meanwhile, the power sharing formula between Abdullah and Ahmadzai can be considered important from another angle, which is paving the way for the progress of national reconciliation talks between the central government, on the one hand, and the Taliban group and other anti-government armed groups, on the other hand. It is very important that the power sharing formula has predicted for Loya Jirga to meet within the next two years to amend the country’s constitution in such a way that it would meet the two main demands put forth by Abdullah. Possible amendments in the constitution of Afghanistan will take place along two major lines:

1. They will turn the country’s political system from a centralized presidential system into a non-centralized parliamentary system while the chief executive will be promoted to prime minister.
2. The country’s administrative system will be a federal one in which every ethnic group will have its own ethnic parliament and local government within its geographical boundaries and will be also given a fair share of power in Kabul.

This power structure and the federal system of government in Afghanistan will heed ethnic lines.  It is also compatible with a plan previously proposed by the former head of foreign troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus. According to Petraeus’ plan, the Pashtun ethnic group would be allowed to establish its own Islamic system of power in the eastern and western parts of the country where it sways majority and would have a share of central power in Kabul as well, provided that its people would lay down their arms. The same formula would be extended to the other three major ethnic groups, which include Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara people as a result of which, Afghanistan would turn into a federal country where the distribution of power would be more balanced. Of course, it should be noted that there is remarkable ethnic diversity in Afghanistan as 54 big and small ethnic groups live in the country each with its own specific culture, traditions, and ethnic demands. In addition, a federal system of government is actually special to more advanced societies and it would be very difficult to adapt it to a nomadic traditional society.

Despite all these facts, the power sharing formula should not be considered as a silver bullet and a final and lasting solution to all problems. There are unresolved conflicts in Afghanistan and as long as they exist, the power sharing formula will be prone to crisis and failure. The combined ethnic and ideological monopoly that Pashtun people have been seeking in various forms, including in the form of Taliban group, does not allow them to get along with division of power in the long run. On the other hand, since long years of war and Jihad have changed the attitude of non-Pashtun ethnicities and they are now familiar with weapons and resistance, they are not likely to give in to renewed monopoly of Pashtuns and the Taliban over the political power. As a consequence of this situation, Afghanistan will remain prone to violence and will constantly need foreign intervention.

In view of such facts regarding the future outlook of a national unity government, there can be two optimistic and pessimistic views in this regard. According to the optimistic view, the national unity government will become stronger and cooperation between Abdullah and Ahmadzai will continue during the entire five-year tenure of the new president. In this state, whenever a major problem pops up, the foreign power that is present in the country will intervene to impose a solution. In the pessimistic view, Afghanistan will return to the situation that has prevailed in the country during the past four decades. As a result, ethnic rivalries and various ideological readings of Islam – from the radical views of Deobandi school to the moderate Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood spearheaded by Tajiks and led by Abdullah – will be once again activated along ethnic lines. In addition, supporters of a monarchial system, liberal democrats, and even former Marxists will see their chance to come to the fore again. The combination of these centrifugal forces will prevent establishment of an efficient central government in the war-weary country. It seems that establishment of a national unity government and power sharing was the best option available. However, there is a long way to go before this option will be able to protect the country against such major threats as renewed crisis, civil war, and even total disintegration of Afghanistan into two major divisions of Greater Pashtunistan and Greater Khorasan.

Key Words: Afghan Crisis, Power Sharing, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Division of Political Power, Pashtun Ethnicity, United States, Security Agreement, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, Greater Pashtunistan, Greater Khorasan, Mollazehi

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