Afghanistan - Politics
It was known since the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003 that sticking to the electoral calendar approved there under the eyes of dozens of international and Afghan legal advisors and election experts – with its three-year term for district councils, four-year terms for provincial councils and five-year terms for the president and parliament – was unrealistic.
Pashtuns account for about 40% of Afghanistan's population, but largely dominate Afghan politics. Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group, variously estimated at between 25% to 38% of the population. Tajiks are able to bring the other non-Pashtuns to their side, as they do not have the tribal system that dominates Pashtun politics. Some say Tajiks are more moderate and pro-democracy than other ethnic group in the country.
Central power does not mean a great deal. It means the promise of dividing up aid money. Two opposite dynamics are at work in Afghanistan's government: on the one hand, the central government must gain control over de facto autonomous regions, in order to maintain order. On the other hand, those regions are de jure subordinate parts of a highly centralized state, and reformers eventually must find a way to increase rather than decrease their role in governance.
Ali A. Jalali, Interior Minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to September 2005, notes that "Tribes and local communities in Afghanistan ... have long complemented the central government’s efforts to enhance security. They have taken an active role in policing in peacetime and a military function in repelling foreign invasions and quelling domestic uprisings during times of conflict. Such collaboration has been possible, however, only when tribes and local communities believed in the central government’s legitimacy and felt confident that it could deliver the services required. When such confidence has been lacking, tribes and local communities have relied on their traditional structures to survive, lending support to the groups that appeared to be politically and militarily ascendant. In this respect, Afghanistan has historically been no different than any other tribal society with its tribes and the government playing the roles of the two mutually influential elements of a single system. Violence has ravaged the Afghan system, however, and as a result the tribes are no longer as willing to support the central government because it has proven itself largely incapable of supporting the tribes".
Afghan politics is a struggle to maintain a balance between institutional and traditional informal governance, in an environment of poverty, social exhaustion, illicit power centers arising from decades of political breakdown, governmental incapacity, criminality, and insurgency. The goal is responsive, reliable leadership in local communities, which binds them to the capital in a reciprocal way, strengthening both the Afghan central government's role and that of local government. This requires workin equally with traditional leadership structures, as well as those who gained power through force or wealth during the days of conflict, but have proven themselves ready to cooperate with constitutional government and rule of law. Lack of local consensus, traditionally weak connections between the capital and localities, long-standing rivalries and distrust among communities, and the presence of illegitimate insurgent or criminal spoilers complicate the task.
An election was held on September 18, 2005 for the "Wolesi Jirga" (lower house) of Afghanistan's new bicameral National Assembly and for the country's 34 provincial councils. Turnout for the election was about 53% of the 12.5 million registered voters. The Afghan constitution provides for indirect election of the National Assembly's "Meshrano Jirga" (upper house) by the provincial councils and by reserved presidential appointments. The first democratically elected National Assembly since 1969 was inaugurated on December 19, 2005. Younus Qanooni and Sigbatullah Mojadeddi were elected Speakers of the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga, respectively.
Increasing education and the free flow of ideas through the media are transforming Afghanistan. Kabul-based radio and television reach much of the country, and their sophistication is growing. Recent discussion programs have addressed institutional corruption, the dynamic between the executive and legislative branches, the effectiveness of President Karzai, and a range of social issues. Much of the programming is critical of the government, which on occasion has drawn a troubling response.
In 2009 candidate registration for the 20 August presidential election closed May 8, with at least 44 candidates turning in completed registration forms. Most candidates were unknown to the larger Afghan population. Despite more than 100 registered political parties active in Afghanistan, few candidates embraced party endorsements.
The second national democratic presidential and provincial council elections were held in August 2009, and National Assembly elections were held September 2010. Hamid Karzai's main competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, forced a presidential run-off to be scheduled, but then withdrew. On November 2, 2009, officials of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan for another 5-year term. Unlike previous election cycles, the elections were coordinated by the IEC, with assistance from the UN. NATO officials announced in March 2009 that 15.6 million voters had registered to vote, roughly half of the country's population, and that 35% to 38% of registered voters were women.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime, destabilizing factors have included activities by the Taliban and other insurgents and by al-Qaeda. The government's authority was growing, although its ability to deliver necessary social services remained largely dependent on funds from the international donor community. U.S. assistance for Afghanistan's reconstruction from fiscal year 2001 to the present totals over $72 billion, including support for security services. Donors pledged continued assistance for the rebuilding of the country at the June 2008 international Afghanistan support conference in Paris. Overall, the international community has made multi-year reconstruction and security assistance pledges to Afghanistan totaling over $100 billion.
In response to President Karzai's 10 December 2006 launch of the Action Plan for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation (reftel), Human Rights Watch released a statement on 12 December 2006 calling for the government to implement the plan immediately. HRW went a step further by singling out several prominent officials as perpetrators of human rights abuses who should be tried in a special court. "Several of the worst perpetrators from Afghanistan's recent past are still active and engaging in widespread human rights abuses," HRW stated. Among those GOA officials named were parliamentarians Abdul Rabb al Rasul Sayyaf, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Burhadnuddin Rabbani, Minister of Energy Ismail Khan, Army Chief of Staff Abdul Rashid Dostum, and current Vice President Karim Khalili.
Ambiguity among international and Afghan decision-makers between reintegration (of low to mid-level insurgents) and reconciliation (of top tier leaders) contributes to confusion and is complicated by the fact that one term is commonly used for both concepts in Dari and Pashto. Most Afghans are likely to agree with Karzai's statement in London in 2010 that emphasized renouncing violence and agreeing to living in a peaceful society enshrined in the Afghan Constitution, and to support the programs aimed at low-level fighters. However, non-Pashtuns and women are generally more leery of the ramifications of high-level reconciliation, believing it means allowing political power sharing with the Taliban and possibly accepting the return of their draconian ways. They fear Karzai would use the reconciliation process to further Pashtunize the government and would only appoint representatives to the Peace Jirga who will support his agenda.
Reconciliation with Taliban or other insurgent leaders is controversial. Many welcome the possibility of reduced violence and instability via a possible reconciliation with the Taliban, while others (mainly non-Pashtuns, women, and certain civil society groups) fear a Pashtun deal that could come at the expense of their interests. So far, all reconciliation efforts have been premised on respect for the constitution, and no ties to Al-Qaeda.
In 2012 the Afghan government continued its attempts to negotiate settlements with the Taliban and other insurgent forces. Higher-level reconciliation efforts did not result in any major breakthroughs, but a growing number of lower-level insurgents reintegrated this quarter—mostly in the west. Political debate continued inside and outside Afghanistan, focused on the goals and terms of reconciliation and how the process should proceed. There were conflicting accounts about the state of negotiations and who was participating in talks. Many political observers continued to worry about the lack of transparency in the negotiations; some are concerned that a deal could roll back the progress made in the past 10 years. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated that women’s rights will not be sacrificed in negotiations. She also stated that the dialogue must include women, ethnic minorities, and representatives of civil society.
On January 3, 2012, the Taliban reportedly agreed to open a political office in Qatar to “come to an understanding with other nations." 184 In a speech to the National Assembly on January 21, President Karzai publicly supported the agreement; however, as of March 30, the Taliban had not opened an office. 185 Karzai also announced that he had begun preliminary discussions with representatives of the Hezb-e Islami party, the organization led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that opposes the Karzai government. On February 15, 2012, Karzai claimed that the Afghan government had engaged in talks with the Taliban, but the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General noted that the Taliban apparently rejected that claim.
On March 5, 2012, the Wolesi Jirga confirmed all nine of President Karzai’s ministerial nominees. The nomination process was drawn out—it began in 2010—and contentious, but the entire cabinet has now been confirmed. Seven of the nominees had been serving in an acting capacity at their ministries.
In April 2012 Afghanistan appointed the son of slain statesman Burhanuddin Rabbani to replace his father and lead the country's High Peace Council charged with finding a political solution to the Afghan war. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement that Salahuddin Rabbani is the country's new top peace envoy. Rabbani was then Afghanistan's ambassador to Turkey.
Afghanistan's election commission declared former finance minister and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani president-elect on September 21, 2014, hours after he signed a power-sharing deal with runner up Abdullah Abdullah. However, the commissioner withheld final election numbers after a UN-monitory audit. The announcement followed Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah signing a power-sharing agreement to form a National Unity Government, ending weeks of political bickering following a June 14 runoff presidential election.
Under the terms of the unity government deal, Ghani will share power with a chief executive proposed by Abdullah. The two would share control over who leads key institutions such as the Afghan army and other executive decisions. The new administration faces huge challenges in fighting an emboldened Taliban-led insurgency and paying its bills amid plummeting tax revenue. It also faced significant difficulty in improving the lives of Afghans who face hard times as aid flows fall and as contracts with the NATO-led coalition dry up as most foreign troops leave by the end of the year.
Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement, the new government will have a cabinet -- including the chief executive and his two deputies. Emphasis is placed on "parity" when it comes to deciding on leadership positions in ministries relating to security and the economy. The two sides will be "equally represented at the leadership level." Lower-level appointments will be "equitably" distributed, meaning there will not be a one-for-one handout of jobs. This could be a source of disagreement, as Ghani has stressed a "merit-based" mechanism for appointing officials.
Ashraf Ghani officially took over for outgoing President Hamid Karzai 29 September 2014. Under tight security, delegates from around the world joined Afghan political and religious leaders at Monday's inauguration ceremony, which was held at the presidential palace in Kabul. Election rival Abdullah Abdullah was also sworn in as the country's new chief executive in a power-sharing deal reached after months of a post-election crisis.
The conflict continued to take a horrid toll on Afghan civilians. In the first eight months of 2015, UNAMA documented the highest level of civilian casualties since it began records. Unemployment stood at 25 percent, the peace process with the Taliban was at a standstill and the U.N. is expecting the conflict this year to be as deadly as in 2015, when more than 11,000 people were killed or wounded. Afghanistan consistently rates among the most corrupt countries in the world.
Despite high-level political challenges, the UN Secretary-General reported in late 2017 that President Ghani appeared to have consolidated some of his authority within the National Unity Government. President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah—a Jamiat-e Islami member and President Ghani’s partner in the National Unity Government—reached a consensus on high-level appointments, which had previously been a source of contention between the two leaders.
The need for elections reform was highlighted in late 2017 when the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, reported that “many Afghan politicians and citizens across the country told me repeatedly that the country could not endure another election like that of 2014."
Atta Mohammad Noor, who had governed Balkh province for more than 13 years, was fired by President Ashraf Ghani in December 2017. But Noor refused to accept his dismissal until the central government met certain demands and continued to govern the relatively peaceful and prosperous Afghan province. He belongs to the Jamiat-e-Islami party and has also accused Ghani of appointing officials to key government posts on ethnic grounds, charges the president and his aides reject as baseless.
Afghanistan’s political crisis deepened 1 February 2018 when a second provincial governor defied a presidential order for his removal. On Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani’s office approved and announced the appointment of new heads for five provinces, including Samangan in the north, as part of efforts to improve local Afghan governance. But Abdul Karim Khedam, who has been governing Samangan for about a year, denounced and dismissed his ouster by the president as unacceptable. The central government appointed Abdul Latif Ibrahimi as the new governor of the northern Afghan province. He is a former member of the Hezb-e-Islami party of ethnic Pashtun former jihadi commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Khedam defended his decision to remain in office and said the final authority to determine his political fate rested with the Turkemen tribe he represents in the province as well as with his political party, Jamiat-e-Islami, which shares power with Ghani’s national unity government. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah represents Jamiat-e-Islami along with other party leaders in the ruling coalition and the party largely comprises ethnic Tajiks. President Ghani’s support comes from the majority ethnic Pashtun community.
The United Nations said war-relative civilian casualties stood at over 10,000 in 2017 and anticipated more bloodshed in the coming fighting season.
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