Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

Afghanistan: Loyal political opposition feeling left out in the cold

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 18 February 2010
Cite as EurasiaNet, Afghanistan: Loyal political opposition feeling left out in the cold, 18 February 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b966e725.html [accessed 2 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Aunohita Mojumdar: 2/18/10

Violence in Afghanistan pays and offering the criticism of loyal opposition does not. So thinks Abdullah Abdullah, the losing presidential candidate in Afghanistan's 2009 election. In an interview with EurasiaNet in Kabul, Abdullah derided Afghan government plans to contain the Taliban insurgency, complaining that new policies could end up undermining democratization and increasing the chances of renewed inter-ethnic strife.

Abdullah – who has maintained a low profile since losing to President Hamid Karzai in 2009's fraud-marred presidential vote – was in Kabul recently to launch a movement that will press for a wide array of reforms, including the establishment of a genuinely independent election commission and the promotion of broader representation of ethnic minorities in government.

Abdullah asserted that the legitimate demands of those who had chosen to oppose Karzai administration policies by using non-violent, democratic means are now being ignored. To compound the indignity, the international community does not appear interested in addressing this issue, he added.

"There are groups like the Taliban that have opted for violence. [What about] those who don't want to use violence as a means of [securing] their rights? What are their choices?" Abdullah asked. "If the international community watches that and doesn't do things that are needed, then what is left?"

"There are a few thousand people [insurgents] who are fighting, but there are millions of people in this country who have many other priorities and demands," Abdullah continued. "One of those demands for example is for an independent election commission. This government ? [is] talking about bribing the Taliban and bringing them back. So you see this imbalance and the international community is also witness to this imbalance."

The reconciliation strategy developed by the international community and Afghan government is severely flawed, Abdullah contended. Any reconciliation has to be localized, he said, adding that ideas about "a broader reconciliation" were "an illusion." Ideologically, Taliban leaders are "not there to be part of the democratic system, but to destroy it, and bring it down and replace it." He questioned why the international community appeared to lack an institutional memory about the Taliban's behavior in power during the 1990s. "They have to explain it" he said.

As for the tactic of offering payments to rank-and-file insurgents to lay down their arms and renounce violence, Abdullah is skeptical that it can work.

He hinted that such payments might do more to destabilize society than they would to curb violence.

"Buying the Taliban [is] really, really dangerous and can lead to insecurity" he said. The so-called reintegration payments could have the unintended consequence of creating "a new marketplace." In such an environment, people would have an incentive to find guns and go into the mountains in order to claim reintegration money, he said. Abdullah also wondered if Afghanistan's infamously corrupt bureaucracy had the capacity to properly administer a reintegration program.

During the Taliban's time in power in Kabul, Abdullah was a leader of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which provided the main armed opposition to the imposition of the radical Islamic movement's social agenda

Currrently, non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan are being marginalized, Abdullah asserted. He pointed to the fact that key cabinet and administrative positions are being filled by a disproportionately high number of Pashtuns. "This is too much for the country. The rest of the people are being ignored," Abdullah said. He stressed that he was not trying to speak on behalf of any single ethnic group, but was merely trying to act as an advocate for greater inclusiveness in the political process.

Abdullah claimed that leaders of armed insurgent groups, such as the notorious Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, had successfully used violence to gain bargaining leverage. Kabul is now swirling with rumors that negotiations are underway to bring Hekmatyar into the government. If that happens, it would only enhance the Pashtun domination of the levers of power, Abdullah asserted.

These days, Abdullah commands an influential following within the country's parliament. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the legislature has obstructed Karzai's efforts to appoint his cabinet. Many appointees are still awaiting confirmation, and Abdullah admitted that a group of 50 or so MPs (out of the parliament's 249 overall members) who are fiercely loyal to him had played a key roll in blocking the president's strategy.

"We decided what to do and got what we wanted – more or less," Abdullah explained. "Our decision was not to vote for the cabinet. We knew we don't have an overall majority, but it (our decision) was important in the rejection of 70 percent of the ministers."

Until recently, Abdullah had been reluctant to try to form his own political party. But now he is touting a group of parties and interest groups that calls itself the "Coalition for Change and Hope." He said the coalition, which has formed a secretariat, would contest the next parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2010.

On February 17, Karzai signed a decree to remove the international presence from the Electoral Complaints Commission, an institution that blew the whistle on some egregious examples of fraud during the 2009 presidential vote.

Abdullah maintained that unless better, more expansive restraints were placed on incumbent authorities, electoral fraud would become an institutionalized practice. "I will still encourage them [members of the Coalition for Change and Hope] to participate [in the parliamentary elections] because this is the only process that I believe in, the democratic process, but I hope that we will get it right," he said.

Editor's Note: Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 19 years.

Copyright notice: All EurasiaNet material © Open Society Institute

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