Published on 30 Nov 2011 at 01:41
Two new political movements have been launched in Afghanistan, but opinion is divided on how much influence they will have or how long they will last.
Late October saw two additions to the political scene in Afghanistan, with the launch of the Truth and Justice Party and the Afghanistan National Front.
Both of the parties were formed in opposition to the present government, both boast important figures from Afghanistan’s tumultuous past, and both claim to have answers to the myriad of crises in Afghanistan.
The key founders of the Truth and Justice Party include former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, former Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Mohammad Ehsan Zia, former Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Hamidullah Farooqi, and former Parliamentarian Abas Noyan.
The National Front, which includes three political parties, draws heavily on the former Northern Alliance, with former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq of the Wahdat Party, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum of Junbish-e-Milli in the lineup.
The Truth and Justice Party wants to be known as a political organization that represents all of Afghanistan, with a multi-ethnic makeup and a council, or shura, that draws its members from all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
It contains a number of members of the former Communist regime, from the Khalq faction, as well as political analysts and academics. The party emphasizes respect for the Constitution, and supports the U.S./Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement.
The National Front, on the other hand, wants to change Afghanistan’s political system. The Front says that the presidential system has led the country into its present crisis, and would like to see a Parliamentary regime put in place, where the prime minister would be elected by parliament. The National Front stood against the recent Loya Jirga, called by President Hamid Karzai to drum up support for two major initiatives: the U.S./Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, which will outline the future of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and peace talks with the Taliban and other factions of the armed opposition.
From left: Hamidullah Farooqi, Hanif Atmar And Ehsan Zia
The National Front seeks to be the heir to the former United Front, formed in 2007 under the leadership of the late Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the High Peace Council who was assassinated in September.
The United Front was also a successor to the Northern Alliance, boasting members such as Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Ahmad Wali Massoud, Mohammad Ismail Khan, Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, Noor ul Haq Ulumi, Helaluddin Helal and Sayeed Mohmmad Gulabzoi along with Mohaqeq, Dostum and Ahmad Zia Masoud.
The United Front had also promoted a Parliamentary system for Afghanistan.The United Front fell apart when Marshal Fahim, one of its key members, agreed to serve as Karzai’s First Vice President in 2009. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, another prominent member, was representing the United Front in the 2009 elections, running against Karzai.
“Ten years of experience has shown that the presidential system is not useful for Afghanistan,” said Faizullah Zaki, spokesperson for the National Front. “We see that the presidential system has given absolute power to the president, who does not respect the Parliament or pay any attention to the separation of powers. Therefore, the Front wants to change the system.”
Zaki reiterated the Front’s opposition to the traditional Loya Jirga, held in Kabul in November.
“Based on the Constitution as well as the existence of Parliament, we are against the traditional Loya Jirga and call it illegal,” he added.
The Truth and Justice Party, on the other hand, supported the Loya Jirga, and is in favor of retaining the present system.
“The president has the right to call a referendum on the country’s important issues,” said Moen Marastyal, a former MP and member of the executive board of the Truth and Justice Party. “Truth and Justice is not against the traditional Loya Jirga.”
From left: Dostum, Mohaqeq and Ahmad Zai Masoud
While the two groups have differing visions for the country, both agree on the necessity for a strategic partnership with the United States, to carry the country forward over the next difficult years.
Members of both groups have also been key partners in the government they are now criticizing so harshly.
Ahmad Zia Masoud, the chairperson of the National Front, was Vice President in Karzai’s first administration; Mohaqeq was Minister of Planning in the interim administration, and Dostum was a close ally of the president during both of his election campaigns.
Atmar, one of the founders of the Truth and Justice Party, maintained a long career in Karzai’s government, serving variously as Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Minister of Education, and Minister of the Interior. His colleague in the Party, Mohammad Ehsan Zia, was Atmar’s deputy at MRRD before succeeding him as minister. Hamidullah Faroqi was the acting Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.
The founders of both movements supported Karzai’s government when they were in power, but began to criticize it once they were removed. This gives rise to fears that both parties are more intent on the personal interests of their members than on actual reform.
Asef Baktash, a political analyst, is not optimistic about the future of the new parties.
“These two political movements were established while the traditional Loya Jirga was being organized, and in advance of the Bonn 2 conference,” he said, referring to a major meeting to be held in December in Bonn, Germany, to assess the results of the past ten years’ efforts in Afghanistan.
“Looking at the parties’ platforms, it seems that they want to put pressure on the government for their own advantage,” he said.
“Looking at the parties’ platforms, it seems that they want to put pressure on the government for their own advantage."
Baktash, however does not support political parties, referring to the 30-year crisis in Afghanistan, which included a civil war in which political factions battled each other for power, tearing the country apart in the process.
“Distrust between people is the most serious crisis we face. The lackluster performance of the government over the past ten years and the prolonged disaster caused by political factions over the past three decades in Afghanistan have made people unwilling to trust political parties,” said Baktash. “Meanwhile, some individuals in power do not want to see strong and powerful parties formed.”
Fahim Dashti, a journalist and political analyst, is more upbeat.
“The formation of new political parties, after a decade of invisible parties in Afghanistan’s politics shows that the country is ready to accept the role of political parties in strengthening democracy in Afghanistan,” he said. “We see that two new political parties have been established and we will see more parties formed in the future.”
Dashti agrees that political parties have an uneven reputation in Afghanistan.
“It is true that some groups in the government do not want strong political parties to emerge,” he said. “But the government, in general, did not prevent the formation of political parties over the past ten years. This shows that there is freedom for political parties to work in the country. One of the reasons that political parties have been slow to form, in my opinion, is that people have bad memories of their activities in the past. But I think the level of dissatisfaction with political parties is going down and we will see more activity in the future.”
The time for parties has come, added Dashti.
“There is an urgent need for the presence of strong political parties in order to establish a strong and democratic government,” he said.
More than 100 political parties have been established over the past ten years in Afghanistan. While many of them have formed alliances and are conducting work, their role in the country’s political life is minimal. Afghanistan’s electoral system is not based on party politics. The system is called Single, Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV), meaning that voters cast their ballots for individual candidates, not for party lists.
Analysts believe that the Election Law is the main barrier towards a more active role for political parties. The law, they insist, should be amended.
But the fact that some political factions have held on to their guns is also cause for concern: some people are worried that political tensions could once again turn to armed conflict if the parties take power.
Baktash advises that the government should take a few protective measures to diminish the danger.
“The government must collect weapons from illegal armed groups affiliated with political parties, and it should support political parties and change the Election Law from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Single Transferable Vote,” he said. “Then people will be able to vote for parties instead of for independent individuals in elections.”
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