Post Taliban Afghan Political and Government Structure

afghanistan_rel_2003By Abu Ezaan

Afghan presidential elections scheduled in April 2014, if held as announced and planned, would be third such accomplishment in the post Taliban Afghanistan. The post Taliban political course for Afghanistan was charted during an International conference (Bonn-I) at Bonn, Germany in December 2001, which was mandated by the United Nations (UN). The Bonn-I was led by UN envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador Lakhdar Barahimi and actively participated by US envoy to Afghanistan {read erstwhile Northern Alliance (NA)} Ambassador James Dobbins {who is presently US Senior Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP)}, reputed international diplomats and anti Taliban Afghan groups.  The conference on future of Afghanistan was organized after the removal of Taliban regime through US led military operations, mainly air strikes, which commenced on  7 October 2001 in support of advancing NA forces. Besides the air strikes, approximately 1,000 US Special Operations Forces troops and CIA operatives physically assisted NA’s advance towards Kabul. In Kandahar, incumbent President Hamid Karzai led the anti Taliban operation with the support of about 1,300 US marines. On November 12, 2001, Kabul fell to NA while Bonn-I begun on November 27, 2001, to decide the future system of governance after military victory against Taliban.

Bonn-I had wide-ranging international as well as regional representation including Iran, however, Afghan delegates only comprised of anti Taliban factions. The four anti Taliban groups that represented Afghanistan in Bonn-I included: Northern Alliance (a coalition of anti Taliban fighters largely non Pashtuns), Rome Group (supporters of former King Zahir Shah), Peshawar Group (Afghan leaders based in Pakistan) and Cyprus Group (opposition figures with links to Iran). The non representation of Taliban at Bonn-I, though a difficult proposition immediately after the fall of their regime, has later been identified as a key inadequacy. With US backing as well as regional support including Pakistan, Hamid Karzai emerged as the consensus head of the interim setup that was entrusted with the responsibility of drafting new Afghan constitution and system of governance. Consequently, a unitary form of government with highly centralized control was opted by the Afghan interim authority which ostensibly, endorsed minimal role of political parties.  Despite being in existence for almost a decade, and even at a time when electoral process for the third presidential elections has already commenced, the relevance, public acquiescence as well as validity of existing Afghan political system remains subject of intense debate.

Today, when international drawdown from Afghanistan has already commenced, the political landscape of the country remains shrouded with uncertainties, intrigues and ethnic fragmentation. More than a decade long democracy has not been able to deliver a fresh corps of clean, dynamic and energetic political leadership in Afghanistan. The political power continue to vacillate between warlords, regional strongmen and tribal chieftains; a phenomenon that is reminiscent of post Soviet withdrawal era. The questions like, would the system in place has the energy to survive at its own without the ventilation provided through continued international presence, stare at the proponents of present Afghan political structure.  Can mere survival of the existing system this long, and willingness of present Afghan political actors to go along despite few overtly questioning its validity, be termed as the success of democracy in the country? Is the highly centralized government structure with enormous executive powers vested to the president, who at best represents 51% of the voters, viable in a fragmented society like Afghanistan? Can a democracy, which is based on the concept of ‘Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV)’, without an active role of political parties, earn public support or participation?  With non-Pashtun political groups often voicing support for parliamentary form of government in place of existing presidential system, what are the prospects of Afghan domestic consensus on future governance / political structure in post 2014? And finally, what would be the future of exiting political system and constitution, if peace negotiations with Taliban succeed?

The neo-oligarchy that today rules Afghanistan seems to draw its strength mainly from international military and financial support. It is a historical phenomenon that arrangements devised by external players, which are usually at tangent with local culture, always lack internal support. Thus, the prospects of the success of a political system in Afghanistan are least if it is considered to be imposed by outside world and not entirely indigenous.

Concurrently, any change in the existing system is also a delicate issue given the highly divergent views of various Afghan ethnicities, with non-Pashtun political stalwarts supporting decentralized government while majority Pashtuns even including armed insurgent groups opposing parliamentary form. It is however a certainty that the post Hamid Karzai political leadership in Afghanistan will have least emotional attachment with the present government system and more keenness to introduce relevant changes in the existing structure. The future leadership can thus acclaim wider public support by devising a consensus government / political structure that is more akin with Afghan culture and traditions. Any such development will be a welcome sign for the entire region as it would promote intra-Afghan harmony and mitigate the prospects of ethnic dissonance.

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