by Mohammad Ali Samay
Afghanistan is still on the threshold of political collapse. People expected that after signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the USA and Afghanistan and the end of election conflicts between Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah the country will be rescued from disability and political hopelessness. Afghans were enthusiastically waiting for the elections. They really wanted to change the government in order to create new political environment especially when they recognized President Hamid Karzai was not signing the BSA. At that time the country was to lose international community’s support in the war against Taliban and terrorist networks. Afghanistan has had its new government since late September 2014. The BSA was the very first step taken by the new leadership, but the government is losing its role day by day, the Taliban are becoming powerful, the Islamic State has appeared in some areas, the economic situation is getting worse, and unemployment rate is significantly increasing. In this article I would try to draw the current picture of the political situation which is the result of the actions of the National Unity Government, its achievements and failures.
The very first problem was the lack of unified decision making process in the presidential palace (Arg). This fragmentation stemmed from the new type of governmental design which was the outcome of trilateral meetings between John Kerry, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. They built up the National Unity Government. The power is equally divided to both of them. Before declaration of the results of the elections they reached an agreement that Ashraf Ghani would create a new position under the title of Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and would appoint Abdullah Abdullah to it. According to Afghanistan’s political structure and governmental system, it is totally against the constitution to create a new position which holds a 50 percent share of power. However politically at that time this was the only way to resolve the conflict between them.
Abdullah Abdullah, who was in second position in the second round, decided to declare his own parallel government relying on support provided by former Mujahidin backing him with their political and economic power. Finally John Kerry, the Secretary of State of the United State stopped him in the very last minutes by promising to help him become a key member of the subsequent government. The National Unity Government has been named the “government of fifty-fifty” by Afghans. It means no one has the majority to take decisions on important or even small issues. The fifty-fifty term has affected micro-level governance, too. The whole system is divided into two parts. The practical picture of the “government of fifty-fifty” is the following: if a governor in a province has ties to Abdullah’s team, the deputy governor should be nominated by Ashraf Ghani’s team. In such kind of regime, though, there is no hierarchy and coordination between them. Both of them act as governors and both of them prevent each other from completing their plans. In some cases both of them are the warlords and employ their irresponsible armed groups, too. In one word, the government could not enjoy its legitimacy from its very first minutes, although the creation of the national unity government against election results with an outcome of dividing legitimacy to two parties could undermine the meaning of democracy in a developing country.
The question of fraud and violation is clear. In newly democratized countries the credibility of election results is already exposed to dangers posed by fraud. But the frame and the pivot of democracy should remain for the next generation at least. Hamid Karzai faced the same situation in 2009, but he clearly refused to divide his authority and power with Abdullah Abdullah. He just kept Abdullah’s people in the government, practically it was a coalition government but the decisions were made by him.
Afghanistan will have a flop and blackmail democracy. Both or all sides win and no one loses. Abdullah Abdullah told after signing the national unity government agreement that there was no loser in this election, both sides won. Thus, the government would be built taking into consideration the electors’ will. Today there is no considerable opposition party outside the system, no unity between ruling blocs and no public support at all. The new government has been in power for more than two years but most of the provinces and districts are under the leadership of acting governors. Even the government could not have its Defense Minister voted for by the Parliament in the first two years while the country was straggling with heavy armed conflicts.
The agreement of National Unity Government was signed for a period of two years. Both sides promised to convoke a Constitutional Loya Jirga, change the governmental structure, and create the position of Executive Prime Minister, and reform election law within those two years as only a Constitutional Loya Jirga has the authority to reform the constitution. Constitutional Loya Jirga has a lot more members and intricate structure than the National Assembly:
The Constitutional Loya Jirga has 750 representatives from all around the country. 249 members of the Lower House (Wolussi Jirga), 102 members of the Upper House (Mishraano Jirga), the heads of the 34 Provincial Councils (Wolayati Shoraas), and the heads of the 365 District Councils (Woluswali Shoraa).
Currently the Constitutional Loya Jirga could not be convoked. Just one part of it is ready to assume office: the speakers of the Provincial Councils. The Lower House legislative period ended in June 2015. The government was not ready to hold parliamentary elections; the President signed a decree allowing the former members of the parliament to stay and act in their seats until new elections were held. According to experts in legal terms, such acts are absolutely against the constitution, but again this was the only solution to retain some degree of democracy.
Elections of the District Councils (where the one third of the Upper House and 365 Heads of Councils should come from) have never been held yet. It means 249 legitimate members from the Lower House, 34 members from the Upper House and 365 members from the District Councils are yet to join Loya Jirga. Electoral law has only been reformed and approved by the Parliament, but due to Lack of budget and security the Election Committee has not established a new procedure and announced the date of the elections yet.
Does Abdullah Abdullah really want to change the political system? I think he is the one who does not want to change it. Even recently he has absolutely lost his influence. Ashraf Ghani does not consider him a shareholder in the government. All decisions are made by the President. Abdullah Abdullah could not meet him once in three or four months to discuss and consult even after repeatedly requesting appointments.
There is a highly considerable debate among Tajik nationalists whether there is no high position given to Tajiks in the government. The National Unity Government has been formed by Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Hazaras exclusively. Abdullah Abdullah is not a Tajik, his Father was a Pashtun from Kandahar, and his first deputy is Pashtun whilst his second one is Hazara. Ashraf Ghani’s first Vice President is Uzbek and his second one is again Hazara. So, in the end of the day there is a potential threat for Abdullah Abdullah to lose his position to a Tajik politician in case of change in political environment. However, he already lost his popularity by signing the agreement of National Unity Government and not appointing Mujahidins as Ministers and officials in the cabinet and provinces. Even he is not practicing pleasure on President to focus on conducting the agreement. In 2014, the agreement signed for two years, but after two years and a visit of John Kerry to Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah announced the National Unity Government has established for five years. However his announcement was unpredictable and counterproductive for all political parties, but he could rich the point to keep his position with no-change.
Recently new debate has started between Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of the Balkh Province, the most powerful Tajik politician out of Kabul and Ashraf Ghani. The political elite consider Atta Mohammad Noor a game-changer. He claims Abdullah Abdullah, who enjoyed his support in previous elections has not the political masculinity anymore to act in the way people expected. Atta Mohammad Noor was the one who propelled him to the position of Chief Executive. Based on his interview for BBC, Abdullah Abdullah is a weak political player; Atta Mohammad Noor supported him to gain the 50 percent in the political system, but as of today all his efforts turn out to have been in vain. The power and decision making process is absolutely concentrated in the president’s hand and this was not what he expected from the system. That is why after two and a half years, he has been forced by his people to take action in order to assure them a real place in the political system and political decision making process. The only demand he has is conducting of the National Unity Government agreement which has been forgotten by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. On the other hand, Yonus Qanooni, former Vice President and one of the most influential politician also asked President Ashraf Ghani to implement the position of Prime Minister in order to establish a decentralized political system. Point to be noted, that the technical problem to reform the constitution is still a real one. It seems, the political system and governmental structure will remain unchanged; President Ghani will be in the central position enjoying his power according to the constitution and the debate will run until the new presidential elections is not established.
Finally we can guess that the National Unity Government was not a projective program, it was found to solve Afghanistan’s election conflicts. For that purpose it was success but the rest of points and debates written in the agreement has forgotten.