The Fifth of April Elections
By Bismellah Alizada
The Fifth of April elections, deemed as a milestone by many in the most critical moment of Afghanistan’s contemporary history, took place with around 7 million voters unexpectedly peacefully amid extensive threats by Taliban. As anticipated by some, in the first round no standee could acquire the required percentage of votes to legally succeed Karzai, therefore the IEC on Thursday, 15th of May, announced that the runoff will be held on 14th of June. There are an overwhelming number of concerns raised by media, analysts and citizens, but the key issue is that the runoff will prove the very vital point from which the prevalent, and on occasions serious, fear originates: has the fledgling democracy and modern statesmanship reached a certain level of irreversibility in 13 recent years in Afghanistan?
After a visit of colonial India, in 1907, Afghanistan’s Habibullah Khan showed a great enthusiasm for modernization, starting from clothing and eating style – a very common approach traceable in all waves of modernization since then, especially in the political arena. Habibia High School, his most thoughtful initiative in 1903, triggered the first, but latter suppressed, political movement favoring constitutionalism. Habibulla’s successor, King Amanullah, prompted unprecedented initiatives upon his ascendance to the throne: declaring independence from colonial Britain, sending students to Turkey for education, and the first constitution in 1924, to name but a few. After his return from a more-than-a-year-long tour of the world (especially Europe), he maniacally took modernization measures most of which superficial – most notable of these measures included unveiling Queen Sorayya, his wife, and ordering officials to wear uniforms and suits. These steps were limited only in the narrow capital, however, and did not reach out to the wide margin with tremendous power of tradition and religion. This wide margin soon rose against the wave first in the guise of Mulla-e-Lang from the south and ultimately culminated into Amanullah’s takeover by Habibullah Kalakani, a Tajik from Kohistan, north of Kabul, with no understanding of kingship and governance. Afghanistan, as a result of this overthrow, fell on the path of retrogression that marked the first failure of moving towards modern state.
In 1946, seventeen years after overthrow of Amanullah, another movement formed under premiership of Shah Mahmoud that resulted in establishment of National Assembly and elections for the first time in the history of Afghanistan – this period is frequently named the decade of democracy. For the first time, Afghans practiced free political activities and movements like Wishzalmian (Awake Youths), Watan (the Homeland) and Students Union took shape. These movements, a significant number of whose members were students and teachers of Kabul University, were early forms of political parties who led publications, too. In the end, Shah Mahmood viewed these improvements as threats to the monarchy and tried to curb it down. Fraud in the 1952 elections led to wide public demonstrations that, though suppressed, served as an excuse to imprison key members of Watan and The People party. The 1964 constitution, passed by 452 members of Loya Jirga, was one of the major achievements that restricted the royal family from membership in the cabinet, thus opening a way for non-Pashtuns to enter politics – Dr. Yosuf, the then prime minister, for instance, was a non-Pashtun. In the 1965 elections, that is deemed as relatively fair, antiroyalists, leftists, rightists, pro-King candidates, businesspersons, and four women made their ways to the National Assembly. The growing democracy, however, did not last long. In 1969 elections, many of the leftists and women lost their seats – many blame intervention of government for it – and the National Assembly’s active role went waning. The situation coincided with public dissatisfaction and two subsequent years of drought and famine. In 1973, Daud Khan, King’s cousin and former prime minister who was educated in France, took the power through a successful and bloodless coup d’état blaming the government for “anarchy and antinational attitude”. Five years of Daud’s presidency – also last years of Mohammad Zaie’s rule – came with suppressions or at least no significant democratic achievements. The PDPA’s coup d’état in 1978 (7th of Saur) was the dawn of bloodshed period that lasted almost thirty years and claimed millions of lives and left countless calamities and ruins.
After the fall of Taliban in 2001, and with the presence of international community, Afghanistan started a new chapter in its history. Since then, we have made significant accomplishments in many fields: almost ten million in schools and universities, overwhelming achievements in free media, women’s rights, 350,000 army, strong commitment in elections and division of power, relatively strong and institutionalized civil spirit, and civil institutions among others. The international community, as ambassador of Norway once put it, “helped Afghans – as a dad would do – to ride a bicycle, but Afghans should learn to ride it by themselves after 2014.” The runoff will prove that very point: if we have learned to ride the bicycle by ourselves.
The first try of modern state and reforms was whitewashed by fanatic religious causes from the wide margin who opposed Amanullah’s quasi-western attitude. The second try, however, was weakened – if not crushed – by the royal family who feared to lose dominance and the subsequent turmoil and violence that followed marked its demise. Now, in the third try, the religious factor is much weaker than to be a threat but the ethnical ground seems to be one. The question whether Pashtuns yield to shift of power to non-Pashtuns still has no reliably clear answer – even the intra-ethnical shift of power is controversial. The runoff and its result will provide an answer to the question and at the same time will prove if we have learned civil and democratic culture that guarantees irreversibility of all what we have achieved in 13 years of practicing democracy.
2014: A YEAR FOR CELEBRATION?
By Bismellah Alizada
As 2014—the year when the United States and Coalition forces pull their troops out of Afghanistan—is approaching, there are more and more polemics and hotter discussions on the topic ‘Afghanistan post-2014’. TV shows, radio programs, news headings, and academic circles show inclination in drawing more attention to the topic, what talks more of a worry prevailing on the eve of the era. However, there are significant evidences for optimism, too, that in most part overshadow ‘fearing 2014’.
At first glance at the issue, it can be inferred that the concerns are far more logical and reasonable than the utopian analysis of the optimists. 2014 is not merely a year of military transition as apparently considered, but a year when political, economic, and military transition will occur. It is at a time when the political structure, political institutions and the democratic hand over of power through elections is still unreliably precarious. The economic infrastructures are weaker than to be expected to support the economy of a state that can keep sovereignty and can provide security. Most importantly, ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police) are not armed with modern weaponry that can rival those of the Taliban neither are they quantitatively sufficient to face such large-scale threats.
In addition, the government practices strong sovereignty only in Kabul and some central provinces while in most southern and southeastern provinces Taliban are the ones who do so. It is a big concern that those provinces are very likely to fall in control of the Taliban unexpectedly easily. People in those provinces prefer the Taliban than the government especially in terms of their legal and criminal cases because the administration in immersed in the quagmire of corruption. Afghanistan is always ranked the second or third most corrupt state which is no ordinary issue. Corruption can turn to a legitimacy-ruining factor that can undoubtedly drag the country to the swamp of crisis of legitimacy. Taliban take timely action in such cases asking for no bribe (!); thus, attain more acceptability.
Moreover, the Taliban, backed by ISI, have been preparing for 2014 since the U.S. and Afghan officials proposed the issue of negotiation and Qatar Office as the official address of them which meant an official (international) recognition of Taliban. The offer conveyed to the Taliban that the puppet government has been defeated and has no way than to negotiate. The issue of negotiation was followed by other instances that further strengthened their understanding form the negotiation offer. President Karzai released some prisoners of Taliban and accused United States of collusion with Taliban. Karzai also said that the U.S. presence harms the national sovereignty of Afghanistan. These instances all proved to the Taliban that there is a dualism in policies of Afghan Government and that of the western countries headed by U.S. In such an atmosphere, Taliban sturdily concluded 2014 as a point of victory and seriously have been preparing for a velvet takeover. Taliban think of it as a historical victory of ideological Islam after a shameful withdrawal of the anti-Islam stronghold. They think of 2014 as a moment for celebration of a holy victory over ‘infidelity’ in their own terms.
Likewise, the process of installing a western model of democracy—what legitimized U.S. invasion and military presence in Afghanistan before international community—has failed. The current so called democracy seems too resilient. A stable and institutionalized democratic government is only expectable over a longer course of time. More time is needed so the civil awareness of the public increase through which democracy—a modern singularity to a society ruled by consecrated customary rules—can win over traditionalism. It is only then when democracy can be a prime cause in keeping the country’s stability of power.
Although each of the above are challengingly thought-provoking, there are undeniable facts that change the pessimistic calculation of Afghanistan post-2014. These specifics emasculate this cynicism and change the commonly feared 2014 to a decisive moment in political history of Afghanistan. Optimists rely on these particulars:
First, Afghanistan, now, has a reliable political structure and institutions that can avoid any crisis of power. The constitution, the division of power, and the civil society institutions will keep the country of falling into another civil war or of falling into control of the Taliban. Most of the citizens back the government than the Taliban and this gains more legitimacy for the government. Most aged people still remember the spiteful brutalities of Taliban meanwhile the youth, more open-minded, abhor their retrogressive thoughts and radical Islamism.
Second, election as a peaceful and democratic means of transition of power is a reliable guarantee and will definitely avoid any crisis of power or power vacuum in 2014. Meanwhile, an Afghan-run election will be a principal step in institutionalization of democracy in Afghanistan. There are promising steps taken and being taken for the transparency and legal legitimacy of the elections. There are also important steps taken and being taken for a serious contribution in the 2014 elections. For instance, the Coalition for Election—a coalition of Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks key parties and political figures (mostly charismatic figures)—is a joint effort for elections to be a serious event in the political history of Afghanistan. It also speaks of a commitment and strong political will that definitely is a key constituent in saving the country of any crisis of power.
Third, the Kabul-Washington military partnership speaks of a long-run presence of U.S. in Afghanistan. This partnership logically minimizes the possibility of a takeover in 2014. Taliban’s Islamic Emarats simply means ruining all the achievements of the International Community and the Unites States that is a too unbearably exorbitant price to be paid. Taliban don’t believe in civil values neither do they care about human rights, international law, international conventions or what so on. It can change the honorable military pull out to the second shameful withdrawal of U.S. after a disgraceful defeat while the U.S. never desires it to materialize so.
Fourth, Taliban and in wider range Al-Qaeda is not a threat only to Afghanistan but to the whole world. It is ridiculously illogical to think that Taliban may limit their objectives in gaining the political power in Afghanistan. Jihad as the core of Taliban’s ideology should be extended to all un-Islamic countries and this simply means that threats of Taliban have serious global aspects. Taliban being a full-scale global threat, requires global action and there are serious global commitment in fighting the evil phenomenon of our time. The global community cannot sit by not responding seriously to a common threat while it is being extended into perilous dimensions.
In summary, there are reliable promising grounds for a stable Afghanistan post-2014 although prone-to-pessimism factors are logically not negligible. Reliable political structure, 2014 elections, Kabul-Washington military partnership, and global commitment in fighting the common threat altogether make a ground for optimism.