Game for the Throne: More Instability Expected in Afghanistan
In April-June 2012, ‘Democracy International’ surveyed 176 Members of the Afghan Parliament (121 from Lower House and 55 from Upper House) seeking their views on elections, electoral laws and governance. Most agreed that electoral reforms were necessary to strengthen the country’s electoral system and improve the government’s legitimacy. Majority of them wanted change of electoral laws and electoral system, introduction of safeguards for appointment of electoral commissioners, plus confirmed women representation in Parliament.
Political stability may be defined as a set of characteristic which allow the state exercise its authority, prominent ones being: lack of violence within the polity; absence of threatening changes to the core political structure; sufficient capacity by the state to control its polity, and; absence of deficient state functionality to meet its political responsibilities and a reasonable degree of regularity in the political behavior of a polity. Any changes to these patterns will serve as a catalyst to instigate instability in the nation.
In the case of Afghanistan, a survey conducted by National Centre for Policy Research based in Kabul in 2011 had opined that political instability in Afghanistan was related to: unemployment and poverty; social fragmentation; return of migrants; poppy crops and trafficking; lack of rule of law; civil society and political parties; trust and legitimacy of government; Islamic radicalism and Taliban control in some areas; weak justice; ‘Great Power Games’, and intervention of neighboring countries as more fundamental dimensions of external causes of political instability – maximum from Pakistan.
Much water has flown under the bridge since then. Take the external factor of intervention by Pakistan, assessed in 2011 by 43 percent of those surveyed as the highest among neighboring countries that would have gone up exponentially today with: Afghan clerics publicly calling for jihad against Pakistan; evidence of Pakistani involvement in frequent terror attacks in Afghanistan; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani repeatedly pointing the finger at Pakistan including for the recent terror attack on American University of Afghanistan in Kabul; former Afghan National Directorate of Security Chief, Rahmatullah Nabil releasing classified documents about Pakistan support to Afghan militant groups, specifically Haqqani network; July 2016 report by UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan (UNAMA) stating Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed (JeM) are operating in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan officially telling Pakistan that Hafiz Saeed, former LeT chief is directing ISIS operations in Afghanistan.
Getting back to the political scene in Afghanistan, the aftermath of last Presidential election had witnessed considerable dissent and political turmoil. It was only because of the master of ceremonies, the USA, that a National Unity Government (NUG) was forged with Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun, as President and Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). It is well known that the crux of ethnic rivalry in Afghanistan is symbolized by the struggle by Pashtuns to re-establish dominance, and Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek minorities seeking adequate representation in political power at the centre and autonomy of respective areas, with Taliban adding to the complexity compounded by external factors like Pakistan.
Talks with the Taliban itself are subject of debate in Afghanistan. Significantly, in his statement titled ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community’ to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 9 February 2017, James Clapper, Director National Intelligence had said, “The Kabul government will continue to face persistent hurdles to political stability in 2016, including eroding political cohesion, assertions of authority by local powerbrokers, recurring financial shortfalls, and countrywide, sustained attacks by the Taliban.
Political cohesion will remain a challenge for Kabul as the National Unity Government will confront larger and more divisive issues later in 2016, including the implementation of election reforms, long-delayed parliamentary elections, and a potential change by a Loya Jirga that might fundamentally alter Afghanistan’s constitutional order”.
The implication of “potential change by a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) that might fundamentally alter Afghanistan’s constitutional order” as stated by James Clapper could be interpreted as the Loya Jirga preceded by parliamentary elections likely institutionalizing the CEO as the Prime Minister of Afghanistan and the Parliament hitherto largely ineffective with powers centralized with the President, would have a larger and effective role in ruling and administering Pakistan – possible change to Parliamentary democracy? As per Dr Davood Moradian, Director General, Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies, when US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered the agreement to form the National Unity Government in Afghanistan, the government was expected to implement a number of electoral and political reforms by September 2016, including organizing parliamentary elections and conveying the constitutional Loya Jirga, the grand assembly. According to Moradian, no meaningful step has been taken to honour these promises. Many are anxiously watching how Washington and the Afghan government will handle the looming September deadline; underlying causes and possible corrective measures “being overshadowed by Washington”. To top this, everything between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah doesn’t appear to be all hunky dory.
The looming political crisis in Afghanistan could not have at a worse time. The assessment by James Clapper in February had said that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Khorasan branch will probably remain a low-level threat to Afghan stability as well as to US and Western interests in the region during 2016, but the reverse appears happening with frequent terror attacks in Afghanistan, supported by Pakistan.
Pakistan is also deliberately targeting Afghanistan’s ethnic harmony by orchestrating terrorist attacks and killing Hazaras; to polarize the Afghan society on lines of the Pashtun and the non-Pashtun. Without open discussions, countermeasures and accommodation, this is recipe for more instability. According to Dr Moradian, “Failure to manage ethnic politics is one of the drivers of socioeconomic underdevelopment, ethnic and civil wars, state collapse, ethnic cleansing and even genocide”. To compound the problems, the Taliban offensive and influence doesn’t appear to be abating either.
Pakistan will continue to support anti-Afghan forces especially since it has China backing her with Chinese commercial interests in Afghanistan protected through Pakistani proxies. It is imperative for Afghanistan to arrive at a political agreement on the framework and principles of political power to govern Afghanistan, and implement it speedily.