Recurrent Political Feuds: Need for Local Resolution Process in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah attend a ceremony to sign a political agreement in Kabul, Afghanistan May 17, 2020. Afghan Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Gul Maqsood Sabit 17 May 2020

Weak institutions and consistent serious political disputes, fueled by the opposing interests of international rivals, will always prevent the evolution of a smooth and people-oriented administration that can hold Afghanistan together and effectively manage its affairs. The disputes will recurrently require international meddling to form deal-based governments whose plan is centered around group-interests rather than public welfare. Afghanistan direly needs a domestic political dispute resolution mechanism that can bring opposing groups together and ensure a proper government is in place at all times.

With the assistance of the international community, Afghanistan has made more significant progress in several key areas, such as education, infrastructure, media, financial sector, and building of a national army. However, the country has lagged in establishing an effective and well-trusted electoral system that can facilitate the formation of an effective government. Both presidential and parliamentarian elections have marred by alleged fraud and rigging. The allegations and claims of rigging are then settled through power-sharing, instead of addressing them. Formation of National Unity Government in 2014 with US Secretary of state John Kerry’s help, neglecting election results by splitting the government positions between the two main rivals Abdullah Abdullah and President Ghani, undermined the authority of the election commission and the process itself. Presidential elections in September 2019 was a repetition of 2014 that resulted in Abdullah Abdullah’s declaring himself president to protest the election commission’s declaration of president Ghani as the winner. The fight over the 2019 election results lasted for eight months, halting public services and endangering the peace process with the Taliban. Under international pressure, the two rivals signed an agreement to share power again and form yet another futile unity government, neglecting the elections’ results and undermining a vital democratic process.

The country draws further to fragility after each election due to political impasses and lengthy and messy resolutions, having a heavy toll on the governance overall and public services specifically. There is no sign to believe that future elections will be any better and will result in concrete and undisputed results and the formation of functional governments. Government positions have become a source of personal gains rather than social responsibility. Given the state of weak electoral institutions, diverse ethnic groups, and a self-claimed political elite who push to have a share in power through all means possible, justifying it as a share of their respective ethnic group, the formation of the government after elections will always be challenging. On the other hand, no institutional arrangements exist to prevent or question the use of government resources, influence, and power for electoral gains, which are instrumental in winning elections. This gives presidential candidates already in office a significant advantage of winning second-term presidential elections, creating grounds for rivals to question and dispute the results leading to the political impasse that will require international intervention to resolve.

Meanwhile, the peace agreement between the Taliban and the US is not expected to bring political stability and a permanent functional government to the country. The deal that will result in full US troops withdrawal, further undermined an already weak and political- conflict-stricken government as it was excluded from the negotiations. Meanwhile, the agreement was a recognition of the Taliban as a political group, opening diplomatic doors for the group members to travel and meet officials of any country they wish to. Although the agreement asks for intra-Afghan dialogue that should lead to the formation of an all-inclusive government, fragile political conditions in Kabul and fatigue of the international community may bring the Taliban to full power. In that case, another group of Afghans will begin to resist the Taliban resulting in the continuation of the conflict and providing a breeding ground for ISIS and other terrorist groups. Resistance this time may be in two forms; an armed one and a political one carried out by the new generation of young and educated Afghans evolved in the last nineteen years who wish to see a modern and developed Afghanistan. Whether the Taliban return to full power or share power with other political groups, political disputes and resolution of potential election results will require the intervention of the international community like in the past.

Resolving political disputes through international meddling after each election may temporarily settle political turmoil but does not ensure the effectiveness and functionality of the government formed as a result, and problems will always resurface. It is time for a permanent domestic Afghan mechanism for political dispute resolution to emerge. A unifying Afghan authority will eliminate the need for continued international meddling and facilitate an enabling environment for the government to thrive and strengthen.

Afghanistan had a monarchy until July 1973 when prime minister Daud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah in a bloodless coup and announced a republic. King played a crucial role in unifying the country. Return of a monarchy may not be feasible; however, a high council of independent elders appointed through Loya Jirga (a traditional grand council of elders from all around the country) can serve as a unifying authority. Alternatively, former presidents can populate the high council by automatically becoming members after completing the presidential term. Such a council will be responsible for resolving all political disputes and holding the country together. The council will appoint members of the election commission and oversee the election process to ensure transparency. Once the government is formed, headed by the winner of the election, the council will function as an observer and intervene in times of serious disputes. Securing agreement of the Taliban, the Afghan government, and all political groups on forming such a council or authority will be challenging but not unattainable. Once established, the council will function as a father-figure and a central point for political dispute resolution preventing the country from future conflicts and ensure fostering of democratic processes.

The weariness of the international community involved in Afghanistan is understandable. However, ignoring Afghanistan or cutting short and leaving the country without a viable solution is not an option and could have dangerous consequences for the world once again. A comprehensive local solution that ensures sustained stability through a functional government must be worked out. Recurring International meddling to resolve electoral impasses and to pressure groups to negotiate with one another is not a sustainable process and should be replaced by a permanent Afghan conflict resolution mechanism.

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