LAST week’s coordinated attack on the Afghan parliament, meticulously timed to coincide with defence minister-designate Masoom Stanikzai’s appearance before lawmakers for a vote of confidence, was a moment of mortification for the unity government.
Soon after Stanikzai and Vice-President Sarwar Danish entered the lower house, the main hall was filled with plumes of smoke, dust and glass shards. Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi looked somewhat composed, but most lawmakers rushed for the exits.
For the past 10 months, the ruling coalition has been without a full-time defence minister due to disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah. Stanikzai is the third pick for the post; the two other choices were spurned by the legislature.
The attack on the Afghan parliament was a grim reminder the militants are hard to vanquish on the battlefield.
Audacious as it was, the incident is a grim reminder the militants are hard to vanquish on the battlefield. A tad bit of laxity by the security detail would have left many MPs mown down.
True-to-form, the Afghan spy services pinned the synchronised raid on the ISI, a popular punching bag for the Kabul officialdom, and the Haqqani Network.
Characteristically, several lawmakers also blamed Afghanistan’s enemies (read Pakistan) for seeking to derail the peace process. Be that as it may, Afghan security forces cannot be absolved of responsibility for guarding vital institutions.
Following an end to Nato’s military mission and a substantial drop in airstrikes, the Taliban have mounted several spectacular attacks in important cities. Much to the consternation of the clueless security establishment, the Taliban have been advancing across the north with some districts of Kunduz falling like a house of cards. The spike in violence has put Afghanistan’s rag-tag security forces under more pressure than at any time in the past six months.
On the surface, there is no easy way out of the security crisis. The nature of attacks appears to be grimmer, as fighting goes on for days at a stretch. The situation has been compounded by an unprecedented convergence of Taliban insurgents, more than 7,000 foreign fighters and other violent outfits including the Islamic State.
The influx of foreign terrorists into Afghanistan is tied to the Pakistan Army operation in North Waziristan. More than 7,000 foreign extremists — Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Pakistanis — are believed to be fighting in Afghanistan, where hundreds or thousands are said to be operating under the black flag of the Islamic State.
Reflective of blatant disrespect for democracy and public representatives, the assault may further widen the gap between the Afghan Taliban and the Ghani administration. Despite the Taliban’s rejection of calls for a Ramazan ceasefire, both sides are still open to formal dialogue.
Ghani’s hope that Islamabad will throw its weight behind the peace process by pushing the Taliban into a formal dialogue with his administration has been dashed. After concluding an intelligence pact with Pakistan, he has lost much public support.
With a sense of déjà vu, Ghani has decreed an extension in the parliament’s tenure. The move, an obvious setback to the nascent democratic order, highlights continued political squabbles within the unity government.
The president and his CEO have failed to sort out differences over a specific date and process for new parliamentary elections. Electoral reforms, a cornerstone of the power-sharing deal, are far from being implemented. The tenure of the Wolesi Jirga expired on June 22 but there has been no timeline or agreement on how to conduct the vote.
In order to paper over the cracks, the Presidential Palace says the lower house will continue to work until fresh elections are held. A date for the ballot will be announced within a month, but the decree has sparked an outpouring of criticism.
An unconstitutional step, the extension order is unlikely to be endorsed by international donors, who may withhold funds for new elections because of the political deadlock. The deadline for cleaning up the electoral process before the polls has been missed.
An inordinate delay in key nominations for defence minister, attorney general and supreme court chief justice are illustrative of the bickering within the government. Thus the legitimacy of all vital branches of the government has been clouded.
Initially, it was the executive branch whose legality was undermined by political wheeling and dealing. To boot, the judiciary is being led by an acting chief justice — a clear constitutional aberration.
Although the coalition partners agree on an overhaul of the electoral institutions, they are poles apart on how to embrace the reforms. There is also a conspicuous mismatch of perceptions on who should supervise the process — a complex challenge to the fragile government.
In order to legalise Abdullah’s role as CEO, the constitution has to be amended within 14 months through a Loya Jirga, which will have to convene after parliamentary and district council polls. Under Article 83 of the constitution, newly elected Wolesi Jirga members should have embarked on their work on June 22. Election for the lower house should have been conducted one or two months ahead of the expiry of the parliament’s term. The (dis) unity government’s inability to hold the polls has been legitimised by an acting chief justice, whose position per se has been the subject of controversy.
In Afghanistan’s sleazy politics, strongmen like Rashid Dostum (vice president) and Atta Mohammad Noor (Balkh governor) are still calling the shots. Moving aside unreconstructed warlords to create operating space for technocrats remains a distant dream. To measure up to intrinsically Afghan challenges, the wrangling coalition leaders will have to find home-grown solutions, not US-dictated deals.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2015