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Afghanistan: Reading the Tea Leaves – II

Lt Gen Ghanshyam Singh Katoch (Retd) writes about the impact of political uncertainty on the upcoming Presidential election in Afghanistan. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the Taliban have indicated that they would want to make amendments in the Constitution to make it suitable for Afghanistan in case they come to power; the present constitution is viewed by them as imposed.

The preliminary list of the 2019 presidential candidates has been prepared by the Afghan Election Commission; it has 18 candidates. The list will go through a vetting process as per the system and also a challenge and appeal period before it is finalized. As per the election calendar the final list will be published on 26 March. The list is bound to see a decrease in the number of candidates. Some may get disqualified for various reasons or others drop their candidature and merge with stronger candidates in return for advantages to their person or community; others may back out on account of the uncertainty surrounding the elections because of the US-Taliban peace talks. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the Taliban have indicated that they would want to make amendments in the Constitution to make it suitable for Afghanistan in case they come to power; the present constitution is viewed by them as imposed. What such changes could or would be, is not known, asduring Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 Afghanistan was run by a small “Shura” of Pashtun clerics based in Kandahar headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar. There had been no parliament and minimum governing offices or structures. That and subsequent experience must have taught the Taliban that governing requires structures, and it is for this reason that even in Taliban controlled or dominated provinces at the present time, the governing bodies of the Kabul government are permitted to function, such as those which supply electricity and collect electricity bills or provide some other civic services.

The preliminary list along with ethnicity (which as Reading the Tea Leaves – I had mentioned is an undeniable factor in elections) is given below with ethnicity indicated as Pashtun (P), Tajik (T), Hazara (H), Uzbek (U), Ismaili (I), Mixed (indicated by / ) , Not Known (?)

No Presidential candidate First Vice President Second Vice President
1 M Ashraf Ghani (P) Amarullah Saleh(T) G Sarwar Danesh(H)
2 Dr Abdullah Abdullah(P/T) Dr Enayatullah Babur Farahmand(U) Asadullah Sadati (H)
3 M Hanif Atmar (P) MY Qanuni (T) HM Mohaqeq(H)
4 Abdul Latif Pedram(T) M Eshan Haidari (H) M Sadeq Wardak (P)
5 Haji MI Alekozai(P) Khadija Ghaznawi (H) Dr S Sami Kayani (I)
6 Dr Zalmai Rassul (P) Abdul Jabbar Taqwa(T) Ghulam Wali Wahdat(H)
7 Dr G Faruq Nejrabi (T) Sharifullah(?) Muhammad Sharif Babakarkhel (P)
8 Dr F Tamana(T) Prof.Sayyed Qiyas Saidi (?) Dr Amin Reshadat (H)
9 Shaida Muhammad Abdali (P) Abdul Basir Salangi (T) Zulfiqar Omid(H)
10 Nur Rahman Liwal(?) Dr Abdul HZ Hekmat(P) M Yahya Wayar(P)
11 Enayatullah Hafiz(H) JK Fahim Chakari(P) Abdul Jamil Shirani(P)
12 M Shahab Hakimi (P) Abdul Ali Sarabi(?) Dr Nurul Habib Hasir(?)
13 Ahmad W Massud (T) Dr Farida Momand (P) Dr Abdul Latif Nazari (H)
14 M Hakim Torsan(U) M Nadershah Ahmadzai (P) Shafiullah Qaisari (U)
15 Rahmatullah Nabil (P) Murad Ali Murad(H) Dr Massuda Jalal(T)
16 Gulbdin Hekmatyar (P) Dr Fazl ul-Hadi Wazin(T) Hafiz ul-Rahman Naqi(T)
17 Nurullah Jalili (P) Abdul Khalil Ruman(T) Cheragh Ali Cheragh(?)
18 Nur ul-Haq Ulumi(P) Bashir Ahmad Bezhan(T) M Naem Ghayur (T/P)


Out of all the candidates, four have promised to bring changes to the country’s political system. The other 14 have said they will leave the system as it is although some said they will scrap the Chief Executive position in the next government.  Those candidates who have pledged to bring changes to the system are Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, former national security advisor Mohammad Haneef Atmar, head of Massoud Foundation Ahmad Wali Massoud and former MP Abdul Latif Pedram.  Abdullah said if he wins the next election he will amend the Constitution and will change the current presidential system to a parliamentary system. Traditional Islamic method of governance and selection of one leader by consensus was reached through Shuras or Jirgas (in Afghanistan). In essence it was a democratic system but based upon an equivalent of a “yea” or “nay” by the nominated leader who can be a tribal chieftain, elder or cleric. The system is more suitable where the level of education is less. It is a moot point whether the experience of the past 18 years has infused in the Afghan people a desire to have a direct say in the election of their leader through an electoral democracy which gives a strong sense of empowerment.

In case the elections take place before an agreement is reached, the subsequent agreement may require including the elected leaders in whatever power sharing or governing structure evolve. Not doing so would perpetuate unrest.

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