President Ghani’s Ethno-Nationalist Policies Stir Political Crisis in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been suffering from protracted armed conflict for almost four decades now. Political instability, socioeconomic crises, and violent conflict have incurred a profound impact on its citizens. The Post 9/11 American invasion, Operation Enduring Freedom served as a hope for many of its people who longed for an end to the Taliban rule and conflict. After the collapse of the Taliban, many returned home and a new era was ushered with a democratic political structure and determination to build a democratic state. This paper argues that President Ghani continues to seize power to ensure his second term in the office.  It also sheds light on his ethnocentric policy of Pashtun domination. The paper concludes that, if the President continues the current policy, Afghanistan will soon become an unstable and conflict-ridden country and the position of the Taliban and ISIS will be stronger.

To people’s dismay, the 2014 controversial presidential election ended up establishing a National Unity Government with a new power structure in Afghanistan’s political system. The people of the country participated in the elections in the hope of overcoming threats, challenges, and instabilities in Afghanistan. But, the new power structure never delivered the desired outcome, rather President Ashraf Ghani has continuously tried to tilt the balance of power in his favor by increasing his domination in the presidential palace and all the administrative bodies across the country.

Thanks to his reputation in the academic community and among the youth; President Ghani was expected to be a modern democrat president. But soon after assuming power, he sought to accumulate power like a king. In his administration Pashtuns have been treated as owners of the land and other ethnic groups as aliens. Ghani’s first stand was against his first vice president Mr. Abdul Rashid Dustom, an ethnic Uzbek who was living in exile for more than a year in Turkey. Following that, he targeted Ata Mohammad Noor, an ethnic Tajik and former governor of the Northern Balk Province.

Then it was the turn for the Hazaras which he began by rerouting the TUTAP power line from the original central Bamyan Province which is a Hazara majority province to Salang with the intention of keeping Hazaras deprived of development and infrastructure projects. Hazaras are one of the country’s largest ethnic communities. They account for up to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s total population.

Another move that intensified the political crisis was the distribution of Electronic Afghan Identification Cards (e-Tazkira). President Ghani said that the e-Tazkira would help Afghan government to further promote good governance, economic planning and provide best public services to all citizens as well. The President signed a law to introduce the ID Card, according to which every citizen of Afghanistan is called “Afghan” which most people perceive as synonymous with Pashtuns, leaving non-Pashtuns unhappy. This lack of national consensus on the nomenclature has created ethnic-gaps among the people of Afghanistan.

Furthermore, he has suppressed national civil movements like the Enlightenment Movement which was led by the Hazaras and the Resurrection Movement mainly led by the majority of Tajiks. Suppression of these democratic and civic movements amounts to silencing people’s voices and keeping the political opponents at bay.

As part of the recent security reform strategy, Ghani signed the retirements of 164 Generals of Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and more than 100 Generals of the Afghanistan National Police (ANP). The initial idea of the retirement strategy was to bring reform in the security and defense sectors. The critical point is that a great majority of the 164 Generals were Tajiks and only a few were Pashtuns. The retirement strategy was implemented for purging other ethnic groups from the defense and security sectors. In addition, twenty-three Generals were promoted to higher ranks by the Ministry of Defense, only four of them were non-Pashtun.

This is the first time after the collapse of Taliban regime that Afghanistan has built a strong national army supported by the U.S. led NATO and International Coalition Forces. According to the laws and constitution of the country, the National Army cannot be used against its own people, nor can it be politicized. Unfortunately, the recent case of  Nezamudin Qaisari’s arrest by the Commando forces goes against the laws. Nezamudin was General Dustom’s representative and leader of public uprising forces in Faryab Province, whose arrest was politically and ethnically motivated in order to smear General Dustom’s popularity among his people. The promotion and ranking in Afghanistan National Army can also be questioned. Lieutenant General Tariq Shah Bahrami (Current Minister of Defense) received four promotions since 2014.

On July 2, Commandos attacked Nezamudin Qaisari’s residence and arrested two other irresponsible military commanders in Farah and Uruzgan provinces. This strategy will strengthen Ghani’s position for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

History shows that most of the wars after the Cold War are rooted in intra-state armed conflict instead of inter-state. Uppsala Conflict Data Program indicates the importance of political regimes, governance, institutions, and norms that can help us avoid armed conflict. Many wars have been waged based on ethnicity, religion, language, and tribes. When a state follows the colonial policy of divide and rule, it threatens the fabrics of political, social and economic stability of that very country.

Unless President Ghani discontinues the current ethnocentric policies- huge domestic uprising, instability and ethnically charged armed conflict will erupt. The new intra-state armed conflict will only benefit the terrorist groups. The Taliban and ISIS will take the advantage and turn Afghanistan again into a safe haven for the international terrorists. The solution lies in the adoption of an inclusive democratic policy that will accommodate all ethnic groups in Afghanistan in a practical way. Such measures will also entail urgent support from the international community.

To build a strong nation-state, it is necessary to respect diversity, the culture of pluralism and acceptance of democratic values. Moreover, the domestic outlook of a country has a direct impact on the prestige of a state on the international stage. If the domestic policies are not based on democratic values and principles, Ghani’s foreign policy will not help Afghanistan to gain a better position among the members of the international community.

Image: Creative Commons

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