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Afghanistan: Will Kabul Follow in Washington's Federal Footsteps?

In January 2012, several members of the US House of Representatives met in Berlin with a group of prominent Afghan opposition leaders, including ex-vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud, chief of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostum, and head of the People's Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan Mohammad Mohaqiq.

Last year, the three opposition politicians founded a new political party, the National Front of Afghanistan (NFA), which represents the largest ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan and retains significant military capabilities. The meeting in Berlin was organized as an informal follow-up to the December 2011 international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, from which the three NFA leaders had been excluded. The meeting had not been sanctioned by officials in Washington and Kabul and was, therefore, held on “neutral” soil.

During the meeting, Afghan opposition leaders and United States (US) lawmakers called for a more decentralized political system than is currently in place in Afghanistan. Calling for revision of the country's new constitution and the introduction of a federal political system, their statement reads:

[The] centralized power has led to massive corruption, disenfranchisement of a large segment of the Afghan people, obstacles to economic development, massive abuses of power, increasing political instability, poor governance, and a vast undermining of law and order.

This proposal runs counter to the unitary and highly centralized political structure that Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has ardently sought to preserve. Hence, the meeting in Berlin was condemned by Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Karzai has also dismissed the call for decentralization.

Speaking in early May, he said the new strategic partnership agreement with the US was signed on the condition that the current centralized system of government stay intact:

Some US congressman [sic] started intervening in Afghanistan several months ago and asked for the regime in Afghanistan to change to a federal system. I clearly told the US government that we will only sign the agreement with you if you respect the central government of Afghanistan.

Similarly, some Afghan parliamentarians claimed that the meeting in Berlin had aimed to divide the country. They also remarked that a federal system was not in the country's interest because it could result in a north-south split and prove “poisonous” over time.

A map of Afghanistan's provinces and regions. Could a federal system hold them all together? From Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A map of Afghanistan's provinces and regions. Could a federal system hold them all together? From Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On May 5, Kankash, a popular show on Afghanistan's commercial TOLO TV, asked [fa] people through its public page on Facebook to share their views on the proposed reform of the country's political system. Below are some of the responses by Afghan Facebook users submitted in May.

Ruhullah R. Afg says [fa]:

افغانستان در گذشته هم بعضی نظام ها را تجربه کرده ولی آنچه مهم است نظام نه بلکه کسانکه در رأس نظام قرار
قرار میگیرند عاری از فساد،غارت و نژاد پرستی باشند و درد و رنج مردم افغانستان را درک کنند
مردم افغانستان به یک نظام سالم،روشنفکر،مردمی وفکر به پیشرفت
بسوی آینده بهتر نیاز دارند

Afghanistan has experienced different systems of government. But what I think is important is not the system but those corrupt people who are currently holding power. Thus, the people of Afghanistan are in need of a strong system that responds to people’s needs and is thinking about a better future.

Abdul Hakim Haidary, however, suggests [fa] that reforming the current system is the only way to solve the country's problems:

فکر میکنم دو نوع مردم کاملا متفاوت در افغانستان امروزی وجود دارد. یکی مردم طرفدار تمدن و تغیر بطرف مثبت و یکی هم مردم طرفدار قبیلوی ماندن و ضد تغیر بطرف مثبت.پس یگانه راه حل نظام فدرالی است انهایکه تغیر طلب اند تغیر و آنهایکه نمیخواهند در حالد ابقا شوند تا در مورد مزایایی تغیر به طرف مثبت پی برده به آنها ملحق شوند.با تشکر از کنکاش

In my opinion, there are two types of people living in Afghanistan: those supporting modernization and positive development and those still living by tribes and opposing changes toward modern development. Therefore, in my opinion, the only way of bringing changes and solving the existing problems of Afghanistan is a federal system.

Another Afghan Facebook user, Abdul Rahim Lodin, claims [fa]:

ز آنجایی که افغانستان در ردیف کشورهای فقیر جهان قرار دارد و نظام فدرالی نیز با وجود مزایای که دارد یک نظام پر مصرف است مثلا نیاز به پارلمان جداگانه دارد و امثالهم, بنا نمی تواند یک نظام کار امد ومفید واقع شود, و از طرفی هم کشور های همسایه همیشه در پی این بودند که افغانستان را پارچه پارچه ساخته تا افغانستان همچنان ضعیف بماند تا انها از این کشور سود بیشتری ببرند.
و از طرفی دیگر کسانی امروز در افغانستان دم از نظام فدرالی میزنند وباخارجها مذاکره و نشست میکنند که به نحوی در نظام کنونی منافع شان در خطر افتاده یا هم در خطر میبینند.
بنا به نظر من تا اینکه در پی تغییر نظام باشید بهتر است در نظام کنونی اصلاحاتی بیاورند, و این کشور را از فساد اداری پاک سازند که هر روز دامنش گسترده تر میشود.

Afghanistan is among the poorest countries in the world. Hence, besides the benefits that the federal system [offers] it is very costly. For instance, it has several requirements such as separate parliaments and others which make it not beneficial for the country. On the other side, the neighboring countries have always wanted to divide Afghanistan so that it always remains weak, enabling them to get greater benefits from this country. Moreover, those people in Afghanistan who currently are supporting the federal system and are having conversations with foreigners, are those who see no benefits from [the current regime] and feel threatened by the current regime. Thus, in my opinion, instead of talking about establishing a new system it is better that we find the defects in the existing one and put out efforts to improve it

Also commenting on Facebook, Ahmad Zubair Shahzad does not think [fa] a federal system would improve the situation in Afghanistan:

به نظر من تغیر نظام درد افغانستان را مداوا نمی کند. ما در طی این سدۀ خورشیدنی نظام های زیادی (شاهی، جمهوری، کمونستی، اسلامی…) اما آنچه که مردم افغانستان نیاز دارند یک نظام سالم است، عاری از چپاول، دستبرد مافیایی و فساد که دلش به حال این ملت رنج دیده بسوزد، درد مردم را احساس کند.به جای مصلحت ها به پیشرفت فکر کندنیاز داریم

In my opinion the change of system will not solve the problems of Afghanistan. In the past 100 years Afghanistan went through various forms [of rule] (monarchy, presidential, communist, Islamic….) What is needed for Afghanistan is a stable system, free from corruption and the one that responds to people's pain. [What is needed is] a system in which instead of useless debates, people will think about the development of the country.
This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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