Afghanistan Analysts Network – English


Thematic Dossier XIX: Political Parties in Afghanistan

AAN Team 41 min

The years since 2001 constitute the longest period in Afghanistan’s history during which political parties have been able to operate openly. For the first time parties are fully legal. Despite many shortcomings, they have become a reality within the polity of current-day Afghanistan. This political parties dossier compiles all AAN dispatches and reports that deal with the issue of political party development in Afghanistan, before and after 2001. It is published simultaneously with our new Thematic Report “Outside, Inside: Afghanistan’s paradoxical political party system (2001-16)” by AAN co-director and senior analyst, Thomas Ruttig, a co-production with German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

UNAMA-facilitated coordination meeting between political parties and the IEC April 2018. Photo: Twitter/UNAMA



1. Pluralistic within Limits, but Not Democratic: Afghanistan’s political landscape before the 2014 elections

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 24 October 2013

A look at the broad variety of (potential) presidential candidates seems to indicate some political pluralism. This is an illusion, however. Afghan analysts have recently argued that President Karzai’s political approach has hampered democratic party-based politics. This is only one side of the coin, argues AAN’s senior analyst Thomas Ruttig. He explains that the other side is the undemocratic internal workings of most political parties, particularly of the tanzims-turned-parties; their reluctance to relinquish relations to armed militias and non-transparent financing have led to their domination in the political party system of the country and to a phenomenon that could be described as “pluralism within limits”.


2. On Your Marks! Alliances and actors before the 2014 presidential election

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 17 September 2013

Yesterday, 16 September 2013, the three-week period for registering candidates for the April 2014 presidential election started. The field of contenders will only have become clear, though, by the last day, 6 October 2013. Alliance building and political manoeuvring is continuing, as the two major camps – the supporters of President Karzai and a new opposition alliance – have failed so far to officially identify their favourites. “Transition czar” Ashraf Ghani may be joining the race as a possible third major candidate. In what might be a three-way competition, the presidential camp seems to be a nose ahead, with Foreign Minister Rassul emerging strongly, and attempting to lure some strongmen from the opposition’s ranks. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig looks at the current constellation and provides attachments with the lists of the major actors (with input by Gran Hewad and Obaid Ali).


3. Narrower Than Expected: Political opposition presents “Electoral Union of Afghanistan”

Author: Thomas Ruttig and Gran Hewad
Date: 29 August 2013

Today, 29 August 2013, a coalition of powerful groups and opposition parties, dominated by Northern powerbrokers, came forward and announced their “electoral union.” It could have been one of the first real political happenings in the wheeling and dealing before the presidential election of April 2014. Instead it was a surprisingly uninspired and chaotic event. The anticipated broad alliance turned out to be somewhat meagre and a joint candidate was not named, despite suggestions that this might have been the case. AAN’s Gran Hewad and Thomas Ruttig take a look at the latest move, which seems to signal that the competition next April could be rather polarised.


4. The Big Maybe: First presidential candidates position themselves

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 21 August 2013

Less than a month before the registration of candidates for the 2014 presidential election opens on 16 September this year, a number of prominent Afghan politicians have positioned themselves as potential candidates. Others are just now making their presence known in public appearances. Several political party councils and opposition alliances still struggle to find a joint front runner, while the incumbent appears not to have chosen his favoured successor either – although reports about his possible support for jihadi leader Sayyaf have created some ripples. AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig (with input by Gran Hewad and Fabrizio Foschini) presents the still-blurred field of contenders and takes a first look at ambitions and strategies of the men and women involved in the race for presidency.


5. Now Informal’, Soon Illegal? Political parties’ existence threatened again

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 16 April 2013

The Afghan government has started another attempt to make life difficult for the country’s political parties. One year after a disputed re-registration of all parties ended, it threatens them now with suspension because, it says, none of them have a sufficient presence in the required minimum number of provinces as stipulated in a by-law to the political parties law. While this may well be the case – no wonder, given the poor security situation in many places, the pressure by non-pluralistically minded sub-national rulers and a financial crisis faced by many parties. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig concludes that, with less than one year to go before the presidential elections, this threatened suspension amounts to curbing, instead of expanding, democratic participation (with reporting by Gran Hewad, Obaid Ali, Ehsan Qane, Borhan Osman and Fabrizio Foschini).


6. Elections or National Consensus: Which one wins?

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 4 April 2013

The complexity of Afghanistan’s political spectrum and the traditionally overwhelming desire of Afghan leaders to keep power are major elements that have an effect on whether the political transition process – which continues simultaneous with the transition of security responsibilities – will be democratic. The ballot stuffing in the 2009 presidential and 2010 parliamentarian elections has reduced the credibility of the election results and of the electoral institutions to a very low level. This lack of credibility has turned into an argument for suspicion among a wide array of political actors that the results of the upcoming elections could again be engineered. In this context, an enthusiasm has been growing for a couple of months among them to reach what they call a pre-election ‘national consensus’ (ejma-ye melli), namely a single ‘consensus’ candidate that, in their view, would spare the country a neck-to-neck election campaign that could be politically divisive. AAN’s Gran Hewad is looking at the consensus supporters’ agenda and possible implications on coalition or team building in the run-up to the 2014 elections (with input by Thomas Ruttig).


7. Eyes on the Election: Two Afghan parties elect leaders

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 6 October 2012

Two of Afghanistan’s most important political parties – Afghan Millat (Afghan Nation) and Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan – held leadership elections during the first days of October, Millat chose a new leader, Hezb, the incumbent. Although both parties belong to the unofficial government coalition in Kabul, they have recently joined a coalition advocating clean and timely presidential elections in 2014. In AAN’s continuing reporting (in reports and blogs) about Afghanistan’s political parties, Gran Hewad and Obaid Ali look at the outcome and context of the two events (with input by Thomas Ruttig).


8. Ambiguity Reiterated: The 20-parties ‘Democracy Charter

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 26 September 2012

Most of Afghanistan’s major political parties have put their differences on many issues aside and made a rare joint statement. In their ‘Democracy Charter’, they demand that the 2014 presidential elections are held on time and according to the constitution. They also call for a stronger role for political parties in making decisions about major issues of national importance as negotiations with the Taleban. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN, has been looking at the document and finds it also tells us how domestic politics are shaping up ahead of the ‘political transition’, as the 2014 election loom on the horizon.


9. 2010 Elections 2: Political Parties at the Fringes Again

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 13 September 2010

Only five of Afghanistan’s 110 political parties have finally had the chance to field candidates in the upcoming parliamentary election under their party logo. Another 31 parties had candidates on a preliminary candidates’ list but later withdrew the party affiliation. Many political scientists would say parties are a key requirement for a functioning democracy, yet in Afghanistan, they play a minor role in both elections and politics in general. AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig tries to explain why the 2010 elections yet again pit myriad numbers of independents against each other (with material by Political Researcher Gran Hewad).


10. Afghanistan Has a Two-Party System Now

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 6 June 2010

No, this is not a joke. It really has one, at least for a couple of days. Yesterday, 15 Jauza (5 June), was the last day for Afghanistan’s parties to re-register, as required by a law. The MoJ official responsible for party registration confirmed to AAN’s Kabul office that all the old licenses are invalid now. That means that all but two parties are now basically illegal.


11. Political Parties in Re-Registration

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 4 March 2010

On Monday, the six-month’s deadline for a re-registration of Afghanistan’s 110 registered political parties is ending. This is based on requirements of the new political parties law passed by the parliament in June 2009 already. After some back and forth between the executive and the legislative which led to some amendments in detail, the President signed it on 6 September 2009 and it was gazetted three days later, on 9 September. This is when the deadline for re-registration came into force.


The tanzims:

12. A Bridge for the Taleban? Harakat, a former mujahedin party, leaps back into action

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 14 December 2015

Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami, one of the formerly most important mujahedin parties (tanzim) that had kept a low profile after 2001, is more visibly returning to the Afghan political scene. With a publicity campaign, it is presenting itself as the party of the religious scholars, with a history distinct from other Muslim Brotherhood-inspired tanzim, and offers itself as a possible bridge for peace talks with the Taleban. With its measured criticism of the national unity government (NUG), it sounds like a voice of moderation in an atmosphere where calls to dismantle the NUG thrive. AAN’s co-director Thomas Ruttig looks at Harakat’s latest initiatives and its special relationship with the Taleban (with a contribution by Fazal Muzhary).


13. Elections 2014 (26): The other possible vice president – Dr Abdullah’s running mate Muhammad Khan

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 12 June 2014

Much has been written about Dr Ashraf Ghani’s choice of running mate, General Abdul Rashid Dostum – a ticket characterised as ‘technocrat plus warlord’ – but very little has been heard from or about the other man who might become Afghanistan’s next first vice president, Muhammad Khan. Apart from his being a senior Hezb-e Islami figure and a former MP (he won a seat in 2005, but failed to get into the 2010 parliament), scarcely anything has been written about him. Even his official campaign biography skips over huge chunks of his life. AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark has interviewed Muhammad Khan and delved into his background, finding out that he served twice as a Hezb-e Islami intelligence chief, once during the jihad in Peshawar and later during the civil war in Kabul.


14. The Other Transfer of Power: Fahim’s death and Massud’s succession

Author: Fabrizio Foschini
Date: 30 May 2014

Until the elections of 5 April, the demise of Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim constituted the single major political event of 2014 in Afghanistan. His death directly affects the internal politics of a large group of Afghans: all those living in the north-eastern quadrant of the country. Tracing the political ascent of Fahim and assessing the influence he wielded during the past decade, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini argues that the void left by him will need to be filled with different levels of leadership and group solidarity.


15. Elections 2014 (22): How disenchantment with General Dostum split the Uzbek vote bank

Author: Obaid Ali and Thomas Ruttig
Date: 22 May 2014

The outcome in the Uzbek- and Turkmen-dominated provinces in northern Afghanistan of the first round of the 5 April presidential election has turned in an unexpected direction. Jombesh-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan’s (The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan), the self-declared dominating party in this region, had expected to obtain the entire ‘Turkic’ vote for the Ghani-Dostum ticket but seems to have underestimated widespread local dissatisfaction. Particularly Jombesh’s educated and youth members, who for almost a decade have tried to push the party towards reform, have been disappointed with their leadership that blocked their attempts. This has created a wider gap between the leadership and the reformists and resulted in the establishment of two separate youth movements outside the party as well as the emergence of candidates independent from Jombesh for the 5 April provincial council elections. AAN’s Obaid Ali and Thomas Ruttig explain how these developments have split the Uzbek and Turkmen vote, diminished the expected Ghani-Dostum result and threaten to split the party (with input from Christine Roehrs).


16. 2014 Elections (18): The Abdullah interview

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 11 May 2014

The second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election has not yet been formally announced, but preparations are already underway, with election material just beginning to be sent out across the country. The run-off is pencilled in for 14 June 2014 and, this time, only two names will be on the ballot paper: Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ashraf Ghani. Both men are now trying to strengthen their bid with a slew of negotiations aimed at securing fresh supporters, while also talking about what they would do as president. For this dispatch, AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, has interviewed Dr Abdullah about current negotiations and how he would rule Afghanistan. AAN hopes to pair this with an interview-despatch with his rival in the run-off, Ashraf Ghani.


17. Bomb and Ballot: The many strands and tactics of Hezb-e Islami

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 19 February 2014

Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan – known as Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin, or HIG, in the West – has (almost) declared support for its former chief negotiator with Kabul as a candidate for the 5 April 2014 presidential election. This comes less than a week after it claimed the latest suicide car bomb attack in Kabul that killed two civilian US contractors and probably Afghan bystanders on 10 February. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig (with input from Borhan Osman) looks at the dynamics of Hezb’s latest political move and its connection with the bombing. He also sheds light on recent developments between HIG, Hezb’s insurgent branch, and its political branch, HIA, illustrating a splintered front and strong competition between presidential contenders for the votes of the Hezbis all over the country – including some skilful manoeuvring from the presidential palace.


18. A Leader Apologises: General Dostum, elections and war crimes

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 8 October 2013

For the first time, a senior Afghan has made a public apology to those of his compatriots who suffered during the war. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of the largely Uzbek Jombesh party / ex military faction, made the statement a day after registering as running mate to Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the presidential elections. It looks like the admission was a condition for joining the ticket, reports AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark. Even so, in a country where it is becoming ever more difficult to discuss war crimes, Dostum’s words may have opened this politically sensitive painful subject to public debate. (With input from Ehsan Qaane.)


19. Ethnic Revolt or Mujahedin Solidarity? A look at the power shuffle in Takhar (amended)

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 17 July 2013

Takhar has a new governor. The reason? For two weeks, large numbers of Uzbeks were up in arms, protesting against the dismissal of one of ‘their’ people, the provincial police commander, by the governor who is Tajik. The demonstrations turned violent and three people were killed. The government, far from reprimanding the demonstrators, fired the governor and, on 15 July 2013, installed one who was proved to be more to the protestors’ liking. The coup was much celebrated by the group which had been behind the ‘uprising’ – the Takhar Jihadi Council. AAN’s Gran Hewad, Wazhma Samandary, Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark have been looking at the Council’s aims, at ethnic power play in Takhar and at the multiple layers of political considerations behind the appointment of Afghan governors.


20. Still Temporary and Exclusive: A new leadership for Jamiat

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 5 July 2013

Jamiat-e Islami, one of Afghanistan’s oldest and largest political parties (and formerly one of its most powerful military factions) has made a half-hearted choice in picking its new leadership. The choice was made by a small group and without holding its long-overdue full party congress, so the new appointments are all temporary. It seems the party may still be too weak and undecided, too unable to compromise to pose a real challenge for any Karzai-anointed candidate running in next year’s election. Thomas Ruttig, AAN Senior Analyst (with input by Gran Hewad) analyses who got to be in the new leadership team, as announced on 1 July 2013, what they say about trends within the party and the wider political opposition, and holds a torch into the maze of relations within the ‘Jamiat family’.


21. Getting Ready for Change. Or: What to make of Fahim’s speech

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 17 June 2013

On 11 June 2013 First Vice President Marshal Qasim Fahim gave a rare public speech, that has been reverberating in the media ever since. The speech was an impassioned and long-winded call for national consensus, but while he was at it Fahim managed to deliver a few thinly veiled threats, touch on a couple of sore points and make some barbed comments about other politicians. Most importantly, the speech illustrated the preoccupation of many of Afghanistan’s politicians – which is not so much about the elections or even who the presidential candidates will be, but rather about how to safeguard positions and patronage relations. This desire, to sort out the political transition before the elections take place, is on one hand understandable, but it leaves little hope that the way this country is run will change much. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert explains why.


22. Adding the Ballot to the Bullet? Hezb-e Islami in transition

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 6 May 2013

In a dramatic change of mind, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar recently announced that his Hezb-e Islami will participate in next year’s election to ‘defeat the enemy’ in the political arena, too. With this statement, he is relinquishing his original position that foreign troops must leave the country prior to any political accommodation between his party and the Afghan government. AAN’s researcher Borhan Osman has talked to Hezbis from Hekmatyar’s party and its splinter groups to learn why this shift in Hekmatyar’s approach has arisen now and what it means for the military and political landscape ahead of the upcoming election. He concludes that Hekmatyar, whose faction has been weakened both militarily and politically over the past twelve years, has no viable option but to gather the scattered former loyalists he once condemned for ‘surrendering to the Americans’ in order to lead them into the election. If Hekmatyar really were to stage a return to non-violent politics, it is in fact highly likely that this would unify the different groups and politicians who were once part of the original Hezb-e Islami. (With additional reporting by Thomas Ruttig.)


23. New Trouble in the Jombesh: Dostum reasserts leadership

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 17 February 2013

The official leader of Jombesh party has been relieved of his post, along with eight other members of the party’s political committee. The sacked chairman, Sayed Nurullah Sadat, has cried foul, saying he could only be removed by a party congress and accusing the party’s founder, General Dostum, of being behind his dismissal. This looks like Dostum reasserting power over ‘his’ party, says AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig and shows Dostum is still the paramount strongman among Afghan Uzbeks, also looking ahead to the crucial part Dostum is likely to play in the country’s third electoral cycle in 2014/15 (with information by Enayat Najafizada, Ehsan Qane and Kate Clark).


24. Ustad Atta for President? The ‘Northern Front’ Summit and other Pre-Election Manoeuvres

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 6 February 2013

Seven months before candidate registration starts this year for the 2014 presidential election(1) and 15 months before the incumbent has to leave his position for good, positioning for the post-Hamed Karzai period has picked up. Five leaders of non-Pashtun factions or movements, mainly former mujahedin, have decided to look for a joint candidate who might challenge the incumbent’s still-to-be-determined successor. Their meeting in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif has put local governor Ustad Muhammad Atta Nur in the limelight. He has ambitions but also keeps all options open for himself, report AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig and guest blogger Enayat Najafizada from Mazar (with contributions by Obaid Ali).


25. Guns, Girls and Grizzled Warriors: Ismail Khan’s mujahedin council project in the West

Author: Fabrizio Foschini
Date: 17 November 2012

The phenomenon of Afghan strongmen visiting their home provinces and delivering fiery speeches to their ‘traditional’ constituencies is all but new. Still, it has intensified as of late, as the transition process is said to progress and the next presidential election approaches. The most recent rendition given by the Minister of Water and Energy, Ismail Khan, in his home turf of Herat – where he harangued against the foreign forces’ ineffectiveness and announced the re-mobilisation of mujahedin units – was particularly strong-worded. However, it has left many listeners in Herat unconvinced and triggered strong reactions in Kabul. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini talked to some of Ismail Khan’s ‘natural public’ in Herat and reflects here on the impact of his statements and the overall value for Afghan politics of similar behaviour on the part of former commanders.


26. Conservatism by Default: Badakhshan’s Jamiat after Ustad Rabbani

Author: Fabrizio Foschini
Date: 21 October 2012

Politics in Badakhshan sometimes seem to follow a separate course than Afghanistan’s mainstream, as is the case in other peripheral areas. Powerbrokers in this remote province – usually former jihadi commanders, most of them linked to the Jamiat-e Islami party – are struggling for control of trafficking and extracting resources from the province and appear to be oblivious of the rest of the country. However, a clear link exists between politics in the province and on the centre stage in Kabul. Over the past decades, this link was embodied by the late Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani. Following his death and the succession of his son Salahuddin to the helm of the family and of Jamiat, changes in the internal equilibrium of power in Badakhshan and its connection with national politics are now possible. This is the first part of AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini’s report following a recent trip to the northeastern province.


27. Start of AAN political parties paper series 1: Reforming Jombesh

Author: Niamatullah Ibrahimi and Robert Peszkowski
Date: 31 August 2012


28. Another Hezb-e Islami U-Turn – with more to follow? (amended)

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 7 June 2012

When the second largest insurgent group, Hezb-e Islami (1), suspended talks with the Afghan government, three weeks ago, it cited dissatisfaction with the signing of the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) on 1 May 2012. Kabul has now gone public, accusing Hezb-e Islami of telling it a different story immediately after the talks, which were held in mid-April. The government said that it had even briefed the visiting Hezb delegation about its negotiations with the US. AAN’s Gran Hewad reminds us that such an incoherent behaviour has been characteristic of Hezb-e Islami for decades. He looks at the wordplay surrounding the ‘arrested development’ of the talks and tries to answer the question of what this back-and-forth says about the intentions of Hezb-e Islami, the government and the political opposition.

29. The second line of talks: Hezb-e Islami in Kabul

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 26 April 2012

With the suspension of talks in Qatar and the spike in security incidents across the country, the latter part of the mooted “fight and talk” equation looks pretty lopsided this year as far as the Taleban goes. But meanwhile, dialogue between the second largest insurgent group ‘Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin’ (HIG) (1) and the Afghan government continues, after some confusion over an announced suspension of talks. Hezb has stated its readiness to talk reconciliation with its erstwhile arch-foes of the ‘Northern Alliance’. AAN analyst Gran Hewad and Thomas Ruttig take a comparative look at Hezb’s and the Taleban’s recent manoeuvres and possible trade-offs.


30. A second Rabbani takes the helm at the High Peace Council

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 17 April 2012

The competition for a successor to the late former president Burhanuddin Rabbani at the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) is over: Rabbani’s eldest son Salahuddin has been appointed by President Karzai. But is this appointment a real attempt to get a peace process on track, or is it instead, simply an alliance-building manoeuvre within the Kabul political establishment – just as with the original appointment of his father? AAN’s Gran Hewad looks at the background and possible implications of the decision.


31. Farewell to the Boss? Mujaddedi resigns

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 7 April 2012

It is still not clear whether the resignation of Hazrat Sebghatullah Mujaddedi from all government positions last week was meant to be permanent, or a political manoeuvre planned to improve his chances in moving to lead the High Peace Council. Nevertheless, it is worth a closer look, argues Thomas Ruttig, Senior Analyst at AAN (with input by Gran Hewad), particularly as it could signify for President Karzai the loss of another important political ally; in this case the man who has been his mentor.


32. Protests and Factional Conflict in Sarepul

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 9 February 2012

Since 8 December last year, demonstrations are continuing in Sarepul. While this remote northern province has been one of the areas least affected by the insurgency for many years, of late it has been pulled into the vortex of the Northern insurgency, too. But the protests have a different background: their origins lie in local politics, with national actors involving themselves. Thomas Ruttig and Obaid Ali have looked into those events that have neither caught the interest of the international nor of many Afghan media beyond short news items.


33. National Coalition vs National Front: Two opposition alliances put Jamiat in a dilemma

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 4 January 2012

And yet another opposition alliance, but not a really new one. Before Christmas, Dr Abdullah Abdullah extended his own Hope and Change alliance with a few more political parties and politicians. It was renamed the National Coalition of Afghanistan (NCA). Apparently, Abdullah is trying to make it look more like a real coalition and less a one-man show. But, more significantly, it will rather contribute to more confusion than clarity: Shedding its unmistakable old name for a rather unexciting one, it will be confused with the new National Front of Afghanistan (NFA) launched a few weeks ago. Its political programme, too, is the same. But the parallel existence of the two alliances shows that there is a deep rift within the Jamiat-e Islami camp putting question marks behind its future. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Gran Hewad look at this latest development.


34. The New National Front: A Dark Horse Returns – with Three Riders

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 1 December 2011

Two months after the death of Burhanuddin Rabbani, his old coalition, the National Front of Afghanistan (Jebha-ye Melli Afghanistan), has been revived. The new grouping is calling for radical political reform in order, as they see it, to re-enfranchise the Afghan voter. They want decentralization,a proportional voting system and a prime minister. At the same time, the move can be seen as an attempt by three northern leaders who have experienced serious political setbacks in recent years to re-energise their careers: former first vice president, and member of Jamiat-e Islami, Ahmad Zia Massud, the founder of Jombesh party General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Muhammad Muhaqqiq, leader of one branch of Hezb-e Wahdat and an MP for Kabul. The Front is also interesting for who is not in it, argues AAN’s Gran Hewad: several key players from the 2007 incarnation of the Front are now missing.


35. Under Atta’s Shadow: political life in the Afghan north

Author: Enayat Najafizada
Date: 26 October 2011

The collapse of the Taleban regime in 2001 paved the ground for the start of what had the potential to be a comparatively democratic political scene in Afghanistan. In due course, the existing jihadi parties and former communists in the northern province of Balkh slowly started to deal with the new situation. In the case of the jihadi parties, usually military-structured organisations or tanzims, this meant the politicisation of their military power. For the former communists, it was more about reviving themselves as democratic political forces, writes our guest blogger Enayat Najafizada (with input from AAN’s Thomas Ruttig).*


36. Jamiat after Rabbani: The competition for the top job

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 23 October 2011

The murder of Ustad Rabbani also made one of Afghanistan’s oldest parties, Jamiat-e Islami, leaderless. For more than three and half decades, the Ustad had stood at its top. His killing came as the party had started considering internal reforms. This process has now accelerated, pushed by the need to fill the party’s top vacancy. Two Jamiati grandees have already registered their candidacy, Ismail Khan and Ustad Atta. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN, looks at the party’s complicated internal configuration that makes the competition for its top job unpredictable.


37. The Death of Rabbani

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 20 September 2011

One of the most senior Afghan leaders has been killed in a suicide bombing at his home in Kabul. Burhanuddin Rabbani was a founder and leading activist in the Afghan Islamist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the seven leaders of the (Sunni) mujahedin parties in the 1980s and – at least formally – president for almost a decade. More recently, he has been an MP and chairman of the High Peace Council, charged with seeking to make peace with the Taleban. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark assesses Rabbani’s life and what his death may mean for the prospects of peace.


38. Where criminals forgive themselves

Author: Fabrizio Foschini
Date: 17 July 2011

The Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSFo) today released a report titled ‘How People Define Violence and Justice in Afghanistan (1958 – 2008)’. Prepared by ACSFo with the funding of the Heinrich-Bӧll-Stiftung, the report provides a valuable insight into Afghans’ perceptions of these two concepts, drawn by their extensive experience of at least the first of them in the last decades. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini attended to the presentation and is currently enjoying the read, though not a merry one.


39. The Green Trend mobilisation and a possible new rift in Jamiat

Author: Gran Hewad
Date: 18 May 2011

As of late, the Green Trend movement has been reactivating its public and web-based activities. The movement has been established by former NDS director Amrullah Salih, together with former Minister of Interior Hanif Atmar, one of the two most prominent high-ranking government officials marginalised by President Karzai as – what many people believe – concessions to Pakistan that were meant to further a political deal with the insurgents, an approach at least Saleh has since vehemently opposed publicly. This, in turn, has earned him the ire of Ustad Rabbani. AAN’s Gran Hewad and Thomas Ruttig are looking at the new movement’s background and on possible scenarios for its ‘mother organisation’, Jamiat.


40. Gulbuddin ante portas – again (2)

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 6 November 2010

Veteran mujahedin and current no. 2 insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar gave a rare and extensive interview to German TV. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig thinks that he was trying a walk on the tightrope, responding to the opened doors for ‘reconciliation’ while projecting that he is not too soft on the US and Kabul’s offers and strictly follows Islamic principles. And he asks: Why now and why to Germans?


41. The Ex-Taleban on the High Peace Council: A renewed role for the Khuddam ul-Furqan?

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 20 October 2010

AAN’s latest discussion paper by Thomas Ruttig provides a first analysis of the former Taleban members on the newly-established Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), of what their possible role may be in this body, their political and historical background as well as the development of their positions vis-à-vis a possible process of negotiations.


42. Warlords’ Peace Council

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 28 September 2010

After a series of announcements that the members of the High Peace Council would soon be announced, and a considerable delay reportedly about who should chair the council – a question that is still open – the names of 68 members were finally released today (with apparently two more still to be added). Looking at the list, AAN’s Senior Analysts Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig find the council’s composition no surprise, but a disappointment all the same.


43. Gulbuddin ante portas – again (Updated)

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 22 March 2010

After the Soviet troop had withdrawn in early 1989, leaflets turned up in Kabul signed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar announcing that he would ride into Kabul on the back of a white horse and pray in Pul-e Kheshti mosque. That made many Kabulis shiver. They said that the mujahedin leader was ‘worse than the Russians’ and would take revenge on everyone who had stayed with the ‘puppet government’. My neighbour, a Leningrad-trained former army officer who has resigned in 1979 in protest against the Soviet occupation, said he would pack his bags and leave. Now, Hekmatyar might be on his way to Kabul again.


44. After two years in legal limbo: A first glance at the approved ‘Amnesty law’

Author: Sari Kouvo
Date: 22 February 2010

(Updated: 30 September 2017à) – Impunity is certainly a problem in Afghanistan, but now impunity has been made into law. The so-called amnesty law (now titled the National Reconciliation, General Amnesty and National Stability Law) was published in the official gazette in December 2008 (Qaus 1387).



45. The New Taleban Deputy Leaders: Is there an obvious successor to Akhtar Mansur?

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 10 February 2016

Reports of the alleged killing of new Taleban leader Akhtar Mansur in December 2015 as well as his subsequent disappearance from public view have raised the question as to who might be next-in-line and whether there exists an internal, legitimate mechanism for succession. This question is all the more pressing given the continuing, albeit dwindling, challenge to Mansur as the replacement of the late Taleban founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, a move that has generated unprecedented rifts within the movement. AAN’s co-director Thomas Ruttig (with contributions from researcher Borhan Osman) comes to the conclusion that such a succession mechanism exists, as we see from the appointment of two new deputy leaders of the Taleban movement, who are briefly portrayed here.


46. Toward Fragmentation? Mapping the post-Omar Taleban

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 24 November 2015

The Taleban movement has entered its third decade with infighting threatening its – up till now ­– remarkable unity. The killing of Mansur Dadullah during clashes between Taleban factions in Zabul on 12 November 2015 highlighted the scope of this unprecedented discord. Dadullah had been deputy leader of a newly-formed, breakaway faction of the Taleban. That faction, under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Rasul, is not the only group opposing the new Taleban leader, Akhtar Muhammad Mansur; there are other Taleban heavyweights opposing, if not openly challenging, him. AAN’s Borhan Osman maps the various Taleban factions that have emerged in the wake of the revelation of the death of the movement’s founder Mullah Omar. He concludes, however, that although the rifts have irreversibly broken the historic image of the Taleban as a unified group, they are, so far, a long way from posing an existential threat to the movement.


47. From Mullah Omar to Mansur: Change at the Taleban’s top leadership

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 31 July 2015

After almost two days of silence, the Taleban have finally admitted that their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahed, as they call him, has died. On 31 July 2015, they also announced the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, previously Omar’s deputy, as their new leader. Reportedly, this also includes the key title of amir ul-momenin – commander of the faithful – in an attempt to transfer the dead leader’s religious legitimacy to the new man at the top. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig (with input from Borhan Osman) begins his report on the death of Mullah Omar and its immediate aftermath with some recollections from Kandahar, October 2000, before looking at how news of the death unfolded and what the new leadership looks like.


48. 2010 Elections 13: A ‘Taleban Election Campaign’?

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 25 September 2010

There have been statements and speculations recently about a possible involvement of the Taleban in the recent Afghan parliamentary elections, directly or indirectly. So, let’s summarize what we have about this and see whether there was possibly was a ‘Taleban elections strategy’.


New Islamists:

49. Beyond Jihad and Traditionalism: Afghanistan’s new generation of Islamic activists

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 23 June 2015

Not all Afghan youth who are politically active and who want to change the status quo fit into the often simplified categories of being either progressive and educated, or uneducated and subversive. There is an often-overlooked segment of Afghanistan’s youth that is educated and engages in modern political debates and activities, while at the same time aiming to replace the current democratic order with a sharia-based government. AAN’s latest report, “Beyond Jihad and Traditionalism” by AAN researcher Borhan Osman, explores their ideologies, activities and appeal of such groups.


50. Trying to Stop the Bases: Another opposition block in the making?

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 12 August 2014

A political front composed of traditional mujahedin and neo-Islamist groups that oppose any foreign military presence has raised objections to the plan to establish a ‘national unity government’. It rather proposes setting up an ‘inclusive’ government, which would also involve the main insurgent groups, in order to end the war and then to hold fresh elections later on. Although this front is positioned at the radical end of the political spectrum in Afghanistan, it seems to have become a stable factor on the Afghan scene and to appeal to a reasonably broad constituency, picking up popular and populist issues. AAN senior analyst Thomas Ruttig reports, (with input by Borhan Osman).


51. Afghan Youth for Democracy? Not all of them

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 2 April 2014

Many observers are looking with hope at the progress in terms of education of Afghan youth and often describe it as a safeguard of democracy during the political transitions ahead. This, however, means painting Afghan youth with an all–too-broad brush and closing eyes to undercurrents that try to undermine further democratisation, says AAN’s Borhan Osman. Not all young Afghans who obtained better education, training and skills over the past decade use their knowledge to help democracy take roots, he writes; many are actually vehemently against democracy and its essential pillar, popular elections. Osman is currently writing a paper on the radicalisation of youth and has, for this dispatch, pulled out some of his findings about this stratum and its ideas about elections.


52. The Counter-Jirga: 3000 participants condemn the US, the Afghan government and the BSA

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 11 November 2013

One of the largest anti-American events witnessed over the past years has taken place in Kabul with 3000 politicians, mullahs and students coming together from across Afganistan to voice their adamant opposition to Afghanistan signing a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. It comes just days before the government is due to hold its own jirga to decide on the BSA which open the way for foreign troops staying on Afghan soil after 2014 and, as AAN’s Borhan Osman (with Christine Roehrs), reports, the rhetoric was strong, calling the BSA un-Islamic and those who signed it friends of the kufaar (infidels).


53. Mursi in Kabul: Afghan Islamists scrutinise democracy in the wake of Egypt’s coup

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 28 September 2013

A number of rallies in support of Egypt’s ousted president, Muhammad Mursi, and in solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood recently brought together Afghanistan’s diverse Islamist groups in rare unanimity of opinion. Kabul has not yet seen such a mobilisation, and with such diverse participation, caused by a political issue in another country. Pro- and anti-government Islamist forces were united in assuming a global conspiracy to prevent Islamists from taking power in the Muslim world, including Afghanistan. AAN’s Borhan Osman looks into the reasons for this mobilisation. He also provides background on the evolution of the Islamist movement in Afghanistan, introduces the current discourse around the idea of “democracy for Muslim countries” and explores how this could negatively affect the political transformation ahead in Afghanistan.


54. The EVAW law – an Evil Law? The backlash at Kabul University

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 26 May 2013

Many worried that debating the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law in parliament might backfire. In the end, the Speaker cut short the discussion and sent it into the shadows of a parliamentary committee for further discussion. However, even such a brief debate brought he existence of the law to the public’s attention and the reactions have mostly been negative. Hundreds of students on Wednesday staged a protest, not only to condemn this particular law, but the whole current political system. They chanted slogans such as ‘democracy is kufr’ and ‘democracy is bestial’. Borhan Osman has been looking at the students’ reaction and how the public perceives the law. Although the demonstration was small, a backlash that was stronger, more broad-based and sustained could surface, he writes, if the law is again put to debate.


55. The Growth of Neo-radicalism: Neo-Salafism and Sectarianism

Author: Abbas Daiyar
Date: 25 January 2013

There are indications about the involvement of neo-radical – both neo-Salafist and Iranian-inspired Shia – groups in the Ashura clashes that occurred last November at Kabul University. AAN has recently reported about the events. In a follow-up article, our guest blogger Abbas Daiyar(*) argues that an increase of the activities comes in the wake of the rise of Salafi groups during the Arab Spring and as a result of insufficiently monitored activities of regional countries. He fears for the harmony between Muslims of different sects who so far have mostly lived together peacefully in Afghanistan.


56. AAN Reportage: What Sparked the Ashura Day Riots and Murder in Kabul University?

Author: Borhan Osman
Date: 17 January 2013

Last November, on the day of Ashura, a Muslim religious day with particular importance for Shias who mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Hussain, clashes erupted between Sunni and Shia students in the dormitory of the Kabul University. The campus was literally turned into a battlefield. One student was killed and more than a dozen were wounded. The sectarian clash in the country’s prime academic institution shocked many in the country, spreading fears of both sectarian violence and students deeply absorbed in politics and religious activism. AAN’s researcher Borhan Osman presents a ‘whodunit’, looking at what really triggered the university melee. In a later paper, he will look at the extent of sectarian trends in the country as a broader issue and ask if there really exists any appetite for resorting to sectarian violence.


57. On Kunar’s Salafi Insurgents

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 14 January 2010

Usually one needs two sources at least, but this one I find too interesting: A few days ago, on 9 January, the Taleban website Shahamat (which means ‘bravery’) reported that one of the smaller insurgent groups – the Salafi from Kunar – has pledged allegiance to Mulla Muhammad Omar.


The leftists:

58. AAN political parties paper series 2: Rise and Decline of Maoism

Author: Niamatullah Ibrahimi
Date: 31 August 2012

With two new reports – ‘Ideology without Leadership: The rise and decline of Maoism in Afghanistan’ by Niamatullah Ibrahimi and ‘Reforming Jombesh: An Afghan Party on Its Winding Road to Internal Democracy’ by Robert Peszkowski – AAN has launched a new series of papers that look at the development of political parties and movements in Afghanistan. The aim is to fill the gaps that exist in current literature by exploring the frequently overlooked role of political parties in the contemporary political system and documenting the history of political movements.


59. A Second ‘Death List’: More on those forcibly disappeared in the civil war

Author: Patricia Gossman
Date: 28 May 2014

After last year’s release of a ‘death list’ containing almost 5000 names of men who ‘disappeared’ in the late 1970s, another list is to be publicly available soon, this time listing 671 men who were forcibly disappeared during the civil war in Kabul in the mid-1990s. The document was put together, at the time, by a human rights group seeking to help the families, and will now be part of a digital database by the Afghanistan Documentation Project, containing documents related to war crimes and human rights violations committed in Afghanistan since 1978. The list features the names of some of those captured by the various rival militia forces during the intense fighting that engulfed the Afghan capital after May 1992 and includes students, labourers, merchants and civil servants. AAN guest author Patricia Gossman* has sifted through the list and considers the tenacity of the phenomenon of disappearances in Afghanistan and how powerful the publication of the names of the disappeared can be.


60. May Day on Workers Street: Trade unions and the status of labour in Afghanistan

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 4 May 2014

More than 1,000 Afghan men and women took to the street on International Labour Day on 1 May. With the country’s latest mining disaster, killing at least 24 workers only one day earlier, the participants had one acute problem to address: workers’ safety in the mining sector. However, the new leadership of Afghanistan’s largest trade unions association, which organised the march, also pointed to long-term issues, ranging from joblessness to several forms of work-related discrimination. Thomas Ruttig, a senior analyst at AAN, looks at the past and present of Afghanistan’s trade union movement, the tradition of May Day demonstrations and the long list of grave labour-related problems waiting to be tackled by workers, employees and, not least, the incoming Afghan president. (With a contribution by Ehsan Qaane.)


61. Not a “Tailless Star”: an obituary for leading Afghan intellectual Muhammad Qasim Akhgar

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 29 January 2014

On Tuesday night (28 January 2014), with the passing away of Muhammad Qasim Akhgar, Afghanistan lost one of its leading intellectuals. Ustad Akhgar died after a long illness, only 62 years old and he died as he had lived, in more than modest circumstances. An independent leftist, author and human rights activist, who maintained his integrity in the difficult tide of post-2001 events, he believed in a pluralistic Afghan democracy but also clearly saw the problems his country was facing. AAN’s Co-Director Thomas Ruttig, who knew him well and interviewed him at length about his political life and the history of leftism in Afghanistan, pays his respect with this obituary, as do other colleagues at AAN, national and international, many of whom knew Mr Akhgar as teacher, poet or fellow journalist and will miss him.


62. Death List Published: Families of disappeared end a 30 year wait for news

Author: Kate Clark
Date: 26 September 2013

This week some Afghan families have finally been able to hold a fateha (mourning ceremony) for fathers, brothers and sons who disappeared more than thirty years ago. Evidence of the fate of their relatives came with the publication by the Dutch prosecutor’s office of a list of almost 5000 people killed during the first 20 months of communist rule, following the 1978 coup d’etat. But as AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark reports, these 5000 were only a fraction of the total number who were forcibly disappeared during this period or killed in subsequent phases of the war. There is still a long way to go in terms of dealing with the legacy of the horrors of the last thirty years. (With input by Thomas Ruttig.)


63. Good Muslims, Bad Muslims? Solidarity Party Threatened by Ban (amended)

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 8 June 2012

A small but vocal leftist political party has challenged the consensus about the ‘good jehad’, pointing to human rights violations of some of its leaders, and earned the ire of them. After initial calls for an immediate ban, the authorities have suspended the party’s activities, pending an investigation. How they will handle this case will show how far Afghanistan has come down on the path of the rule of law, and whether it is ready to accept that there are political forces that do not want to settle with a state that includes human rights abusers in key roles, argues Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN.


64. AAN Election Blog No. 15: The Best Candidates’ Posters (3) – War & Peace Movements

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 18 August 2009

The prize for the boldest election poster goes to Shahnawaz Tanai, another presidential candidate from the South-East, from Khost province to be precise where his Tani tribe dwells in the dry plains outside Khost town ‘where only stones grow in the field’ as a local friend describes it and in the chromite-(holding) hills to the South from where a less described smuggling business to Pakistan is thriving.


The new democrats:

65. A young leader lost: Sebghatullah Sanjar

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 6 May 2012

Sebghatullah Sanjar, leader of Afghanistan’s Republican Party, an advisor to President Karzai, an ambitious politician of a younger, democratically leaning generation and a good friend, lost his life in a traffic accident in Kabul on Saturday. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst and Co-Director at AAN, first met Sanjar in 2000 when he was working with the United Nations and the young political activist was a member of the anti-Taleban political underground in Kabul. In this obituary, Ruttig looks back, saddened by Sanjar’s death, but also grateful for the many years of friendship and cooperation with him.


66. Dad Noorani, critic of warlordism, passed away

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 14 July 2011

Wednesday night, Dad Noorani, one of Afghanistan’s best political analysts and most courageous journalists, succumbed to a heart attack. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig commemorates the determined opponent of warlordism and defender of the rule of law.


The ethno-nationalists:

67. The ‘Zabul Seven’ Protests: Who speaks for the victims?

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 12 November 2015

On 11 November 2015, Kabul witnessed probably one of the largest demonstrations in recent history. The trigger was the slaughter of seven Hazara travellers who had been taken hostage in Zabul province about a month ago. The demonstration, which continued well into the night, became an amalgam of emotions and agendas: grief and horror over the attacks; defiance against brutality; exasperation over the perceived non-responsiveness of the government; calls for greater security, alongside the airing of more localised demands; and, possibly, among some, a hope to further undermine the government. The government initially focused mainly on the latter part, largely treating the demonstration as a threat and a slight, while ignoring the underlying emotions that brought so many people who had no direct link to the victims on the streets.


68. Elections (34): The tug-of-war over the Hazara vote, round II

Author: Qayoom Suroush
Date: 26 June 2014

How did the large Afghan Hazara minority – that surprised everyone in the first round with its nearly unanimous backing for Dr Abdullah – vote in the second round of the presidential elections? Partial results from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) are not yet available, but in one of the key provinces for Hazaras, Bamyan, both campaign teams told AAN that Ashraf Ghani had doubled his vote there (gaining about 20,000 votes), while Abdullah had gained only about nine per cent (adding about ten thousand votes). The IEC thought turnout was about the same as the first round, but both teams thought it was lower. Qayoom Suroush, has researched both election days in Bamyan and Kabul and says it appears that Dr Abdullah appears to still have gained the overwhelming majority of Hazara voter. He also looks at how Hazaras feel about Abdullah’s ‘anti-fraud’ protests, the latest of which is called for tomorrow.


69. Elections 2014 (15): Hazaras overturning all expectations

Author: Qayoom Suroush
Date: 24 April 2014

Before the elections, no-one had expected Abdullah Abdullah to win the Hazarajat’s votes, especially by such a large margin. His strong showing here – and that of his vice president, Mohammad Mohaqeq – could have consequences for the presidential election as a whole; the Hazaras, as one of the largest minorities in the country, could play an important role in a potential second round. In his second piece on Bamyan’s elections (see the first here), AAN’s Qayoom Suroush (with input by Fabrizio Foschini and Thomas Ruttig) looks deeper into where Abdullah’s rivals may have gone wrong in expecting more support from Hazaras and why Abdullah seems to have proven far more attractive.


The void in the centre:

70. With a Little Help From His Friends: A new biography of Hamed Karzai

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 1 September 2014

With only a few days left in the last of Karzai’s two 5-year tenures as head of state (the inauguration of his – still unknown – successor has just been postponed again), Dutch journalist Bette Dam presents the reviewed and updated English version of her biography of the politician who has shaped Afghanistan’s last 14 years as almost no one else has done. It is not the first, and will not be the last book about Hamed Karzai and it covers the different periods of his life in varying depth. Although it leaves a few key questions still unanswered, it is the most detailed and well-researched account of the man so far. It differs favourably from some of the earlier snapshots that were mainly boasts about the authors’ access to Karzai. Thomas Ruttig(*) here reviews the book and says it is simply journalistic work at its best. We will publish an excerpt of the book later today.


71. Guest Blog: Right and Justice Party – possible trail-blazer for an Afghan centrism (AMENDED)

Author: Ahmad Shuja
Date: 8 November 2011

We have already reported about the latest addition to the Afghan political party landscape, Hezb-e Haq wa Edalat (Right and Justice Party), which had been launched in Kabul on 3 November. This is an Afghan take on the new party, by our guest blogger Ahmad Shuja* who argues that it is stepping into new territory and might create an Afghan political centrism.


72. Right and Justice Party launched, as ‘reformist opposition’

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 3 November 2011

This is the most serious addition to Afghanistan’s political party scene since years: After 14 months of preparations and a two-day conference of its 420 founders on Tuesday and Wednesday, Hezb-e Haq wa Edalat (Right and Justice Party) officially ‘declared its existence’, as you do such things in Afghanistan, today, 3 November, in Kabul. With some big names floating around as main protagonists – particularly of former interior minister Hanif Atmar and AIHCR chairwoman Sima Samar – the interest of the media was big. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig also attended.


Government-parties relations:

73. The Unity Government’s First Six Months: Where is the governance?

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 26 March 2015

After six months of Afghan Unity Government – what has been achieved? President Ghani, some say, has been ruling with a ‘two-man government’ (him and Hanif Atmar, head of the National Security Council), leading many to feel left out. ‘Strategic silence’ has become a somewhat mocking term for Ghani’s style of government – or is he simply keeping the cards close to his chest? In this critique of the ‘Ghani way of ruling,’ AAN’s Thomas Ruttig looks at how some tasks were tackled and summarises how much remains to be done.


74. The Start into the Better Governance Marathon: Ghani’s first days

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 11 October 2014

New president Ashraf Ghani has proven himself a man intent on not losing time – after so much of it had been lost in post-electoral counting, auditing and political wrangling since April 2014. As opposed to the habits of the Karzai era, the Afghan government did not go into hibernation over the recent Eid-e Qurban holidays. The new president issued a number of decrees, including on reforming key government structures in Kabul, and also appears to, so far, have successfully projected a public image of himself as someone who gets things done. The question is when he will start running into the first major obstacles. Thomas Ruttig (with contributions from Kate Clark and Martine van Bijlert) scrutinises the balance of his first two weeks in office.


75. Tit for Tat – and Worse: The long history of enmity between parliament and government

Author: Gran Hewad, Thomas Ruttig and Claudio Franco
Date: 23 July 2013

The relationship between the Afghan president and, by extension, his cabinet and Afghanistan’s parliament has frequently been turbulent over the past years. The latest example came yesterday (22 July 2013) with parliament’s voting out of office of the interior minister, Mujtaba Patang. Earlier, from April to July, conflict centred around the finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal, who publicly accused six relatively high-profile MPs of corruption, a move which enraged MPs. AAN’s Gran Hewad, Thomas Ruttig and Claudio Franco look into the long history of enmity between executive and legislative. Systemic faults, they say, will affect future governments as well.


76. Dreaming of a pliable parliament and a ruling family

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 24 February 2010

President Karzai has changed the electoral law, driven by anger over an in his eyes over-interfering ECC, the desire to have a pliable parliament and a sense that it his right as a president to be in charge. The substantive changes in the electoral law have, as a result, focused on roughly four areas: gaining greater control over the main exclusion mechanisms (the ECC and the DIAG secretariat), minimizing international interference, limiting the grounds for criticising the IEC, and raising the bar for conditions on candidates.



Elections/Electoral Reform:

77. Thematic Dossier III: What Past Elections Teach Us

Author: AAN Team
Date: 5 October 2013

Afghanistan is getting ready for its fifth election in ten years. For those who have gone through the previous rounds there is an immense sense of déjà vu. So before embarking on a new round of intense reporting, we decided to look back at the work already done – most of which is as relevant now, as when it was first written.


78. The IEC Announces 2016 Election Date – but what about electoral reform?

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 18 January 2016

In a brief press conference on Monday 18 January 2016, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the date for Afghanistan’s next vote: 15 October 2016. But the preparations for the elections – for the lower house of parliament and, for the first time, district councils – are complicated by ongoing controversies over the legitimacy of the current IEC, the nature of the electoral reforms that need to precede the elections, as well as who will be organising them and under which amended laws. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a closer look.


79. Elections in Hibernation: Afghanistan’s stalled electoral reform

Author: Ehsan Qaane and Martine van Bijlert
Date: 17 June 2015

Afghanistan’s electoral reform process has been bogged down for months. While the National Unity Government agreement called for the “immediate establishment” of an Electoral Reform Commission, it took the president five months just to sign the necessary decree. Now, three months later, the commission has still not started its work and it looks like the original decree will be overturned and a new commission introduced, amidst controversy over who was appointed and what they were mandated to do. Meanwhile, the absence of an electoral timeline or any planning for the upcoming elections has led donors to decrease funding for the Independent Electoral Commission, until they receive clarity on what they will be paying for. Although the palace has now indicated that an announcement of an election date may be imminent, the lack of urgency on the part of the government is notable. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane and Martine van Bijlert take a closer look at the details and explore what the possible explanations might be.


80. Electoral Reform, or rather: Who will control Afghanistan’s next election?

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 17 February 2015

President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah, in the September 2014 agreement, agreed to electoral reforms “to ensure that future elections are credible.” The details of these reforms, when they should take place and who should design them are, however, proving contentious. Meanwhile, parliament has been working on relevant laws, while commissioners of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) are fighting off calls for them to be replaced while insisting that, at this point, they are the only ones who should be making changes to improve future elections. Although everyone is talking about ‘reform’, the wrangling really boils down to a struggle for control of the electoral bodies and, ultimately, the outcome of upcoming elections. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert and Ehsan Qaane report.


81. After the Election Is Before the Election: The dilemma with the 2015 parliamentary vote date

Author: Ehsan Qaane and Thomas Ruttig
Date: 19 November 2014

The Afghan constitution stipulates that the next parliamentary elections must be held before June 2015. Until a few days ago, however, most Afghan and international actors seem to have tacitly agreed that the constitutional date cannot be met. But during a conference on 16 November, the new president’s legal advisor stated that Ashraf Ghani is committed to upholding the constitution and with that the constitutional election date. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Ehsan Qane look at the pros and cons of holding the elections on time, identify a number of significant hurdles – including the shortage of time for preparation caused by the unexpectedly long 2014 elections process and the need for electoral reform – but add that one more factor needs to be figured in: delaying the elections would mean bending the constitution another time.


82. Afghanistan’s New Electoral Laws: Changes and red flags

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 27 July 2013

With last week’s ratification of the two electoral laws, Afghanistan finally knows which laws will govern its upcoming election. The new legislation clarifies how the elections are to be conducted, by whom and how they are to be appointed. Compared to the often tumultuous process that shaped them, the laws are fairly balanced and workable, but they did not bring much of the needed reform and there are a few red flags. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert discusses what changed and what didn’t and stresses that, as shown in previous elections, it is the actual conduct of all involved, rather than the laws, that determines how elections really go.


83. Who will Control the 2014 Electoral Process: An update on Afghanistan’s electoral laws

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 4 July 2013

With only nine months to go to the presidential and provincial council elections in April 2014, the two main laws that determine how Afghanistan’s elections should be conducted are still inching their way through the legislative process. It has been a long and winding road, accompanied by strong emotions and high stakes; this is, after all, about who gets to control the electoral process. And although it is not yet clear what the ultimate outcome is going to be, it is time for an update. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert, with input from Ehsan Qaane, takes a closer look at how far we have come and notes that the process is proving erratic, ad hoc and easily manipulated.


84. Warning Bells over Slow Electoral Reform and Voter Registration for 2014

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 29 October 2012

A number of organisations have warned that electoral reform in the run-up to the 2014 polls in Afghanistan is moving too slowly. Two issues stand out: the lack of a voter registry and the lack of a revised electoral law. The recent argument about whether the future ECC should include UN-nominated members or not is part of the debate. Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst with AAN, looks at latest developments and comes to the conclusion that major prerequisites for acceptable elections in 2014 are still lacking, partly because of opportunities missed earlier in the post-2001 process.


85. Libya and Afghanistan: Elections without a social contract

Author: Ann Mac Dougall
Date: 29 July 2012

Long queues at polling centres, happy voters waving inked fingers in front of cameras, and musings on how a new, better era was in store for Libya – sounds like Afghanistan 2004. Our guest blogger Ann Mac Dougall(*), who has worked in both countries, cannot help wondering whether Libya will follow the Afghan pattern from early elation to violence, corruption and feeble efforts to build a sustainable political structure. She argues that democracy – including elections – is part of the social contract between the people and the state but that, in Afghanistan, many citizens and particularly key political leaders were patently unwilling to play by the rules they signed on to.


86. The IEC proposal to move to a mixed electoral system

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 28 June 2012

Afghanistan’s IEC has proposed sweeping changes for a new electoral law. The draft has already been publicly debated with stakeholders, including parties and civil society, and is publicly accessible. We see two major points of proposed changes: first, the partial move away from the SNTV system and a bigger role for political parties in parliamentary elections; secondly, the new provisions and institutions for election monitoring and the handling of complaints. Although it can be expected that the draft will pass the upcoming legislative process unchanged, AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig thinks it is worth having a first look at it. With input by S. Reza Kazemi, he concentrates on the proposed changes in the electoral system and the role of the political parties.


87. Guest Blog: Electoral Reform Must Start Now

Author: Grant Kippen
Date: 28 June 2011

With the controversy between the Wolesi Jirga and the Special Election Court still continuing and throwing Afghanistan’s legislative into disarray, our guest blogger Grant Kippen(*) pleads for long-overdue election reform starting and bold steps now.


88. The Electoral Law that wasn’t amended (yet) and fraud by foreigners

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 1 April 2010

Karzai’s last minute attempt to rewrite the electoral law has been stalled, after Parliament rejected the decree on Wednesday. It has been a bizarre process in which political strong-arming and legal debates have made the outcome unpredictable. This continues to be the case.


89. A reform of the electoral law?

Author: Antonella Deledda
Date: 19 February 2010

The reform of the Afghan electoral law is moving again. ANTONELLA DELEDDA looks at the proposed amendments that are circulating in Kabul, at the question whther this can be done by presidential decree and whether this would be the urgently necessary ‘organic reform’ or mainly serves the interests of the current elite after the faulty 2009 election.


Afghan Parliament:

90. New Building, Old MPs: A guide to the Afghan parliament

Author: Salima Ahmadi and Thomas Ruttig
Date: 4 February 2016

Afghanistan’s parliament has relocated to a new building of Indian construction in Kabul. Moreover, a date has finally been set for the next parliamentary elections. With the parliament’s term extended until the elections, it has another year of sessions, which raises the issue of its very legality. AAN researcher Salima Ahmadi (with contributions from senior analyst Thomas Ruttig) explains how the two chambers are elected and how they function, focusing on the lower house. Salima also looks at the dispute surrounding the legal status and legitimacy of the parliament, and comes to the conclusion that, constitutionally, there is no provision that authorizes the president to extend the parliament’s term.


91. The slow winding down of the Parliamentary crisis

Author: Gran Hewad and Martine van Bijlert
Date: 6 October 2011

Over the last few days the number of MPs attending the plenary session has been slowly growing, while the Law Support Coalition has struggled to maintain coherence. Individual members are being peeled off, while even those determined to make a stand are questioning whether they should remain outside the session. A compromise seems to be in the making. The government, in the meantime, has introduced its first two candidates for the vote of confidence. A quick update by Gran Hewad and Martine van Bijlert.


92. Afghanistan’s Parliament or How to Hold on to Your Seat

Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 6 June 2011

Parliament has decided to postpone its regular recess. It was supposed to start today, but the Parliamentarians just don’t want to go yet. They spent most of their last session discussing how they hadn’t properly started their work and how they wouldn’t be able to face their constituents if they went home. And that they would prefer to be around, in case Karzai finally introduces his candidates for the various pending positions. In reality the MPs fear that if they leave their seats they may not be able to get them back, so they have decided to stay where they are – at least for another 15 days.


Pre-2006 developments:

93. How It All Began: Pre-1979 Origins of Afghanistan’s Conflict

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 19 January 2013

For most people, it was the Soviet invasion over Christmas 1979 that put Afghanistan on the political map when, in the very last days of the 1970s, the Soviet leadership made the central Asian country the arena of the hottest conflict in the last part of the Cold War. As a result, the internationalised Afghanistan conflict, currently in its 33rd year, has been explained mainly through a Cold War perspective. AAN’s new Occasional Report ‘How It All Began: A Short Look at the Pre-1979 Origins of Afghanistan’s Conflict’ by Thomas Ruttig looks further back.


94. The Failure of Airborne Democracy: The Bonn Agreement and Afghanistan’s Stagnating Democratisation

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 7 July 2012

The idea for this volume was born in the summer of 2010 during a discussion of the cyclical nature of many of Afghanistan’s programmes. Years of following the international efforts had left us with an increasingly strong sense of déjà vu: another conference to demonstrate momentum, another strategy to surpass the ones before, another project that would come and go and be forgotten the moment its progress was no longer being reported on, only to resurface in a new guise a little later.

In: Snapshots of an Intervention: The Unlearned Lessons of Afghanistan’s Decade of Assistance (2001–11), AAN E-Book, 2012.


95. Afghanistan’s Early Reformists: Mahmud Tarzi’s ideas and their influence on the Wesh Zalmian movement


Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 19 January 2013

For most people, it was the Soviet invasion over Christmas 1979 that put Afghanistan on the political map when, in the very last days of the 1970s, the Soviet leadership made the central Asian country the arena of the hottest conflict in the last part of the Cold War. As a result, the internationalised Afghanistan conflict, currently in its 33rd year, has been explained mainly through a Cold War perspective. AAN’s new Occasional Report ‘How It All Began: A Short Look at the Pre-1979 Origins of Afghanistan’s Conflict’ by Thomas Ruttig looks further back.



96. Six Days That Shook Kabul: The ‘3 Hut uprising’, first urban protest against the Soviet occupation

Author: Thomas Ruttig
Date: 22 February 2015

Today 35 years ago, the first large, urban uprising against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan took place in Kabul. It was eight weeks after Soviet tanks had rolled into the country to save the regime of the PDPA, which had taken over power in a coup d’etat 20 months earlier and quickly run up against resistance, particularly in rural areas. Many of the earlier, rural uprisings had been spontaneous, as there were no strong political organisations able to organise a more effective resistance yet. AAN co-director Thomas Ruttig summarises the events.



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