Quite some people here in Kabul – maybe internationals more than Afghans – had been looking forward to the day that just passed with mixes feelings. It was 9/9 – and eight years ago Ahmad Shah Massud, the leader of the Northern Alliance mujahedin was killed …
… during a fake interview in Khwaja Bahauddin in the Northern Afghan enclave that remained under Northern Alliance control, by a bomb hidden in a camera brought in by two fake journalists who were affiliated to an al-Qaida-linked Tunisian group. (I was with United Nations Special Mission in Afghanistan [UNSMA] then and we were meeting with the participants of the so-called Geneva initiative, delegations from Germany, Italy, Iran and the US when someone came in and whispered something into the ear of the head of the Iranian delegation. He then informed us that there was an attempt on the life of Massud but that he was only injured and being treated – nothing to be really worried about. In fact, he died on the same day.)
Since then, 9/9 – soon overshadowed by 9/11 – became Massud Day, at least in Afghanistan. Not an official holiday but nevertheless a holiday on which all the government offices were closed and Massud’s death was commemorated in meetings and gatherings, organised by the Massud foundation. There is no way in not participating in commemorating Massud who had been declared a national hero – even for those Afghans who do not share idealised views of him. At Massud square, the Kabul round-about at the junction towards the airport with the large column in the middle, black flags were flying. Columns of vehicles from Kabul headed north to the Panjshir where a mausoleum was built around Massud’s grave and where the major ceremony was held.
During the days before 9/9, people close to the Karzai campaign expressed concerns that this day could be used for mobilising for protests in favour of Dr Abdullah Abdullah when the declaration of the preliminary end result of the election would be proclaimed on the regular press conference scheduled the day before. (The IEC in its dosed approach to transparency decided to announce the result after 91.6% of the polling stations were counted and tallied, bringing – as reported in an earlier blog – Karzai over the 50 per cent threshold for the first time.)
The expectation of violent protests was fed by the usual Kabul rumour mill: weapons had been handed out, Iranian money paid. Former Northern Alliance commanders meeting in the house of ANA chief of staff General Bismillah… Also, some politicians close to Dr Abdullah, mainly from the Afghanistan United National Council (AUNC), the creative team behind the NA-successor alliance, the National Front.
The first one who had talked about the possibility of an ‘orange revolution’ in Afghanistan was Dr Mohiuddin Mehdi, the chief ideologue of the AUNC. He was quoted on 7 February in the newspaper Eqtedar-e Melli, which was founded by former Afghan Pasdaran leader, later Minister of Commerce and MP Seyyed Mustafa Kazemi who was killed by a suicide bomber during the tour of a factory in Baghlan in November 2007, as saying that there might be street protests against Karzai when he (as he later did) stayed in power beyond the constitutional end of his term.
‘If the current government insists on staying in power after the first of Jawza [22 May 2009], then the constitution will be violated. […] The president should resign on the first of Jawza and the government’s term should not be extended. What do you think, what will happen if the government does not do so? The government will then be illegitimate […] First of all, the people will not agree with the extension of the government and we will witness reactions. The weapons the political parties have in their hand are the media, rallies and demonstrations. It is also possible that these rallies could turn into an orange revolution’. Later, NF spokesman Seyyed Fazl Sancharaki echoed these words on several occasions.
But after the Supreme Court had extended Karzai’s tenure and the US had backed it (and likely had talked to the NF), never any protest – not to speak of an orange revolution – happened.
A few days ago, on 7 September, Waqif Hakimi, chief editor of the NF-newspaper Payam-e Mujahid and a prominent member of both Jamiat-e Islami (the core NF party) and AUNC from Badakhshan province said: “If the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) does not take action [against electoral fraud], the people of Badakhshan will resort to protests.”
But 9/9/2009 passed without any disturbances.
Maybe, this is the result of the international community’s attempts to persuade Dr Abdullah and his supporters not to resort to violence and pursue their complaints through legal channels only, something Abdullah had publicly promised a few times.
But maybe, the explanation is even easier: The NF has finally lost its capacity to mobilise. People are not following them any more after all the compromises and deals cut with the Karzai government over the past years while pretending to be the political opposition to it. In fact, prominent NF leaders like the two Vice Presidents Ahmad Zia Massud, one of late Ahmad Shah Massud’s brothers, and Abdulkarim Khalili (who ran with Karzai again) belonged to the government and the opposition at the same time – this seems to be unique worldwide.
Furthermore, Karzai had again managed to split the NF by luring ex-defence minister Muhammad Qasem Fahim to his side again, making him his first vice-presidential candidate. This even annoyed the many Panjshiri taxi drivers in Kabul who owe their licences and quasi-monopoly about this trade to him and other NF leaders so much that they confessed not to vote for him anymore. ‘He has just served himself’ one told me after saying that he came from the same village as the ‘Marshal’. The IEC chart for Panjshir indeed shows 27.4% for the Karzai/Fahim ticket as opposed to 69.9% for Abdullah, with 320 of 322 polling stations tallied.
Despite the fact that Dr Abdullah this year won more votes (if we can trust the figures, that is) than NF candidate Yunos Qanuni in 2005 (he had 16.9%), it seems that the NF can be declared broke as a political force to reckon with, at least in regard to its capability to mobilise – possibly still not in regard to its capability to strike deals.
Time for a new (democratic) opposition.
The last word, however, should be with the Kabulis. When I asked some of them about the fears that violence could break out one answered: ‘Why should they burn down their own houses? They already own the whole city.’ And another one: No one would pour into the streets, neither for Karzai nor Abdullah. The only ones who would come would do it ‘for money‘. I do not want to sound too optimistic: Some of the NF commanders linked to criminal networks might still be able to pull off some riots.
For the time being, however, Afghanistan has still to wait for its Orange Revolution.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020