Another attempt to make sense of the Wolesi Jirga vote of saturday 16 January which confirmed seven of candidates of President Karzai’s second list and rejected another ten.
What at the first glance looks like another defeat for Hamed Karzai, actually brings the Afghan President further ahead. Bit for bit, in his characteristic tactics, he pushes those ministerial candidates through the tenacious and – due to the lack of political factions – unpredictable parliament that are really important for him. These are mainly conservatives backed by one or the other warlord. Also some doubtful candidates are amongst them, and their presence shows that Karzai does not particularly heed Western urges to seriously fight corruption.
It seems that slowly also the conservative elements get an upper hand in the cabinet – although there are exceptions like last time the return of Makhdum Rahin as culture & information minister. The new ministers for justice and social affairs belong into this conservative trend, the latter is the only one of three women that did not fall through.
Extremely interesting in this respect is also the appointment and confirmation of the new economy minister Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal who heads the strong Hezb-e Islami. It has some 35 MPs in the lower house, more than any other political party. Or let’s say its wing that has been registered as political party in Kabul after long months in which it was brought to utter some words that it distances itself from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar (see also our Sunday guest blog here) leads another Hezb wing that, side by side with the Taleban, continues an armed struggle against the Karzai government and its international allies. Many Afghans do not believe that this split in Hezb is genuine and assume that it constitutes a two-pronged strategy: pressure the government from outside and infiltrate it from the inside. Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (known as HIG) is one of those insurgent groups the President wants to reconcile with.
And last but not least see the questions raised for the candidate for women’s affairs by MPs before the vote (reported by the Afghan Women’s Rights List, see its website here). Although there also were more businesslike questions, they make it strikingly obvious how conservative the tone is in the Wolesi Jirga, including amongst some of the women deputies themselves:
‘Hijab [the headscarve] is something necessary for women in Islam. What is your view and what strategy will MoWA have on it?’ ‘What is your level of knowledge about Islamic teaching?’ ‘Women’s rights and gender issues are going in two ways in Afghanistan: Western style and Islamic style. Our laws in Afghanistan are pro-women. How will you make sure that there is balance between the two [and] not too much freedom for women but that they still have rights under law.’ ‘Do you agree that gender in the west is based on unlimited choice for women?’ ‘Do you have a red line for women that they cannot cross?’ And my personal favourite: ‘We read in your bio that you worked a lot for shelters and as we know shelters are not a good place for girls. They are very bad for girls in Afghan society. Her family will not accept her again to come back. Can you respond to this.’
Apart from this, the mixed result of the Wolesi Jirga vote of 16 January reflects a basic weakness of Afghanistan’s post-Taleban state institutions: their lack of structure. The parliament neither has a sufficient budget nor work space for the MPs (what is available is often provided and paid for by political interest groups and not evenly distributed) nor clear rules of procedure; see the often chaotic voting (although this has improved as of late). First of all, however, the ban on political factions prevents that clear voting patterns emerge that would bring some clarity on where the parliament stands. For Karzai, that seems to be fine: This way, parliament is easier to manipulate and can be prevented from becoming a counterweight to the executive dominated by him.
As a result, the parliamentarians oscillate between democratic self-assertion and the temptations of bakhshishs offered – either gifts in cash or the promise of the ministers-to-be to give posts to relatives and allies. But from time to time, the frustration of the MPs over years of marginalisation and disrespect by the executive gets the upper hand and links up with the rage of Dr Abdullah’s allies for having been outmanoeuvred during the 2009 presidential poll and the struggle of those few liberals not yet bought up to finally apply competence as a criteria to ministerial (and other) appointments.
This even might constitute a glimmer of hope that pro-democratic forces can gain strength again – simply because they more convincingly reflect the deep disappointment of the Afghans ‘in the streets’ about their government.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020