Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan: New opposition group with an ambiguous link to Karzai

Ali Yawar Adili 20 min

 A new political group called ‘Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan’ has emerged in Afghanistan’s crowded political field. It presents itself as being in opposition to the National Unity Government and has called for “a return to the constitution.” The group has been seen from the outset as pro-Karzai. He, meanwhile, seems to have intensified his attempts (once again) to stage a comeback in the political arena. Yet, there are also growing political differences between the group and former president. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili (with input by Thomas Ruttig) looks at the background of some of the group’s leading members and its perceived link with the former president and asks where the two might diverge or converge.

Two of Mehwar leaders, former NDS chief Nabil and former transport minister Najafi, along with other participants standing for national anthem during Mehwar's inauguration ceremony in Kabul on 16 July 2017. Credit: MehwarTwo of Mehwar leaders, former NDS chief Nabil and former transport minister Najafi, along with other participants standing for national anthem during Mehwar's inauguration ceremony in Kabul on 16 July 2017. Credit: Mehwar

The launch

On 16 July 2017, another new political group called Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan (the People’s Axis of Afghanistan) declared its existence with the pointed motto of “returning to the constitution” and in so doing, “returning to political legitimacy.” The new group’s motto makes clear – as have its leading members ­– that it considers the National Unity Government (NUG) unconstitutional and illegitimate because it has not fulfilled some of the core stipulations of the September 2014 agreement which formed the basis of its existence. The NUG had a deadline of two years to convene a loya jirga tasked with deciding whether to amend the constitution and create a permanent post of executive prime minister. To convene the jirga, it also had to hold elections for district councils ­– the constitution stipulates that the heads of district councils attend – and parliamentary elections – now more than two years overdue. (Read the full text of the agreement here) (1) The NUG has failed to carry out these tasks within the deadline.

That failure has provided an opportunity for various political groups that have emerged over the past few years (AAN’s analysis here and here) to question the legitimacy of the NUG. (2) However, almost all of them have chosen not to burn all bridges with the government, as they mainly seek to pressure it in order to acquire, or regain, a share of government positions. Unlike these groups, Mehwar has presented itself in outright opposition to the NUG and has vowed not to become part of it, that is to say, it has said its leaders will not accept any positions that might be offered.

Criticism of the NUG as a jumping-off point

Rahmatullah Nabil, who acts as the unofficial leader of the group, turned into a vocal critic of the NUG after he resigned from his position as Director of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) on 10 December 2015 over differences with President Ghani vis-à-vis Pakistan (read AAN’s report on his resignation here. In his speech at Mehwar’s inauguration ceremony, he called the NUG an “illegitimate authority,” as it had “come into existence, not on the basis of the people’s votes, but based on an agreement between the two election teams and in conflict with articles of the constitution.” He added that the NUG “itself is the fundamental challenge for [solving] all the existing problems and crises” and ruled out any prospect of working with it, saying: “Mehwar-e Mardom, in no way, wants to be a partner in political power with the National Unity Government. From this perspective, we announce emphatically that our struggle is not for acquiring position and status in this illegitimate authority.”

Senior members of Mehwar-e Mardom have adopted the same tone. Ajmal Baluchzada, a former civil society activist (3) and head of Mehwar’s secretariat, told AAN on 28 September 2017 that the NUG had “created a crisis, is not able to manage it and evades tackling it.” He explained this crisis as being the “unconstitutional formation” of the NUG, its failures to implement the political agreement, the persistent disagreements between the president and the chief executive, between the president and his vice-president and ministers, and the illegitimacy of the parliament, suggesting that all these factors have rendered the NUG incapable of reform.

Membership and prominent leaders

On the day of its launch, Mehwar issued a press release, describing itself as a “broad political umbrella, the shared home of ethnic groups and conscientious and elite citizens of Afghanistan,” which “wants to carry out its unending struggle towards institutionalisation of political legitimacy and realisation of democracy as a functioning, active opposition in conjunction and aligned with the people of Afghanistan.”

In a conversation with AAN on 14 September 2017, Nabil claimed that “Mehwar comprises of people from different provinces [and political backgrounds], both leftists and rightists, and people from different generations.” He further asserted that the group came together after “an in-depth analysis of the past 40 years” of Afghan conflicts which had concluded that those conflicts had an external source, namely “a group [that] emerged in the political arena, brought a [policy] copy from the Kremlin and disregarded the traditional society in favour of the intellectual class and rejected the traditional society.” This was a reference to the Soviet-backed, left-leaning People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (later Homeland Party; AAN background here) that ruled the country following a coup d’état between 1978 and 1992. According to Nabil, however, the Afghan people have suffered both from what is often categorised as leftist extremism and Islamic fundamentalism as well as ethnic discrimination. He said, “People were imprisoned or disappeared for the ‘crime’ of growing a beard. People were killed in their hundreds both for the ‘crimes’ of praying and not praying. People sporting surma (kohl) got killed [referring to Pashtuns], (4) people with small eyes got killed [referring to Hazaras], people with big noses [referring to Pashtuns] got killed.” He said that Mehwar intended to initiate a “cross-current” dialogue.

The group’s constitution says that it is run by a leadership council of between “40 and 101 members.” Nabil told AAN on 14 September 2017 there were around 75 founding members who, as a stopgap measure, “constitute the leadership council… [u]ntil the convening of the first general assembly of Mehwar,” as the group’s constitution sets out. This means that it is still open to new entries. There are conflicting reports, however, about who exactly is on this body, including from within Mehwar itself. Two senior leaders told AAN that they were still developing a list of the members. In the absence of such a list, Mehwar officials continue to contradict each other when it comes to who are is leading the group.

This said, Nabil (AAN’s previous reporting on his background here and here) and another leading member, former chief electoral officer and transport and civil aviation minister Daud Ali Najafi, confirmed to AAN that most of the names published by Kabul daily Etilaat Roz and Fars news agency on 17 July 2017, the day after the inauguration, were correct. In addition to Nabil and Najafi themselves, Mehwar members include:

At least four other former ministers from the Karzai era – Rangin Dadfar Spanta (former foreign affairs minister, now head of Mehwar’s political committee), Abdul Rahim Wardak (Defence), Daud Shah Saba (Mines), Karim Brahwi (Borders and Tribal Affairs, also a former governor of Nimroz), and a former deputy minister, Mirza Muhammad Yarmand (Interior);

At least two other former governors, Amer Muhammad Akhundzada (also Nimruz) and Tamim Nuristani (Nuristan)

MPs, including Shakiba Hashemi (Kandahar), Saleh Muhammad Saljuki (Herat) and Jafar Mahdawi (Kabul)

Civil society activists and prominent individuals, including Daud Naji, former journalist and currently senior member of the Enlightening Movement (see AAN’s reporting about the movement here and here), Azarakhsh Hafezi, head of international relations of Afghanistan‘s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and board member of the country’s International Chamber of Commerce, Metra Hemmat, another civil society activist, and Obaidullah Alekozai, head of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan’s eastern zone.

Najafi also provided the following additional names that he said were on the list of founding members: Zalmai Rasul, another foreign minister under Karzai and a 2014 presidential candidate; Spanta’s confidant, Daud Muradian, who runs the Kabul-based policy think tank Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies; and Shiwayi Sharaq, a member of the Uprising for Change Movement (see AAN’s previous report on the movement here). Moreover, unlike Nabil, Najafi also confirmed the membership of Kandahar police chief and strongman General Abdul Razeq and former deputy national security adviser Ibrahim Spinzada (better known as Engineer Ibrahim) who was one of the most influential people in the Karzai administration. Najafi added, though, that Razeq, as a serving general, did not participate in meetings.

Mehwar does not define itself as a political party, although some media do – see for example here and here). Nabil’s denial of Razeq’s association with Mehwar look to be aimed at protecting Razeq. Afghan law bans serving members of the security forces from joining political parties, and last month President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani issued a decree again banning members of the armed forces from joining political parties and also taking part in demonstrations). The Mehwar leaders might also have denied Razeq’s association with their organisation because he has well-known and long-standing allegations of torture and killings against him (by the United Nations Committee against Torture, as well as other human rights organisations. His membership would certainly contradict membership criteria, which, according to Nabil, are in place: “Those who join us should not,” he told AAN “be human rights violators recognised by Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the international community, be corrupt, tolerate discrimination, be wrapped in the politics of deal-making.”

Apart from Razeq, none of the politicians mentioned as Mehwar founders currently hold any government position. With this, as Hasht-e Sobh columnist Ferdaws put it, the group has drawn a boundary between itself, as opposition, and the government – in contrast to most of the other existing political groups that insist that they are not in opposition, but just critical of some aspects of the government’s policies. This includes the Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan, established under the leadership of Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf in late 2015. Interestingly, two Mehwar leaders – Wardak and Rasul – were previously listed as members of this council.

Ex-president Karzai’s role

Despite the fact that former president Karzai was not present at the inauguration ceremony and is not an official member of the group either, from the very outset, Mehwar was seen in the Afghan media and by the public as a pro-Karzai political organisation. In the view of columnist Ferdaws, for example, “the presence of Najafi and a number of others in the political organisation of Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan shows that Hamed Karzai holds influence over this organisation.” The group, he said, is perceived as the “continuation of Karzai’s efforts to dominate the political environment of the country”.

Mehwar’s clear-cut opposition to the NUG indeed corresponds with Karzai’s repeated and fierce criticism of the current government. In advance of the NUG’s second anniversary on 29 September 2016 – which Karzai considers its expiry date – he repeated his call for a loya jirga to “restore legitimacy and confidence in the NUG,” warning that failure to do so would “cause problems for our land and increase discontent.” (See AAN’s previous reporting here) (5) This year, he has stepped up his networking activities and made a new push for his loya jirga plan. He used the Eid-ul-Adha holiday in early September 2017 to pay visits to the homes of influential politicians such as Muhammad Adib Fahim, the 32 year old son of the late Marshal Fahim and First Deputy Director of NDS, chairman of the Ahmad Shah Massud Foundation and leading member of the Jamiat-e Islami party Ahmad Wali Massud (AAN analysis here) and Second Deputy Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq. He is also a senior members of the semi-opposition group, the Coalition for Salvation of Afghanistan. (Also known as the ‘Ankara coalition,’ this quasi-opposition group was formed by internal NUG dissenters and northern strongmen and also includes First Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum, foreign minister and acting chairman of Jamiat Salahuddin Rabbani, and Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur (see AAN’s previous report here). Former minister of water and energy and Herat strongman Ismail Khan also told the local Hushdar news agency, on 8 October 2017, that Karzai had called him a few days before to say that he would send documents outlining his programme for the way out of the current situation of the country and how to take action to solve the problems. According to a source close to Mehwar, Karzai had also approached a senior member during the Eid holidays and asked why the organisation was not supporting his jirga idea.

On 13 September 2017, Yusuf Saha, a press officer for Karzai, tried to play down these contacts when he told AAN that the visits were not in pursuit of any political agenda. However, Ahmad Wali Massud, has confirmed that Karzai did come to see him to discuss the loya jirga. Saha said that Karzai:

…now proposes that if [the parliamentary] elections [scheduled for July 2018] are not held and the security situation continues to deteriorate even after the announcement of the new US strategy as it has deteriorated after the signing of the bilateral security agreement, the loya jirga is an alternative. The loya jirga will be for finding solutions to the crises and problems facing Afghanistan.

Karzai has also stuck to his sharp, anti-American rhetoric. While many Afghan politicians and large segments of the general public welcomed the new United States military strategy presented on 22 August 2017, Karzai announced his opposition to it in a series of tweets in English, as well as a statement in Pashto. (6) His latest denunciation, on 7 October 2017, during an interview with the BBC, even went as far as to accuse the US of “bringing up” and supporting Daesh. He also called for a ‘traditional loya jirga”’ to review the new US strategy and assure Afghanistan’s neighbours that its soil wold not be used in favour of American and others’ interest. Traditional loya jirgas, also called ‘consultative loya jirgas’, were a Karzai invention largely aimed at shoring up domestic support for actions that he wanted to take or wanted to avoid responsibility for taking, or sometimes to stir up debate (see AAN analysis here, here and here and here). As president, he was very much in charge of who attended and could steer the outcome; that would no longer be the case.

On the domestic level, Karzai has also tried to repair his image as a national figure by distancing himself from the Taleban. In particular, on 23 April 2017, two days after a deadly attack by Taleban infiltrators on the army corps headquarters in Balkh province, Karzai said that he would no longer call the Taleban his brothers: “With consideration of [this] act in which the [Taleban] killed our people, I can no longer call them brothers. I rather address them as a group which poses harm to Afghanistan; anyone who kills an Afghan for the sake of foreigners’ objectives is a terrorist whether it is Taliban, Daesh or anyone else.” A year earlier, he had caused an unprecedented outpouring of anger against him when he said in an interview with the BBC on 24 September 2016 that the Taleban were an “Afghan force that [can] come and capture a territory” and the Afghan National Security Forces, also as an Afghan force, did not have the right to take it back from the Taleban. As a response, during a ceremony held on 30 September 2016 to commemorate the anniversary of the death former president Borhanuddin Rabbani, some participants chanted “death to Karzai” while he was in attendance. See AAN’s reporting here.

Many Afghan and foreign observers have interpreted Karzai’s statements and active networking as signs that he continues to harbour ambitions of taking up a leading political position again, despite denials, and the fact that the constitution rules out a third stint as president. For instance, on 21 September 2017, Foreign Policy wrote: “It has been three years since the former Afghan president, once a close ally of the United States who depended on American backing, left his old role. He is adamant that he has no interest in returning to the presidency. But Karzai is far from retired.”

Karzai, however, did try and fail to exploit the NUG’s two-year anniversary to his advantage after many of the previously existing political groups with whom he had maintained some sort of connection did not pick up his call. In particular, the Council for the Protection and Stability of Afghanistan led by Sayyaf, one of Karzai’s key advisors when he was president, did not embrace his agenda.

Political divergence between Karzai and Mehwar

Karzai’s ambitions, his unstinting condemnation of the US and his rejection of elections as a way out of what is characterises as “the current crises of legitimacy with the parliament and the NUG alike” all seem to have made Mehwar reluctant to be seen to be associated with him. Karzai’s volatile behaviour in dealing with the international community, wrote one commentator in 8 Sobh newspaper, could become “the group’s Achilles heal,” given that Mahwar wants to be seen as a new political start-up.

Indeed, in contrast to Karzai, Mehwar-e Mardom has adopted a more cautious stance towards the new US strategy for Afghanistan. On 23 August 2017, in a Facebook post, it welcomed “President Trump’s new stance on how to tackle [the] terrorist heartlands” and “the US President’s decision to not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, including through the state-building exercise” and urged the US government to “take practical steps and mount the necessary pressure on Pakistan to destroy terrorist nests and fight terrorism.” At the same time, and corresponding with Karzai’s position, it expressed concern about “insisting on the use of military force” inside Afghanistan and Trump’s “ambiguity about the privatisation of Afghanistan’s war.”

Nabil has denied to AAN that Karzai is behind Mehwar. He insisted that the former president did not have “any role at all” in the organisation. He alleged that the government was “highlighting [a Karzai] role” to undermine the new group and said, “Most of our members are critical of Karzai Saheb.” Najafi reinforced Nabil’s point, “Since most of us worked with him [in the past], it is said that we are also currently with him.” A senior Mehwar member, who did want to be quoted by name, hinted that Karzai’s personal ambitions were a problem for the organisation, “I personally think that he [Karzai] wants something like: people saying in the jirga, ‘Mr President, please step in. The country is in crisis.’” Nabil, however, spoke dismissively of the possible jirga, indirectly putting down any possible hope Karzai might harbour of leverage it for political gain. “I believe that the jirga is just a tool,” he told AAN. “What will the outcome be? Is it just to [re-]distribute the [government] positions?”

On Karzai’s part, his press officer Saha was categorical about the former president’s position: he did not “have any direct relation with Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan and what is said in the media – that the president is leading the group – is untrue.”

On a side note, Mehwar has also sought to (at least publicly) disassociate itself from former foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who is a contentious figure because of his continued affiliation with Karzai and the views he shares with his former boss. One senior Mehwar member told AAN that Spanta was no longer a key member of the group due to his continued attachment to Karzai and that he had recently been replaced by Hamed Saburi as head of the organisation’s political committee. Yet, Spanta did speak during a recent Mehwar seminar, on 21 September 2017 in Kabul, held under the title, “The National Unity Government after three years”. In that speech, he said that friendly relations with neighbouring and regional countries were more important than strategic cooperation with America. A photo, taken of him speaking, featured on Mehwar’s Facebook page where he was still identified as a member of its leadership council.

The election issue

Offering evidence that Mehwar has no link to Karzai, both Nabil and Najafi told AAN they were opposed to the loya jirga plan advanced by Karzai. Nabil pointed out that he had rejected this as a Mehwar position at its inauguration ceremony. In its 16 July statement, the group said it “believes that the political power should be entrusted, through free, fair and transparent elections, to those political forces and groups that are victorious in democratic elections.” Nabil and Najafi both told AAN that Mehwar was engaged in intensive discussions regarding the viability of holding elections next year. Nabil said “We seek to discuss with all currents on whether elections are held or not. If yes, will they be transparent or plagued by corruption? Do you have any plan?”

Najafi said they had already had “three or four meetings with the Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan [led by Sayyaf and including former minister of interior Omar Daudzai and several Jamiat leaders including Ismail Khan, Yunos Qanuni and Besmellah Muhammadi], the New National Front [led by former finance minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi (7)] and the High Council of Jihadi and National Parties [that includes, inter alia, former president Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, former vice-president and current head of the High Peace Council Abdul Karim Khalili and head of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan Sayyed Hamed Gailani]” and were working “on a plan about transparency and changes to the IEC [Independent Election Commission].”

These meetings have now culminated in the formation of a new group: Shura-ye Tafahum-e Jiryanha-ye Siyasi Afghanistan (Understanding Council of Political Currents of Afghanistan) which includes Mehwar-e Mardom, the Coalition for Salvation of Afghanistan (the Ankara group), Sayyaf’s Council for Protection and Stability, Ahadi’s New National Front; former interior minister Nur ul-Haq Ulomi’s Mutahed Milli (National United) Party, the Loy Kandahar Unity and Coordination Movement, the Eastern Provinces Coordination Council, Jombesh-e Guzar (the Transition Movement, a Tajik nationalist grouping which announced its existence on 11 May 2017 (see AAN’s report here) the Uprising for Change; and the Commission for Coordination of Political and Civil Organisations. The group issued a joint statement on 7 October 2017, calling for the replacement of the members of both electoral commissions (the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC)) with “other eligible members in agreement with political parties, civil society organisations and prominent political figures.”

This move indicates that Mehwar has already been working proactively with other political groups to carve out room for it to pressurise the NUG over elections. However, Mehwar’s position about elections is far from unambiguous. For example, Najafi said in his speech at the Mehwar inauguration that the group reserves the right “to resort to appropriate and acceptable solutions in consultation with the people and political groups if the government refuses to hold elections on its specified date by resorting to its own specific methods.” In conversation with AAN, Najafi also explained that, “if the government fails to deliver elections [in time], then we will work on an alternative plan which could include an interim arrangement, a loya jirga and international conference.”

Such a development, ie Mehwar coming round to supporting the convening of a loya jirga, could lead to a convergence between it and Karzai. A diplomatic source in Kabul told AAN that both Spanta and Nabil have explained in meetings that they would push for a loya jirga once – as they are certain – the National Unity Government and IEC fails to hold elections. Furthermore, a senior Mehwar member claimed that he had told Karzai he “should talk to those old political parties and figures and convince them. First you should bring them on side, and if they want [a loya jirga], we will also follow the rest.” He explained that Mehwar was “pursuing long-term politics with a long term vision.” This could indicate that Mehwar and Karzai may only march separately for the moment and might come together under certain circumstances in the future.

Relations with the protest movements

Mehwar has also been attempting to attract the new grassroots protest movements that have emerged during the NUG’s tenure by speaking in their favour. In the group’s inauguration ceremony, Spanta criticised the NUG for its way of dealing with them. He tried to appeal to the Enlightenment Movement which was formed in May 2016 out of protests against the government’s routing of an important power line from Turkmenistan, known as TUTAP. One of its large protest marches, on 23 July 2016 in Deh Mazang in Kabul, was attacked by suicide bombers, leading to the death of more than 80 people (see AAN’s previous reporting on the perpetrators here). Spanta blamed the government for what he said was its “intentional” failure to ensure the security of the protest, saying:

The monopolistic and totalitarian machinery of the government for the first time in the last 15 years not only intentionally refused to ensure the security of the citizenry movements in Afghanistan, but also with organised negligence enabled the enemies to massacre close to hundred youths of the Enlightenment Movement.

Spanta also referred to the government response to the demonstrations in the wake of the 31 May 2017 Kabul terror attack (see AAN’s previous reports here, here and here as “bloody suppression and unabated use of government force” that turned “legitimate demonstrations by youths of the Uprising for Change Movement into bloodshed”. 

But aside from a few representatives among its founder-members, Mehwar so far has not proven able to incorporate either of these movements in their entirety. Leading representatives of these movements are keeping their distance, or expressing themselves with some scepticism about the new group.

Aref Rahmani, an MP from Ghazni and senior member of the Enlightening Movement, for example, told AAN on 24 September 2017 that there was a substantive difference between his movement and Mehwar. He said it was unlikely for the movement, which he said was of a purely civil nature and much broader than Mehwar, to come under a political umbrella like Mehwar, which is comprised of individual politicians and political currents. Another senior member of the Enlightening Movement who did not want to be named told AAN that its High Council was very upset with Daud Naji and Jafar Mahdawi for joining Mehwar because they had set a precedent for other members of the movement to join one or another political group ahead of the next presidential election. If that indeed happened, it could either contribute to the fragmentation of the movement or to the subsuming of at least of some of its elements under a political party agenda. At some point, the senior member added, Naji and Mahdawi might have to decide whether they stayed with the Enlightening Movement or worked with Mehwar.

Moreover, President Ghani has also been taking steps to accommodate the Enlightening Movement which makes it trickier for members to join the oppositionist Mehwar. Ghani issued a decree on 17 September 2017 appointing a commission – to include representatives of the Enlightening Movement – to “thoroughly review the demands emanating from the 500 KV power line project” and to organise an “official, government commemoration” to be held at the presidential palace for the protestors killed on 23 July 2016 by suicide bombers during their demonstration in Deh Mazang. The movement realises that if its members join political groups, particularly those who declare themselves in opposition to the NUG, this might harm the new negotiations with the government about their core agenda.

Meanwhile, and somewhat in contrast to the above, Omar Ahmad Parwani, a member of the Uprising for Change movement – that also has at least one leading activist among the Mehwar founders – told AAN on 24 September 2017 that his movement would be willing to cooperate with those criticising “the wrong policies of the government,” but that this cooperation would be issue-based and the movement would not compromise its independence.

Conclusion: a deniable nexus with Karzai?

Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan, the country’s newest political group, is made up of close Karzai allies and former aides. It has clearly defined itself as being an opposition to the government and has ruled out joining it. It has distinguished itself from most of the other new political alliances that have sprung up over the past few months and years, including Sayyaf’s Council and the ‘Ankara coalition’, which have keep their options of joining or continuing to work with the government open. (The only exception is Ahadi’s front.) However, despite the fact that Mehwar’s leading members have sworn not to accept any government position, it cannot be excluded that at least some of the leading politicians who participated in Mehwar’s launch, as well as other members (especially those who seem not to be clear if they are fully associated with Mehwar or not) might be tempted to break ranks if government positions were proffered.

Describing itself as a ‘political umbrella’, Mehwar’s apparent intention to tap into broader discontent with the NUG among the general public and grassroots movements has yet to pay off. The group’s perceived association – albeit denied – with former president Karzai and the suspicion that it could act as his vehicle back to power, has not helped it make headway.

Mehwar’s stated position of preferring elections over a loya jirga, at least for the time being, seems to have created a political divergence between it and Karzai. However, if parliamentary and district elections are not held next year – both key international stakeholders (8) and Mehwar leaders have said they doubt they will be – Mehwar might fall back on the alternatives, including demand a loya jirga. They might also join forces in this with Karzai. For the time being, though, Karzai represents a more radical (and more anti-US) strand among NUG opponents than Mehwar currently wants to be associated with. However, some of the statements made by Mehwar leaders quoted above show that the evolution of a Karzai-Mewar nexus cannot be ruled out, at all.

Karzai might also be tempted to soften his tone, in the interests of persuading Mehwar to come on board with the hope of winning a broader political mobilisation. Currently it looks as if Karzai, on his own, will not be able to muster enough political support to achieve what appears to be his objective – a political comeback through a loya jirga. Many constitutional hurdles would anyway still stand in his way to return to the presidency through elections.

Even if elections are held on schedule, Mehwar could still provide an organisational platform from which it and Karzai could work together to get their preferred candidates elected to parliament. They might also find their interests coalescing around a single candidate in the next presidential elections, with Mehwar finding it needed Karzai’s support, if it wanted to promote its ‘man’ in the poll.


Editing by Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark




(1) The NUG, in its September 2014 founding agreement, imposed a two-year deadline on itself to convene a loya jirga in order to amend the constitution and consider the creation of the post of a permanent executive prime minister. The convening of a loya Jirga, as laid out in article 110 of the Afghan constitution (therefore it is called a “constitutional loya jirga”), however, is linked to both an elected parliament and district councils whose members would constitute the majority of its members. Article 110 of the constitution stipulates:

(…) The Loya Jirga consists of: 1. Members of the National Assembly; 2. Presidents of the provincial as well as district assemblies [councils]. Ministers, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court as well as the attorney general shall participate in the Loya Jirga sessions without voting rights.

The NUG agreement further stipulates:

On the basis of Article 140 of the Constitution, the national unity government is committed to holding district council elections as early as possible on the basis of a law in order to create a quorum for the Loya Jirga in accordance with Section 2 of Article 110 of the Constitution.

Parliamentary elections, however, have not been held; they were due in 2015; district councils have never been elected so far. For all loya jirgas held between the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003/04 (the one that approved the new constitution) and now, district council seats have been filled by surrogates from the provincial councils.

(2) Some argue that the NUG’s term ended with the expiry of the 2014 agreement in 2016 and that it should have been replaced by a new arrangement, either through a loya jirga (called for mainly by Karzai and his supporters) or snap elections (put forward mainly by former finance minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi’s New National Front). (See AAN’s previous analysis here).

(3) Ajmal Baluchzada was a civil society activist, mainly in the field of human rights. He was one of the founders of the Armanshahr/Open Asia Foundation. In 2014, he joined Zalmai Rasul’s presidential campaign, was later appointed as an adviser to NDS chief Nabil and now works with him in his new political capacity.

(4) Kohl, black eyeliner, is often used by male Pashtuns, particularly in the Kandahar region.

(5) The type of loya jirga Karzai proposes would, however, be different from the one envisaged in the NUG agreement. This agreement calls for a constitutional loya jirga in the composition explained in endnote 1. Karzai, meanwhile, advocates for a ‘traditional’ loya jirga where the president appoints all members. (More on different loya jirga concepts and Karzai’s use of them, in this AAN analysis.)


(6) The tweets read:

I very strongly oppose the new U.S. strategy towards Afghanistan as it is against peace and the national interest of Afghanistan.

The strategy excludes bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan and is focused on more war and rivalry in the region

U.S. must seek peace and stability in Afghanistan rather than extending conflict and bloodshed in Afghanistan and the region.

On 13 April 2013, after the US forces dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on an Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP) position in Achin district of Nangarhar, (See AAN’s previous reporting hereKarzai, contrary to both camps in the NUG, who welcomed the bombardment, called it “brutal act” against Afghan people, the environment and the country’s sovereignty.

(8) For example, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, in his briefing to the United Nations Security Council on 25 September 2017, stated, “Timely elections will enhance the credibility of the political system and institutions. Many stakeholders, however, remain skeptical that credible elections will be held on time.”





Karzai national unity government Political Parties


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