Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Still Temporary and Exclusive: A new leadership for Jamiat

Thomas Ruttig 12 min

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’.  

More than one and a half year overdue, Jamiat-e Islami has determined its new leadership. One of the major former mujahedin parties in Afghanistan, it had to replace its historical leader, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, after he was killed by a Taleban-related suicide bomber on 20 September 2011. Ustad Rabbani had led the party for most of its existence, from the late 1960s to 2011. But even now, the job of finding a successor has been only half done: the position of party head remains temporary, as it has been for the past 21 months. It continues to be filled by Rabbani’s son, Salahuddin Rabbani (original media reports here, in English; and here, in Dari). As chairman of the High Peace Council (HPC) since 2011, Rabbani junior is also an appointee of President Hamed Karzai.(1)

Rabbani junior had originally been appointed to the top position in Jamiat on 4 October 2011, three weeks after his father’s violent death, for two months only. At the time, Jamiat announced that a regular party congress would convene within two months to chose a permanent leadership. This congress has still not been held. It is now scheduled for after the 2014 presidential election – this was announced at the Jamiat press conference on 1 July 2013, along with the new temporary leadership.(2)

The press conference came after a closed meeting of Jamiat’s nine-member leadership council (shura-ye rahbari)(3) after which one of the two new deputy leaders, Ahmad Zia Massud, announced the following appointments:

Salahuddin Rabbani – temporary head of party

Ahmad Zia Massud and Kalimullah Naqibi – his deputies

Atta Muhammad Nur – president of the party’s Executive Council (shura-ye ejra’iya)

Wasil Nur Mohmand – head of the secretariat

Abdul Sattar Murad – chairman of the Political Committee

Abdul Shokur Waqef Hakimi – party spokesman.

Only Rabbani and Waqef Hakimi had been in their positions previously. Massud said the new holders of these positions were ‘chosen’ after ‘consultations with party members’ and that there had been a consensus among the leadership. ‘We all agreed on this selection,’ he said.

There are at least four interesting trends in these decisions. Firstly, the re-appointment of Rabbani junior, who was born in 1971, to the temporary leadership of Jamiat mainly indicates that the competition between the heavyweight contenders for the party’s permanent leadership has not yet been decided. According to Kabul daily Hasht-e Sobh, there are three main contenders: First Vice President Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, Balkh’s powerful provincial governor Atta Muhammad Nur and the former Herat ‘amir’ and governor and now minister of energy and power, Ismail Khan. Ustad Atta and Ismail Khan have made their ambitions publicly known in the past (more detail here). However, the Massud brothers, as claimants to their slain brother Ahmad Shah Massud’s legacy (despite Fahim having been anointed as his military successor in 2001) also belong among the front runners. Salahuddin Rabbani, a relatively young and inexperienced politician, is the smallest common denominator between them.

Secondly, governor Atta has been further strengthened. He is now the president of Jamiat’s Executive Council, replacing Ahmad Zia Massud who was promoted to the officially higher position as deputy party head. Atta had already gained almost exclusive control over the Jamiat networks in northern and north-eastern Afghanistan and positioned himself as one of the leading contenders for being the ‘consensus candidate’ during the 5 April 2014 presidential election (more detail about this discussion in an earlier AAN dispatch here).(4)

As party spokesman Waqef Hakimi told AAN, Atta, in his new position, will now have the last word on who will be the heads of the party’s committees and supervise all committees’ activities. Giving him such a key position can be read as an attempt by Jamiat to tie Atta, who as a governor in in a governmental position, closer to the party which defines itself as in opposition to Karzai. At the same time, however, Atta cannot afford to alienate the President if he wants to maintain his regional stronghold.(5) Atta’s appointment can also be understood as an attempt to loosen the Panjshiris’ grip on the party.

The third trend reflected in the choice of the party’s two deputy heads,(6) Ahmad Zia Massud and Kalimullah Naqibi, is somewhat similar and about securing other parts of the party’s base. Massud, as one of the surviving brothers of the late Ahmad Shah Massud, represents Jamiat’s core base in the Panjshir. The Rabbani family, in contrast, is from Badakhshan, while the Balkhi Atta has risen rather late in the organisation, having been just a middle-ranking and not particularly known commander in his province during the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s.

Zia Massud is in a – not so open – competition for the position of leading protector of Ahmad Shah Massud’s legacy with its potential for consolidating leadership within Jamiat and beyond. The other contenders are the third brother, Ahmad Wali Massud, who is the head of the Massud Foundation, established to commemorate their slain brother’s legacy, and Marshal Fahim who succeeded Ahmad Shah Massud as the leader of Shura-ye Nazar, the most powerful sub-group of the broad ‘Jamiat family’. (Shura-ye Nazar is basically a network of Jamiat-related military commanders established during the anti-Soviet guerrilla war by Massud as his own power base, both to make the military struggle more effective and in, again, not so open opposition to Ustad Rabbani’s political leadership.) Ahmad Zia Massud took over the day-to-day leadership of the party in 2010 when Burhanuddin Rabbani moved to become chairman of the HPC.

Ahmad Zia Massud is a former vice president (this was one of the president’s moves to give governmental positions to opposition leaders to bring them, as he would see it into the broad national consensus, which has also contributed to the opposition’s eternal fragmentation). But has broken ranks with Karzai now and turned into one of his most vocal critics, including of the president’s ‘reconciliation’ approach with the Taleban – this despite his participation in a much-reported exploratory meeting with Taleban officials in France in December 2012 (our analysis here). He has also criticised what he says is the President’s attempts to stall electoral law reform or at least prevent it from weakening his grip on key election institutions (read a recent AAN dispatch on electoral reform here). Ahmad Zia Massud is now one of the three leaders of the National Front of Afghanistan (NFA), an opposition alliance which has reincarnated three former anti-Taleban ‘Northern Alliance’ leaders; the other two are General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ustad Muhammad Mohaqqeq.(7)

The appointment of the second deputy, Kalimullah Naqibi, looks like an attempt to revive Jamiat’s support among Pashtuns; the party is usually seen as overwhelmingly Tajik. Naqibi is the son of the famous Kandahari Jamiati mujahedin commander Mulla Naqibullah who died in October 2007.  Mullah Naqib was also once a deputy to Rabbani senior.(8)

It was President Karzai who anointed Naqibi as the leader of the Alikozai tribe after his father’s death, by travelling to Kandahar and putting a turban on the young man’s head, as a leadership symbol and in an apparent attempt to get the Alikozai into the presidential camp. In fact, however, the Taleban profited from this step, as the president’s move was interpreted as rank interference in their affairs by many Alikozais. Even so, Naqibi’s enhanced role in Jamiat now might be another setback to Karzai’s attempts to woo this particularly numerous and powerful tribe.(9)

With Wasel Nur Mohmand, another Pashtun has come into a Jamiat leadership position. Mohmand is from Takhar province and ran an NGO before becoming a deputy minister of Labour and Social Affairs. Although not very well known, he was close to Rabbani senior in the central office of the party.

Fouth, Waqif Hakimi’s reappointment as Jamiat spokesman flags some continuity. As the long-time editor of party’s main newspaper, Payyam-e Mujahed, he is one of Jamiat’s main ideologues and was a long-time companion of Rabbani senior. In the 2010 parliamentary election, Hakimi, who is from Badakhshan, belonged to those parliamentary candidates who had come out on top, but were later disqualified. Abdul Sattar Murad, the new chairman of Jamiat’s Political Committee, is also known to have been close to Ustad Rabbani.(10)

Finally, these appointments to Jamiat’s leadership team may also show a trend toward an increasing marginalisation of Marshal Fahim, at least according to some Afghan Jamiat watchers who spoke to AAN.  Although Fahim undoubtedly believes he continues to play from the centre of power, none of his close allies made it into the team. He may have weakened his own base in Jamiat, in the eyes of many sympathisers, by holding on too long to his official government position.

The competition for the leadership of Jamiat is further complicated by the extreme political fragmentation of the party. Almost every potential leader heads his own organisation or institution that belongs to the broader ‘Jamiat family’ but often it is unclear whether they or their organisations still actually belong to Jamiat.

For example, the National Movement (Nohzat-e Melli) founded by Ahmad Wali and Ahmad Zia Massud and the New Afghanistan Party (Hezb-e Afghanistan-e Newin) of former interior minister and Wolesi Jirga speaker Yunos Qanuni, both established in 2004. They represented an attempt to pressure the old Jamiat into internal political reform by threatening to lure part of its (younger) membership base away,(11) but also to push for the three leaders’ presidential candidacy. In late 2005 again, Qanuni initiated a rapprochement between Jamiat and the two splinter parties, and the sides signed a protocol that they ‘shall explore ways for a merger’ and the representatives of the undersigning parties gave an oath of allegiance (baya) to Rabbani as ‘leader of the opposition’.(12) The merger never fully happened and Qanuni’s and the Massuds’ parties continued to be active, although they did not renew their registration under the new political party law. Nevertheless, both parties joined the opposition alliance, the National Coalition of Afghanistan (NCA) when it was established in December 2011.(13)

Despite sometimes different political agendas or tactics, all these political entities – including Jamiat and its smaller offshoots which still nestle in and around it, as well as the multi-party alliances, the NFA and NCA – are actually not mutually excluding political forces. The NFA, for example, is dedicated to looking for a ‘national consensus candidate’ and this search for consensus might include (parts of) the president’s camp, while NCA leader, Abdullah, has proclaimed repeatedly that his group will field its own candidate come what may and will not be part of any such compromise. (Read more about the two alliances here and about the consensus debate here).

In Afghanistan’s inconsistent world of political ‘parties’, therefore, the conspicuous absence of key Jamiatis in the new party leadership must also be noted. Neither Qanuni, the former minister of foreign affairs and presidential candidate Dr Abdullah or Amrullah Saleh, the leader of another Jamiat offshoot, Green Trend, and former head of the NDS, were among those who chose the new team. Dr Abdullah and Saleh, particularly, have built up profiles as rather outspoken and uncompromising opposition leaders. Saleh, although the youngest in this group, wields significant influence as a former assistant to Ahmad Shah Massud. With his Green Trend (find background here), he enjoys strong support among the younger Dari-speaking generation.

The NCA and the Green Trend stand for two contradictory trends. On one hand, the absence of their leaders from the Jamiat leadership meeting indicates that a significant organisational gap between the two and the mainstream Jamiat has opened and both organisations move towards greater independence from it. On the other hand, their leaders also seem to have difficulties going together. While Dr Abdullah attended the launch of Saleh’s Green Trend in 2011 – during which the latter tied a symbolic green ribbon around his hand as a symbol of unity – Saleh has opted to stay outside the NCA.

Saleh is the only one of the absentees from the latest Jamiat leadership meeting so far who has publicly commented on the way it has been conducted. On Facebook, he shared the link of a BBC report on the meeting and added a seething comment in Dari: ‘Political parties that do not believe and do not practice internal democracy – ie voting – do not have a popular message for their society. [This is akin to] elitism, ie the imposition of non-transparent decisions on the people, decisions which were taken behind a curtain by a few figures using the pretext of compromise.’(14)

According to the Hasht-e Sobh report, there is still also some discord among those who participated in the selection of the party leadership. Atta on one side and Fahim and Ismail Khan on the other hold, ‘deeply divergent views about organisational matters and the political aims of Jamiat,’ writes the paper. What this means, it says is that ‘each of the major Jamiat members considers himself to be entitled’ to lead the party. The paper also quotes the head of Jamiat’s political committee, former governor Murad, as saying in an interview with another Kabul newspaper last year, that the leadership rivalry is the reason why the party has, so far, been unable to organise its regular congress.

Ahmad Zia Massud, at the 1 July press conference, affirmed that the leadership (s)election was timed so Jamiat could be well prepared for the presidential election in 2014. However, the main reason for postponing the fully-fledged party congress again which would have elected a permanent leadership may well be the fear that the losers – and there would have been several or even many – could defect to Karzai’s camp ahead of the elections. This is too much of a risk at a time when the opposition has become broader (now including important former Karzai allies like Dostum and Mohaqqeq) and better organised (even despite the split into the NFA and NCA) than ever before.

Although not an exclusive feature of the Jamiatis, their focus on individual leaders, and those individual leaders’ long-standing inability to unite behind one paramount leader (but rather always manoeuvring to be number one themselves), makes it easy, time and again, for their political adversaries to drive a wedge into their pretentions at unity. President Karzai has been particularly successful in doing this, and may be again in the run-up to the 5 April 2014 election. The continued inability of Jamiat and, by extension the whole opposition, to rally behind a single leader may indicate that it is still not yet well organised enough to beat Karzai and his, still undeclared favoured candidate in the race to be Afghanistan’s new president.

(1) Also as HPC chairman, Salahuddin Rabbani fills his father’s shoes. Rabbani senior had been the chairman of the HPC since its establishment in 2010 (see our series of blogs about this development, starting here).

(2) A Jamiat congress was first reported to be under preparation by Jamiat sources in January 2011, but the assassination of Ustad Rabbani later that year stopped it. Jamiat’s party charter stipulates that election of the leadership should take place every four years.

(3) The members of the Leadership Council being: Marshal Fahim (represented in this meeting by Yusof Etebar who had been head of the Office for Administrative Affairs in the first Karzai years and is better known as Mudir Etebar), Ismail Khan, Atta Mohammad Nur, Ustad Enayatullah Shadab (one of the party’s founders), Ahmad Zia Massud, Muhammad Nasim Faqiri, Abdul Shokur Waqef Hakimi, Abdul Satar Murad and Salahuddin Rabbani.

(4) Salahuddin Rabbani, the re-(s)elected temporary head of the party, stated during the 1 July press conference that Jamiat would have ‘a candidate in the election’. This does not necessarily mean that (s)he must be a Jamiat member, although that seems to be the preferred option.

(5) The relationship between Atta and the President has already experienced one crisis over Atta’s opposition links. When he openly supported Dr Abdullah in the 2009 presidential campaign, appearing on posters with him and even accusing Karzai of being ‘a thief of people’s votes’ after the election, Karzai contemplated removing him from his gubernatorial position. It took a goodwill trip by Atta to Kabul to reconcile Karzai.

(6) According to spokesman, Waqef Hakimi, these positions have been empty since the establishment of the party (or at least for most of the Karzai period; one of Ustad Rabbani’s deputies from the 1980s, Ustad Musa Tawana, was still alive and a member of the Emergency Loya Jirga Commission in 2002. He passed away soon after.)

(7) The leaders of, respectively, Jombesh and one faction of Hezb-e Wahdat, parties whose members are respectively largely Uzbek and Hazara.

(8) Kabul daily Hasht-e Sobh, in its already quoted report of the Jamiat leadership meeting, picked up the much-reported story that the late Naqibullah, then commander of the Rabbani-led Islamic State’s army corps in Kandahar, played a central role in the Taleban’s takeover of Kandahar in 1994 – on the instruction of the Kabul leadership (see for example Ahmad Rashid’s book Taliban).

(9) A similar but not very successful attempt was made during the 2009 presidential campaign for another Jamiat/Shura-ye Nazar leader, former foreign minister Dr Abdullah, who was born to a Pashtun father, but grew up in the Panjshir valley and was a long-term, close ally of commander Massud. Abdullah himself remained hesitant to call himself this publicly, though. (Until then, he had been known as one member of the powerful post-2001 ‘Panjshiri trio’, together with Qanuni and Fahim.)

(10) Murad was governor of Kapisa province until 2009, but joined Dr Abdullah’s presidential campaign team that year.

(11) This was a continuation of a trend after the end of the Taleban regime in late 2001. While Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, as head of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (as the country was officially called after the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the takeover of Kabul by the Taleban in 1996), still was the official political leader of Jamiat, too, the so-called Panjshiri Trio (Dr. Abdullah, Fahim and Qanuni) used Rabbani’s absence from the Bonn Conference at the end of 2001 to assert a stronger role for themselves, both in the post-Taleban Karzai administration and in Jamiat, tacitly moving to sideline Rabbani and to facilitate a power transfer to the younger generation in the party. These attempts faltered.

(12) ‘Tawafuqnama-ye Jam’iat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan wa Hezb-e Afghanistan-e Newin wa Nohzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan’, Payyam-e Mujahed, 1 Jaddi 1384 (21 December 2005). The Massud brothers, though, did not participate. Their Nohzat had also been a project to unite former mujahedin parties, beyond the Panjshiri group and Jamiat, and both the Massuds and Qanuni were among its founders. But because all three wanted to run as the single opposition candidate against Karzai, and did not manage to compromise, Qanuni left Nohzat and set up his New Afghanistan Party. Paradoxically, he ran against Karzai, still with the Nohzat label on his posters, which was challenged by the Massud brothers, one of whom (Ahmad Zia) even became Karzai’s running mate. After the 2005 parliamentary elections in which Qanuni won a seat and then aspired for the position of Wolesi Jirga speaker – for which he needed Ustad Rabbani’s support (who also won a seat) – so he recognised Rabbani as paramount Jamiat leader.

(13) Nohzat is meanwhile led by Ahmad Wali Massud only, while his brother Ahmad Zia became an individual member of the other opposition alliance, the NFA. There are other parties that emerged from Jamiat, like MP Abdul Hafiz Mansur’s Hezb-e Mardom-e Muslimin (Islamic People’s Party, IPP). Mansur has probably been Jamiat’s main ideologue for many years, and according to himself (speaking to this author in Kabul when the party was founded in 2007), he sees the IPP as a vehicle for generating new political ideas which can then be forced onto Jamiat, ie, he sees it having a political avant-garde role.

(14) My translation.


Amrullah Saleh Atta Muhammad Nur Burhanuddin Rabbani Elections Ismail Khan Jamiat-e Islami Marshal Fahim Political Parties Salahuddin Rabbani Shura-ye Nazar Yunus Qanuni