Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Waiting and watching

Martine van Bijlert 4 min

So I am not in Afghanistan (no, not evacuated – just no reason to come rushing back once the second round was called off). Not part of the local speculation game on who is going to be part of the new cabinet and who will get which positions and based on which deal – although I am being told that it is unusually quiet on the rumour front at the moment. Not in a position to make early pronouncements on the political future of Afghanistan or to report on developments in the deal-making scene. What reaches me from Afghanistan are echoes and fragments. And they are full of doubts and question marks.


Hardly anybody has anything to report. There is a sense of waiting, a lot of questions and a hope that – as a foreigner who should know what is going on and, more importantly, what the plan is – I can make sense of what is happening and somehow provide reassurances that things will be okay.

To illustrate this, another collection of conversation fragments.

“So we have the same president again. Do you think things will be better now? The only chance there is for things to get better, is if he gives a place in government to all groups – not just his own tribe and his own friends. And he needs to talk to the armed Taliban. (…) You should tell the Americans if they ask your advice: you can talk to the elders and the white beards as much as you want, but they have no power. As you long as you are not talking to the armed Taliban, the ones that are fighting, the war will not end. (…) You are right that the cruel and the violent ones should not be rewarded, but look at who is in government. Have Dostum and Rabbani and Sayyaf not killed hundreds of people? Why should they be in government?” – Pashtun tribal elder from southern Afghanistan (close to the Taliban)

“These are important and interesting days, with Karzai deciding on his new Cabinet. He will now show his true intentions. But he cannot only make changes in his Cabinet, he also has to make changes in his group of advisers and in the palace. And I am not sure he will be able to make the necessary changes. Look at who he met. The first person he received after his re-election, with all his supporters, was General Dostum. How does that signal change? – former provincial governor 

“What is the news, are things still going in the right direction? We traders are very worried. You must know what is going on and what the foreigners are planning, please tell me if I should be worried. (…) Can you help me with the protection of my factories? One of them is recently finished, it is ready to go but I am just waiting for the situation to stabilise. I don’t need a lot, about twenty armed men should be enough, in case the riots start. (…) I don’t want to lose everything. I returned and invested in the country because of you people. If you were not here we would be back in war. I invested because I believed in democracy. But now I am not sure where things are going. If things goes wrong they will come after us. (…) Just please tell me that the internationals are not leaving.” – trader in Kabul (before the outcome of the election was known)

“What is the news? Please tell me something new, because the news we have is really not very good. We feel stuck and under pressure. (…) It is good for a country to have laws, but you have to have the authority and the will to implement them as well. We don’t have that in Afghanistan. The foreigners really have to put pressure, otherwise nothing will happen. (…) And now they are also saying that the UN is pulling out its staff and moving them to other countries. It is very shameful for us, that this has to happen. And it makes us very worried. If the foreigners leave, we are truly in trouble. The government will not hold. The country will fall into chaos again.” –Pashtun tribal elder from northern Afghanistan

“So we are back with the same President. What is the plan of the foreigners now? Is this what you wanted? We have nothing to look forward to now. We have already had eight years of this and look what came of it. (…) You are saying the Americans are maybe more serious this time and that they will put more pressure on Karzai? So maybe there is some hope still… No there is not. Karzai cannot change his ways. He cannot change the people around him. (…) Look at the government and who is in it: all the big killers and war criminals. And look at us, the small commanders who handed in our weapons and who joined the side of democracy. Look at how we are being treated. Look at the elections and how they went. If this is how democracy works, we are better off going back into the mountains [to fight the government].” – former commander from the Hazarajat

“You have probably heard the news of the British soldiers who were killed and wounded by an Afghan policeman in Helmand. It was a horrible incident. We are all very much affected by it. But I blame the government for this as well. You cannot just appoint anyone in the police. You have to check the background and education of the recruits. This one had not seen one day of education. He should not have been recruited into the police. (…) Whether things are getting better or worse in the police? They are not getting better. You know better than me what kind of people are being appointed as senior police commanders. You cannot build a police force like this. (…) And the Americans are now saying things have to improve in six months. How can you do in six months what you were not able to do in eight years? – police officer in Helmand

“How are you, are you well? Here everything is fine, no problems at the moment. Everybody is just watching and waiting to see what will happen. That’s all.” – tribal elder from Uruzgan


Democratization Elections Government


Martine van Bijlert

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