Political Landscape

New Trouble in the Jombesh: Dostum reasserts leadership


The official leader of Jombesh party has been relieved of his post, along with eight other members of the party’s political committee. The sacked chairman, Sayed Nurullah Sadat, has cried foul, saying he could only be removed by a party congress and accusing the party’s founder, General Dostum, of being behind his dismissal. This looks like Dostum reasserting power over ‘his’ party, says AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig and shows Dostum is still the paramount strongman among Afghan Uzbeks, also looking ahead to the crucial part Dostum is likely to play in the country’s third electoral cycle in 2014/15 (with information by Enayat Najafizada, Ehsan Qane and Kate Clark).

Faced with losing his position at the top of possibly Afghanistan’s best-organised political parties, Sayed Nurullah Sadat, as head of its Central Council(1) the official leader of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Jombesh-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan) went into a PR offensive on 15 February. What he called his illegal ousting by Jombesh founder and unofficial (but real) party leader Abdul Rashid Dostum was against the party’s constitution, he said in a hastily convened press conference in Mazar-e Sharif (a Dari report here). Only a party congress had the authority to relieve him of his post, he insisted, threatening to inform the Ministry of Justice (which is responsible to register – and unregister – political parties) and the international community and, in what sounds like a bold step, to unveil war crimes committed by Dostum unless the latter stops interfering in the party.

What was called a ‘regular meeting’ of Jombesh’s party secretariat and Political Committee on the party’s website,(2) held in Dostum’s stronghold Sheberghan, the capital of Jawzjan province, on 13 February ended the tenure of Nurullah – as he is widely known. Nurullah did not participate in the meeting; other Jombesh leaders said according to the party’s Aina TV station that they had unsuccessfully tried to invite him by phone (source: BBC Monitoring, 17 February 2013). He is temporarily succeeded by a former deputy leader of the party, Azizullah Kargar, who will hold this position till the next party congress that is two years overdue. The congress was originally due in June 2010, then scheduled for October 2011 and again postponed a number of times (for more background see our 2012 paper about Jombesh).

Now, it was further announced that a committee had been established to ‘accelerate the preparations’ for Jombesh’s 4th party congress. It is led by another key Jombesh leader, former MP and deputy chairman of the party Faizullah Zaki, a 1980s communist youth leader turned shrewd politician and sharp political analyst. He told AAN that Jombesh plans to hold the congress before the presidential and provincial council elections, with the ‘number 1 agenda item: analyse lessons learned from previous elections and prepare the party for various scenarios of transition and the upcoming elections’.

Zaki’s appointment as head of the committee is a strong indication that he is the favourite for assuming regular leadership over Jombesh after the congress. Dostum, officially, is ‘only’ Jombesh’s honorary chairman since the last party congress in 2008 – where also Nurullah was elected as his successor.

Together with eight other people,(3) Nurullah also lost membership in the party’s Central Council (Shura-ye Markazi). Their places were taken over by a group of newcomers, among them the chairman of the Faryab provincial councils Rahmatullah Turkestani, the deputy head of Jawzjan’s provincial council Abdul Qader Malia, a member of the provincial council of Badghis, Haji Massum, as well as Jombesh members from Ghor, Herat and even Khost, in southeastern Afghanistan, not a typical Jombesh stronghold.(4) A number of Uzbek Jombesh MPs, however, were unsuccessful in their bids for seats on the body, according to Dr Fayeq who was one of them.(5) This points to a more systematic approach to mobilise members and voters on the provincial level while the sitting MPs have been considered as behaving too ‘independently’.

Nurullah’s opponents claimed that everything went according to the rules. Sadat’s mandate at the party’s top, they insist, has been over for more than a year already. Talking to AAN, Zaki said that, according to the party’s constitution, no chairman can serve more than two two-year terms, Nurullah had been elected in June 2008 and had ‘ignored all demands from party circles for 14 months to come to the political committee or secretariat meetings’. He also rejected Nurullah’s allegations against Dostum. Nurullah had been in the party’s leadership together with Dostum for 30 years, he said. If Dostum were a criminal and warlord, he also would be one then. Dr. Fayeq, a member of Jombesh and MP reached by AAN over the phone, added that 11 positions in the Political Committee were vacant, after two members had been killed(6), others left the party and the tenure of others again had ended.

Given Afghans’ common habits of taking laws and regulations not too seriously, both sides are right in their arguments: Nurullah because Jombesh indeed has not held a party congress to end his tenure, Zaki because Nurullah’s tenure has ended. Both, however, have had earlier opportunities to rectify these issue. But Afghan party politicians of all sides all too often only refer to their parties’ regulations when there is trouble.

When talking to AAN, Fayeq also pointed to reasons underlying Nurullah’s removal. He said that he had not been ‘interested in involving the youth and new faces in the activities’ of the party and accused him of dragging his feet over organising the next Jombesh congress which, as an long-term observer of the party pointed out, would almost surely had cost him his position. According to him, ‘Nurullah lost a lot of political capital when he did not win a seat in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2010 parliamentary elections – after having forced Zaki to refrain from running’; now the majority of the Jombesh leadership simply ‘have lost patience’ with him. Nurullah’s anti-Zaki manoeuvre ‘led to a deterioration of the relationship’ between the two who share a political past in the PDPA and were seen as (reluctant) Jombesh modernisers. Zaki, who once had been sidelined by Dostum for becoming too prominent and independent as a MP, now ‘looks to be closer and closer to Dostum’ again.

Behind what looks more like a problem of clashing personalities and their vanities, also has clear-cut political implications. Nurullah also attacked Dostum during his press conference because of the party leader’s deal with other political opposition parties to field a unitary candidate in the upcoming 2014 presidential election. As Zaki stated after Nurullah’s dismissal, Jombesh wants to go into the electoral campaign that will start later this year as a strong force. Already in May last year, Dostum had predicted the opposition National Front of Afghanistan (NFA) to win the next elections. During that time, it has no use for personnel quarrels.

As Robert Peszkowski notes in his 2012 AAN paper about Jombesh, already the outcome of the parliamentary elections in 2009 that ‘saw Jombesh lose seats’ had ‘created rifts amongst the reformists … and gave Dostum the opportunity to reclaim some political standing as well as influence’. That he had lost after an armed standoff with a renegade Jombesh commander in Kabul after which Karzai had threatened him with arrest and a trial. To save face, Dostum chose to retreat to Uzbekistan and Turkey where different parts of his family live for ‘medical treatment’. But before the already hotly contested 2009 election, the President – in another about-face – allowed Dostum to return in return for a promise of support in the campaign. Dostum fulfilled his part (in Jawzjan, Dostum’s stronghold, for example, Karzai scored 58 per cent of the vote – versus 25.3 for his main rival Dr Abdullah; Faryab: 59.9 vs 29.7) but felt let down afterwards when high-ranking positions were distributed.

After having been part of the pro-Karzai vote mobilisation machine in 2004 and 2009 and the twice bad experience therein, Dostum and Zaki now have led Jombesh firmly into the opposition camp. The party is part of the opposition National Front of Afghanistan (NFA) that also comprises parts of the (mainly Tajik) Jamiat-e Islami led by former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massud and the wing of the (mainly Hazara) Hezb-e Wahdat led by Ustad Mohammad Mohaqqeq; it also is wooing other non-Pashtun political groups to join. Massud and Mohaqqeq had campaigned for Karzai at times, too, and were disappointed by the lack of post-electoral compensation by the President. All three leaders have attacked Karzai for his attempts to manipulate the upcoming elections(7) and angered him with their federalist agenda (which mainly comprises of a demand for elections for provincial governors which, they assume, they would win in their strongholds and which would guarantee them access to income from Afghanistan’s looming ‘three trillion-worth’ mineral resources).

A week ago, the three landed another coup by presenting another potential ally, the governor of Balkh province, Ustad Muhammad Atta Nur, as their almost presidential candidate. (Atta made clear at that occasion that he has not yet finally decided, though; find our blog about this event here.)

As already almost traditional, pre-election alliances are foremost a show of strength and bargaining capital. However, as previous election campaigns have shown, one should not be too sure about the longevity of such alliances; other politicians have used the sharpest possible anti-Karzai language only to end up in his government again after having been defeated.

(1) Jombesh has a party chairman, a party secretariat of 13 members that runs the daily affairs of the party, a 55–member Political Committee that decides on major administrative and some policy issues, and the Central Council, that on paper is to have 105 members (but in reality is far larger) and that was formed to make the major policy decisions of the party. After the third party congress failed to hold the elections for the Central Council, it was decided that the Council would be made up of all the present members at the congress, close to 800. Of those 800, some 300 had been inserted into the proceedings through various manipulations of the party’s founder, General Dostum. See: Robert Peszkowski, ‘Reforming Jombesh: An Afghan party on its Winding Road to Internal Democracy’, AAN paper, 2012, p 3.

(2) It also contains an updated list of the members of Jombesh’s Political Committee.

(3) The others are: Zhan Pacha Shinwari (Jalalabad), Aq Murad; Jaferi Baran, Yusof Makhdum, Sayed Haidar, Aisha Beg, Belqis Modaqeq, Gen. Aziz Azim and – because of long-term absence for studies abroad – Fazl Ahmad Burkit.

(4) Since 2005, Jombesh also has a branch in Jalalabad when a small local party – Hezb-e Mobarezin-e Melli-ye Democrat-e Solh-e Afghanistan (Party of National Democratic Fighters for Peace in Afghanistan) – announced its merger (source: Aina TV, 16 June 2005). Its leader, however, Zhan Pacha Shinwari belongs to the nine members expelled now from the party’s political committee (see footnote 3).

(5) Aziza Jales, the former head of the women’s affairs department in Sarepul province; Fathullah Qaysari, a Jihadi commander from Faryab; Bashir Ahmad Tahyenj, also from Faryab; Enayatullah Babor Frahmand, Dostum’s cultural advisor, from Jawzjan; Abdulwahid Faqirzada, a former deputy governor and militia commander in Takhar; Dr. Fayeq, also from Faryab.

(6) According to Arzo TV (15 February 2013): Al-Haj Uraz Zabet and Al-Haj Abdul Muhammad Qomandan.

(7) Mohaqqeq did so in 2004 and 2009, Massud only in 2004 when he became Karzai’s First Vice President only to be dropped in 2009 in favour of fellow-Jamiati and former defence minister Marshal Qasem Fahim. Massud is currently the sharpest Karzai critic; his latest election-related attack came on 14 February (see media report here).

Photo: Jombesh laders Faizullah Zaki (left) and General Dostum (2nd from right) with Wahdat leader Mohaqqeq (right) and unidentified participant, c/o wahdatnews.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape