AAN Papers

Start of AAN political parties paper series 1: Reforming Jombesh


With two new reports – ‘Reforming Jombesh: An Afghan Party on Its Winding Road to Internal Democracy’ by Robert Peszkowski and ‘Ideology without Leadership: The rise and decline of Maoism in Afghanistan’ by Niamatullah Ibrahimi – AAN has launched a new series of papers that look at the development of political parties and movements in Afghanistan. The aim is to fill the gaps that exist in current literature by exploring the frequently overlooked role of political parties in the contemporary political system and documenting the history of political movements.

Much of the more superficial analysis of Afghan politics is based on the idea that Afghanistan has never had political parties, or at least no “real” ones. Afghanistan, however, has a tradition of party organisation that goes back at least to the 1950s – and according to some authors, even to the constitutional movements of the early 20th century. Political party development has, in more recent times, been discontinuous and burdened by governmental suppression, factional wars and international intervention, but to ignore history means to not understand what is going on now. And although there is a slowly growing body of literature by both Afghan and international authors describing the early and more recent development of Afghan political parties and their involvement in electoral politics, case studies such as AAN’s two new reports are still very rare.

The first of the two papers, ‘Reforming Jombesh’, an AAN Briefing Paper by Robert Peszkowski, who has worked in the country as a Swedish diplomat with particular attention to Northern Afghanistan, describes the struggle and difficulties involved in trying to change a military-political organisation (tanzim) – which grew out of the factional wars of the 1980s and is burdened with involvement in massive war crimes and the expectation to represent a minority community – into a modern political party. Peszkowski focuses on the conflicts between reformers and conservatives in the run-up to the party’s long-planned and frequently delayed 4th party congress, an event which marks a crossroads where Jombesh needed to decide which way it would go. These conflicts vividly illustrate the challenges faced by democratisers in all parties that have their roots in the Afghan conflict, particularly when working in a context still dominated by military conflict.

Peszkowski shows how Jombesh, of all the tanzims, has struggled the hardest to become a modern political party, with a youth wing, functioning subnational structures and internal elections. As he points out: “A new, younger generation of leaders has emerged within the party and is pushing for greater influence.” But the decision where to go is still open. He argues that the often-delayed 4th Jombesh congress shows that, “the internal reforms of the party have stalled – largely due to internal conflicts not only between pro- and anti-reform groups but also within the reformist group.” Even the Jombesh reformers, he points out, have problems in how to “distance themselves from [party leader] General Dostum” and face “the persistent role of former military commanders”, as well as “outside interference such as by the Karzai government.” Peszkowski finally argues that successful internal reform could not only set “a rare positive democratic example”, but contribute to fill, “the current void in the centre of the Afghan political scene,” and, “create a useful balance to the otherwise dominating conservative Islamic forces.”

The second paper, ‘Ideology Without Leadership’, an AAN Thematic Report by Niamatulah Ibrahimi, describes the rise of one of the often overlooked political factions that emerged during the country’s ‘decade of democracy’ in the 1960s. Whereas most literature has concentrated on what would become the main protagonists of the Afghan wars: the mujahedin tanzims and the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, Ibrahimi’s paper looks at the role of the non-Islamist forces in the resistance against the Soviet occupation, in particular the ‘Maoists’. He describes the historical dilemma Afghanistan’s Maoists faced. They fought, as leftists, against a regime that claimed to be leftist itself, on the same side as strictly anti-leftist Islamist parties. The result was they faced persecution from both sides.

Ibrahimi argues in his paper that, ‘much about the war and conflict in Afghanistan can be attributed to internal controversies,’ like those between the various Afghan Maoist groups. But, he says that, ‘it is also clear that the native intellectual movements in the country were dominated and overwhelmed by powerful political developments emanating from abroad before they were given the chance to reach maturity.’

While concentrating on historical aspects of this movement, Ibrahimi concludes that, “some of those Afghan Maoists, who had survived the wars,” have actively participated in the post-2001 democratisation while others have, “remained reluctant to do so,” not trusting that democratisation would succeed. Those who joined the new political system, “shed central Maoist ideas and adopted democratic principles instead.” Nevertheless, he stresses, “they were marginalised in post-2001 Afghanistan and remain at the fringes of the political system.”

With Niamatullah Ibrahimi and Robert Peszkowski, AAN is proud to publish an Afghan and a non-Afghan author simultaneously contributing to research on one central topic of recent Afghan history.

AAN Briefing Paper 03/2012

Release date: 31 August 2012

To read the full paper on Jombesh, please click here

Photo: Thomas Ruttig

Thematic Category: