Political Landscape

The Politics of Opposition: A challenge to the National Unity Government?


On 13 October 2016, President Ghani invited all political and opposition leaders to the Palace for consultation, where these leaders signalled their support for the NUG to serve full term, dispensing with their previous call for early election or a traditional loya Jirga. Photo: Arg

On 13 October 2016, President Ghani invited all political and opposition leaders to the Palace for consultation, where these leaders signalled their support for the NUG to serve full term, dispensing with their previous call for early election or a traditional loya Jirga. Photo: Arg

The failure to implement its own agreement and the continuing rift within the National Unity Government have created an opportunity for political opposition groups across the spectrum to voice their criticism of the government. In the past, Afghanistan’s political opposition has been made up of various councils and fronts, often associated with prominent powerbrokers and former government officials. This is still the case, but they have been joined by popular protest movements, such as the Enlightenment Movement. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Lenny Linke (with input from Thomas Ruttig and Obaid Ali) look at who is who in the opposition and how each of them is positioning themselves vis-à-vis the government.

In many countries, a healthy political opposition is seen as crucial to keep governments in check and to provide the electorate with a possible future alternative. In Afghanistan, however, political opposition groups have struggled to coalesce around an ideology or shared interests. Rather ‘opposition’ groups have often formed like bubbles in the political churn, rising and falling, functioning as temporary instruments for prominent individuals who wish to maintain their profile, as they sit out periods without government positions hoping for high office again. The 2014 elections, if they had ended with an undisputed winner might have brought that pattern to an end, with the supporters of one strong candidate in government and the supporters of the other in the opposition. The opposite was true.

The bitter disputes of the summer of 2014 over who had won resulted in a government of national unity. The government was created under an agreement that divided the country’s political power between the two contenders on the basis of parity – at least on paper (see AAN’s previous reporting here and here).

The National Unity Government (NUG) agreement did, somewhat bizarrely, establish the position of an internal ‘leader of the opposition’ within the executive – seemingly in addition to the position of chief executive:

with the goal of strengthening and expanding democracy, the position of the leader of the runner-up team, referred to in the mentioned document as the leader of the opposition, will be created and officially recognized within the framework of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the basis of a presidential decree. The responsibilities, authorities, and honours of this position will be spelled out in the decree. After the formation of the national unity government with the presence of the runner-up team on the basis of this agreement, this position will act as an ally of the national unity government.

The idea, however, was almost immediately dropped and Dr Abdullah, the leader of the ‘runner-up’ team, simply became the chief executive (CE), as construed in the NUG arrangement.

Almost all political groups and figures had backed one or other of the two candidates in the 2014 presidential election. Given the patron-client politics dominant during elections in Afghanistan, they had hoped to reap the benefits of supporting the overall winner and to secure good jobs in the upcoming government. In the end, with no clear overall winner and the formation of a national unity government, there were simply not enough jobs for everyone and prominent politicians on both sides saw their hopes of high office dashed. Many felt marginalised by the leadership of the NUG and decided to form or join new political groupings. Whether they could be called opposition groups, though, is debateable.

Councils of the ‘jobless’

Afghanistan, with its presidential system, has a relatively weak parliament that lacks strong political parties. As a result it has no effective parliamentary form of political opposition. The groupings formed outside the parliament thus often become vehicles for members to influence and exert pressure on the government. Many opposition groupings emerge after a sufficient number of politicians and prominent figures have felt themselves moved to the periphery of power. Some political figures joining ‘the opposition’ seem resigned to the fact that they can no longer hope to be awarded a government position to their liking. For others, joining a political group is a bid to be co-opted by the government (and given a job) by showing themselves capable of causing more trouble outside the government than inside.

But Afghanistan’s highly differentiated political elites struggle to unite. This can be seen after previous elections and indeed, all the way back to the formation of the first mujahedin government in 1992. Not only has this made it difficult to form opposition groups in the first place, but they tend to have trouble ‘staying together.’ Much of Afghan politics is elite-based with personal interests superseding ideology or the interest of any alliance or group in the long run. Afghan citizens have learned to be wary of these often-ephemeral groupings. As Hasht-e Subh wrote, “Some of the coalitions have endured less than 24 hours. For instance, when [in 2009 presidential election] Anwari and Zia Massud accepted to be the running mates of Gul Agha Shirzai, the coalition fell apart even before it dawned.”

In the first year of the NUG, ‘marginalised’ political figures started forming opposition groups outside the government. They started to come together in a series of informal meetings to exchange ideas and explore options for collaboration. Sebghatullah Mujaddedi’s High Council of Jihadi and National Parties (CJNP) was the first to emerge. “Some people from the eight political parties that are together here today, came together,” Mujaddedi said, on 27 August 2015, the day of the council’s inauguration, “they had discussions and talks and finally came to the conclusion that there was no [other] option but to unite.” About six months later, on 18 December 2015, a second council emerged. Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, along with other prominent jihadi leaders, proclaimed the Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan (CPSA).

Beyond announcing their existence, actually establishing these councils (creating organizational structures, agreeing agendas etc) proved time-consuming. The chairman of the CJNP was elected almost a year after the council was formed. “[A]dequate trust had developed in this period,” said the head of the secretariat. The leadership council of the CPSA (further described below) took five months to sort out.

Mujaddedi’s Council

The High Council of Jihadi and National Parties (CJNP) brings together jihadi figures that had supported President Ghani during his election campaign. (1) Their support for Ghani was, as Hasht-e Subh author Shahriar put it, the only thing members of this council had in common when they first got together. Many of the council’s prominent members of this council actually serve in key governmental positions or are very close to the government, signalling that CJNP was never going to be a real opposition to the government. This was also reflected in the council’s aims, which according to Mujaddedi, were “to fight corruption, bring peace and to support the good work of the government and oppose any wrongdoings of the government.” This was clearly no declaration to challenge the government, but rather to support it while monitoring its actions. Even softer were the words of another CJNP member, Muhammad Karim Khalili, former second vice-president and leader of the largely Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami, who actually sounded like he wanted a government job. The council would assist the government, he said, “at critical moments, and ensure the National Unity Government was not alone.”

Prominent council members include the president’s special representative for good governance and reform (a post on a par with a vice president position) Ahmad Zia Massud and two other presidential advisors, Qutbuddin Helal and head of the mujahedin faction Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami, Sayyed Hussain Anwari (until his death on 5 July 2016). Khalili has a protégé, Muhammad Sarwar Danesh, serving as vice president, while his son, Muhammad Taqi Khalili is Afghan ambassador to Azerbaijan. The son of Anwari, Sayyed Khalil Anwari, and Ahmad Zia Massud’s son, Zubair Massud, are both working as advisers to the National Security Council. Two other council members, Pir Sayyed Ahmed Gailani and Khalili, initially unable to secure positions in the government, were both appointed by President Ghani as head and deputy head of the High Peace Council (HPC) soon after the CJNP was established. Mujaddedi seems to be the only prominent member of the CJNP who has not been offered any high-ranking governmental post (yet). (The only post he reportedly coveted, the head of the HPC, was given to his fellow council member, Gailani). (2) His son, however, Esmatullah Mujaddedi, is adviser to the National Security Council on Islamic affairs (see here). The CJNP, then, has acted, in practice, not as an opposition group, but rather as a vehicle for promoting its members to government jobs.

Sayyaf’s Council

The Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan (CPSA) is mostly made up of former cabinet members in the Karzai government and supporters of Dr Abdullah’s bid to be elected as president. (3) Like Mujaddedi, Sayyaf at the inauguration of the CPSA said they had been driven to form the council by the current situation of the country. He demanded that a Constitutional Loya Jirga be convened, the electoral law reformed, parliamentary and district council elections held as scheduled, and reforms in the security and economic sectors made.

Sayyaf and Jamiat-e Islami stalwart, Yunus Qanuni, former vice-president and fellow member of the CPSA, stressed the need to implement the political agreement of the NUG in full, without spelling out how they would respond if this did not happen. Instead, Qanuni elaborated the council’s plans for the coming four years: active participation in the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections and the introduction of a candidate for the presidential elections of 2019.

Although the demands are more concrete, as with Mujaddedi’s CJNP, there seems to be little threat of a true opposition to the government here either. Many members of CPSA hold government positions, have close relations to the government or have factional comrades that do so. CPSA member Abdul Hadi Arghanidwal, for example, is leader of Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan; his deputy, Khan Muhammad, is first deputy to chief executive Dr Abdullah.

Other prominent members of CPSA include many former ministers: Muhammad Omar Daudzai and Bismillah Khan Muhammadi (both interior), Abdul Rahim Wardak (defence), Zalmai Rasul (foreign affairs), Wahid Shahrani (mines), Ismail Khan (energy and water), Sadiq Mudaber (former director of the office of administrative affairs) as well as Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi and Fazl Hadi Muslimyar, speakers of, respectively, the lower and upper houses of the parliament. Most of these men were part of the Karzai government and were backers of Abdullah in the 2014 elections; they can be expected to support at least the chief executive’s wing of the NUG.

The close affiliation with Abdullah of many of its members might, in part, explain why the council took such a mild position during the recent public rift (see AAN report here) between Abdullah and Ghani in 11 August 2016. Abdullah publicly criticised the president’s unilateralism in appointments as well as his disinclination to meet Abdullah one-on-one to discuss “fundamental issues.” President Ghani hit back, implicitly accusing the rival camp of blocking government reforms. While this provided opposition groups with an opportunity to weigh in and challenge the NUG as a whole (see an AAN report here, Sayyaf’s council spokesman Massud Tereshtwal only said, “We believe Afghanistan is greater and more important than both the president and the chief executive (…) [we want the government] not to keep the nation in frustration anymore.” The comment seemed to signal that the CPSA did not want to put the NUG under even more pressure by subjecting it to targeted criticism.

Ahadi’s New National Front of Afghanistan

A third political grouping, which calls itself Newey Melli Jabha (the New National Front), was formed by Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi on 14 January 2016. More than other groupings, it has presented itself as an opposition force. During the inauguration ceremony, Ahadi called the government “a failure” and demanded new presidential elections before 2019 (read a short report here). The New National Front is a coalition of various small political parties: the Afghan Millat Party, Adalat wa Tawseha (Justice and Development), Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami (Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan) and several other lesser known parties. (4)

Not all members of these individual parties endorsed Ahadi’s Front. For instance, on the day of the New National Front’s inauguration, some members of the Afghan Millat party including secretary general Abdul Qayum Arif, refused to back the initiative (see here). (Party leader Astana Gul Shirzad told AAN, “A few individuals made irresponsible statements on behalf of the Afghan Millat party. Their duties have been suspended.”) Member of Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami, a party that had supported Ghani’s camp in the 2014 presidential election (read an AAN report on Harakat here), also told AAN that they were not backing the Front. Abdul Hakim Mujahed, a prominent member of the party, said, “We supported Ghani in the presidential election and we still stick to our commitment.” Haji Zabihullah Tarakhel, the head of the political committee of Harakat, dismissed the dissent and told AAN that all the members of the high council of Harakat had agreed to back Ahadi’s front; the members who refused to back the front, he said, might have done so because they held government jobs.

Despite dissent within the member parties, the New National Front was arguably the most outspoken opposition group during the recent rift between Chief Executive Abdullah and President Ghani, thereby living up, to some extent, to its promise to be “a true opposition.” In a statement on 23 August 2016, the Front called the NUG a failed experience that had to be gotten rid of, saying, “As it completes its two years, it is time for Afghanistan to have a new start.”

In fact, since its establishment, the Front has repeatedly targeted both the legitimacy and efficiency of the NUG arrangement. For instance, during the inauguration on 14 January 2016, Ahadi had said, “People want a change in the government and our constitution allows us to hold early elections. No one can argue that this is a legal government.” In another interview with Tolo News in February 2016, he did not see any chance for the current government to be sustained, saying that the only solution was early elections, as the law allowed them. Then, in an interview with BBC Persian on 30 March 2016, Ahadi questioned the legitimacy of the political agreement and termed it a violation of the constitution, saying that people had only accepted the formation of the NUG with the expectation that it would demonstrate efficiency, thus ignoring the “procedural illegitimacy.”

Green Trend

Rawand-e Sabz-e Afghanistan (Green Trend of Afghanistan) is a somewhat older opposition group. It was established by Amrullah Saleh after his resignation as NDS director in 2010 and had its first public appearance on 5 May 2011. In this documentary, Saleh lists fighting “armed extremism,” providing opportunity for the youth to emerge as a new cadre, and advocating on different national issues as the movement’s main goals. (For more background, see AAN’s previous reporting here.)

Saleh, a former Jamiati who has repeatedly distances himself from his old party, supported Dr Abdullah in the 2014 presidential election. He has held no permanent official government position since his resignation in 2010, but he co-headed the fact-finding commission investigating the 2015 fall of Kunduz and was recently appointed to an ad hoc committee to work on the introduction of electronic ID cards. These two positions suggest that he has maintained close connections at least with Abdullah’s faction of the NUG.

Saleh, like acting Balkh governor and Jamiat leadership member Atta Muhammad Nur, was very vocal in his support for fellow Jamiati Abdullah during the recent NUG rift. On 16 August 2016, Saleh said, “We [the chief executive and his backers] do not have any plan to become opposition. We consider ourselves the owner of the system [NUG] in Afghanistan; our demand is that in the history of Afghanistan we should prove that we stick to our signature [on the political agreement] and our word.”  So, while Saleh and his Green Trend are critical of the NUG’s performance, he seems to consider himself a backer of Abdullah’s camp, rather than an opposition to the government.

Protest movements

Over the past year, new powerful protest movements have emerged, adding a new dynamic to Afghan politics. These movements have been driven by a socio-political activism among young Afghans, which is unusual for the Afghan political landscape and is creating a class of new political leaders, some of them unrelated to the old parties. Driven primarily by security concerns and the government’s failure to protect the country’s citizens, as well as grievances over real or perceived discrimination, these movements have heavily criticised the NUG and in some cases called it illegitimate. These movements include Junbesh-e Tabasum (the Tabasum Movement) (5) (see AAN’s previous reporting here) which was mobilised for a large protest in Kabul against the beheading of seven Hazara travellers; the Rastakhiz Dadkhahi (Uprising for Justice) (6) which demanded government action regarding the abduction and killing of civilians along major highways in the north; the Aggrandisement [Honour] and Interment Commission, which demanded the proper burial of Amir Habibullah II (7) and Junbesh-e Roshnayi (the Enlightenment Movement) (more on this movement below). All four movements appeared to emerge suddenly and, unlike those discussed above, the organisers are largely from outside government circles.

These protest movements have been very outspoken in their criticism of the NUG. The Uprising for Justice during its protest in Kabul on 17 June 2016) called the NUG an “incompetent government” that had failed to “fulfil its responsibilities properly,” which was the cause of “public anger and aversion against the National Unity Government.” In addition to its advocacy against the kidnappings, the Uprising for Justice, which is predominantly Tajik, has accused the NUG of excluding its members from government based on identity politics. For instance, in its resolution, the protesters called the division of power and the government’s policies ethnically-based, saying,”The great Tajik community is not represented in the government leadership and decision-makings” and repudiated those who claimed to be representing them in the NUG asdemagogic and vote-selling people.”

Among these protest movements, the Enlightenment Movement, which was formed to protest the government’s decision to reroute an important power line from Turkmenistan, has emerged as the most powerful in terms of challenging the NUG (see AAN’s reporting here). It has held several large gatherings, including the 16 May 2016 demonstration in Kabul and the 23 July 2016 demonstration that was attacked by suicide bombers, leading to the death of more than eighty people (see AAN’s reporting here).

The movement, angered by the government’s failure to meet its demands, announced a new round of “indefinite protest” that would start on 27 September 2016, this time in front of the United Nations offices, in Kabul, as well as other places in Afghanistan and abroad. It chose to protest in front of the UN, it said, because the UN had “stayed silent” (the movement apparently expected the UN to take a position on their demands) and also “to remind them of their commitments to human rights norms, democratic values and rules.” The protests were called off at the last minute, after a series of requests and discussions, involving the UN and several civil society organisations. (8) On 26 September 2016, the coordinating arm of the Enlightenment Movement announced it would “enter into negotiations with the government, under UN supervision,” reiterating that it would continue with its civil resistance if the negotiation failed to yield results.

Protest movements connecting to government opposition

Demonstrations are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but usually they are small and inconsequential. Now that the new protest movements have proved they can assemble large crowds, they have been recognized as capable of challenging the NUG. As a result, the protest movements have gained momentum beyond the causes that had initially triggered them; they have become sounding boards for a wider discourse – albeit still vaguely formulated – about justice, equality and de-monopolisation of political power.

As part of the strategy to maximise pressure on the government, these movements have, at times, tried to reach out to other opposition groups as well – including the councils that are largely made up of the old elites of jihadi and other party leaders and former ministers. On 14 July 2016, for instance, members of the Enlightenment Movement announced they had met with Qanuni, the deputy leader of the CPSA, to try to find “common ground on common issues” ahead of the 23 July 2016 demonstration. The movement signalled that it would continue to meet “other personalities to raise with them the position of the Enlightenment Movement.”

There has, however, so far, been no sign of the Enlightenment Movement and the CPSA (or any other opposition groups) coalescing around a political agenda aimed at specifically targeting the NUG. Apart from rhetorical support, other political groups have not espoused the movement’s demand that the power line be routed through Bamyan. This shows how the political groups continue to diverge and branch off when it comes to actual policy positions. (9)

Other opposition to NUG: Karzai’s circle and voices from the parliament

While no explicit protest movement or opposition group has formally coalesced around former President Hamid Karzai, he and his political circle have certainly presented themselves as an opposition to the NUG. During the formation of the CPSA, Karzai apparently attempted to influence the group, according to a member of the council who told The New York Times, “President Karzai and his team tried to manipulate the council in their own favor. They were willing to use the position and influence of the jihadist leaders and political figures to topple the national unity government. This was their will and prime demand.” However, the CPSA’s senior members, like Sayyaf, refused to yield to Karzai’s insistence that a traditional loya Jirga be included in the council’s political agenda, putting a strain on relations between the two. Their relation deteriorated even further after Karzai reportedly accused Sayyaf of contributing to the anti-Karzai atmosphere that was apparent at an event commemorating Burhanuddin Rabbani’s death on 30 September 2016 (a participant chanted “death to Karzai”). Karzai has also complained that Sayyaf has been the main opponent of traditional loya Jirga and that he had established the CPSA specifically to undermine him.

Ahead of the NUG’s second anniversary on 29 September 2016, Karzai again relentlessly called for a loya jirga to be held to “restore legitimacy and confidence in the NUG.” On 16 August 2016, in an interview with Radio Azadi, he said, “If a Loya Jirga is not convened, it will cause problem for our land and increase discontent.”

Opposition to the NUG has also come from within the parliament – where individual MPs have spoken out against the NUG as an illegitimate government. Some of them have demanded the abolishment of the chief executive position. Others blame the NUG for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan and at least one MP has called for a loya jirga.

The National Unity Government’s response

Due to the political infighting between the Ghani and Abdullah camps, it has been difficult for the government to have a unified response to the groups and movements whose interests and actions now reinforce each other (see AAN’s analysis on the NUG rift here). However, sporadically, Afghanistan’s leaders have individually spoken out against the demands of opposition groups. For example President Ghani, during his Eid ul-Fitr prayer address on 6 July 2016, said:

The supreme interests of our country are the common ground on which all forces loyal to the country, whether they are inside the government or in the opposition, stand in one front. Opposition does not mean pulling up the system by roots.

He also warned that, “whoever attempts to live without system or to dig a well for the system, they themselves will fall into the well.”

Earlier, Vice President Sarwar Danesh called the demand for early elections or a traditional Loya Jirga “against the constitution” and said that therefore neither of these demands “present a logical and practical solution.” He also warned that undermining the NUG would give rise to extremism and violence. In his Eid ul-Fitr message on 5 July 2016, Danesh urged the opposition groups and circles to “pursue the realisation of their goals, programmes and plans through democratic channels and participation in the next parliamentary and presidential elections…”

On 12 July 2016, Abdullah made an implicit distinction between those who demanded reforms, which is also a demand of his camp, and those who asked for an end to the government through early elections or a traditional Loya Jirga: “A number of political figures have distanced [themselves] from the government because electoral reforms have not been carried out, but a number of others abuse [this situation] under the name and pretext of meeting the demands and wishes of people, while they do not have any belief or trust in bringing reforms.”

Conclusion

Most healthy political systems rely on robust constitutional oppositions. Yet, the opposition groups in Afghanistan are still not particularly coherent or convincing. With the councils, there is the sense that offers of government jobs can easily cause them to disintegrate. Moreover, they lack large-scale popular backing and the sort of internal coherence which would enable them to effectively pressure the government. While they appeared to have concrete demands towards the National Unity Government ahead of its second anniversary on 29 September 2016, that moment has now passed, with no action taken and the government still intact.

The various protest movements, in particular the Enlightenment Movement, look to be a very different political animal. They appear to be more coherent and can mobilise significant support, but so far they have not been able to change government policy. The Enlightenment Movement, after it failed to get the TUTAP electricity line to pass through Hazarajat, has fallen back on calls for accountability and transparency in government. These protest movements, led by non-elites with popular support and a strong ethnic dimension to mobilisation, are thus not yet filling the gap in providing checks to the government’s policies. Even in the light of what appeared to be a very fragile government, ahead of the September ‘deadline’, so far no effective ‘politics of opposition’ in Afghanistan have emerged that could effectively pressure the government.

Edited by Kate Clark

(1) On 12 July 2016, Abbas Basir, head of the CJNP told AAN that the Council comprised of the following parties and figures: 1) Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan led by Muhammad Karim Khalili, 2) National Liberation Front of Afghanistan led by Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, 3) National Islamic Front of Afghanistan led by Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, 4) Islamic Movement of Afghanistan led by Sayyed Hussain Anwari, 5) Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan led by Abdul Hakim Munib, 6) Islamic Party of Yunus Khalis (Hezb-e Islami Khales) led by Haji Din Muhammad, 7) Right and Justice Party led by Hanif Atmar, 8) Hezb Qeyam Melli (National Uprising Party) led by Zmariyalai Ahadi, 9) Taghir and Tahawol (Change and Transformation) Trend led by Qutbuddin Helal, 10) National Linkage Party led by Sayyed Mansur Naderi, 11) United Islamic Party (Hezb-e Islami Mutahid) led by Wahidullah Sabawun, 12) Alliance of Hezb Islami Councils, 13) Ahmad Zia Massud, deputy head of Jamiat-e Islami, and 14) Jamiati commander from the Shomali and former head of Kabul Police, General Jurat.

(2) In April 2012, Mujaddedi resigned in protest from all his positions – as senator, head of the Conflict Resolution Commission and member of the High Peace Council (HPC) – when Karzai did not appoint him to head of the HPC. He was elected as chairperson of the 2013 Consultative Loya Jirga that was held to approve Afghanistan’s Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. His deteriorating health may be a reason why he is staying out of the government.

(3) On 27 May 2016, the following positions and bodies were announced: 1) Sayyaf, head of the Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan, 2) Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, deputy chair of the council, 3) Sadeq Mudaber, head of the secretariat, 4) Muhammad Ismael Khan, head of the defense and security committee, 4) Muhammad Umer Daudzai, head of the political and international affairs committee, 5) Zalmai Rasul, head of the elders and influential people committee, 6) Abdul Khaleq Farahi, head of the financial committee, 7) Muhammad Gulzai, head of the communication committee, 8) Massud Tarshtwal, head of the press and cultural affairs committee and spokesperson for the council, 9) Abul Wahab Erfan, head of the ulema and clergies committee, 10) Sayyed Neamatullah Sadat, head of the provincial affairs committee, 11) Abdul Majid, head of the election and parliamentary affairs committee, 12) Basira Sultani, head of the women’s affairs committee.

(4) 28 June 2016, Wahidullah Ghazikhail, spokesperson for the New National Front of Afghanistan told AAN that the front was comprised of 19 political parties and 64 members of parliament. However, despite several attempts to follow up, the New National Front did not share details on these parties and MPs, so AAN was unable to verify the claims.

(5) Junbesh-e Tabasum emerged during the 11 November 2015 demonstrations in Kabul after the beheading of seven Hazara travellers – known as Zabul Seven – who had been taken hostage in the southern province of Zabul a month earlier. The protests focused on the failure of the government to protect the roads and to rescue the hostages. The movement was named after one of the seven victims, a nine-year-old girl named Tabasum who turned into the main symbol of protests (see AAN’s reporting here)

(6) On 31 May 2016, the Taleban forced around 200 passengers to disembark several vehicles in Angur Bagh area of Kunduz province. The Taleban killed 13 passengers, took 30 others with them and released the rest. This triggered a series of protests in Kabul against the kidnapping and the government’s failure to act. The first protest was held in Shahr-e Now Park in Kabul in which the protestors blamed “the Taleban, the fifth column and the government’s negligence” for the incidents in the north. On 1 June 2016, President Ghani called the kidnapping and killing in Kunduz “banditry,” saying the “bandits deserve the harshest punishment under our religion, law and custom.” After several meetings with political figures, members of parliament, intellectuals and civil society organisations, the protesters formed a movement they called “Uprising for Justice.” On 9 June 2016, Atta Muhammad Nur, acting governor of Balkh province, gave his firm support to the group and vowed “to stand on the side of my justice-seeking people and to no longer allow kidnapping to turn into political ransom-seeking.” The protest culminated in a larger demonstration on 17 June 2016 in Kabul in which the protestors wanted to move towards the presidential palace and Sapedar Palace (the chief executive’s office), but police prevented them. This resulted in a clash between police and protesters.

(7) Another movement whose activities led to a bloody scuffle is the Honour and Interment Commission of Amir Habibullah Kalakani. The commission was established in February 2016, with the aim to honour and rebury the remains of Amir Habibullah. On 11 August 2016, the Commission told AAN they had two options: “The first option is to have the National Unity Government to issue a decree and hold an official ceremony, the way it was done for the reburial of Daud Khan, the late president of the country. Amir Habibullah Kalakani, as a king of this country, also deserves this ceremony. The second option is honour and reburial by the people… The reburial by the people will be a protest burial and in that gathering, people will decide whether to continue to support and cooperate with the National Unity Government, or not. These things have been communicated to the government and the government is responsible for any consequences.” After a scuffle involving armed men from Jamiat-e Islami and Junbesh-e Milli over the burial site (see AAN’s previous reporting here), the remains of Habibubllah Kalakani were finally buried on Shahr Ara Hill, Kabul, on 1 September 2016.

(8) As the Enlightenment Movement was preparing for its protest, the Civil Society and Human Rights Network, which is a coordinating body of civil society organisations in Afghanistan, on 19 September 2016 called on UNAMA to mediate between the government and the movement. It also urged the Enlightenment Movement to postpone the planned 27 September demonstration. On 25 September 2016, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission also called on the movement to postpone the demonstration and enter into negotiation with “relevant government agencies.” On the same day, UNAMA hosted a meeting with “representatives of the Hazara community.” The attendees were senior members of the People’s High Council (the coordinating arm of the Enlightenment Movement) and some Hazara civil society activists. The primary focus of the meeting, according to a UN statement was to discuss the findings of UNAMA’s independent investigation into the 23 July 2016 attack. However, other issues were also addressed. While welcoming, “the willingness of all sides to engage in dialogue,” UNAMA also called for the postponement of planned demonstrations. In response, the presidential palace issued a press release, saying that, “from the very outset of the civil demonstrations on Bamyan electricity, the National Unity Government… has always been ready to discuss the demands raised by the people.”

On 26 September 2016, the People’s High Council, in its statement, postponed the planned demonstration and said it would, “enter into negotiation with the government under the UN supervision.” The movement reiterated that it would continue their civil resistance if the negotiation failed to yield any results. However, sources within UNAMA told AAN the organisation has not committed itself to any mediation or supervision of the talks. With the meeting, UNAMA had apparently sought to encourage the movement to directly negotiate with the government.

While negotiations were attempted, they did not seem to go well. On 29 September 2016, the People’s High Council said, “The government, by setting new preconditions and illogical procrastinations, apparently does not seem to be sincere in moving to negotiations and it is likely that the talks will not yield [any] result.” Ahmad Behzad, an MP from Herat and one of the senior members of the people’s high council, travelled to Brussels to represent the movement at the demonstration organised by diaspora sympathisers in front of the Brussels conference on 5 October 2016.

(9) Besides the prevailing heterogeneity across the various groups, Sayyaf and Mujaddedi’s councils, in particular, also suffer from lack of solid internal cohesion, rendering them unable to have unified positions. Daudzai, who is the head of political and international relations committee of Sayyaf’s council, has, on many occasions, called for early presidential elections, although the CPSA has never endorsed his position. Likewise, Khalili, who is a member of Mujaddedi’s council, supported the demands of the Enlightenment Movement from the beginning, while rest of the council backed the government.

(10) Jawid Kuhistani, a political commentator, reported on 18 July 2016 that President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, American Ambassador Michael McKinley, Commander of Resolute Support Mission John Nicholson, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Tadamichi Yamamoto and European Union Ambassador Michael Skjold Mellbin had a meeting at the presidential palace on 14 July 2016. In the meeting, according to Kuhistani, they concluded, among other things, that the NUG would serve for five years; the political agreement and reforms should be implemented; and the opposition groups should be advised “not to pose any challenge to the government.” Since then, American and European Union ambassadors, as well as General Nicholson, have been meeting key political figures from the opposition groups. For instance, General Commander of Resolute Support Mission met Daudzai on 19 July 2016 (see here) and Sayyaf in Paghman on 21 July 2016 (see here). US ambassador Peter Michael McKinley and his deputy met Sayyaf in his office on 16 July 2016 (see here) and Daudzai on 24 July 2016 (see here). EU ambassador Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin met Daudzai on 27 July 2016. (see here)

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape