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Faizullah Zaki has earned himself the reputation of a “thinking politician” in Afghanistan. He is the Spokesperson of the Afghanistan National Front – a broad coalition of parties opposed to the ruling group of President Hamid Karzai. It consists of Jamiat- e-Islami, Hizb-e-Islami, the National Coalition party, the National Front party, the Green Movement party, Hizb-e-Wahdat and Junbish-e- Millie. Zaki is also the deputy leader of the Junbish-e-Milli party (headed by General Abdul Rashid Dostum).
In an interview for The BRICS Post, Bharat Bhushan met Zaki at a gathering of Afghan politicians in Munich to discuss the future of the Afghan political system.
Zaki explained the Afghan Opposition’s apprehensions about the transition taking place in Afghanistan, why decentralisation of political power is necessary for a secure, stable and united Afghanistan and the constructive role India, China and Pakistan can play.
Bhushan: What are the challenges before the Afghan polity in the run up to 2014 and beyond the draw down of western forces?
Zaki: We are heading towards completely new circumstances defined by the military and economic draw down by the West and followed by the term of the incumbent government coming to an end. If I may name only one challenge, which is the sum of all the challenges before us, it is this – in heading towards this uncharted territory, will the Afghan polity be able to find new approaches to create social harmony and consequently peace in the country or not? If we fail in meeting this challenge, it will be dangerous for Afghanistan.
Bhushan: And what challenges do you see rising for the international community and Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours?
Zaki: As for the international community, the political decision to draw down has already been taken. The margin of discretion is on the number of residual troops. So the main challenge is how to achieve the goal of pulling the troops out of Afghanistan and still ensure the continuation of the democratic process in the post-draw down era. About our immediate neighbours to the East and the West, at least the people in the street blame both of them – Pakistan and Iran – for interfering in Afghan affairs. About Pakistan’s role there is no doubt in anyone’s mind but I think Iranian interference may not be much.
The greatest challenge before our neighbours will be to resist what I call the “the temptation” –will they be tempted to fill the vacuum themselves when the international troops leave or will they show new behaviour to stabilise their neighbour and help civilised polity take root in this part of the world?
Bhushan: You have often said that the electoral process in Afghanistan is flawed; that the list of voters is exaggerated and fake. Yet you have also said that the Afghanistan National Front will participate in the elections. So what happens if you do not like the results of the elections?Zaki: We are not in a position to do much. After the second presidential election there was a lot of noise and we came up with a clear agenda for preparing the ground for the elections in 2014. The main battle was between the government which would like to set rules in a way which would ensure it continues to rule directly or indirectly, and the political parties and civil society which would like to see an orderly transition of power. Some of our goals have been achieved. We formed a big coalition called the Cooperation Council of Political Parties comprising over 20 parties and political formations.They all signed a Charter of Democracy, creating a platform for protecting the principle of free and fair elections. We fought our battles and unfortunately lost some of them or may be most of them.
Now the battle for better conditions for ensuring free and fair elections is lost. The government has left us with only a choice between accepting the elections under the existing rules or strangulating the electoral process and replacing it with a Loya Zirga (a grand assembly of traditional tribal leaders). Between these two choices, we say that we are ready to play the electoral game with the existing rules. However, there is a limit to everything. The bottom line for the credibility of the elections is that the government does not allow massive fraud, ballot stuffing, ballot stealing and using government funds in favour of any candidate.
Bhushan: You want devolution of powers in Afghanistan. How do you as the Afghanistan National Front propose to move from a unitary government to a federal government?
Zaki: The Afghanistan National Front is not committed to federalism per se but is based on the following principles – creating an accountable central government based on a parliamentary system; taking democracy closer to the people instead of it being only a luxury for the elite; elections for provincial and district governors and changing the status of provincial councils from symbolic advisory bodies to empowered bodies for local development projects, education, delivery of services, conflict resolution at local levels; and finally, reforming the electoral system to have Proportional Representation (PR) or a mixed system of PR and direct elections.
We believe that decentralisation is the key to ending violence in Afghanistan. The real cause of Afghanistan’s crisis and the threat of collapse comes from a centralised government and not from devolution of powers. Anyone who criticises or challenges the power of the highly centralised government in Kabul is stereotyped as a “warlord”. The election of provincial governors by a direct vote rather than by presidential nomination cannot lead to the creation of warlords. It is not giving the people the right to elect their government which gives rise to war-lordism.
The government claims that if there is decentralisation and autonomy is given to the provinces, then foreign powers can “buy” the governors. Can the foreign powers buy all the provincial governors but not the single individual who rules from Kabul?
Bhushan: How do you hope to achieve decentralisation under the present Constitution? Would it not have to be changed?Zaki: The process of decentralisation is no doubt complicated. There will have to be a Loya Zirga and the issue will go to Parliament. It is the Parliament, therefore, which will take the ultimate decision. However, if you look at the past elections, you would find that the majority is for decentralisation. In the second presidential elections, Dr Abdullah Abdullah got 32 per cent of the votes on a platform of direct election of provincial governors. When some of us decided to help Hamid Karzai we got an undertaking from him for decentralisation. If you take the two votes together, you will find that a majority of the Afghan people want decentralisation.
Bhushan: What kind of role would you like India and Pakistan to play to help Afghanistan become secure and stable?
Zaki: We know that India and Pakistan have problems. We also know that they have a common enemy – extremism and terrorism. In this region, extremism and terrorism have an Islamic character and Pakistan is not immune to it. The ideal scenario will be that India and Pakistan keep their differences on other issues aside and cooperate in Afghanistan.
So, if you ask me whether I believe in this scenario, I would say that it would be a miracle if it came about. It is not likely because of Pakistan. While India is highly interested in a stable Afghanistan after 2014 and has come up with a broad package of offers for economic and political support, Pakistan’s body language does not suggest that it wants to abandon its strategic asset, the Taliban.
Bhushan: Do you see a role for China in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario?
Zaki: China can indeed play a constructive role. China has tremendous influence on Pakistan and it can help keep Pakistan in check. It can persuade Pakistan not to use the Taliban as an instrument of its foreign policy.