WASHINGTON DC, Oct 10, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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A political worker notes the result. Below President Karzai votes

Afghanistan's Newly Elected Parliament is Fractured and Locally Focused

By S. Mudassir Ali Shah

KABUL, October 10: Landmark elections in Afghanistan have expectedly thrown up a parliament that can be appropriately called a mixed bag - having members of all descriptions. A fleeting look at the list of elected people brings into the limelight the continued sway of conservative clerics, jihadi commanders, rivals of the incumbent president and a welcome foray of educated women into politics.

Indisputably, the election of several commanders like Burhanuddin Rabbani, Younus Qanuni, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, Pacha Khan Zadran, Rashid Dostum's spokesman Faizullah Zaki, Hekmatyar's follower Khalid Farooqi, Commander Perum Qul, Hazrat Ali, Syed Mohammad Gulab Zoi and Dr. Ibrahim Malikzada spells bad news for human rights watchdogs and civil society organisations.

Taliban dissidents Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil (ex-foreign minister), Maulvi Qalamuddin (ex-minister for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice) Abdul Hakim Munib (ex-deputy trade minister) and the student militia's ex-intelligence chief Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar are among the big losers - both in the electoral battle as well as on the political front – as they are no longer left with any platform.

With regard to the outright rejection of these elements, commentators opine Karzai has been able to kill two birds with one stone: Inducing schisms in Taliban ranks and keeping the defectors out of the loop - at least for the time being. But the president's apparently "deft stroke" could be a nostrum that might invite a backlash at a critical time in Afghanistan's transition to democracy.

Unlike his colleagues shellacked at the polls, one Taliban renegade Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi pulled off a landslide in the militancy-haunted Zabul province. A former guerilla commander who played a key part in the jihad against Soviet invaders, he acquired the nickname of Rocketi because of his nifty handling of all manner of rockets, grenades and bombs during the hidebound Taliban regime.

Ex-ministers returning to what appears "a fractured and locally focused parliament" are French-educated technocrat Ramazan Bashar Dost, Mustafa Kazmi, Syed Mohammad Ali Javed, Mohammad Arif Noorzai and Shakir Kargar. On the other hand, former ministers Taj Mohammad Wardak, Siddiq Chakari and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai - opposed as they are to the Karzai administration - have emerged from the ballot battle as an unlikely trio of 'fall guys.'

Elected from the restive southern province of Kandahar - a focal point for most election observers, media-people and analysts - are former minister for tribal and frontier affairs Arif Noorzai, communist-era leader Noorul Haq Uloomi, Qayyum Karzai (the president's brother), then gubernatorial spokesman Khalid Pashtun, Haji Amir Lalai, Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, Shakiba and Rana Tarin.

Pashtuns have grabbed the highest number of Wolesi Jirga seats in spite of disunity in their ranks coupled with their political marginalization during and after the divisive Taliban rule. To some extent, the impressive electoral performance of the largest but fragmented community can be set down to the overwhelming gains reaped by enlightened Pashtun women from different regions - a heartening trend that was so noticeable never before.

Apart from a predictable clean sweep in Kandahar, Nangarhar and Kunar, they also did remarkably well in Helmand, Ghazni, Faryab, Laghman, Logar, Kabul, Nuristan, Paktika, Uruzgan and Zabul - regions in the grip of an excruciating insurgency that simply refuses to go away.

Second behind Pashtuns are the politically more aware Tajiks, who have largely retained their growing clout in Badakhshan, Badghis, Balkh, Farah, Ghore, Kabul, Herat and Takhar. Demonstrating an even higher level of unity and acumen, the minority Hazara community has finished an honourable third despite its numerical weakness. Struggling at the rock bottom of the list are the Uzbeks loyal to Rashid Dostum and Pashayees, supporting Hazrat Ali.

A Hazara Northern Alliance commander - notorious for hammering nails into the heads of captives from rival ethnic communities - has bagged the highest number of votes. Now posing as a democrat, his triumph reinforces the impression that many unreconstructed warlords have gone through the motions of the legislative elections because the exercise suited them just fine in the obtaining circumstances. How long they will cling to democratic ideals and uphold the will of the teeming masses is a moot question.

Virtually elected as independents under a law barring parties' participation in the vote, the 249 MPs - seen as a motley crowd for all the right reasons - are unlikely to forge unity within parliament to force Hamid Karzai into delegating some of his sweeping powers to the lower house, which is authorized to formulate and endorse laws, throw out the president's nominees for cabinet slots and grill ministers on a wide range of issues including efficiency.

Among the winners, at least two are dogged by a history of spine-tingling massacres, a chain of abductions and other grisly crimes. Their barbaric past is illustrated by six mass graves discovered recently in a dry ditch in Sra Qila area, 10 kilometers from Sharan, Paktika's capital. Though the Afghan government wants to probe the mass graves believed to contain the remains of hundreds of communist-era soldiers, yet the complicity of the dreaded regional commanders in the massacre impedes investigations.

The commanders-turned-politicians are accused of killing the soldiers of the 9th Brigade that fell in 1989 and subsequently dumping their bodies in the mass graves after they surrendered to mujahideen leaders. Paktika Governor Gulab Mangal, Interior Ministry and UNAMA officials in Kabul have already received nerve-racking details of the bones, human skulls, boots and worn-out uniforms found from the site.

A UNAMA official, aware of the discovery of the collective graves, assailed the Afghan government for trying to hush up the issue because of the powerful commanders linked to the "unpardonable brutality" and allowing them to run for parliamentary seats. He saw no justification for the killing of the soldiers following their surrender.

Additionally, widespread voter intimidation and instances of cheating in Paghman, Kandahar, Ghazni, Paktia, Badghis, Bamyan and Nuristan also put a damper on the polls. European Union observers alleged: "In certain provinces, cases of fraud such as ballot stuffing, proxy voting and possible coercion of voters intended to influence their choice of candidate have sparked worries."

The EU poll monitors told the Afghan election administration to handle the issue in a transparent and effective manner to safeguard the integrity of the elections that marked the culmination of the historical Bonn Process. The warning prompted Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) spokesman Sultan Baheen to pledge a thoroughgoing probe, whose outcome is yet to see the light of the day. "The European Union mission's opinion is important to us and we are investigation the complaints that have triggered concerns. We had said at the beginning this election will not be perfect."

JEMB's eloquent operations chief Peter Erben, hinting at the irregularities having been committed in many provinces, revealed ballot boxes from four percent of the 26,000 polling stations had been quarantined for investigation. Promising tough action against those found involved in the fraud, he too had warned of excluding the votes in question from the general count while asserting the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) had the authority to fine and disqualify errant candidates.

In Paghman, where Karzai's close ally Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf has been declared successful, ballot boxes from 95 polling stations were initially sealed on suspicion of rigging, but most of them were eventually counted as the poll panel remained tight-lipped over the fate of the inquiry it had vowed.

In the course of the disputed vote count, a female election employee was caught red-handed while marking ballot papers with her eye-lining pencil in favor of a particular contender. Another election worker was sacked and handed over to police on similar charges in Khost. In fact, a stream of gripes came from disgruntled candidates regarding election workers' implication in brazen rigging.

But international observers, familiar with Afghanistan's troubled history, contend participatory democracy - however imperfect - could prove an effective long-term strategy for crushing terrorism and sidelining extremist forces. If allowed to strike root in this benighted land, they maintain, democracy will eventually neutralize the influence of obscurantist forces in due course of time.

Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining and the September 18 vote in this strife-wrecked country is certainly no exception. Emphatic victories scored by women represent a defining feature of the parliamentary election, the first in 36 years.

The election of Malalai Shinwari (former BBC reporter), Fatima Nazari, Shukriya Barakzai, Fariba Ahmadi, Shakiba, Malalai Joya, Safia Siddiqui, Fawzia Gillani (polling the highest number of votes among females), Saira Sharifa, Tahira, Sharifa Zarmati, Hawa Alam Nuristani, Saleha, Shakila Hashmi, Nasima Niazi, Fahima Sadaat, Pardesa Safi, Shukriya Pekan, Zaifun Safi, Sohaila Shafaq, Fauzia Raufi, Seema Joyenda, Shireen Mohseni, Zahira Ahmadyar, Humaira Gulshani, Fatima Naeemi, Sadeeqa Mubarez, Saifoora Niazi, Azita Rifaat, Zarmina Pathan, Habiba Danish, Saamia Azizi, Rahila, Najia Saeed and scores of other enlightened women is a welcome development.

Despite fraud and corralling of women at home on voting day, supporters of the embryonic democratic process stress the new parliament will have to ensure the ascendancy of law over banditry to give the long-oppressed nation a modicum of hope. With the twice-delayed elections successfully conducted, Afghans are eagerly expecting a meaningful effort at infrastructure development and a stop to what many perceive as a cycle of brainless violence that has claimed 1,300 lives over the last six months.

If the parliamentarians-elect work hard enough to deliver on the promises they made while out on the hustings, the painful legacy of the past three decades of murder and mayhem would be eventually forgotten. For this long-cherished dream to come true, the legislators will have to agree on implementing on a priority basis the agenda for stepped-up uplift, national reconciliation and ethnic harmony.

How can the twin objectives of eliminating terrorism and setting in motion a sustained process of development be achieved remains a vexing question for a thumping majority of Afghans. For his part, President Karzai feels the "successful holding of the elections" represents a crushing defeat for militants." Apparently in a euphoric mood, he told a news conference on September 18 his government would strive to establish lasting peace and steer Afghanistan out of the multiple problems besetting it.

In a Pickwickian sense, Karzai may have some reason for his optimistic assertion that terrorists are on the run or elections will herald a sea-change. On the face of it, his statement is essentially meant for domestic consumption, as the ground situation underline the stark reality that terrorism and drugs are far from controlled, much less eliminated.

On both fronts, his government and its backers will have to fight resolutely over the long haul to bring a measure of normality to a country that still runs the risk of becoming a narco-state. Cooperation from neighboring countries plus a greater emphasis on the ongoing national reconciliation drive will lend a dramatic boost to the long-term campaign against terror.

How onerous and pesky is the challenge of banishing militancy from Afghanistan? The sheer enormity of the task can be easily gauged from top US General Jason Kamiya's observation that Taliban are not yet a spent force despite their failure to disrupt the elections. "I'm not ready to sign up to the fact that Taliban are crumbling … there still will be an enemy insurgency next spring."

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