Countries are generally divided structurally into simple (unitary) and compound (federal) governments. In centralized governments, political power is generally concentrated in the hands of a single legal entity that operates vertically and horizontally at the national level. In centralized systems, decisions on all public affairs are made and implemented by the political center, which is the capital. This system has specific characteristics, the most important of which are as follows:
1) The central government is the only authority empowered to approve, amend, and repeal laws, regulations, and legislative decrees.
2) Budget planning, approval, and allocation to central and local units are carried out by the center, with local units having no prominent role in budget allocation.
3) Laws are uniformly enforced throughout the country.
4) The country’s military power is more centralized around the center.
5) Local units are more under the supervision and control of the central unit.
6) Political power is exerted by the center.
Another type is federal government; a type of decentralized government where the central government acts as a coordinator between the country’s states. Federalism is based on three principles: a) the principle of separation of powers between the federal government and state governments; b) the principle of autonomy of each federal unit; and c) the principle of participation of each federal unit in the central government.
The characteristics of a federal government can be summarized as follows:
1) The existence of two levels of government in the federal system: central government and state government.
2) Common affairs of state governments such as national defense, foreign policy, monetary policy, and banking are the responsibility of the central government.
3) State governments have the authority to enact and approve laws and regulations within the framework of the country’s constitution.
4) Legislative assemblies exist at the state and central levels.
5) Relations between federal states are defined in domestic law.
6) Each state has a defined legal personality.
1- Analysis of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism
Each political system has its advantages and disadvantages, and federalism is no exception to this. It is worth noting that these advantages and shortcomings do not apply uniformly to all countries, and their effectiveness depends on various factors, including geographical structure, ethnicity, and political culture of societies.
A) Advantages of Federalism
1) Equal Distribution and Division of Power: The presence of a centralized power always leads to the autocracy of the state or central government; however, when this power is equally divided among the states, it prevents the authoritarianism of the central government. Member states engage independently in decision-making and exercising power.
2) Prominent Role of Citizens in Governance: In a federal administrative system, people are prepared to monitor and participate more in the administration of the country. Citizens are encouraged to participate more broadly in government affairs and have a stake. By observing the legal powers of their states, they are more encouraged to participate in elections as candidates and voters.
3) Legislation According to Each State’s Needs: In a federal government system, member states can enact and approve laws considering their own needs, and the central government can approve and implement uniform laws for administrative uniformity without infringing on the sovereignty of state governments, ensuring the protection of the public interest of each state.
4) Resolution of Political and Economic Issues: If a land wants to be strong in the international community, it needs vast geography, more population, and sufficient economic resources. Federalism creates this platform for small territories with limited economic resources to come together and ultimately create a strong government.
5) Mitigation of Common Threats: Often, the most powerful countries in the world have federal governments and in some way manifest their power in the international community by enlarging their geography and union. Today, any federal state with more members is stronger and more influential because it holds more interests. These countries, having gone through major wars in world political history, prevent the recurrence of such dangers through unity and cooperation, as now war with a large and united territory is very difficult.
B) Disadvantages of Federalism
1) Risk of Federal Government Disintegration and Foreign Intervention: In federal governments, more authority is usually given to local governments. Since one of the reasons for establishing a federal government is the convergence of diverse ethnicities, races, and cultures, there is a risk of premature disintegration because these governments have come together from diverse groups. Unity itself implies that there have been differences. Therefore, this independence and internal power can lead to the empowerment of local governments. With the empowerment of small governments, it is clear that they will take action and assert themselves in the international community. Sometimes, on the contrary, the federal central government gains more power and pays little attention to local governments. Therefore, some local governments can easily unite and overthrow the federal government. Foreign interventions and opportunism cannot be overlooked; sometimes opportunistic countries intervene in domestic issues of countries, especially federal ones, to weaken strong governments and disrupt their unity.
2) Lack of National Unity: In federal systems, overall citizenship allegiance is divided. Citizens show loyalty to both their region and the central government. This somewhat creates a dual nationalism because these citizens mostly prefer their local government over the central one. This situation indicates a division and decrease in national loyalty because some may also prefer the central government over their local government, creating a nationalism dilemma.
3) Higher Costs in Small Countries: In federalism, local governments must build all essential facilities separately in each state. Just as the geographical extent leads to the collection of more economic resources, the existence of each state requires a series of facilities. In large geographical areas, each state can solve its economic problems to some extent, but this is not possible in small geographical areas. In small territories, not only does it not strengthen the economy of the government, but it also weakens it because each federal member needs all the essential facilities of a government in its geographical area and cannot delegate all issues to the center. Therefore, for war-torn countries with weak economies, this type of system is economically destructive.
4) Complexity of Domestic Affairs: Decentralized governments usually have a very complex system. The constitution of the federal central government indeed plays a significant and principal role, but each local government has its constitution, executive and judicial institutions, and legislative body. This multiplicity, as much as it is good for domestic citizens, equally reveals the complexity of federalism.
2:Supporters and Opponents of Federalism in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has followed a simple centralized or semi-centralized system from its establishment to the present. From the adoption of the first Afghan constitution in 1922 to the latest constitution ratified in 2003, Afghanistan has explicitly stated in its first article that it is an independent, unitary, and indivisible state. This article has even been designated as one of the non-amendable provisions.
The term federalism has long been part of Afghanistan’s political literature. With the adoption of the 1964 Constitution during the reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah and the beginning of the democratic era, echoes of federalism were heard, sometimes silenced based on rationale and logic, and sometimes suppressed under pressure and tyranny. The theory of federalism was raised during the rule of the Mujahideen by Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of the Unity Party, facing strong opposition from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Islamic Party, and prominent commander of the Islamic Society Ahmad Shah Massoud. In response to a question about federalism in Afghanistan in an interview with French television, Ahmad Shah Massoud said, “I do not see federalism benefiting the people of Afghanistan, and it will lead to the country’s disintegration in the future.”
During the adoption of the 2003 Constitution, the debate on federalism in Afghanistan was once again brought up by some members of the Loya Jirga, but because their numbers were few, Afghanistan’s system was again envisaged as simple (unitary) and centralized in the Constitution.
In the 2004 elections, Abdul Latif Pedram, the leader of the National Congress Party, entered the electoral campaign with the slogan of federalism, but with less than two percent of the total votes, this proposal faced defeat once again. However, over the past twenty years, the debate on federalism has been raised numerous times in the Afghan Parliament, media, and election campaigns, facing strong opposition from various circles. Even Sarwar Danish, who is currently among the founding members of the Federalism Assembly, once opposed federalism and stated that parliamentary and federal systems lead to instability.
Supporters of building a federal Afghanistan advocate federalism as the sole solution to the country’s problems and the provision of social rights. They argue that this system reduces ethnic divisions, strengthens national unity, and provides the groundwork for public participation and nationwide peace.
On the other hand, opponents of this theory see federalism as synonymous with the disintegration of Afghanistan. They argue that in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country like Afghanistan, which has been embroiled in internal conflicts for decades and has had clear foreign interference, federalism can further exacerbate fragmentation. According to them, federalizing a country where the central government lacks sufficient authority does not lead to unity. Furthermore, opponents of this theory, taking into account social, economic, political factors, and historical backgrounds of federal governments, argue that Afghanistan is an ancient country with a rich culture and history. Despite unfavorable political conditions and geographical structures, this country’s various cultures, languages, and even religions are intertwined, creating a new social fabric. According to this spectrum, this situation provides a conducive environment for the emergence of a unified nation and country. Considering this social fabric, the federal system in Afghanistan undermines national unity, which is itself the result of coexistence and historical continuity. It touches upon social, cultural, and linguistic differences, fueling feelings of tribal and ethnic sovereignty and ultimately jeopardizing the country’s physical and political integrity.
3- Risks of Federalism in Afghanistan
Countries with federal structures have generally formed either through initial establishment and foundation or the union of several regions, such as Germany (East and West Germany), and the United States, or through reformation, such as after wars or collapse (like Iraq or Russia). No unified country on the international scene has changed its governance system to federalism to strengthen the presence of ethnic groups or democratize the country’s structure. Moreover, improving service levels to provinces does not qualify as federalism. Federal governance systems worldwide have been continuously presented to garner the consent of nations, states, secessionist minorities, and autonomous regions to facilitate the formation of a new country, stabilize and sustain a reformed country, or unite several nations together.
Federalism is not a form of democratization but rather a type of governance system in the world. One of the worst forms of federalism is national federalism, which, for multi-ethnic countries like Afghanistan, will only result in creating division and discord among its nations. In the federal system, each region must be separate based on its economic power, culture, and unique identity, while coexisting with other regions within a unified country. This situation, due to disparities in different climatic and geographical conditions, leads to internal conflicts.
The author of this article, with studies in the field of ethnic and indigenous diversity in Afghanistan’s mosaic society, is one of the supporters of equal representation of all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups in national politics. We know that unfortunately, in Afghanistan’s current system, ethnic and religious compositions are not considered, and there are complaints about the faint political presence of non-Pashtun ethnic groups in the country’s political system. Tyranny and oppression prevail, the basic rights of citizens are not considered, and over the past twenty years, balanced development has not occurred in all parts of Afghanistan. However, it should be noted that the solution to these challenges and the elimination of these discriminations lie in democratic efforts to address them, not in geographical changes and political restructuring. In Afghanistan, those who speak of federalism can be divided into two categories:
1) Nationalists who consciously contemplate the fragmentation of Afghanistan and the establishment of their own ethnic country, view federalism as a precursor to achieving this goal.
2) Those who naively and romantically raise this issue due to a lack of sufficient information, are unaware that it could ultimately turn into a bitter nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. These individuals ponder that since America, Germany, and other advanced countries are federal, we should also build a federal country. However, the economic, political, and cultural factors of America and Europe are by no means comparable to our war-torn country. Afghanistan has always been confronted with tension, war-mongering, discord, and interference from major powers.
Afghanistan is a country with a unique identity that has evolved over several thousand years. Despite linguistic and religious differences, the Afghan ethnic groups have many commonalities, which outweigh their differences. Historical, cultural, and religious parameters, as well as shared traditions, serve as strong foundations for a national identity in Afghanistan. Afghan ethnic groups have shared bitter and sweet experiences throughout history. The recent debates stem from the colonial mentality of “divide and rule.” The existence of diverse ethnic groups does not hinder the realization of democracy in Afghanistan, as all these groups are involved in advocating for political space, and economic development, enhancing Afghanistan’s international prestige, and promoting the dignity and credibility of its people. A prominent example is Afghanistan’s previous government, which, despite all its flaws and shortcomings, recognized all ethnic groups as stakeholders.
Apart from the numerous political, cultural, and security challenges of federalism, it should be noted that many underdeveloped countries in the world today are either disintegrating or on the brink of dissolution. Czechoslovakia, a federal state comprising the Czech and Slovak Republics, ceased to exist in 1993. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also collapsed in 2006 with Montenegro’s declaration of independence. The 1960 constitution of Cyprus was based on federalism, but the reconciliation between Greeks and Turks has never been achieved, leading to perpetual conflict. In the Federal Republic of Iraq, the autonomous Kurdistan Region has repeatedly sought to transform the federal government into a confederation, implying the formation of multiple countries within one, ultimately aiming to establish an independent Kurdistan! Moreover, the United Republic of Tanzania, consisting of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, the Federal Republic of Cameroon, the Federal Republic of Pakistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Colombia, and others, which are among the most backward countries in the world, all utilize federal systems, yet they are plagued by internal wars, insecurity, political tensions, and economic and cultural problems, with the expectation that they may declare independence like Balochistan in Pakistan or Kurdistan in Iraq at any moment and split into separate countries.
It seems that the federal system is neither relevant to Afghanistan’s problems nor a solution to the country’s issues nor does it have a place in Afghanistan. This system, like poison, is harmful to Afghan society. Despite its many good qualities and even though most advanced countries adhere to this system, it cannot address Afghanistan’s problems because it does not align with our historical conditions or our national spirit. Federalism is specific to countries where diverse ethnic groups with completely different identities, i.e., languages, cultures, and religions, have come together under a single historical circumstance to form a political unit. Therefore, in the beginning, they established a federal unit and then moved towards national unity through federalism, like the United States of America. Federalism is not suitable for countries with a long history of national unity and cohesion. If you try to build federal countries out of old ones, it means their destruction because you are essentially destroying a built structure. Many researchers, including political activists, have emphasized that the federal political structure means the destruction of Afghanistan. In my opinion, a centralized parliamentary government where the equal participation and representation of all ethnic groups are ensured, and all privileges are fairly distributed among the people, would be a relatively better option.