The Decline of Afghanistan’s Opposition

By: Mazdak Parsi

Following the establishment of the “National Unity Government” involving Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his belief that Afghanistan did not require an opposition party. He argued that the involvement and political cooperation of prominent groups and parties within a government framework, known as the “National Unity Government,” would be the solution to the current challenges in the country, rather than a government-opposition model. Throughout his 13-year tenure, Karzai implemented this theory to a significant extent, resulting in devastating consequences that we are now experiencing more than ever. If Afghanistan lacks a genuine opposition today, it is because Karzai hindered the formation and strengthening of a legal and legitimate movement that could have served as a shadow government and a viable alternative.

During his tenure, Karzai engaged in corrupt practices by using money and bribery to undermine his political adversaries, thereby eliminating any significant opposition to his rule. This situation was exploited even by the Taliban, who managed to obtain substantial funds from Karzai without providing any services in return. It is important for everyone to recall the incident involving the shopkeeper who posed as Mullah Omar’s representative and received a large sum of money from Karzai.

During Ashraf Ghani’s presidency, he exhibited a more authoritarian and self-righteous approach compared to Karzai. As a result, the opposition was virtually non-existent. This was because the movement that identified as the opposition during Karzai’s era had become part of the government. The corruption and high unemployment rates under Ghani’s administration ultimately led to the collapse of the military, which both Karzai and Ghani had aimed to dismantle since the beginning of their presidencies. Other individuals involved in business and politics, who sometimes considered themselves as opposition or government partners, fled after the government’s downfall. Consequently, the country fell back into the hands of a totalitarian and autocratic group that did not adhere to normal, legal governance or internationally accepted principles. This group showed no interest in understanding or implementing these rules.

The Taliban regime is comprised of misguided religious leaders who seek to impose their beliefs on others, rather than embracing diversity. In essence, the Taliban not only reject the idea of adapting to societal norms, but they also aim to protect others from what they perceive as evil influences. This harmful and lethal ideology has turned a nation into a complete nightmare, and if given the opportunity, the Taliban will not hesitate to subject other countries to a similar era of brutality.

In a situation where the constitution is suspended and the country lacks an official presence in the international community, even those who consider themselves to be traditional adversaries of the Taliban remain silent. In the previous regime, they would sometimes align themselves with the government and other times position themselves as opposition members. Currently, their only action has been the establishment of the “Supreme Council of National Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan,” which primarily conducts online meetings and lacks any significant political influence. This council has not effectively pressured the Taliban or established a stable military front on the battlefield. Due to personal and ideological differences among its members, as well as their focus on personal gain and opportunism, it seems unlikely that they can collaborate effectively in Afghanistan’s political landscape.

Poor Planning and Corruption

A key characteristic of political opposition in democratic systems is its focus on developing and presenting a clear program. The opposition serves as an alternative to the ruling government and aims to provide citizens with a new option by monitoring and critiquing the government’s actions. Program-oriented oppositions, which are formed by like-minded groups and factions, typically exhibit stability and operate within regular and opportunistic cycles, limiting individual participation. However, in Afghanistan, both historically and presently, there is a lack of political opposition capable of presenting a new and impactful plan.

Historically, the government’s plans and programs have faced criticism from certain circles and groups who claimed to be opposition. However, this opposition was often short-lived, motivated by personal gain, and lacked lasting impact. There have been instances where politicians abandoned their opposition allies and aligned themselves with the government instead. Ultimately, the primary focus of these self-proclaimed opposition groups was to negotiate power-sharing arrangements with the government and secure personal benefits. Prioritizing personal and private interests were the defining characteristics of the political opposition movement in Afghanistan.

The Rise of Ethno-Regulatory Totalitarianism

In countries where democracy has been established, the political opposition originates from a national, trans-ethnic, and democratic standpoint. The parties leading the opposition in democratic countries are not affiliated with any specific ethnic group and uphold a national and trans-ethnic perspective in both theory and practice. However, in Afghanistan, the political leaders who claim to support the unity and territorial integrity of the nation in their rhetoric, demonstrate actions that are ethnically biased, restricted, and controlling.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, an exiled Afghan politician and former Marshal in the Afghan National Army, is primarily popular among Afghan Uzbeks residing in the north and northeast regions of Afghanistan. However, he faces hostility from people in the south and east of the country. Similarly, Haji Muhammad Mohaqiq, the founder and chairman of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, enjoys popularity and leadership only among the Hazara community, while lacking influence in the east and south. This pattern also applies to Salahuddin Rabbani, Atta Mohammad Noor, Abdul Karim Khalili, Yunus Qanuni, Ahmad Massoud, and others. Currently, these individuals, most of whom have attempted to establish a strong political opposition, are unable to return to the country due to various reasons. Even if they were to succeed in forming a robust opposition, which is highly unlikely, they would still struggle to break free from the cycle of regulation and ethnocentrism. How can such an opposition encompass all of Afghanistan and play a stable role in politics?

Given that the ethnic-organizational opposition is established not through democratic means but through totalitarianism, only lifelong leaders, possessing the temperament and character of jihadism, determine the political course to be taken. The people are merely regarded as instruments that leaders utilize when necessary and to safeguard their own rights. Nevertheless, even when the people rise up to protect their rights, which essentially align with the rights of the leaders, it is primarily these ethnic leaders who reap the greatest benefits from the people’s protests and demands for rights. These leaders do not exhibit the unwavering determination and purpose typically associated with politicians.

Ethno-organizational leaders frequently change their positions in an attempt to gain attention from any direction. However, this approach only leads to the creation of temporary, unstable, and short-lived oppositions. Afghanistan requires a political opposition that can effectively serve as a shadow government, without compromising or engaging in seasonal politics. This opposition should challenge the current regime and advocate for alternative and improved options. In democratic political systems, such opposition is essential and is considered a fundamental part of democracy. Without a strong political opposition, both domestically and internationally, the ruling regime tends to become more dictatorial and oppressive, disregarding popular protests.