Can Afghans Maintain Stable Coalition?


After fourteen years of struggle, the Afghan mujahedeen have succeeded in toppling the Marxist regime, long supported by the former Soviet Union. A broad coalition of internal commanders and political leaders who organized the resistance from their sanctuaries in Pakistan have begun to assemble an interim administration.

Professor Sibghatullah Mojadidi, who is leader of the National Libration Front, has been elected to head the 50-member commission that would set up a transitional authority in the country and make arrangements for elections. The commission would be assisted by an advisory council that represents commanders of the resistance, intellectuals and ulema, the Islamic religious scholars.

While the fall of the Marxist regime has ended the most tragic chapter of the Afghan history during which more than a million people lost their lives and about 5 million became refugees, the future looks uncertain. The new leaders confront serious challenges to national unity in the face of separate groups controlling different parts of the country along ethnic, tribal and sectarian lines.

Now the question is: Will the mujahedeen parties, which have been fragmented along ethnic and religious lines, succeed in maintaining a stable coalition to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Marxist regime?

The conflict has changed the traditional social and political order of the country. The most important development is the emergence of ethnic identity. Non-Pushtun minority ethnic groups, such as Hazara, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek, have acquired a greater sense of empowerment by establishing autonomous centers of power.

The influence of the traditional authorities that mediated social conflicts, such as religious leaders and village and tribal chiefs, has declined. As some of them fled to Pakistan, the war has brought forth a new class of leaders: resistance commanders who have exercised political power in their respective areas of control quite independent of the former government in Kabul.

These are some of the new political realities which the Pushtun majority and traditional elites have to recognize. The important thing is that political fragmentation of Afghanistan along ethnic lines presents a serious challenge to national unity. Only a decentralized political order that grants autonomy to all the ethnic groups would pave the way toward a genuine national reconciliation.

No less threatening to stability are the political and personal differences among the mujahedeen resistance groups. With few exceptions, all the mujahedeen groups have fought independently. Their internal divisions and absence of democratic political institutions may complicate the process of maintaining a stable coalition.

Personal rivalries that prevented political unity during the war of resistance may exaserbate political conflicts. One manifestation of these rivalries was the eruption of armed conflict between the forces of commander Ahmad Shah Masood and the guerrillas loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar over the control of Kabul following the collapse of the communist regime. Even if a cease-fire is arranged through the persuasion of Pakistan or the United Nations, the bitterness between these two groups that have fought turf battles before may not disappear soon.

Their conflict also has the potential of transforming into an ethnic war between the Pushtuns, fearing loss of power, and the coalition of Uzbek and Tajik groups from the north who seem to have gained greater political influence in Kabul, which has been traditionally dominated by the Pushtun elite.

Another, and perhaps more serious, dimension of differences among the new Afghan leaders is varying interpretation of Islam as a political ideology and the establishment of an Islamic state.

The moderate scholars like Mr. Mojadidi, the new government leader, are opposed to the Islamist views of Mr. Hekmatyar. Mr. Mojadidi views Islam as a creative relationship with the local values which more or less conform to its central principles.

Under the influence of moderate leaders, an Islamic system in Afghanistan would combine Islamic principles, Afghan traditions and universal democratic values that are not repugnant to the Sharia, the fundamental Islamic law. The moderate party leaders have liberal political views. They accepted secular democrats, nationalists and resident elements of the old Afghan aristocracy in their parties during the civil war. With their political ascendancy in the transitional period, they may reach for a broader coalition of moderate resistance parties and secular groups to neutralize the power of radical Islamist leaders.

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