[R-G] Afghanistan: New Political Bloc Unites Old Adversaries

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Apr 5 12:20:30 MDT 2007

  Afghanistan: New Political Bloc Unites Old Adversaries
By Ron Synovitz

Afghanistan -- Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani speaks  
during a ceremony in Kabul, 03Apr2007
Ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani will lead the grouping
April 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A political bloc has been formed in  
Afghanistan that brings together members of the current government,  
opposition parliamentarians, former communists, anti-communist  
mujahedin fighters, and even the grandson of Afghanistan's former  
king Zahir Shah.

Called the United National Front of Afghanistan, the group has  
selected conservative Islamist and former Afghan President  
Burhanuddin Rabbani as its first leader.

Founders say the alliance is not meant to be a political opposition  
group. But the bloc has selected the key opposition figure Rabbani as  
its leader. Rabbani was the president of Afghanistan until 1996, when  
the Taliban seized Kabul. He also is the leader of Jamiat-e Islami,  
an Islamist faction from northern Afghanistan that had fought on the  
side of U.S. forces against the Taliban after the terrorist attacks  
in the United States on September 11, 2001.

Rabbani tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the United  
National Front was formed to fight corruption and address other  
threats to Afghanistan's security.

"The weakness of the government in resolving crises and the emergence  
of corruption are serious threats to state security," Rabbani says.  
"Watching this situation, a group of parties and politicians decided  
not to remain on the sidelines regarding solutions to national  
problems anymore. So they decided to create a means of cooperation by  
forming the United National Front and starting joint work."

Finding Common Cause

Other members of the United National Front also have said that they  
want to change Afghanistan's internationally backed constitution.  
They argue that the powers of parliament should be strengthened and  
the powers of the presidency reduced. They have proposed a  
parliamentary system of government in which the legislature elects a  
powerful prime minister. And they want the powers of President Hamid  
Karzai to be reduced to mostly a ceremonial role.

Among those who have joined the bloc are some of Karzai's own aides  
and leading members of his cabinet. They include Water and Energy  
Minister Ismail Khan, Army Chief of Staff General Abdul Rashid  
Dostum, and First Vice President Zia Mas'ud, who is the brother of  
the late mujahedin leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

A leading opposition figure in the Afghan legislature --  
parliamentary speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- has declared his  
membership of the new bloc.

Former Afghan Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim also is a  

Another bloc member, Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoi, had been an enemy of  
the former mujahedin commanders when he was the interior minister of  
Afghanistan during Afghanistan's communist era.

Also joining the bloc is the head of the country's environmental  
commission Mustafa Zahir. He is the grandson of Afghanistan's former  
king, the ailing Zahir Shah.

Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former interior minister in Karzai's  
administration, tells RFE/RL that Kabul has failed to form a unified  
bloc to enact the plans of Karzai's administration. Jalali says  
different groups are coming together in a bid to gain more power in  
upcoming elections.
"This coalition remaining united is impossible."

"At the moment, people are a bit disappointed in Afghanistan," Jalali  
says. "Taking that disappointment into consideration, this group has  
gathered together to introduce themselves as a political front that  
will address the desires and wishes of the people in the future."

What Time Frame?

But political analysts and other observers predict the United  
National Front will not last long.

Sardar Mohammad Rahmanoaghly is a member of the Afghan parliament who  
has not joined the bloc. He says the bloc's members have competing  
political agendas and no common ideology. He says he thinks the  
group's dissolution is inevitable because its aims are for short-term  
political gain.

That view is shared by some ordinary Afghans interviewed by RFE/RL.  
Yusifi, a middle-aged man who lives in Kabul Province, says he does  
not expect the United National Front to stay together for long. "I  
think...this coalition remaining united is impossible," he says.  
"They already have deep conflicts with each other. And the interests  
of their parties are mostly in contradiction with each other."

Jalalabad resident Gul Rahim Sher also says the aims of the bloc  
appear to be short-term political gains.

"This is a combination of groups with contradictory agendas," he  
says. "It is not clear whether they will remain united. There are  
indications that they are controlling power right now.... From the  
time of the interim administration and the transitional government up  
to now, they have been ruling the country. I don't know what they are  
trying to achieve now -- whether they want to keep their powers or if  
they have another purpose. But I think nothing will come out of this  
in the end."

Zia Urahman, a resident of the eastern Nangahar Province, says he  
thinks there is no reason to strip the Afghan presidency of its  
powers. But he says the idea of a united political bloc could have  
prevented much death and suffering in the country if it had been  
implemented immediately after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from  
Afghanistan in 1989.

"If this coalition between mujahedin and communists had been formed  
20 years ago, Afghanistan would not have experienced the bloodshed  
and so much misery in the last [several] decades," he says.

The United National Front says Rabbani will lead the group for six  
months. Other members of the bloc will take on the leadership role in  
rotating shifts.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghansitan contributed to this report.)

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