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Afghan Interim Rule: Rocky Road

THE creation of an interim government in Afghanistan marks a new chapter in the country's quest for peace. Sibgatullah Mojadedi, a respected religious scholar and leader of the former Afghan interim government (AIG) exiled in Peshawar, Pakistan, from 1988 to 1991, was chosen by six of the seven major mujahideen groups to head the 51-member council for two months before a permanent Islamic government is set.

Opposing a compromise was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the radical Hezb-i-Islami party. While Afghans celebrated President Mojadedi's inauguration, Mr. Hekmatyar's forces bombed Kabul to show a refusal to acknowledge a coalition government. Fights between government and Hekmatyar troops show the transition's volatility.

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Yet the "Hekmatyar problem" is just one of many constraints facing the interim government. In addition to ethnic, religious, and tribal feuding, Mojadedi must reckon with the disorderly transition process and find a way to maintain a legitimate regime.

One immediate task is filling ministry posts in a manner that does not aggravate rival political factions. Mojadedi must pacify minority groups such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north, and Hazara Shiites in the south and west. Traditionally they've been left out of the Pathan-dominated central government.

At the same time, Mojadedi can't afford to alienate the Pathans, the country's largest ethnic population. His recent appointments excluded the Hazara and the Hekmatyar groups from major positions. Commanders left out created their own governing entities - adding to the chaos.

Doing this task in two months is unrealistic. Ethnic, religious, and tribal feuding has colored Afghan history for centuries. The traditional method of negotiating conflicts is through the loya jirga, or tribal council. Jirgas are not subject to strict schedules and it can take months or years to address simple problems. Deep issues, such as minority-group participation, will take longer than thought to resolve. Not lack of desire but cultural constraints will frustrate Mojadedi.

Mojadedi also has a past to overcome. As an Islamic scholar and rival of the former communist government, he is highly respected among Afghanistan's clergy, tribal leaders, and commanders. However, until his recent return to Kabul this month, Mojadedi had not been inside his country since he fled Daoud's Marxist regime in 1973. While fellow mujahideen fought in the jihad against the communist government, Mojadedi remained comfortably in Peshawar.

UNLIKE Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the Jamiat-i-Islami party who defeated Soviet forces in the Panjshir, Mojadedi claims no military achievement. The Afghan National Liberation Front party he founded in 1979 was among the weakest of the Peshawar-based groups, and Mojadedi was considered a marginal figure. While currently very popular, Mojadedi lacks the political and military authority to stop mujahideen fights.

As president of the former AIG, Mojadedi could not legitimize his movement. Circumstances now differ, but constraints remain. Afghanistan is a devastated country with few resources to sustain a viable government. Most educated Afghans have emigrated to the West, live as refugees in Pakistan and Iran, or have been killed. Who will manage the ministries? During the AIG period, the public-health ministry tried to reconstruct a health-care system. But corruption, few funds, and inexperience hindered progress . Ministries were filled with relatives and friends; commanders cruised the streets of Peshawar in new Pajero jeeps. The AIG fiasco shows that even after Mojadedi forms a coalition government, the issue of legitimacy will remain.

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Transition is complicated. Interim governments are typically a temporary solution to long-term problems. Within a limited time frame their leaders are expected to accomplish unrealistic tasks in a period of instability. The longer it takes Mojadedi to establish peace and construct a coalition government, the more impatient Afghans will get. After one week in office, Mojadedi suggested extending his term to two years. This may provide breathing space. However, by turning a short-term job into a long-term position, Mojadedi alters the nature of his "interim" regime. He also tests the patience of Afghans who have been promised a freely-elected government. Afghanistan shouldn't delegitimize this long-awaited step toward peace.

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