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Afghanistan: ICG Study Says Alienation Of Pashtuns Likely To Threaten Reforms

  • Ron Synovitz

A study by a Brussels-based think tank is warning that the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan is becoming alienated from the political reform process. The International Crisis Group says the perception of estrangement among Pashtuns is a threat to prospects of long-term peace.

Prague, 7 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Pashtuns in Afghanistan say they are becoming increasingly alienated from post-Taliban political reforms. That is the conclusion of a study published yesterday by a Brussels-based think tank called the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The ICG report warns that Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, think they are not adequately represented within the UN-mandated Afghan Transitional Administration -- and particularly, within the Afghan central government's security services.

The 36-page report says the sense of alienation has been reinforced by ethnically targeted violence and the displacement of Pashtuns in parts of Afghanistan outside of the capital city Kabul.

The ICG concludes that the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition has inadvertently contributed to the problem because, in its search for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, it collaborated with abusive commanders of non-Pashtun Afghan militia factions.

Vikram Parekh, an analyst on Afghanistan for the ICG, told RFE/RL that political reforms in Afghanistan ultimately could fail unless measures are taken to address Pashtun grievances and ensure that a more representative government emerges from elections due to be conducted next year.

"Our main recommendation -- and this is critical not only to deal with the question of how Pashtuns feel they are represented in the central government, but also other ethnic and regional groups as well -- is to expedite the process of 'professionalizing' the [Transitional Administration] cabinet and the ministries so that they don't become simply patronage vehicles for individual parties or factions," Parekh said.

Parekh said that the disaffection of ethnic groups is not limited to Pashtuns in Afghanistan. "[Government] appointments [should be] made on the basis of qualifications, and with a view to representing the entire range of ethnic groups in Afghanistan -- not just Pashtuns but Persian speakers from other regions, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and so on. There are many different groups that don't feel that they have a share in the [reform] process. Professionalization of the cabinet, of the security institutions, will help address that," he said.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun. But many security institutions -- including the Defense Ministry, the intelligence services, and rank-and-file membership of the Interior Ministry -- are dominated by a mainly Panjshiri Tajik armed faction called the Shura-yi Nezar.

The former Northern Alliance (United Front) faction is the military wing of Jamiat-e Islami -- a political party that includes Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, the former interior minister who quit that post 14 months ago amid concern that the faction's control of key power ministries in the Afghan Transitional Administration was disproportionate to its popular support base in the country.

Despite Qanuni's resignation, the Interior Ministry staff still includes Qanuni loyalists who previously had been fighters in his militia faction.

In fact, the domination of Afghan security institutions in Kabul by Shura-yi Nezar stems from its de facto control of Kabul since the Taliban fled the capital in 2001. Washington had asked the former Northern Alliance faction to stay out of Kabul when the Taliban was withdrawing, but the leaders of Shura-yi Nezar paid no mind.

Later, when the Bonn Agreement of December 2001 cleared the way for a UN-backed Afghan interim government, Shura-yi Nezar was given control of the security services due to its de facto military control of Kabul Province.

Since then, U.S.-led coalition forces have worked closely with the Panjshiri Tajik militia faction in anti-Taliban operations across southern and southeastern Afghan -- tribal areas where the population is predominantly Pashtun, and where there had been sympathy and support for the Taliban.

RFE/RL's correspondents in Afghanistan reported clear signs of alienation among Pashtuns after last summer's loya jirga -- the Grand National Council that confirmed Karzai as head of state along with his choices for a Transitional Administration cabinet.

Many Pashtuns had expressed hope that former Afghan King Zahir Shah -- also a Pashtun -- would emerge from the loya jirga with a strong administrative role in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Zahir Shah was given the symbolic title of "Father of the Country," but failed to be awarded any cabinet post.

Parekh told RFE/RL that the ICG's study on Pashtun alienation is based on research that began around the time of last year's loya jirga. "The report was based on interviews that were conducted over a period of about one year with a wide range of people -- Afghan government officials, businessmen from the south and east, Pashtun members of political parties that are trying to establish themselves in Afghanistan, students -- really a wide cross section. And [ICG interviews were conducted] in several different provinces, in the south and east, as well as in Kabul," he said.

The ICG is recommending that the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan provide further support to the Afghan Transitional Administration so that regional warlords and factions that oppose the authority of the central government are demilitarized and their powers are curbed. It says this could be done by extending the geographic mandate of the International Security Assistance Force to parts of the country outside of Kabul Province.

The ICG also recommends efforts to ensure that humanitarian assistance and aid is distributed effectively throughout the country -- particularly to regional minorities.

Finally, the ICG is calling on the international community to help develop civil society forums in order to help Afghanistan prepare for free and fair elections.