Hundreds of supporters have welcomed the official launch of Afghanistan's newest political party, which lists former Vice President Ahmad Zia Masud and anti-Taliban militia leaders Mohammad Mohaqiq and General Abdul Rashid Dostum as its key leaders.
The founding charter of Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (National Front of Afghanistan) was unveiled at a gathering in a Kabul hotel. The party pledges to promote national unity, democracy, the rule of law, and reforms in the country.
One of its major objectives is to change Afghanistan's present presidential system into a parliamentary democracy, where provincial and municipal governments will enjoy greater autonomy from Kabul.
Former Vice President Masud stressed the need for promoting national unity, calling it a stepping stone to peace and stability.
"It's very important for us to have a national identity and a national polity," Masud said. "We can only have those when the interests of all the various ethnicities of Afghanistan are merged in a political movement."
Return Of The Northern Alliance
Masud, an ethnic Tajik, is the younger brother of late Ahmad Shah Masud, the noted guerrilla commander who fought the Red Army and the Taliban in the 1980s and 1990s.
His alliance with ethnic Hazara leader Mohaqiq and Uzbek strongmen Dostum echoes of the Northern Alliance, the coalition of warring militias that united to fight the Taliban after its emergence in the mid-1990s.
While the Northern Alliance factions received substantial international support for their anti-Taliban stance, they have been criticized by human rights campaigners and Afghan victims for perpetrating gross abuses. Many Afghans accuse them of using their new roles as politicians to accumulate wealth and strengthen control.
The National Front shares common ground with other opposition groups with connections to the Northern Alliance. Its main objective of replacing the current directly elected presidential system with a parliamentary democracy, in which the prime minister runs the government, is identical to the Coalition for Hope and Change, headed by former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. This group is now considered the main opposition bloc.
Highlighting its opposition to the administration of President Hamid Karzai, the new political group announced a boycott of next week's loya jirga, or grand council. The gathering of tribal leaders and politicians is tasked with finding national consensus on a long-term U.S. military presence and the future of negotiations with Taliban.
Mohaqiq, a vocal parliament deputy and key leader of the National Front, sees his country looking at a long journey of democratic transition. He told supporters that after a decade of international engagement his country was merely at the beginning of its journey to stability.
"It's true that that over the past 10 years we have moved toward democracy and we have established some intuitions," Mohaqiq said. "But they are not worth the time and money invested in the effort. We backed the constitution, but have we really acted on it? The constitution will only be effective if we act under its guidance."
Kabul-based political commentator Yunus Fakor is not impressed by the arrival of the new political party. He says that the troubled past of the National Front leaders won't convince Afghans to back their new charter.
But Fakor, who recently participated in the launch of another party, Truth and Justice
, notes that the emergence of new blocs on Afghanistan's political scene ahead of the presidential election in 2014 is a positive trend.