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Afghanistan: New Political Bloc Unites Old Adversaries

Ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani will lead the grouping (AFP) 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 member.

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.)

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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