Overview Of Current Political Situation In Afghanistan

After pushing the date back twice, Afghanistan's presidential elections were finally held on October 9, 2004. Over 8 million Afghans voted in the elections. The Joint Electoral Management Body of Afghanistan certified the elections on November 3rd, and declared Hamid Karzai, the interim President, the winner with 55.4% of the votes. Karzai's strongest challenger, Yunis Qanooni, came in second with 16.3% of the votes. The elections were not without controversy; allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing were brought up by many of the presidential candidates including Yunis Qanooni. Many felt that Hamid Karzai had an unfair advantage over the other candidates as he had access to financial and logistical resources that many of the other candidates did not have. A panel of international experts was setup to investigate the matter.  The panel did find evidence of voting irregularities, however, they said that it was not enough to affect the outcome of the elections.

With help from the United States and the United Nations, Afghanistan adopted its new constitution, establishing the country as an Islamic Republic, in early January 2004. According to the constitution, the Afghan government consists of a powerful and popularly elected President, two Vice Presidents, and a National Assembly consisting of two Houses: the House of People (Wolesi Jirga), and the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga). There is also an independent Judiciary branch consisting of the Supreme Court (Stera Mahkama), High Courts and Appeal Courts. The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga. Assembly elections are planned for late 2005.

The Taliban (1) led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and the Al Qaeda Network, headed by Osama bin Laden, have been removed from power. These groups formerly controlled most of Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda were defeated by the forces of UNIFSA (2), backed by United States’ air bombing campaigns. The US got directly involved in Afghanistan to seek revenge for the death of thousands of Americans killed when a few airplanes were hijacked, two of them were flown into the World Trade Center in New York, and the other plane crashed in an open field in Pennsylvania after the flight members tried to subdue the hijackers. 

The US holds Osama bin Laden directly responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the Taliban were targeted for protecting him. Even though they have been removed from power, they are still present in small pockets, particularly in the eastern and southern regions of Afghanistan. News reports are claiming that these scattered Taliban have now supposedly teamed up with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of Hezbi Islami. It is not certain to what degree these groups are cooperating with one another, however, all three clearly want the United States, and International Peacekeepers to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban-Al Qaeda-Hekmatyar alliance has resorted to suicide bombings, and deadly attacks on innocent aid workers to get their message across.

Pakistan, who supported the Taliban regime militarily and financially, made a drastic policy change and cooperated with the United States in going after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Despite this, Pakistan, led by General Musharaf, still tried to influence the future stability of the Afghan government by attempting to secretly sabotage the talks in Bonn by flaring up ethnic issues. Many observers and analysts believe that the Pakistani government wanted to use the Taliban to restore the so-called "sanctity of the Durand Line", which separates Afghanistan and Pakistan (3). Pakistan's objective was to rule Afghanistan by proxy, hence giving them a strategic depth against their South Asian rival India.

(1) The word Taliban is the Persianized plural of the Arabic word, Talib, meaning student. Mullah Omar heads the movement. 

(2) United National and Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UNIFSA). The movement was composed of various political parties brought together in their common struggle against Taliban rule in Afghanistan. It primarily consisted of Jamiat-e Islami, Hezbe-e Wahdat, Harakat-i-Islami, Haji Qadeer's eastern Shura, and Ittihad-i-Islami Barai Azadi Afghanistan. In the western media, it is incorrectly referred to as the Northern Alliance. 

(3) The Durand line is an unofficial porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1893, the British and the Afghan Amir (Abdur Rahman Khan) agreed to set up the Durand line (named after the foreign Secretary of the Indian government, Sir Mortimer Durand) to divide Afghanistan and what was then British India. Many experts believe that the Afghan Amir regarded the Durand Line as only a separation of areas of political responsibility, not permanent international borders. The agreement was only for 100 years and it expired in 1993. Moreover as early as 1949, Afghanistan's Loya Jirga declared the Durand Line invalid. 

by Abdullah Qazi (last updated: 3/11/2005)

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