New party challenges Karzai dominance

Dubai: As Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai takes centre stage in the Indian capital New Delhi as the newest member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), his opponents back home have launched a broadside against him by forming a political party that brings together all his main rivals for power.

The Jabha-e-Milli, or the National United Front, which was formally announced at a press conference in Kabul yesterday by spokesperson and former Karzai minister Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, unites leaders from every ethnic, religious and political persuasion.

It includes factions that waged war against each other in a bloody civil war through the eighties and nineties. They range from the “jihadi” parties, the Jamiat-e-Islami led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Hezb-e-Wahdat, headed by Afghan vice-president Karim Khalili as well as Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Jumbesh-e-Milli-e-Islami, to Marshall Fahim and current Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga Yuonus Qanooni, both from the Northern Alliance, as well as Vice-President Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The surprise inclusion of two prominent ‘Khalqis’ from the communist government of President Najibullah, ousted by the jihadi factions in 1992 made for even stranger bedfellows. But it has convinced some analysts that opposition to Karzai’s style of governance goes beyond ethnic and political divisions.

Sayed Muhammad Gulabzoi was interior minister in the Najibullah government, a member of the Khalq faction of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, (PDPA) while Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi belonged to the rival Parcham faction of the PDPA.

Both were bitter opponents of the mujahideen and are currently members of parliament. Gulabzoi won 260,000 votes in Paktia, and Ulumi defeated Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Muttawakil by 27,000 to 300 votes in Kandahar in the Taliban stronghold.

Amid unconfirmed reports that Karzai may counter by launching his own party, which will bring in the Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq, Gulabzoi told reporters that one of the main goals of the grouping was to shift power from the chief executive to the legislature.

“We want to change the constitution, change the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, and have direct elections for mayors and governors,” he said even as insiders said it was an uphill task that would require the support of powerful foreign governments.

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