Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, June 24th, 2019

Afghan Political Parties: Trapped in the Ethnic Interests

Establishment of political parties in Afghanistan dates back to the modernization policies of King Zahir Shah in 1940s that led to the formation of a number of parties in Afghanistan. The development of functioning political parties in Afghanistan did not occur until the 1060s, following a provision in the 1964 constitution legally recognizing their right to authorize their formation until later. The decade saw the formation of a veracity of leftist parties of which the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was the most important but the history of the many leftist political movements in Afghanistan is a short one.
Following the overthrow of the King in 1973 by former premier Mohammad Daud, the Saur revolution of May 1978 led by the PDPA and subsequent soviet occupation the next year, seven mujahedin parties were formed with the common goal of resisting Soviet rule. All of the groups were Sunni Muslims, and all were majority Pashtun except Jamiat-i-Islami, which was predominantly Tajik. Another, smaller but dominant Mujahideen alliance, was composed of mainly Shi’a Muslims. It was named the Tehran Eight – an alliance of eight Shia Afghan factions. These eight groups were amalgamated in 1980s and Islamic Unity of Afghanistan was formed out of their alliance.
Importance of Political Parties in a Democratic Society
In democratic societies, political parties are indispensable voluntary and informal associations of society, where people share commonly understood values, customs and attitudes to their role in politics. They are products of and operate within economic structures, and in a context of interests that are affected by and respond to the accumulation and distribution of goodwill and resources, including the wealth of society. Political parties are instruments of collective action; they are the created by the political elite in a bid to control resources and personnel of government in order to implement an ideology or a political program in certain context. Weiner holds that, in competitive political systems, parties are organized by politicians to win elections. On the other hand, in authoritarian systems they are organized to affect the attitudes and behavior of the population.
The political parties straddle the space and span the connective linkages between citizens and government, and between a multitude of private, market-based, civil society and nongovernmental organizations and the general public.
Political parties by nature are representative institutions that endow regimes with legitimacy; provide ideologies that represent social, economic and political interests; and produce leaders who through democratic elections form the machinery of government of opportunities for political participation, or a combination of all three.
However, the Afghan political parties have not been able to play such roles in the country; the democratic content of Afghan political parties is still fragile and the prospect of genuine democratic consolidation is an issue, nearly missing in the agenda of the Afghan political parties in practice. There are different factors contributing to the current situation of the afghan political parties that are discussed below.
Heavy Economic Dependence
Most of the Afghan political parties are heavily dependent direct or indirectly on government; even some of them are dependent to other countries. Further, no party has provided itself as a national party, representing all or at least most ethnic groups of Afghanistan.
Lack of strong private sector to support the establishment of strong and vibrant civil society
The Afghan private sector is too weak to support the establishment of strong and vibrant civil society and a non political middle class that are autonomous of state. If interest associations, which are the backbone of civil society, are subsumed by the state, what leverage can they have to make demands both on the state and non party where the relationship between these three supposedly autonomous entities is so blurred and entangled?
Perceiving state capture as a source of elite entrenchment
Afghan political parties Perceive state capture as a source of elite entrenchment; As a result, politics itself becomes a tool to an end, devoid of any idea of protecting public interests vis-a vis private gains in the country.
Afghan political parties are sustainable only at ethnic elite level because the ethnic elites depend on them to access the resources of the state. It is hard to maintain that the political parties are sustainable because the ethos of party politics has also been internalized by the party membership, often because of ethnic and regional loyalties rather than ideology or party programs.