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CounterTerrorism Blog, October 26, 2007

Yunus Qanooni: Friend or Foe of Democracy in Afghanistan?

"Qanooni has been one of the biggest obstacles to success in this nascent democracy"

By Andrew Cochran

I received this from a trusted friend, an American who lived in Afghanistan for over a year (I won't say exactly how long), worked closely with political leaders there, and has an intimate working knowledge of the twists and turns of Afghan politics. The assertions in the piece are his, but I would also direct the reader to "The United National Front: Warload Redux," written in March by Matthew Dupee, for additional support. I look forward to readers' reactions and will consider posting well-written rebuttals.

Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Mullah Taj Mohammad, Younis Qanooni, Haji Almas and Mullah Ezatullah [...] are implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during hostilities in Kabul in the early 1990s.
Human Rights Watch, September 15, 2005

"As the speaker of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of the National Assembly, the Afghan parliament) travels to the U.S. this week, there will be those who hail him as an example of how far democracy has come in this war-torn nation. Those people are wrong. Anyone with knowledge of Afghan politics knows Yunus Qanooni has been one of the biggest obstacles to success in this nascent democracy, more concerned with amassing power and lining the pockets of his warlord cronies than pushing for real change in Afghanistan. The most egregious example of Qanooni’s true intentions came earlier this year, when he championed a bill to provide amnesty for anyone who has committed war crimes in the last 25 years. The reasoning was quite simple: Yunus Qanooni has been implicated as a human-rights abuser and war criminal by Human Rights Watch, along with fellow MPs (and some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords) Burhanuddin Rabbani, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf.

Not surprisingly, the legislation was overwhelmingly approved. When I asked someone with intimate knowledge of Afghan parliamentary affairs why there was so little opposition mounted, his response was simple: “Because the parliament is full of war criminals.” While that is not quite the case, his point was well taken. What was shocking, however, was the deafening silence by world governments and media organizations as this was happening.

Of greater concern for the future of Afghanistan's democracy is Qanooni's leading role in the United National Front, a motley cabal of warlords, ex-Communists, and politicos dissatisfied with President Hamid Karzai. One of the group's main objectives is to hold a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) and change the Afghan constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary system, ostensibly so that Qanooni could be Prime Minister. Since their formation in March, they have been united in only one thing: attempting to discredit and destabilize Karzai’s government and throwing up roadblocks to progress whenever they can.

While Karzai certainly has his flaws, the fact remains that he is the only person in Afghanistan capable of holding the country together. The warlords want a return to the bad old days, and Karzai to a large extent has been successful in blunting their power-grabbing efforts. While a lively, spirited debate is welcome in any democracy, Qanooni's group seems to be concerned only with smearing the president in an attempt to weaken a reelection bid. That they are against Karzai and his government is obvious, but one would be hard-pressed to figure out what they actually stand for.

Lastly, Qanooni runs the Wolesi Jirga in a decidedly undemocratic fashion. Debate is stifled, votes are bought, dissenters are browbeaten, strongarmed and threatened, and the media is suppressed to a large degree. But even with all his efforts at turning the parliament into his own personal fiefdom, he has been largely unable to pass his agenda. This is due to several growing factions in the Wolesi Jirga who actually care about Afghanistan and want to see democracy succeed. These are the people whose stories need to be told.

While Qanooni is in the United States he should be forced to account for his past and current behavior. Whether or not people can look past the shiny veneer of his title and position and ask the tough questions that need to be asked remains to be seen."

Category: Warlords, HR Violations - Views: 11310


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