As expressed by Immanuel Kant, an 18th century philosopher, constitutional republics are one of the prerequisites of achieving perpetual peace in the world, because democracies are more peaceful. Commentators of the democratic peace theory argue that democracies are more peaceful towards other democracies; however, at times find it difficult to maintain good relations with non-democratic states. Ironically, bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan despite being democratic have remained far from normal, up until the meeting between Premier Abbasi and President Ghani early in April 2018 when both leaders agreed to operationalise half a dozen working groups under the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). For the purpose of explaining uneasy peace in retrospect and prospects of political consonance between the two countries, an intricate examination of the prevailing political environment and systems has been carried out.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have witnessed democratic forms of governments for at least the past decade now, however Pakistani democracy in essence is much older and far more mature than the Afghan democracy. The structural variant of democratic peace theory explains that the institutions of representative governments hold decision makers accountable to the masses; while normative variant argues that liberal values like free press and competitive party system best explain the peace between democratic states.
National Assembly (NA) of Pakistan has 272 directly elected representatives plus 70 reserved seats. The last general elections were held in 2013 and fresh elections are due next week, on July 25, 2018. There are 17 National Assembly constituencies bordering Afghanistan including nine from FATA, however it remains unrepresented in the provincial assemblies of KP and Balochistan and is governed directly by the Centre. This partially results in undermining of people’s aspiration when it comes to distribution of resources and legislation. There is no parallel of FATA and PATA in Afghanistan where people live outside the main law. Remedial measures in Pakistan have begun by the 25th Constitutional Amendment in Pakistan.
Afghanistan follows a presidential form of government; however, 2014 elections resulted in a US-brokered National Unity Government (NUG) according to which an additional appointment of Chief Executive (CE) was created, besides President. So far, most of the points of NUG agreement between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani remain unimplemented, glaring ones being: non-regularisation of CE post in the constitution of Afghanistan leading to no role of CE in state affairs and appointment of ministers; parliamentary elections (Wolesi Jirga) not carried out since 2010, though the term of current parliament expired in 2015; district council elections have never been carried out, which essentially contributed towards selection of the Afghan Senate (Mesharano Jirga); Loya Jirga (Grand Council — epic law making institution of Afghanistan) has not been convened to carryout constitutional and electoral reforms.
The Afghan political system largely remains volatile and dependent on foreign mediation for stability, subtly shedding its sovereign character.
According to former National Security Advisor Lt Gen (r) Nasser Khan Janjua, Pak-Afghan peace and prosperity is interdependent and both countries have a common destiny. Here a question arises, why do two democratic states find it so hard to patch up? This question will probably be best answered through the lens of democratic peace theory.
Firstly, Pak-Afghan political rapprochement initiatives through 2014 to date could not achieve their desired results because true representatives of Afghan people are still absent from the Afghan Parliament and Senate. In such a scenario, no matter how much the Government of Pakistan cooperates and facilitates people-to-people contact; the lack of true representation does not put enough pressure on the Afghan government to work for the aspirations of their people to achieve peace and prosperity.
Secondly, non-implementation of NUG agreement and the persistent tussle for power between President and CE affects not only the functioning of their political system but also breeds resentment in the Afghan society. Polarization in Afghan society is evident from resentment shown by other ethnicities on adoption of the word ‘Afghan’ to describe them. The Afghan political system largely remains volatile and dependent on foreign mediation for stability, subtly shedding its sovereign character. To achieve democratic confidence, a well-represented Afghan political system encompassing all ethnicities is pivotal, while the non-implementation of NUG agreements also remains a hurdle.
Thirdly, the delayed parliamentary and district council elections in Afghanistan are now due on October 20, 2018. However, various political parties have demanded that these elections be held under an interim government and not under President Ashraf Ghani (a Pakhtun). Apparently, the demand seems fair enough since many independent observers have acknowledged that elections could be influenced by the government machinery. Moreover, results of parliamentary elections directly contribute towards presidential elections, selection of Senate and the Loya Jirga.
Fourthly, the governmental writ, democratic values and institutions in Afghanistan have eroded as compared to the monarchy era, instead of getting stronger. Political parties are drifting from their agenda and performance based politics are being replaced with ethnicity based politics. The three-party alliance between Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara political parties initially formed to challenge Pakhtun domination has been so successful that it has also started to attract a few anti-Ghani Pakhtuns. According to a study, 58 percent of the Afghan constitution (94 out of 162 Articles) stands violated as of today. The first vice president, Rashid Dostum, is in exile and various provincial governors have openly challenged their removal by the President. The Kandahar IGP, General Raziq, claims that not even the President could remove him from his position, despite being implicated in human rights violations by international institutions. The insurgents control or contest approximately 40 percent of Afghanistan, this is a figure that has grown larger progressively.
If we want to forecast the trajectory post-parliamentary and post-presidential elections in Afghanistan, some projections seem evident. Firstly, the growing polarity between Pakhtuns and other ethnicities could result in another deadlock leading to possibly another power sharing formula, which has a bad legacy already. Secondly, Ashraf Ghani has offered political dispensation to the Taliban (mostly Pakhtuns), which, hypothetically speaking, if accepted would add to the worries of non-Pakhtuns in Afghanistan. Thirdly, policymaking and implementation would remain hostage to internal ethnic representation challenges and indirectly remain dependent on foreign mediation for stability through military presence and politico-diplomatic expediencies. Resultantly, true aspirations of Afghan people to achieve peace and prosperity through better relations with Pakistan could largely remain unattended.
As of today, a forlorn Afghan democratic government is one of the reasons for uneasy peace between the two neighbours, which does not take any pressure from the Afghan society to genuinely pursue a lasting peace with Pakistan, in spite of shared history, culture, demography and geography. To conclude, the Afghan political system that favours and accommodates aspirations of the Afghan people has not been truly implemented. The Afghan parliament is run under presidential decree and not by elected representatives as required by the Afghan constitution. At the local and border level, merger of FATA in KP would add to the stability through better governance and facilitation of people-to-people contacts. Pakistan should take Afghan democratic fault lines into consideration and wait for the other shoe to drop before engaging in any long term agreements with Afghanistan.
The author is M.Phil in Peace and Conflict Studies
Published in Daily Times, July 20th 2018.