Political storm brews in Afghanistan as ethnic leaders call for reforms and protests

 
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KABUL , July 2 (TNS)  Leaders of Afghanistan’s three major ethnic minority political parties, all of whom hold senior positions in the government, announced in Turkey that they have formed a coalition to save Afghanistan from chaos, issued a list of demands for reforms by President Ashraf Ghani, and vowed to hold mass protests unless they are met.

The stunning development followed weeks of gathering political turmoil and public unrest after a devastating terrorist bombing in the capital on May 31. It brought together a group of powerful ex-militia leaders, once rivals in a civil war, in an extraordinary alliance that could present Ghani and his shaky government with its most serious challenge since taking office in 2014.

The group’s statement was issued from Ankara, where Abdurrashid Dostom, an ethnic Uzbek strongman who is still technically first vice president in the Ghani government, moved recently on grounds of ill health despite being under investigation in Kabul for sexual assault against an elderly political rival. Dostom’s aides circulated the statement on social media.

The other leaders — Mohammed Atta Noor, an ethnic Tajik and provincial governor; Mohammed Mohaqeq, an ethnic Hazara leader and deputy to the government’s chief executive; and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, a member of Noor’s Jamaat-e-Islami party — have been visiting Dostom in the past week for a family wedding in the lavish home where he has often lived in periods of exile.

The group, calling itself the Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan, said their aim was to “prevent the collapse of the government, avoid chaos and restore public trust.” They demanded that Ghani devolve power to cabinet ministries and provinces, stop “overreaching” his authority for personal motives, schedule long-promised elections, and obey the constitution and the law. It also called for Dostom’s full authority to be restored and a government attack against him to be investigated.

Ghani’s office responded coolly and calmly to the provocative salvo. Presidential spokesman Shahhussain Murtazawi told news outlets that the government “welcomes any move” that contributes to national interests, but he noted that the individuals leading the coalition are “involved in the government” and thus also “accountable for its shortcomings.” If the group has “any alternative plans for overcoming the current situation,” he said, “they should share them.”

There was no comment from the office of Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive officer who has been estranged from Ghani for many months. Abdullah, from the Jamaat-e-Islami party, has disappointed party figures such as Noor for making too many concessions to Ghani in an effort to keep the struggling government afloat.

 

Hekmatyar, in a separate statement Saturday, called on all Afghans to unite and support the Ghani government at a time of crisis. The country is suffering from high unemployment and a protracted insurgent conflict. The May 31 bombing was a major blow to the nation’s confidence in its rulers.