Leadership Council: an Alternative Governance Model for Afghanistan

Eisa Khan Ayoob/ The Globe Post |

The Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan (GNCA), which was launched in July in Kabul, has been enjoying the support of almost all influential socio-political leaders of the country, including that of former President Hamid Karzai.

On the day of its launch, one of the founders – Hezb-i-Wahdat leader Mohammad Mohaqiq – assured the international community that the “coalition is to fill the existing gaps” in the Afghan political system. Growing instability, poverty, ethnic divisions and “monopoly of power” were named as the reasons for its formation.

Since GNCA’s launch, however, much of the discourse has echoed Ashraf Ghani and his foreign patrons’ narratives. They say the coalition is comprised of corrupt current and former government officials and warlords, who consider this alliance the last resort to protect their personal interests.

Speaking of corruption in the context of Afghanistan is highly hypocritical. The country has made a reputation for itself as one of the most corrupt countries in the world under the leadership of the current tribal ruling elites who tag political opponents as corrupt flagrantly.

Ashraf Ghani was brought to Afghanistan as the first finance minister in 2001. Since then, he has had an absolute monopoly over Afghanistan’s financial and monetary assets. For nearly two decades, he has had the privilege of sitting on billions of donors’ money and using them to promote his tribal agenda in the country.

Has Ghani ever been questioned on how he spends public funds? Has he been asked where he gets the money to run for the presidential office multiple times? Anyone with knowledge of Ghani’s finances who has asked him such questions has been bought off and given government ministerial positions.

In fact, most of the present and past “Afghan” kleptocrats are associated with Ghani one way or another. Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister, is accused of embezzling millions of U.S. dollars. He is currently Ghani’s special envoy and Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan.

Farooq Wardak, a former minister of education, is accused of misusing public funds. When he was pressed on reports by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) about “ghost schools and teachers,” he made furiously implicit accusations directed at Ghani and his friends for larger corruption schemes. Consequently, Ghani offered him a ministerial position in his government and his case was closed.

Hence, when the “elite of corrupts” call other individuals corrupt, it is corruption over corruption. But ordinary people of Afghanistan do not know this. Down to Ghani and friends’ monocracy of “state-building” and “reform,” Afghanistan does not have an apolitical and transparent anti-corruption body or judiciary to try guilds of corrupts justly.

Afghanistan has been the land of warlords since its false inception as a “nation-state,” when a multi-ethnic state’s authorities had been consolidated into the hands of a particular tribal elite. The tribal ruling elites have been supporting warlords to contain the powers of others who end up with no choice other than taking up arms in resistance. In fact, the source of warlordism in Afghanistan is the centralization of power.

In recent times, the term has been overstated and has been exclusively used against influential leaders who had fought against the Soviet-backed communist regimes and the al-Qaeda-backed Taliban. By all means, the Taliban are the only active warlords and terrorists who have never been called warlords or terrorists officially due to the ruling elites ethnopolitics.

Coalition ‘Filling the Existing Gaps’

Apart from corruption and warlordism politicking, the GNCA is a reflection of the growing need for change in Afghanistan’s mode of governance. Under Ghani’s tenure, among other problems, Afghanistan has been severely suffering from ethnonationalism and monocracy.

Thanks to Ghani’s monopolistic and ethnocentric leadership, most of Afghanistan’s constitutional fallacies have been exposed. The unitary state system in Afghanistan has been failing for centuries. Neither a dictator nor a demagogue has been able to rule multi-ethnic Afghanistan unilaterally.

Perhaps, it is time for the country to at least try “an alternative mode” of governance. Whether deliberate or consequential, the founders of GNCA have offered a perfect platform for Afghanistan – similar to that of Switzerland – to follow.

According to D.L. Sheth, if countries like Afghanistan “are to cope with internal problems of political and cultural fragmentation, they will have to find forces of modernization and, externally, with the emerging process of transnationalisation, they will have to find an alternative mode of governance for themselves which aligned with their own histories and contemporary needs of change.”

‘Alternative Mode of Governance’ for Afghanistan

Perhaps, the GNCA’s decision to opt for a leadership council is a response to Afghanistan’s “contemporary needs of change” in leadership. Hence, what GNCA has found is the “alternative mode of governance” for Afghanistan. Such models are currently paying off for multi-ethnic countries like Switzerland where a council of leadership heads the state.

Afghanistan could opt for a leadership council over an absolute presidential system, given the country’s bad luck with leaders. Almost all Afghan kings and presidents have either become dictators, fascists, kleptocrats or ethnonationalists. Thus, the transition of power has been bloody until 2001, when late President Burhanuddin Rabbani peacefully left the presidency to the interim president, as did former President Karzai in 2014. Whether “President” Ghani would do the same is a big question, given his personal desire and passion for power.

The upcoming elections – parliamentary and presidential – are tipped as potential disasters because of the rising insecurity and millions of registered “ghost voters.” Thus, the next government is most likely to be similar to the current Unity Government, which would result in a political deal. So far, the GNCA has emerged as an unrivaled socio-political bloc that is comprised of all ethnic groups and mainstream political parties with nation-wide strong bases to attain power.

Hence, the GNCA leaders should further strengthen their coalition to prevent Afghanistan from monocracy and transition it, via a constitutional change, to a council of leadership as the head of state in a decentralized political system, where a chairperson and a deputy could rotate annually among five members.

Four members of the leadership council could be representatives of the four principal tribes – Turkics (Uzbeks), Hazaras, Pashtuns and Tajiks – and another seat could be allocated periodically to members of smaller ethnic groups every five years. The leadership council and the legislative chambers would become the magnet of socio-political affairs, whereas the executive and judiciary bodies could focus on economic development, public service delivery, and justice.

The council members could be elected from among the elected members of the Parliament. Eligible elected representatives and senators could run for five seats of the leadership council in an election held as a joint session of both chambers of the Parliament. MPs would cast their votes in a secret ballot and the results would be announced immediately.

After the five members of the leadership council are elected, they could rotate the chair and the deputy chair seats annually so that each member gets a chance to be a chair and deputy chair once. They would never be eligible to rerun for the leadership council.

The Head of Government

With the leadership council as the head of state, a prime minister would be the head of the government. She or he, like in any parliamentary system, would be already an elected MP, who would then get elected and dismissed only by the parliament.

The executive public positions should be kept away from politics and given into the hands of skilled technocrats and experts who would be chosen based on merit and expertise and judged only by their performance. The PM would have the authority to introduce the cabinet to the parliament for approval.

Neither the leadership council nor the prime minister would have the authority to dismiss the ministers or equivalent high-ranking executives. They could only be dismissed through a vote of no confidence by the lower house of the parliament.

The GNCA has the national socio-political leverage, and with the help of Afghanistan’s international allies, it could turn the country into the Switzerland of Asia with such basic constitutional arrangements that would also put an end to the rise of ethnonationalists to power.