On 1 November, former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from Afghanistan´s contentious second round of polling, which would have pitted him against incumbent President Hamid Karzai for a run-off six days later. The following day, the poll was cancelled and Karzai was again named president, for another five-year term. Himal Southasian´s contributing editor in Kabul, spoke with Abdullah shortly thereafter.
AM: What is your strategy for the future?
AA: My movement will continue. Right now it consists of many, many parties. It was during the end of the campaign season when things started gaining momentum the way that I had expected or anticipated, but it has more potential throughout the country and this will fill the vacuum that has been there for years. I have already started discussions with different components [of the movement].
There are probably people among your supporters who aspire to join the government?
It’s possible, it’s possible. But those who want to join the movement will be much more than those who aspire to go in another direction. This movement has proved itself by sticking to the rule of law, to the principles, to the values, the non-violent attitude. You might remember the fears of violence. We have proved that this is a forward-looking movement rather than one that is stuck in the past. Rather than being interested in positions of power, we are working to bring changes and promoting ideas and serving the interests of the country. I think already the movement has passed some tests, but I will not say these are all the tests it will go through. Some people will still be hesitant before we take further steps, but I think it is a movement that has a future.
Your movement seems to have political leverage. How will you use this in the next few critical weeks?
I will push for ideas for the betterment of life for the people of Afghanistan. Eventually, it is not just who becomes the president that is going to shape the future of the country, but it is the role the people of the country play. I will call for reform, for change, for good governance, for upholding the rule of law and reform in institutions. For example, if there was any lesson from this process, [it is that] we need an independent election commission and a clean one. And we do need an independent judiciary. We do need changes in the system so that the people are true participants. The faith of the people in the process has to be restored.
Does the removal of the chairman of the Independent Election Commission remain a condition for participation in next year’s parliamentary elections?
I think it is in the best interests of Afghanistan if we have full reform…
There was talk about the possibility of a violent reaction to the elections. Is this something that you have thought about?
Will it open the doors for the Taliban, that is a question. But I am aware of the feelings and emotions and sentiments in this regard. There are lots of people in different parts of the country who are extremely disappointed, and it is not just feelings about the [final] announcement with regard to the elections. Through the campaign, a lot of people saw that there was no level playing field. Then there was the election, and then the fraud, and then the way that the [final] announcement was made by a body which did not have the mandate and also had lost its credibility during the elections. For lots of people it sounds like unfinished business. The process completed itself with that final illegal decision.
When that happened, I received calls from many parts of the country. People were ready to take action. Of course, I strongly rejected all the suggestions that were made. Some of them would have greatly set back the democratic process. In some places, people were in a mood to disallow elections, given the fraud that was being practiced. But I was very clear: I didn’t ask for a boycott, and I said it was for the citizens to judge and decide for themselves. It was this balance which was already in my mind, and has been in my mind. It is unfortunate that we are in this fragile situation. Who is responsible for it, a situation where people cannot express their view even through non-violent and constitutional legal actions? That is a pity that shows the weakness of the system. Somebody is responsible for this.
A kind of strength has to be built in the system in order to lay the foundation for the future. We should create an environment so that people can have their entitlements according to laws and the Constitution to express their views, and through demonstrations, strikes and other peaceful means. Otherwise, the resentment stays and questions remain in the minds of the people.
Some of the reforms you have been advocating require a change in the Constitution. Are there steps that can be taken even now within the Constitution for a better balance of power?
There are things which could have been done even under the current circumstances. For example, defining the role of the provincial councils. The Independent Directorate of Local Governance was established, but this was geared towards the elections. This shouldn’t have been the case. It should have been focused on real issues of reform, change, local governance. Development programmes could be more balanced, for equitable growth and the access of the people to the resources. These are things which would help in empowering the people. Listening to the people’s voices, the Constitution does not prohibit that. Let the people have a say in the issue of governance, politics and development. Respecting the decision of the Parliament is written into the Constitution. This has not happened in the past few years. If formal changes in the Constitution take time, there should not be any excuse for not implementing what provisions are there. Violating the Constitution cannot be excused.
If you could go back, what would you have done differently?
I should have decided much earlier than when I made this decision [to withdraw]. I could have reached to the people in a better way. I was late, perhaps. There were many, many others names who started earlier, including the incumbent. He should be very tired. He has been in campaign mode for the past three years!
~ Aunohita Mojumdar is contributing editor for Himal Southasian.