“The president always welcomes opposition voices, and they have every right to express their opinions,” said Waheed Omer, a spokesman for Karzai. He acknowledged that there are “people who fear the peace process” or want to “make it into an ethnic issue,” but he insisted that there was nothing to worry about. “There are red lines we will not cross,” he said.
The opposition’s struggles illustrate the broader problems that beset Afghan politics a decade after Taliban rule ended. The system is a modern democracy on paper, but it is still dominated by individual and tribal loyalties, while political institutions remain weak and parties are based on personality cults rather than ideas.
There is constant talk of burying hatchets, but ethnic identity still looms large, injecting mistrust into national priorities such as the peace process. Karzai comes from the Pashtun south; opponents from the former Northern Alliance, which once fought the Taliban, represent a mix of minority groups from the north. Within the opposition, there are generational divisions, grudges dating to the civil war of the 1990s and the temptation of lucrative government posts.
“There are many personalities involved, but no one has been able to truly mobilize people,” said Haroun Mir, an analyst and former aide to the late Northern Alliance militia leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.
“There is a lot of talk, but there is no catalyst, no agenda, no vision,” Mir said. “It is still all about self-interest and individual power, so Karzai can easily keep the opposition fragmented and weak.”
Failure to come together
In the past month, opposition leaders have been badly scared by several targeted Taliban slayings of officials in the relatively peaceful north, including Kunduz, Takhar, Bamian and Herat provinces. The killings have prompted fears of a civil war between northern ethnic groups and the southern-based Taliban as international forces begin to withdraw in the next year.
Most shocking was the death of Gen. Daud Daud, a senior police official and former Northern Alliance commander who was killed in a suicide bombing May 28 in the capital of Takhar province. On Friday, to reinforce their message, insurgents bombed a memorial service for Daud in Kunduz, killing at least three people. Yet analysts said that even the spate of deadly attacks has failed to unify or galvanize northern leaders.
“After General Daud was assassinated, I thought surely something would happen, people would come out,” Mir said. “There were a lot of speeches, but nothing came of it. There is a lot of tension, and people now see real threats to their own lives, but they don’t know whom to trust. If a Talib can come all the way from Kandahar and plant a bomb in a government building in Kunduz, someone there must have been collaborating.”