Q&A: Afghanistan’s Tajiks plea for federalism

Ahead of new talks with the Taliban, some Afghan leaders think federalism is the only way to secure long-term peace.

Abdul Latif Pedram
Abdul Latif Pedram says Afghanistan can find lasting peace if the country embraces federalism based on provinces [EPA]

As Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban sit for another round of peace talks, a prominent leader of the country’s Tajik ethnic group says federalism is the only solution that will stop the fighting.

The current Afghan constitution has vested enormous powers in the country’s president. It is feared that peace with the Taliban without reforming the constitution would lead to the creation of an all-powerful Pashtun bloc that could push the country back into an ethnic and tribal war.

Afghanistan is a country of minorities with Pashtuns constituting a major minority. Since the collapse of the Taliban, most of the prominent Tajik leaders have either been assassinated or sidelined from major political posts in the government.

Now a new generation of Tajik leaders are calling for federalism as the way forward for the country.

Al Jazeera talked to Abdul Latif Pedram, a leader of the Tajiks, on the internal ethnic and tribal dynamics of war and peace in Afghanistan.

Pedram is a member of parliament for the province of Badakhshan and heads the National Congress Party of Afghanistan. He is also the founder of the Tajik’s Council of Afghanistan. Tajiks constituted the main anti-Taliban fighting force in the past known as Northern Alliance or United Islamic Front for Salvation of Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera – The Taliban have made the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan their main precondition for peace. Can there be peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces?

Pedram – The US and its allies have not been honest in establishing peace. They are after pursuing their own strategic interest in the region, which is to dominate the resources by military means and establishing puppet regimes like the one in Kabul. The regime in Kabul has no popular support. It can only continue in its sinful existence under the shadow of the US spear, otherwise it would quickly collapse.

Social injustices, ethnic and tribal inequalities, national oppression, the mentality of marginalisation and Pashtun chauvinism are the hallmark of this government, which has the potential to swing the country from crisis to crisis. Therefore, one cannot reduce the existing conflict in Afghanistan to a single issue. The National Congress Party, which I lead, has always been against the presence of invading forces in our country. Should the Taliban agree to our proposal, which is based on social justice, or should they propose another fair way to establish peace and equality between the people, ethnicities and tribes, we welcome it and only in parallel to this approach would the withdrawal of US forces be deemed conducive to peace and security.

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– You pointed to domestic factors in Afghanistan that could potentially sustain a continued environment of conflict in the country. Could you please elaborate: What are the internal social and political factors that have so far sustained the war?

– Other than social injustices and inequalities, national oppression is the main cause of conflict in Afghanistan. There are prominent Pashtun personalities who are engaged in shaping a political trend aimed at dominating and monopolising political power in the country in favour of the Pashtun tribe. Pashtun chauvinism has posed deep political and military challenges for the country. The fact is that other tribes and ethnicities have all awakened. Now they know the game, they will not accept a policy of national oppression. They stand for justice and equality for all. Parallel to these internal challenges, we have been dragged into a proxy war between Pakistan and India and other global powers, such as China, Russia and the US, with the latter being the main proponent of conflict in the region.

– You have said in your speeches that federalism is the solution for the conflict in Afghanistan. Is federalism appropriate for Afghanistan? Why is it a solution?

– We in the National Congress Party believe federalism is the best choice for Afghanistan. Countries that have suffered social, political, ethnic and tribal conflict, and were on the path of disintegration, found federalism as a unifying factor.

The international community, prominent social and political personalities of Afghanistan are all in search of a solution to the conflict with the Taliban. We say the path to peace with the Taliban passes through federalism. The current war in Afghanistan could drag on for years and ultimately end in the breakup of the country, but the solution and unity of the country lies in federalism. Federalism will democratise power; it will allow the people of the country to become the masters of their political destiny within their provinces.

– In an event where foreign forces withdraw and federalism is not achieved, would the country slide into tribal and regional wars?

– I have time and again made it clear that the solution to our conflict and lasting peace is federalism. If the United States, NATO and its allies are serious about peace and are not in pursuit of exploiting the woes of the region to their own neo-imperialistic and neo-colonial interests, then they should support federalism for Afghanistan. However, ever since the Bon “agreement” the US and its allies have tried to impose the Pashtun tribe on other tribes. Currently all national symbols are usurped by Pashtuns; the national anthem, the national currency, the flag and the international airport are all in Pashtu language or Pashtun names.

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Other tribes and ethnicities do not see their culture reflected in their national icons. This situation is utterly unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. The Pashtun chauvinists even interfere in how we write or speak in our mother tongue. There is a shameful policy of national oppression that is at play in this country.

– You have called the legitimacy of the country name “Afghanistan” into question. Why would the name Afghanistan not be acceptable to you and your supporters?

P– The name Afghanistan is not the historic name of this land. Our land prior to the British colonial rule in early 1800s was known as Khorasan, and before that this distinct civilised region was known as Aryana. The current name Afghanistan does not reflect the diversity of existing tribes and ethnic groups in the country. It only reflects the Pashtun tribe which is also known as Patan, Awghan or Afghan. Should a fair government emerge we hope that this issue would be addressed and a more inclusive name for the country be agreed on.

– Some people may say that Afghanistan has more important problems to deal with than a name change… A change of name wouldn’t put bread on the table.

– On the contrary, I believe a name change for Afghanistan will put bread on the table of the poor and ordinary people of the country, because it would put an end to tribal and ethnic conflict and antagonisms. It will create a new positive national psyche, a national psyche that is based on inclusiveness and celebration of cultural diversity, all of which are important for good economic activity.

A name change will revive and connect our people to their glorious past, for example the Persian language originated from Khorasan not from Iran. The great mystic poet Rumi was from Balkh province of modern-day Afghanistan, and these are just a few examples. Today, foreigners think our language is an import or our history is of only 300 years, which is marred by violence and bloodshed. But connecting to our past glories will install confidence in our people. If the name is not important, why is it that today the issuing of our national identity card is postponed because of the dispute over the tribal and ethnic names on that card. The dispute is over whether individual’s ethnicity or tribe should be mentioned on the card or not. So the name is important.

Source: Al Jazeera