Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Government Needs to End Alienations

TUTAP electricity transmission project is coming as highly divisive in Afghanistan. The protestors say the government’s recent rerouting of the TUTAP – which stands for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – from central Bamyan province to Salang is made by political motives, with the government in Kabul ignoring development of central provinces. The protestors have called for a million march in Kabul on Monday May 16, 2016 to protest against the rerouting of the major electricity transmission project. Before the planned Monday protest in Kabul, the protestors organized a number of protests in the capital and other provinces. On Saturday, the protests further intensified with dozens of MPs walking out of the parliament to support the protestors.
The recent interruptions of President Ashraf Ghani’s address at the Royal United Services Institute in London showed how the issue has developed bitter and divisive in a country long suffering from ethnic and political divisions. The aftermaths of protest in London also indicated that some things are terribly going wrong in the country. While many objected the way the protestors acted in London and called Afghan president a “Liar” in a foreign capital, many others vehemently expressed support for the some four or five protestors expressing angers at the President. In Kabul, many high-ranking government officials and members of the parliament have come out to support the protestors and are helping organization of massive demonstrations against the decision. This is while the government so far has done little except setting a commission to directly deal with the public grievance over the electricity transmission project that is aimed to transmit energy to Afghanistan.
The demonstrations over the electricity project are going to further compound the problems the country and the national unity government are facing. The government needs to come to the realization that it is crucial to avoid alienation of masses and deterioration of Afghanistan’s sensitive inter-ethnic relations around highly controversial issues with roots in the country’s bitter past. Afghanistan has always missed opportunities to avoid deteriorations of events to an unpredictable situation. The government is again playing political game with the development projects of the highly deprived geographical areas in the country that is going to inevitably bring discontents at a time when the government needs political unity in the country and support of the public. The government needs to work hard on winning hearts and minds of the people and convince the masses that the ruling elite has broken up with the country’s history of discriminations and repressions.
The way the national unity is governing the country is seriously flawed, and the leaders of the unity government are going to leave behind a legacy of failure. President Ghani has had ambitious goals about salvaging the country by building the economy, promoting good and effective governance and making peace with the Taliban. He has been credited for taking some concrete measures in fighting corruption and promoting accountability in the government. The Western supporters of Afghanistan still see Ghani capable of leading the country and trustworthy for future relations between Afghanistan and the West. But they also can notice that he has become too unpopular. Ghani dreamt of coming as a savior for Afghanistan. But during his rule the problems have simply compounded. The Taliban have intensified offensive against the government and the country’s economy has further shrunk with people leaving the country in search of security and better lives.
However, the biggest failure of the leaders of the national unity government is the failure to promote political cohesion around Afghan politics and the government’s leadership of the country. A broad political consensus in the country is crucial for success of the government and its ability to unify the country behind its plans. But a large part of the country’s political class has been alienated while popularities of the leaders of the government have plummeted to the lowest level. At a time when the country is facing daunting challenges of deteriorating security, worsening economy, lack of political unity and deficit of public trust to the government, the national unity government is persistently failing to promote political cohesion and seek consensus on issues of national importance.
In the very ongoing controversy over the electricity project, the government is ignoring the fact that such inter-ethnic divisions are going to erode public confidence and support that the government needs for leading the country out of the war-time crises. Government officials supporting the protestors say the decision to reroute the TUTAP electricity transmission line was not made through consensus among cabinet members. It is said that the decision was forced despite that many senior officials were opposing it.  Afghans living in central provinces have always been skeptical to discriminatory policies of the ruling elite and accuses it of preventing implementation of development projects in the so-called central provinces. The government has done little to tackle the grievances. The rerouting of the electricity transmission line is compounding to the accumulated grievances already existing among the people.
The government needs to avoid further spread of public discontent. Political cohesion and national harmony, that helped the previous governments to keep the nation united during past fourteen years, is collapsing. Earlier the UN special representative told to the UN Security Council that lack of political cohesion is one of the biggest threats for survival of Afghanistan in 2016. The government needs to reconsider its flawed and divisive policies over issues like distribution of power, major development projects such as TUTAP, electoral reforms and other issues of national importance. The protest over TUTAP is not merely an ongoing political controversy or a passing public grievance but it is going to have long-term implications for the country’s inter-ethnic harmony and confidence of the public to the government’s policies and national programs. The stalemate could result to major problems in the country as the path ahead is undefined. The government needs to take concrete steps to resolve the problem.