Afghanistan: Will Government-Atta Standoff Descend Into Civil War? – OpEd


The latest standoff between Ustad Atta Muhammad Noor, the powerful Governor of Balkh province, and the leadership of the National Unity government has equally attracted national and international attention.

The situation has flared up conflicting views about the consequence of the tussle. A number of experts have equated the tussle with Dostum and Najibullah’s saga. It was in 1991 when Dr.Najibullah, the then Afghan president, wanted removal of General Mumin from his position as the Brigade Commander but Dostum, a pro-government militia leader rejected the appointment and demanded resignation of Juma Asak, the Managerial Executive of the North and loyal to Dr. Najibullah.

The standoff unfolded future events, mainly the defection of Dostum and coup against Najibullah that resulted in the collapse of the communist government. Others downplay the possibility of the occurrence of a similar situation or any major event. Though Ustad Atta Muhammad central government tussle and Dostum Najib saga seems pretty much the same and the situation looks ripe for an untoward happening, the ground reality dictates otherwise.

The Russians, being the sole supporter to the Kabul government during the Najib Dostum saga, halted their support to the Kabul regime in 1991 and the Najibullah government was solely taking the burden of the fight against Mujahideen throughout Afghanistan. The current Afghan government, though facing brutal insurgency, enjoys international support, from the US and NATO in particular. This gives the Afghan government leverage over all its opponents, political and armed ones.

The scale of the armed opposition to the current Afghan government is in no way comparable to the armed opposition that the Najibullah government was facing during Dostum Najib saga. During the time, some big cities and major swathes in Afghanistan were controlled by different factions of Mujahideen.

The saga of Dosutm Najeeb led to a brutal civil war that Afghans still remember. Cities, particularly Kabul, underwent huge destruction. The civil war badly damaged not only the social fabric of the Afghan society but more importantly fragmented the state. Despite the huge international support, the state institutions are yet to take its course. Afghans are not ready to return to the age of destruction and anarchy.

The huge public support for the change in regime that was existant during the Najib era is not existent among Afghans any more. Afghans have been living in a democratic society for the last 16 years, they want development, prosperity and are in no way ready to return to the civil war era. The general perception about the regime change is overwhelmingly negative in today’s Afghanistan. Afghans favor order over chaos. Afghans are feed up with the local power holders, they favor writ of the central government executed throughout Afghanistan.

The warlords didn’t have anything to lose in the infighting during the civil war. They were getting financial support from the neighbors to wage their wars. The war lords were fighting a proxy war of the neighbors, the international community, the US and NATO in particular had turned a deaf year to the situation in Afghanistan during the Afghan civil war. Many experts share the view that the civil war could have been averted had the international community paid timely attention to Afghanistan in 1990s.

However, the current situation doesn’t provide the war lords with such opportunity. The presence of the international troops and the wide international support that Afghanistan enjoys deny the neighbors the opportunity of unquestionable and overt intervention in Afghanistan.

Though there are still regional power holders who have the potential to challenge and slow down the decision of the central government, unlike the situation in 1991-92, the warlords have stakes in a stable Afghanistan. They have collected huge amount of money, run their businesses and have invested in various sectors of Afghan economy. Descending to civil war will mean a complete loss of their assets.

More importantly, Jamiat-e-Islami under the leadership of late Burhanddin Rabbani, was directly or indirectly involved in the Dostum Najib saga. The party was not part of the Najib government at that time. Conversely, Jamit has a big chunk in the current government. In fact it has been enjoying having the major chunk of power since 2001.

Dr. Abdullah, who is considered the main player on the political stage of Afghan on behalf of Jamiat, has been having 50 percent of share in the national unity government. Dr. Abdullah who still enjoys backing from most of the powerful power brokers in Jamiat is on the other side of the fence. In fact Atta held Dr. Abdullah responsible for his dismissal by the president. In addition, overwhelming majority of the provincial governors, commanders and diplomats are affiliated with Jamiat in the National Unity Government. Logically, Jamiat should not support any disruption in the system. The party though divided between the supporters of Dr. Adullah and Governor Atta the fulcrum tilts towards Dr. Abdullah’s stance.

Lastly, the tone of speech that governor Atta has adopted marks his inclination for a peaceful solution of the crisis. Seemingly harsh, Atta gave gestures of his willingness for solving his problems with the central government in his speech. Though he lashed out at Dr. Abdullah, the Chief Executive of the National Unity Government, he was not much critical of the Afghan president. Heaping most of the burden of his removal on Dr. Abdullah, in his latest press conference, Atta left the possibility of entering into negotiations with the president.

Ustad Atta seems to have wanted a win-win situation in the deal for his removal. Sources privy to the issue says that Atta had submitted a list of demands to the central government in exchange for his resign a few months ago. Beside others, the demands included on the appointment of two ambassadors and some provincial government from his team in exchange for his resignation.

To summarize, the ongoing tussle between Governor Atta and the central government is a manifestation of an internal wrestling for power among the power brokers in Jamiat and not a march to civil war. Sooner or later, calm will prevail and the conflict will be subsided.

*Ahmadullah Archiwal is a researcher based in Kabul. He can be reached at [email protected]

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