Dostum's return to Afghanistan: a nod to 'warlord politics'
On eve of presidential vote, the ethnic Uzbek fighter, who's been in exile, rallied his base to support struggling President Hamid Karzai. Some say the move undermines a new, more democratic brand of politics.
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Professor Safi, meanwhile, questions the strength of Dostum's once-firm grip over the Uzbeks. "His credibility has decreased too much and he cannot influence even in his own province to get his people to come to Karzai," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, while Dostum had predicted a crowd of hundreds of thousands at his rally in Shiberghan, the rally was smaller than a recent rally thrown by Dr. Abdullah in a Dostum stronghold, the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Yet, among those in the crowd, fealty appeared absolute.
"Dostum is our father," said Nemadulla Sadaquat. "Our leader came and said to vote for Karzai, so that's why we are going to vote for him."
National unity a theme of debate
The debates have not been as influential as in US races. "In America, all the population have TVs, literacy – they can understand," says Safi. "[This] was just a debate for the intellectuals in Kabul."
Mr. Mir noted, however, that it probably reached a wider audience because it was also broadcast on radio.
National unity was a major theme. Karzai, a Pashto speaker, began the debate speaking in Dari, and Mr. Bashardost, a Dari speaker, started in Pashto. Even Dostum, at his rally Monday, spoke in Dari, Pashto, and Uzbek.
"National unity is raised [as an issue] when ethnicity becomes a business for politicians," Mr. Ghani observed. On the question of involving ethnic warlords in politics, he took a jab at Karzai: "I haven't dealt with any warlord, haven't promised them any ministries or any seats."
For his part, Karzai said that "I want to get rid of all these phrases like 'warlord'… Afghans, we are all the same people."
That sentiment reflects a strain here that sees the ethnic conflict of the 1990s as too fresh to expect ethnic voting to disappear. To avoid a return to fighting, some argue, warlords should be brought back into the political process.
"Everyone would be happy if they could contain these people" through coopting them politically, says Mir. "It is not only Dostum; everybody committed crimes in Afghanistan…. Uzbeks should not feel they are the only ethnic group under the spotlight."
In scores of interviews with voters across five provinces, some voters have appeared more independent-minded: the educated, the secular, and larger minority groups.
Indeed, writes Martine van Bijlert, a Kabul-based analyst in a new report titled "How to Win An Afghan Election": "There is an appetite for nonfactional alignment. This, together, with the changing behavior of the urban young, may chip away at the expected voting patterns along ethnic, tribal, and factional lines,"
The report goes on to note that Afghans often identify with several groups – resulting in an electorate that doesn't bog down in static voting blocs, despite the communal nature of Afghan politics.
Smaller minorities tend to vote more as a group to gain visibility and protect their standing. Uzbeks are one of the smaller groups, as are Ismailis, an Islamic sect.
On Sunday morning, the head of the political party representing Ismailis endorsed Karzai, even though many Ismailis say the Karzai government hasn't done much for their group.
"The reason that Karzai did not support us was that our leader was not close to Karzai," says Duad Ali Khan, secretary of the Ismaili shura, or council. "Now the leader of our community has decided that he is going to be close to Karzai [and] all the Ismaili community will vote for Karzai."
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