Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Abdul Hafiz Mansur: The Mujahedin's Journalist

Abdul Hafiz Mansoor is chief editor of the Tajik faction's newspaper, but he has fallen out with many in his own political camp.
By Amanullah Narsat

One of the more controversial figures in Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election is Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, who has come in for criticism for what some see as his Tajik nationalist views and hardline attitude to religion and women.


Mansoor, 41, one of 18 people standing for election on October 9, is currently editor of the newspaper Payam-e-Mujahed, the mouthpiece of Jamiat-e-Islami, a former mujahedin faction whose stronghold is the mainly Tajik northeast.


But as well as attacking the policies of the incumbent president, Hamed Karzai, Mansoor has lashed out at fellow-candidate Mohammad Younis Qanuni, who shares his background as a Panjshiri Tajik member of Jamiat.


He has harsh words to say about the current president.


"Karzai is against religion, against the jihad, and against the mujahedin," he told IWPR in an interview. "His government is not national, but is instead based on discrimination and divisiveness. It is always trying to fan the flames when it comes to ethnicity, and it disregards the parliament."


But he was equally scathing about Qanuni and his backers in the presidential race, foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and defence minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim.


"At the Emergency Loya Jirga [2002], I wanted to run against Karzai, and the only barrier to my nomination was Karzai's friends Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Younis Qanuni and Abdullah.


"Now I have nominated myself. If I am selected as president, I will remove the present administration, including Fahim, Qanuni and the rest of their friends."


Mansoor caused a storm in September when he said in a televised campaign speech, "I am not an Afghan… I am an Afghanistani," a reference to the older usage of the word "Afghan" to mean the Pashtuns only, as opposed to Tajiks and other groups.


Siddiq Patman, a political analyst who was involved in drafting the constitution approved at the beginning of this year, said, "I can't see what percentage of people will vote for him, because he doesn't call himself Afghan, he doesn't respect women's rights and he doesn't accept power-sharing with other ethnic groups in the government."


Patman believes that these tactics - which he defines as playing the ethnic card and denying that Afghans share a common historical past - is a calculated move by the candidate designed to "make friends among local warlords… and get them to support him".


On the streets of Kabul, it was hard to find anyone who has anything positive to say about the candidate. Wahidullah Shams, a 28-year-old man, said, "Since Mansoor doesn't call himself Afghan, has no respect for women, and seems to be anti-Pashtun, it would be better for him to drop his candidacy, because he will get less votes than any of the others."


Munir Ahmad, 22, from Nangarhar province in the east of Afghanistan, said, "The supreme court and the interior ministry should have taken Mansoor's name off the candidate list, because a person who does not describe himself as an Afghan should not only be barred from holding the post of president, but should not be allowed to hold even a low-level government job."


Mansoor wants to see a strong Islamic flavour to any future government - and his views on religion and the role of women have drawn as much criticism as support.


"In Afghanistan, the easiest way to create a system of government is to use religious principles," he told IWPR.


Rauf Khan, a former mujahedin fighter and Jamiat member, is a keen supporter, "In my opinion, Mansoor is not only a great mujahedin, but a great scholar too - he has written many books. I've known him for a long time: he's a religious person and a follower of the precepts of [the Prophet] Mohammad."


But Mohammad Jalil, 42, a Kabul resident originally from Ghazni, took the opposite view, saying, "Mansoor is one of the key figures of the jihad…. He is against women who don't act according to Islamic rules and regulations. The people who vote for him will be those who want a strong Islamic role in the government. "


In terms of more general policies, Mansoor is promising sweeping changes to the way Afghanistan is governed.


In a speech opening his election campaign in September, Mansoor said he would replace the presidential system with a parliamentary one, "If I become president I will recall the Loya Jirga and make a new parliament and constitution. I will have the present constitution annulled."


He told IWPR, "We are against the current government; we will change the presidential system to a parliamentary one. It is also worth saying that I want the presidency not to gain power, but in an effort to distribute that power."


With the strong parliamentary state he is proposing, Mansoor promises that "we will make a system such that even if Satan were to become president, he would be unable to do anything".


"People have the right to take part in choosing their own destiny, and their participation in the system will prevent a single person, family or party from holding all power in its hands," he said.


Born in 1963 in the Rukha district of the Panjshir valley, Mansoor went to a local school before going to university - when events changed his life.


"Until 1978, I was a regular student and wanted to complete my education and become a doctor. But [in 1979] the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan and the jihad began. That's how I switched to politics: when I chose politics, it chose me, too," he said.


Mansoor was part of the Jamiat mujahedin structure of which Ahmad Shah Massoud was military commander. He served in a backroom role, eventually becoming head of political and cultural affairs and running the party's Mujahed newspaper.


When the mujahedin factions took Kabul and drove the communists from power in 1992, Mansoor was made head of the new regime's official news agency Bakhtar.


The Jamiat-led government retreated from the capital in the face of a Taleban onslaught in 1996, holding out for years in north-eastern areas.


After the collapse of the Taleban regime in 2001, Mansoor was back in Kabul, this time as acting minister of information and culture, but was soon shifted to the post of head of Radio and Television of Afghanistan. Removed from that post a year later, in 2002, he became head of the weekly Payam-e-Mujahid.


He also served as an elected representative to the first and second Loya Jirgas, held in 2002 and 2003 respectively.


Mansoor admits his election platform differs from those of his rivals - but insisted he would drop out of the race if any of them were to back his policies.


Patman doesn't hold out much hope for the Panjsheri journalist, "Kabul residents, like those of other provinces too, don't have a positive image of him and won't vote for him."


Amanullah Narsat is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.