Jamiat Faces Break-up

The future of the Northern Alliance’s largest group is in doubt after some of its leaders call for sweeping changes

Jamiat Faces Break-up

The future of the Northern Alliance’s largest group is in doubt after some of its leaders call for sweeping changes

Thursday, 3 March, 2005

Members of the Northern Alliance’s largest group Jamiat-e-Islami are attempting to form a new political movement because they fear the party’s days are numbered.

A number of its younger leaders believe such a transformation would be in keeping with Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.

“After the fall of the Taleban and the beginning of the transitional administration, a number of Jamiat-e-Islami members believe that neither the party’s leader nor its constitution can fulfil the needs of our people,” said Abdel-Hafiz Mansoor, former president of the party’s cultural committee.

A second faction within the party recognises a need for change but wishes to reform Jamiat-e-Islami from within.

Both groups will face resistance from its leader, former president Burhannudeen Rabanni, who opposes such reforms.

The party has played a pivotal role in Afghan politics since the 1979 Soviet invasion and still wields enormous influence. Two of its leaders, Mohammad Fahim and Younis Qanuni, hold key posts in the new transitional administration as ministers for defence and education, respectively.

Most importantly, it still controls the country’s largest and best-equipped military force, an estimated at 50,000 men and dozens of tanks. In a land without a national army, this could be enough to take the capital by force.

Jamiat-e-Islami official Mahuddeen Mehdi told IWPR that a group of party members have been working for six months to form a new organisation called Nuhzat Melli - the National Movement of Afghanistan. “This party will begin its activities when we open its first congress. We cannot name its leadership but three people are being considered - Qanuni, Fahim and Wali Masood,” he said.

Wali Masood, brother of assassinated military commander Ahmed Shah Masood, epitomises this faction’s efforts to project a new image. While his brother was a renowned warrior hero in the traditional style, Wali Massoud cut a stylish figure during the Loya Jirga - always impeccably groomed and clad in a designer suit. He has also put much effort into cultivating student groups at Kabul university.

Jamiat-e-Islami has long been criticised for being run by a clique from the relatively small area of Panjshir valley. In particular, many Pashtuns - Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group - feel the party enjoys a disproportionate influence that has continued beyond the Loya Jirga into the new transitional government.

Their supporters insist that the Jamiat-e-Islami and the Northern Alliance stepped into a void created by the collapse of the Taleban last year, and have used their power responsibly since that time.

“Panjshiri people invited ex-king Zahir Shah to the Loya Jirga, and offered a lot of assistance and security during the assembly,” said Mansoor.

The party dates back to the time of Shah’s rule. It was formed as part of a nascent Islamic opposition to leftist and nationalist political groups that emerged from Kabul university and the king’s liberalisation policies. Rabbani was selected to lead it in 1971, but fled the country in 1974.

The party shot to prominence in the Eighties when it became one of seven Peshawar-based political groups to channel aid and arms across the border to the mujahedin. Although it has always been predominantly Tajik, it has also attracted some Pashtun members.

It is not clear what impact the seeming fragmentation of the party is having on the various forces in the north of Afghanistan who are aligned to it. Jamiat-e-Islami has traditionally had great influence in the north-eastern provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Kunduz and those just north of Kabul, Parwan and Kapeesa. But local military leaders exercise great autonomy and could take their men into one faction or another, or stay out altogether.

Insiders believe one reason for the push towards a new movement is that, with the Taleban gone, the Northern Alliance has begun to lose its cohesion.

Essentially a marriage of convenience between groups who opposed the student militia, the coalition formally includes General Abdel Rashid Dostum’s Junbush-e- Melli, the main Uzbek military and political force, Turkmen, and some representatives from the Hazara ethnic group.

Mansoor cites the fact that all the Northern Alliance leaders rallied behind Karzai’s presidential bid during the Loya Jirga as evidence of continuing close political ties. But he adds, “From the military point of view, their alliance ended after the fall of Taleban.”

Abdel Wali is an IWPR trainee journalist in Kabul

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