Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Leaders in the North Look Ahead
After more than two decades of war and instability, the people of Afghanistan are now preparing for elections for president and parliament - the first democratic poll in nearly 40 years.
A new constitution is in place. Political parties and voters are being registered. A new army is being set up and a national police force trained.
But big problems remain, not least of which is security. The authority of the transitional government headed by President Hamed Karzai is largely confined to Kabul. The Taleban is resurgent in the south and east. Warlords continue to hold sway over much of the country. The politics of the north is dominated by the rival militias of General Rashid Dostum and General Atta Mohammad. The process of disarmament moves slowly.
So, IWPR asked leading figures in the north how they see events unfolding in the coming months.
Abdul Hadi Balkhi, head of the northern region Wahdat-e-Islami party [Shia's mujahedin party based mainly in northern and central Afghanistan]:
''We hope that Afghanistan is moving towards stability, peace, and a legal system but because of all the problems we have, we are not that optimistic.
"The elections will not be 100 per cent free and fair. Lots of obstacles exist ahead of the elections. The armed groups that are holding authority in some areas will create problems. Powerful commanders exist and if their interests are not taken into account, they will create difficulties.
"Another thing that creates obstacles and is a concern for the people is the corruption in governmental offices - for example, taking bribes. Serious reform and appointing honest people in government offices will help to solve this problem.''
Dr Nadera Hayat Burhani, a northern delegate to the constitutional Loya Jirga held in Kabul last December:
''People are optimistic for the future but I think this is premature. After the Bonn agreement [on the future of Afghanistan in 2001], people expected much change. And when the support of the international community was promised for Afghanistan, the people were very hopeful that the disarmament process, DDR, would start soon.
"However it has not been done with the speed people were expecting. Now the people understand that if the government speeds up the process it will face violence.
"But I am hopeful that in the coming few years, the DDR process will be completed and the country will experience peace and stability.''
Habibollah Habib, governor of Balkh province:
''First of all, I should state that we have lots of problems in our society. Our country is a war-weary country and has faced many difficulties. Despite all these problems, I am optimistic as I believe things will be improving.
"Something we should aim for is 'national unity'. Afghanistan is our joint home. So, we should all take part in re-forming this nation. Regarding the elections, it is up to the people who they want to select as their president. But I think people will select a person who will deserve the presidency and will tackle all the problems.''
Saleh Mohammad Khaleq, the head of Balkh writers' association:
''I am optimistic about the future of Afghanistan and its security. Our people are very hopeful. Civil society is being improved in our country. The [adoption of a new] constitution was an effective measure towards implementing democracy.
"But one important thing is 'national unity'. Our country's name was once Ariana. One ethnic group, the Pashtuns, claim to be representing Afghans and the rest of the people are concerned about it. I therefore would like to re-name Afghanistan [the name given to the country by a Pashtun king] Ariana, in order to implement national unity. But I am happy with the current situation and I hope Afghanistan has a developed and prosperous future."
Ghalib Shah Azizi, the head of the Northern Chamber of Commerce:
"We are becoming hopeful day by day. We cannot develop our country, in which the fighting existed for 23 years, within two years. We had lots of problems in the past but they are being solved day by day. Regarding the elections, I believe Hamed Karzai is an intelligent and proper person to be selected as a president for Afghanistan. He will be able to rule the government and ensure peace and stability in the country."
Zalmay Yonusy, political deputy of the 7th Military Corps of the Jamiat-e-Islami party, headed by General Mohammad Atta:
''We are optimistic about the future of Afghanistan because in the past two years, lots of developments and changes have been made - the establishment of the interim administration, the selection of the president for the transitional administration, and the Loya Jirga which approved the new constitution for the country.
"The developments in the past two years make us very optimistic. The [democratic] process is moving very slowly, but if we go ahead with this process, we will have a very bright future.''
"We don't see good security very far away - it is just a few steps ahead. And if the international community continues its supports, I am sure that peace and security - that is the wish of the international community and our people - will soon come into existence.''
Mohammad Humayoon Khairy, head of the cultural office for Junbish-e-Millie-Islami headed by General Abdul Rashid Dostum:
"I am very optimistic about the future because Afghans are not the people of 30 years ago. War and instability have taught them lots of things. After the Bonn agreement and the establishment of interim and transitional administrations in Afghanistan, the people were optimistic about the future of their country. But unfortunately the people around Karzai are not good enough for their jobs.
"These people have led Afghanistan towards a separation. Karzai is playing duplicitous politics that have disappointed the people. There are still powerful commanders who won't give up their weapons because they are not sure about their future.''
"We are also not sure about the transparency of the elections, because they have made an election commission whose members were appointed by Karzai himself. And we are worried that the election law is not fair enough."
Yama Sharaf, head of the law faculty in Balkh University:
''We are very hopeful about the future and the elections. The elections that the people are participating in is a new experience for our country. Compared to the last years, in the past two years there has been much progress. And if it continues like this, we are very optimistic that in the near future we will achieve stable peace and security.''
Maria Sazawar, chief of the monthly newspaper Bedar and a delegate to the constitutional Loya Jirga:
''I see the future of the country as very prosperous, because the demobilisation and disarmament process has come out of words into practice. Weapons are being collected to avoid obstacles on the way to fair elections. The people can only trust the new elected government if they have chosen their president and parliament. They also hope that the articles of the constitution come off the paper and turn to practice.
"I hope that with the help of a kind God and the effort of our people the future of our country will be very bright and prosperous.''
Interviews conducted by IWPR contributors Qais Faqiri, Nahim Qadery and Parwin Faiz in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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