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Constitutional Design and the Political Salience of

“Community” Identity in Afghanistan: Prospects for the
Emergence of Ethnic Conflic....

Article  in  Asian Survey · August 2008

DOI: 10.1525/as.2008.48.4.535


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Katharine Adeney
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Prospects for the Emergence
of Ethnic Conflicts in the
Post-Taliban Era

Katharine Adeney

After the defeat of the Taliban, Afghanistan entered a period of constitutional
flux. The 2004 Constitution rejected formal ethnic representation in state insti-
tutions. This Constitution, therefore, provides no defense against perceived or
actual domination of the state by any one particular ethnic community. This
could lead to increased ethnic resentment and conflicts.

Keywords: Afghanistan, federalism, ethnic quotas, nationalism, Kymlicka

Literature on so-called nation building and reconstruc-
tion in ethnically divided societies has proliferated since the end of the
Cold War.1 Yet, it should be noted that this literature actually refers more

Katharine Adeney is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of

Sheffield, United Kingdom. She would like to thank colleagues at the University of Sheffield,
especially Anthony Payne, who greatly improved this paper through their comments, as well as
participants in various seminar series who commented on earlier versions. Many thanks are also
due to the anonymous referees and to Andrew Wyatt, Anna Wordsworth, Lawrence Sáez, and
Stefan Wolff, all of whom suggested useful changes in later versions. All responsibility for errors
of fact and interpretation remains the author’s own. Email: <>.
1. For example, see Francis Fukuyama, ed., Nation-building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq
(Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
Asian Survey, Vol. 48, Issue 4, pp. 535–557, ISSN 0004-4687, electronic ISSN 1533-838X. © 2008
by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permis-
sion to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and
Permissions website, at DOI: AS.2008.48.4.535.


to the process of “state reconstruction” than to “nation building.” “Na-

tion building” is actually a rather different process from “state building”;
it occurs naturally over time or is a process purposely initiated by political
elites to craft a sense of national identity. In contrast, “state building” refers
to the reconstruction of official governmental institutions and structures,
including a constitution, often after a major political upheaval. One of the
reasons that “state building” and “nation building” have been conflated
is because the words “state” and “nation” are often used interchangeably.
Both have been linked in Afghanistan because both processes require, and
are affected by, constitutional crafting in a post-conflict situation. The de-
sign of state institutions, including a constitution, can reveal whether the
state seeks to legitimize itself around a particular “community.” Constitu-
tional crafting is, therefore, a vitally important element in managing ethnic
differences in a state. Literature relating to such crafting has distinguished
between seeking to manage or to eliminate ethnic differences.2 Within a par-
ticular state, many different solutions are possible.
This article focuses on institutional crafting as a solution to managing
ethnic differences. It proceeds from the assumption that institutions struc-
ture incentives for political actors and, as such, are often the focus of intense
political contestation. These institutions may be changed by individuals
but such changes will, by definition, upset the status quo and are likely to
increase conflict, particularly in the short term.
After the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan’s new emerging po-
litical elites had a unique opportunity to create an ethnically inclusive state.
Ethnic inclusion can take many forms. For example, some forms depend
on the adoption of quotas, while others seek to establish free and fair re-
cruitment policies regardless of ethnic background. This article focuses on
the political recognition or non-recognition of different types of identity
within the reconstructed institutions of Afghanistan after the fall of the
Taliban. Yet, it must be noted that creating a dichotomy between “recog-
nition” and “non-recognition” conceals the many different ways that iden-
tities can be politically recognized within a state. Will Kymlicka usefully
distinguishes between several different types of political recognition: self-
governing rights, representation rights, and polyethnic rights.3 The main
institutional choices arising from these categories relevant to Afghanistan

2. John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary, “Introduction: The Macro-political Regulation

of Ethnic Conflict,” in John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary, eds., The Politics of Ethnic Con-
flict Regulation: Case Studies of Protracted Ethnic Conflicts (New York: Routledge, 1993),
pp. 1–40.
3. Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 26–33.
concerned whether the country should become a federation or a unitary
state, whether it should be a presidential or parliamentary democracy, and
whether consociational forms of power sharing in elected and non-elected
institutions of the state should be adopted.4 While “communities” are not
fully homogeneous in Afghanistan and are often divided along tribal and
regional lines, the attitudes of political elites on particular issues at the Con-
stitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) were generally related to the demographics of
“their” community.5
Section one of this article focuses on the main features of the consti-
tution building process in Afghanistan after the removal of the Taliban
regime. Section two discusses those elements that relate to Kymlicka’s self-
governing, representation, and polyethnic rights. The article concludes with
an assessment of the prospects for stable relations between the different
communities in Afghanistan. The article argues that, while the existing con-
stitutional provisions appear to be a sensible compromise in a fluid post-
conflict situation, they are too dependent on only one individual, President
Hamid Karzai, for their continued success.6
Although other issues such as security, opium production, economic de-
velopment, and the prosecution of war criminals appear to be more prom-
inent in Afghanistan’s political agenda at present, serious ethnic tensions
could easily reassert themselves. They could especially emerge if it is per-
ceived that progress, or the lack thereof, on these other issues discrimi-
nates between Afghanistan’s various communities. Thus, ethnic harmony
within Afghanistan may, in reality, be much more precarious than is often

4. The theory of consociationalism was developed by Arend Lijphart. It is premised on the

assumption that divided societies can be democratic and stable if formal structures—such as
a grand coalition, representation rights, segmental autonomy, and a mutual veto for all sig-
nificant groups—are institutionalized. See Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies: A
Comparative Exploration (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977).
5. The CLJ comprised approximately 502 members. The majority were indirectly elected
by district level representatives, but provision was made for the representation of women, ref-
ugees, and religious minorities. In addition, 50 members were appointed directly by Hamid
Karzai—half of whom were to be women. In December 2003, the CLJ debated the provisions
of the draft constitution drawn up by the Constitutional Commission, and proposed many
significant amendments, discussed in more detail in this article. The result of this process was
the Constitution of January 2004.
6. As will be discussed in more detail, Afghanistan’s political system is a presidential one.
The president is directly elected through a “second ballot system,” thus requiring the support
of more than 50% of the voting electorate. There is no prime minister and the cabinet is com-
posed of members nominated by the president. However, the Parliament must approve these
nominations and can also pass legislation—with a two-thirds majority—to which the president
does not assent.

Constitution Building and Ethnic Diversity

in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is an extremely diverse state. The Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) estimates that its population in 2008 is almost 33 million, although
estimates differ widely and the Central Statistics Authority of Afghanistan
reported Afghanistan’s population as being only 22 million in 2002.7 The
largest community, the Pashtuns, do not comprise a majority but, by most
estimates, a plurality of the population at 42%. The Tajiks are the next
largest community with 27% of the population. The Uzbeks and Hazaras
constitute approximately 9% each. The remaining 13% is divided among
smaller communities. The long-anticipated census results are likely to be
controversial. The census has apparently been postponed until 2010, due
to both security concerns and also the dangers of politicizing the census
results before the 2009 scheduled elections.8 Even if the census had pro-
ceeded as originally planned, census enumerators would not have taken
into account demographic factors such as ethnicity, race, or language. In
the words of one high-ranking Afghan official, “We are all considered one
nation.”9 In contrast to ethnicity, Afghanistan is more homogeneous along
religious and sectarian lines—99% of the population is Muslim, 80% of
whom are Sunnis. Yet, all these figures are contested because relative pop-
ulation strengths (or weaknesses) have political implications.
The relevant community cleavages in Afghanistan are multiple but, in
reality, some of these are actually coterminous—for example, the Hazaras
are primarily Shia—while others are cross-cutting—for example, Pashtuns
are divided along tribal and regional lines. Together with cross border
linkages in Pakistan between communities, this diversity poses a challenge
to the Afghan state. To understand the potential difficulties of managing
diversity in a multiethnic state, it is important to take into account the
number and relative size of groups, as well as their territorial concentra-
tion. Diversity by itself cannot be the explanatory variable of state insta-
bility because, after all, multiethnic states are not necessarily doomed to
failure. In addition, a sense of Afghan national identity does indeed exist,
irrespective of the complex ethnic diversity in the country. Although no

7. CIA, CIA World Factbook (CIA, 2008); Central Statistics Office, Afghanistan, “Popula-
tion by Age Groups” (2002), available at <>, accessed June 28, 2008.
8. Pia Heikkila, “Afghan Census Cancelled Due to Security Fears,” The Guardian (June 11,
2008); Independent Online, “Afghan Postpones First Full Census,” June 4, 2008, available at
<>, accessed June 28, 2008.
9. Mohammad Ali Watan Yar, head of the Central Statistics Department, quoted in Aba-
sin, “New Census Key to Progress,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (January 24, 2003),
available at <>, accessed March 8, 2006.
survey data exist, the existence of an Afghan national identity is supported
by the empirical fact that Afghanistan has not suffered from a secessionist
movement, even though there have been serious conflicts between groups.10
One of the major debates in the constitution making process in Afghan-
istan was whether to formally recognize “ethnicity” within institutions of
the state. There is no “correct” answer to the question of whether formal
recognition is successful in ensuring political stability in ethnically divided
societies. Opponents of politically recognizing ethnicity, famously Brian
Barry, have argued that this type of recognition perpetuates and hardens
identities, undermines a sense of national identity, and makes conflict more
likely in both the short and long term.11 This is theorized to be the case
partly because political recognition inherently involves some form of clas-
sification, which often categorizes groups “inappropriately” and causes re-
sentment. As Andreas Wimmer and Conrad Schetter note, “Ethno-religious
groups [in Afghanistan] only appear as clearly bounded units on the maps
of Western policy-makers.”12 Codifying identities that were previously fluid
is theorized to reduce the opportunity for multiple identities or loyalties to
develop. These theorists argue that this flexibility may actually hold the key
to ensuring political stability in multiethnic societies. In this vein, Donald
Horowitz has argued that constitution designers should promote institutions
that lead to cross-community interactions rather than segmenting them.13
In contrast, supporters of recognizing diversity, such as Brendan O’Leary,
argue that “consociationalists . . . do not embrace pluralism for its own
sake, or because they want a romantic celebration of a thousand different
flowers (or weeds). They maintain that a hard confrontation with reality
forces certain options on decision makers in deeply divided societies.”14
Supporters of this position argue that communities will be insecure with-
out this recognition, thus leading to a further politicization of identities

10. For analysis, see Nancy Dupree, “Cultural Heritage and National Identity in Af-
ghanistan,” Third World Quarterly 23:5 (October 2002), p. 978; and Anthony Hyman, “Na-
tionalism in Afghanistan,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 34:2 (May 2002),
pp. 310–11.
11. Brian Barry, “Review Article: Political Accommodation and Consociational Democ-
racy,” British Journal of Political Science 5:4 (October 1975), pp. 477–505.
12. Andreas Wimmer and Conrad Schetter, “Putting State-Formation First: Some Recom-
mendations for Reconstruction and Peace-making in Afghanistan,” Journal of International
Development 15:5 (July 2003), p. 535.
13. Donald Horowitz, “Some Realism about Constitutional Engineering,” in Andreas
Wimmer et al., eds., Facing Ethnic Conflicts: Toward a New Realism (Lanham, Md.: Rowman
and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004), pp. 245–57.
14. Brendan O’Leary, “Debating Consociational Politics: Normative and Explanatory
Arguments,” in Sid Noel, ed., From Power Sharing to Democracy: Post Conflict Institutions in
Ethnically Divided Societies (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), p. 9.

and potentially escalating tensions. Proponents of non-recognition often as-

sume a level playing field, ignoring the fact that even a perfect meritocracy
may reinforce historical ethnic domination through rewarding past privi-
lege. In addition, if we accept that individuals possess more than one iden-
tity, recognition does not automatically cause conflict because different
identities will be more prominent at different points in time. Thus, recog-
nition can provide the conditions for other identities to become politically
Although Afghanistan has not suffered from a secessionist movement,
Barnett Rubin notes that “ethnic politicians from different groups advo-
cated different views of how to constitute the Afghan nation” after the fall
of the Taliban in 2001.15 This was the case because Afghanistan’s diversity
had historically not been reflected in its governing institutions. Afghani-
stan had been dominated by Pashtuns before 1979, and this domination
was reflected in government appointments and official histories, which
tended to erase the contributions of non-Pashtun groups to the country.16
The ethnic exclusionary policies of the Taliban, who were primarily Pash-
tuns, continued this practice during their rule from 1996 to 2001.
The Afghan Constitution of 2004 was produced after extensive deliber-
ations and bargaining.17 The Constitutional Commission published the re-
sults of its deliberations in November 2003 after extensive, albeit secretive,
discussions.18 In December 2003, the CLJ was given an opportunity to de-
bate the Constitution’s provisions and make amendments before the final
draft was agreed to in January 2004. The major debates centered around
the powers of the presidency, the issue of the national language, the role
of the king, human rights, and the role of Islam. Significantly, the changes
made in the CLJ “were almost entirely determined by the northern [eth-
nic] block” that had helped the Americans topple the Taliban.19 Although
differences existed between the various ethnic communities, a coalition of
ethnic groups seeking to limit the perceived danger of Pashtun domination
emerged during these deliberations. Pashtun “centralizers” were opposed
by those arguing that “an ostensibly ‘non-ethnic’ position actually served

15. Barnett Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution for Afghanistan,” Journal of Democracy 15:3
(July 2004), p. 11.
16. Hyman, “Nationalism in Afghanistan,” p. 308.
17. For details, see Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution,” pp. 5–19.
18. The Constitution Commission was appointed by Hamid Karzai. It initially comprised
nine members, but a “[l]arger commission of 35 members reviewed the text, which was also
shown to a few international experts and the government’s National Security Council.” Ibid.,
p. 10.
19. Ahmed Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga for Pakistan,” The Nation (Pakistan), Janu-
ary 12, 2004. The Northern Alliance was composed primarily of Tajiks and Uzbeks but also
included Hazara Shias.
the interests of the largest group.”20 Ahmed Rashid, in fact, noted that these
disputes were likely to have significance “for the future of inter-ethnic re-
lations between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.”21 The Pashtuns’ historical
domination of the state and the fact that the Taliban were predominantly
Pashtuns (and had persecuted many Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks) con-
tributed to this antipathy.
As noted above, the demographics of particular communities are im-
portant in understanding their collective preference formation. Groups
that are territorially concentrated are more likely to advocate federal solu-
tions as a means to secure control over their affairs than those that are dis-
persed and are in a minority in several different areas. Conversely, those
that are dispersed are more likely to advocate representation on the basis
of ethnicity at the center as a means of securing protection for their inter-
ests, although federal autonomy can also be compatible with, or even re-
quire, ethnic representation at the center. Minority communities are also
more likely to advocate guaranteed representation in the core political
and administrative institutions of state than are those that would be likely
to gain adequate representation on the basis of their demographic weight
alone. Also, different institutional solutions recommend themselves to vari-
ous communities in Afghanistan partly based on the communities’ per-
ceived security, or lack thereof, within the state. This assessment is affected
by their size, territorial concentration, and perception of past treatment,
demonstrating why preferences determined by ethnicity were at the heart
of the constitution making process.
Despite all the above, it is important to acknowledge the role interna-
tional actors played in the constitution making process, either directly or
through Afghans like Karzai who were aware of the parameters within
which they were acting concerning the role of Islam in the Constitution
and Washington’s desire for a strong presidential system.22 A more direct
role was played by Special Presidential Envoy and former U.S Ambassa-
dor to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and by U.N. Special Representative
Lakhdar Brahimi after 40% of the delegates to the CLJ boycotted the pro-
ceedings in early January 2004. Both men played an instrumental role in
getting the process back on track after serious disagreements emerged be-
tween the different communities.23 This was particularly the case with the
adoption of a presidential system, discussed in greater detail below.

20. Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution,” p. 11.

21. Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga.”
22. Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution,” pp. 12, 14.
23. Golnaz Esfandiari, “Afghanistan: Rival Faction Leaders Attempt to Resolve Differ-
ences,” Radio Free Europe, January 2, 2004, available at <>, accessed
March 10, 2006.

Modes of Ethnic Inclusion and Their

Comparative Utilization in the
Afghan Constitution
Self-Governing Rights
In Kymlicka’s categorization of different types of political recognition, self-
governing rights are closely equated with territorial autonomy. Territorial
autonomy is often, although not always, realized through federal forms of
government. Within this context, federalism can be a mechanism of grant-
ing autonomy to territorially concentrated ethnic groups, thus conceding
self-governing rights. But, on the other hand, federal units can also divide
communities and/or create ethnically heterogeneous states.
In general, federal forms of government have received bad press in di-
vided societies, largely because of the belief that federal autonomy is likely
to increase pressures for secession.24 Adherents of this perspective argue
that federal autonomy removes incentives to identify with the central gov-
ernment, increases feelings of separateness, and gives groups resources with
which to mobilize against the center or each other. Yet, these criticisms ig-
nore two pertinent points. First, while federalism has not always been suc-
cessful in holding multiethnic states together, other forms of government
have also failed in this respect. Second, federal forms of government dif-
fer according to many criteria, including levels of centralization, the num-
ber of federal units, and whether they are majoritarian or consociational.
Therefore to “blame” federal forms of government for causing tensions is
nonsensical; instead, the form of the federation in relation to the country’s
ethnic demography is vital in this equation.
After the toppling of the Taliban, academic musings on the appropri-
ateness of federalism for post-conflict Afghanistan proliferated. Opinions
were sharply divided. For example, David Cameron noted that Afghani-
stan “looks like a perfect candidate for federalism,” although he cautioned
over its exact configuration.25 In contrast, Omar Zakhilwal argued that
federalism in Afghanistan would be “a recipe for disintegration.”26 Within
Afghanistan itself, certain ethnic communities favored a federation more
than others. Demands for a parliamentary federation were made especially
from the Uzbek community led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum and

24. Eric Nordlinger, Conflict Regulation in Divided Societies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University, 1972), p. 32.
25. Forum on Federations, Federations: What’s New in Federalism Worldwide—Special
Issue on Afghanistan (Ottawa: Forum on Federations, 2001), available at <>, accessed May 20, 2002.
26. Ibid.
the Hazaras, led by Karim Khalili.27 These communities were small but
sufficiently territorially concentrated for federalist arrangements to afford
protection from the central government in which they would most likely
have only minimal representation.
In contrast, Pashtun representatives argued that a federal constitution
would result in the division of the country, particularly given the fiefdoms
controlled by regional warlords. This fitted with their demand for a presi-
dential system. Pashtuns are particularly concentrated in the southern part
of the country, but they live in many different provinces in Afghanistan.
This was one of the reasons why they argued against a federal structure of
government, fearing that a federation would further divide their commu-
nity. They were also concerned about undue Tajik influence, especially be-
cause the Tajiks had been on the winning side against the Taliban. The
“centralizers” eventually won this argument, and Article 1 of the Consti-
tution specifically states that “Afghanistan shall be an Islamic Republic,
independent, unitary and indivisible state.”28 The clincher for this deal was
that the Tajiks were also not in favor of a federal state. Although the Tajiks
are a minority, as the second largest community in Afghanistan, they are
less territorially concentrated than either the Uzbeks or the Hazaras, and
thus “focused on power sharing in the central state” rather than on territo-
rial autonomy.29
Although the Constitution provides for provincial councils, their powers
are quite limited. It was only in August 2005, one month before the elec-
tions, that these powers were formally codified. Even then, an observer noted
that “ . . . the outlined responsibilities of the provincial councils remain[ed]
disturbingly vague.”30 In practice, this meant that voters and candidates
did not have a clear idea about the provincial councils’ powers and respon-
sibilities. The councils were further emasculated by the center’s appoint-
ment of a governor for each province, traditionally someone from outside
the particular province.31 Eight months after the provincial elections, the

27. Esfandiari, “Afghanistan: Rival Faction Leaders”; and Barnett Rubin, “A Brief Look
at the Final Negotiations on the Constitution of Afghanistan,” January 4, 2004, available at
<>, accessed August 4, 2005.
28. Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004, available at <http://>, accessed June 30, 2008.
29. Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution,” p. 11.
30. Amin Tarzi, “What Will Become of the Provincial Councils?” Radio Free Europe,
November 11, 2005, available at <>, accessed February 27, 2006.
31. Uzbek proposals for provincial governors to be appointed from a pool of candidates
proposed by provincial councils—largely to prevent Pashtun governors being imposed on
them—were rejected. For a discussion, see Rubin, “Crafting a Constitution,” p. 16. In addi-
tion, Article 42 of the Constitution further weakened the provincial councils by requiring that

Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU)—an independent re-

search organization based in Kabul—noted that “provincial councils are
mandated to contribute to planning, but there is not an administrative
and fiscal structure which can make provincial ‘planning’ meaningful.”32
This will inevitably decrease their effectiveness further. A follow-up report
in April 2007 noted that “provincial and district level civil servants have
few funds to carry out their duties” and that “the centralization of all bud-
geting in Kabul complicates efforts at provincial input into development
Afghanistan is thus not only a unitary system but also de jure is very
highly centralized. While it may not be de facto centralization—after all,
Kabul’s writ does not extend throughout the country—any perception of
an ethnically dominated center discriminating against territorially con-
centrated ethnic groups will inevitably lead to major disaffection and po-
tential tension. This is why representation rights become so important in
multiethnic societies.

Representation Rights
Kymlicka’s second form of recognition is representation rights, which are
similar to elements of Arend Lijphart’s consociationalism. Lijphart calls for
a “grand coalition” of the main communities in a state to include political
leaders of all the significant segments. He also argues for representation in
proportion to community strength in “decision-making organs” such as the
legislature, as well as demanding proportionality in the “method of allo-
cating civil service appointments.”34 As already noted, arguments in favor
of consociational recognition are highly contested. Lijphart’s theory is pre-
mised around the ability of ethnic political elites to make compromises that
will be adhered to by members of “their” community. However, definitively
identifying community “representatives” can be problematic because ethnic
groups are usually not politically homogeneous.35 Karzai, although a Pash-
tun, was promoted by the Americans largely for this reason—his ability
to transcend ethnic cleavages. During the CLJ, Tajik leaders had to choose

“[e]very kind of tax, duty as well as paid incomes shall be deposited to a single state account.”
Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004, available at <http://www.>, accessed June 30, 2008.
32. Sarah Lister and Hamish Nixon, “Provincial Governance Structures in Afghanistan:
From Confusion to Vision?” (Kabul: AREU, May 2006), p. 2.
33. Hamish Nixon, “Aiding the State? International Assistance and the Statebuilding Par-
adox in Afghanistan” (Kabul: AREU, April 2007), p. 10.
34. Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies, pp. 25, 39, and 51.
35. Walter Kemp, “Selfish Determination: The Questionable Ownership of Autonomy
Movements,” Ethnopolitics 4:1 (March 2005), pp. 85–93.
between supporting Karzai and risk losing the support of their Tajik con-
stituency, or opposing him and risk angering the Americans. They adopted
the former course.36
Guaranteed representation also poses the problem of determining “ap-
propriate” quotas for the different communities. Furthermore, the creation
of quotas necessarily implies a rigid division because criteria have to be
identified for the allocation of positions—a sensitive point in Afghanistan,
where the demographics of the state are contested—and to identify eligi-
bility. These criteria have the potential to create reciprocal tensions. Not
only do quotas undermine the principle of meritocracy, but they also re-
move an element of future flexibility if the demographics of a country
changes (as happened in Lebanon in the mid-1970s) and when the legacies
of historical discrimination have been overcome. Conversely, if quotas are
reserved relative to the size of population, then a larger community has its
demographic dominance institutionally enshrined.
Yet, without guaranteed representation in central government institu-
tions, certain communities may be excluded. The call for meritocracy in
appointments to non-elected state institutions such as the bureaucracy is a
laudable one, and appointing solely on the basis of merit has the advan-
tage of ensuring that the best candidate for the job—an important consid-
eration in a state with as many challenges as Afghanistan—will be selected.
But, so-called meritocracy can also reinforce historical ethnic domination.
If certain communities have not benefited from the same opportunities
that other communities have enjoyed, including in terms of educational
access, they are less likely to be able to compete effectively for government
positions. Thus, meritocratic appointments will only prevent tension be-
tween communities if it is perceived that the appointments are truly fair
and representative of the society, not reinforcing patterns of traditional
Issues concerning representation were at the forefront of debates in the
CLJ and cannot be divorced from the debate over federalism. Although
there was no initial ethnic unanimity on the question of a presidential sys-
tem even though the majority of Pashtuns supported one, Rashid notes
that “following a great deal of pressure and cajoling from both the Karzai
camp and important international players . . . the Pashtuns all united
under the idea of a strong center particularly as many non-Pashtun dele-
gates continued to oppose a presidential system.”37 But, as noted earlier,
this suited Pashtuns’ self-interest.

36. Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga.”

37. Ibid.

A long-standing debate also exists over whether presidential or parlia-

mentary systems are best suited for ethnically divided societies. Lijphart
argues that presidential systems in general “cannot compare with the ad-
vantages of a truly collective and inclusive executive.”38 This is because pres-
idential systems tend to be zero-sum games in that there can be only one
winner from one community. This poses difficulties in societies where re-
lations between communities are strained, in contrast to parliamentary
systems. In the latter, a cabinet can include members of many different
communities. In contrast, Horowitz points out that electoral mechanisms
exist to facilitate the election of a president who is acceptable to most of
the communities in the country.39
Pashtuns and the Americans argued for a presidential system because
of the perceived need for a “strong man” to lead Afghanistan. Indeed,
Karzai—the Americans’ favored presidential candidate—threatened “that
he would only stand in future presidential elections if the Loya Jirga ap-
proves the strong presidential system.”40 The CLJ split along ethnic lines
on this issue, with Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras opposed to the adoption
of a strong presidency, fearing it would exclude them from power.41 Even
though the powers of the presidency are tempered by Article 94 of the
Constitution and other changes were made to the draft constitution to in-
crease the power of the legislature, the system chosen to elect the presi-
dent made only a slight concession to cross-community representation.42
It is impossible to divorce the question of representation from the elec-
toral system because all electoral systems have inherent biases: the choice
of system depends on what one wants to achieve.
According to Article 61 of the Afghan Constitution, the president is di-
rectly elected by the people, and has to receive “more than fifty percent of
votes. . . . If . . . none of the candidates gets more than fifty percent of the

38. Arend Lijphart, “Constitutional Choices for New Democracies,” in Larry Diamond
and Marc Plattner, eds., The Global Resurgence of Democracy (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hop-
kins University Press, 1996), p. 171.
39. Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1985), p. 636.
40. Golnaz Esfandiari, “Afghanistan: Loya Jirga Said to Be Nearing Agreement on New
Constitution,” Radio Free Europe, December 23, 2003, available at <>,
accessed March 10, 2006.
41. Antoine Blua, “Afghanistan: Assembly Continues Talks on Constitution in Kabul,”
ibid., December 15, 2003, available at <>, accessed March 10, 2006.
42. Article 94 of the Afghan Constitution reads, “In case the President rejects what the
National Assembly has approved, the President shall send it back . . . to the House of People
mentioning the reasons for rejection, and, with expiration of the period or if the House of
People re-approves it with two thirds of all the votes, the draft shall be considered endorsed
and enforceable.” Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004.
votes, elections for the second round shall be held . . . and, in this round,
only two candidates who have received the highest number of votes in the
first round shall participate.”43 Because Pashtuns are not a majority of
the population, all candidates are invariably forced to reach out to other
communities to be elected rather than relying exclusively on their own com-
munity, assuming that at least some voting takes place along ethnic lines.
This electoral system places higher hurdles in the path of non-Pashtun can-
didates because, at least theoretically, a Pashtun candidate would only have
to reach out to one other community for support to be elected, whereas a
non-Pashtun would have to reach out to several. Although there is no for-
mal provision for the representation of particular communities, the CLJ
amended the draft constitution to create two vice presidents.44 This pro-
vided an opportunity for the creation of an informal multiethnic ticket.
For example, in the first presidential elections of 2004, Karzai nominated
a Tajik (Ahmad Zia Masood) and a Shia Hazara (Karim Khalili) as his
running mates.
The electoral system adopted for the parliamentary and provincial as-
sembly elections in September 2005 was the Single Non-Transferable Vote
(SNTV).45 Different explanations have been given for the adoption of the
SNTV system. One was the poor performance of Afghan advocates of
the closed-list proportional representation (PR) system, whose incompetence
supposedly benefitted opponents of the system worried about the emer-
gence of powerful political parties. Another interpretation for the choice
of electoral system fingered Karzai’s reported fear that the “closed list sys-
tem [w]ould benefit the charismatic non-Pushtuns.”46 After all, Karzai
wanted to face a fragmented opposition in the legislature, rather than strong
and disciplined political parties.
Many observers warned in advance of the dangers of the SNTV sys-
tem. In particular, under this system, voters cannot assess whether their
votes will be wasted because they are compelled to vote for an individual

43. Ibid.
44. “Marshall Fahim [a Tajik] had demanded . . . that the present configuration of a Pash-
tun President and a Tajik (Panjsjeri) Vice President would be the ticket for the future election.
Karzai rejected this and forcefully told delegates . . . that such ethnic cleavages were unaccept-
able.” Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga.”
45. SNTV systems can be more proportional than simple plurality electoral systems be-
cause more than one candidate is elected from a constituency, thus reducing the percentage of
vote required to achieve representation. However, these systems are “at best, semi propor-
tional.” David Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave,
2001), p. 47.
46. Andrew Reynolds, “The Curious Case of Afghanistan,” Journal of Democracy 17:2
(April 2006), pp. 110–11.

rather than a political party and individual candidates are elected only if
they reach a certain threshold. In Kabul, the difference in the number of
votes received was significant. The three top vote-getters won 13.8%, 8.2%,
and 8.1%, respectively, of the votes but the fourth person elected won only
2.6%.47 Thus, thousands of people who opted for the top three vote-getters
would have inevitably “wasted” their votes. This problem of “wastage” ap-
plied just as much to those who voted for losing candidates. Andrew Reyn-
olds has calculated that 68% of votes countrywide in Afghanistan were
cast for losing candidates, compared to only 5.3% in Iraq’s January 2005
election.48 Strong party organizations can mitigate this effect somewhat by
“determining the correct number of candidates to run in order to win seats
without danger of diluting the vote too much,” but these are simply absent
in Afghanistan.49
Reynolds and Wilder warned in advance that “the parties produced are
likely to be fragmented and personality driven” under the SNTV system.50
Furthermore, as Wilder argues, “The absence of strong and effective po-
litical parties to help organize the politics of the highly fragmented NA
[National Assembly] increases the likelihood of paralysis.”51 The choice
of SNTV may therefore damage attempts to create political stability in Af-
ghanistan because political coalitions will always be organized on an issue-
by-issue basis. This also increases the potential for corruption. This has
been the experience in Afghanistan so far, although the Parliament showed
its teeth over Karzai’s cabinet nominees by refusing to approve them as a
bloc in April 2006 and by not accepting his final five nominees until that
August. In addition, parliamentary alliances have generally been transi-
tory and lacking programmatic coherence in Afghanistan.
Article 35 of the Afghan Constitution specifically prohibits the “[f]or-
mation and operation of a party on the basis of tribalism, parochialism,
language, as well as religious sectarianism,”52 thus ensuring that a formal
grand coalition of ethnic parties was impossible. This provision was in keep-
ing with the desire of many Afghan political elites to marginalize ethnic
identities. Nonetheless, Karzai’s cabinets have so far been quite ethnically

47. Data are calculated from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) website, avail-
able at <>, accessed on February 27, 2006.
48. Reynolds, “The Curious Case,” p. 112.
49. Farrell, Electoral Systems, p. 47.
50. Andrew Reynolds and Andrew Wilder, “Free, Fair, or Flawed: Challenges for Legiti-
mate Elections in Afghanistan” (Kabul: AREU, September 2004), p. 14.
51. Andrew Wilder, “A House Divided? Analyzing the 2005 Afghan Elections,” ibid., De-
cember 2005, p. 44.
52. Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004.
balanced.53 The cabinet appointed on December 23, 2004, allocated the
“powerful posts of defense, interior and finance . . . to ethnic Pashtuns.”54
Yet, the ethnic composition of the 27-member cabinet at the time of the
2005 parliamentary elections was much more diverse with 10 Pashtuns,
eight Tajiks, five Hazaras, two Uzbeks, one Turkmen, and one Baloch.55
Although a Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium survey
conducted in 2003 found that “[o]nly 7% [of respondents] focused on ad-
dressing political rights such as . . . ensuring representation of all tribes in
government,” this was in response to the open ended question, “If you were
the President of Afghanistan, what would you do first to help your coun-
try?”56 Respondents in this survey were not given the choice to rank alterna-
tives. With such a question, it is not surprising that all ethnic groups split
their priorities almost equally between security, economic rights, and social
rights.57 Yet, this does not mean that issues of representation in the central
government were unimportant. The cabinet reshuffle of March 2006, in fact,
retained a reasonable ethnic balance, but replaced Adbullah Abdullah, the
prominent Tajik foreign minister, with Rangeen Dadfar Spanta. Abdullah’s
removal was a sign that Karzai was further undermining the Pansheris of
the Northern Alliance in order to enhance his own power base.58
After the elections to the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People, i.e., lower
house) in September 2005, the various communities were represented
roughly in proportion to their numerical strength in the general population,
although Pashtuns were slightly overrepresented.59 What is more significant,

53. Simonsen claims that the Bonn Agreement made arrangements for ethnic quotas. Sven
Gunnar Simonsen, “Ethnicizing Afghanistan? Inclusion and Exclusion in Post-Bonn Institu-
tion Building,” Third World Quarterly 25:4 (2004), p. 713. This is incorrect. The Bonn Agreement
actually called for the establishment of a “multiethnic and fully representative government,”
but no quotas were mentioned. Government of Afghanistan, “Agreement on Provisional Ar-
rangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Insti-
tutions,” 2001, available at <>, accessed March 3, 2005,
p. C5.
54. A. Jamali, “Karzai’s New Cabinet and the Challenges Ahead,” Eurasia Daily Monitor
2:4 (2005), January 6, 2005, available at <>.
55. United Nations Information Service, “Answer to Terrorism, Narcotics, Factionalism
Lies in Building Strong Representative Government, Special Representative for Afghanistan
Tells Security Council,” January 11, 2005, available at <>, ac-
cessed August 5, 2005.
56. Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium, “Speaking out: Afghan Opin-
ions on Rights and Responsibilities” (HHRAC, November 2003), available at <http://www.>, accessed August 5, 2005, p. 1.
57. Ibid., p. 82.
58. Although Spanta is ethnically a Tajik, he has spent much of his life living in Europe
and has traditionally distanced himself from Afghanistan’s internal ethnic politics.
59. Wilder, “A House Divided,” p. 9. Population figures are, as noted, disputed.

as Wilder has demonstrated, is the ethnic distribution of the supporters and

opponents of the government.
As can be seen in Table 1, no Uzbek parliamentarians support the gov-
ernment and even more strikingly, 95% oppose it (in contrast to being
non-aligned). This remains the situation today, at least formally. Hazaras
are similarly opposed; fewer than 20% (including the party of Vice Presi-
dent Khalili) support the government while 68% oppose it. It is impossible
to definitively claim that ethnic politics explains the opposition, especially
as informal and private bargaining occurs among leaders, but ethnicity is
a factor that cannot be ignored.60 The fact that some Hazaras support the
government is linked to the inclusion of Khalili as one of Karzai’s vice
presidents, but Uzbeks remain more opposed, feeling underrepresented in
the leadership. Table 2 demonstrates that smaller communities are more
likely to rely on ethnicity as a tool of mobilization than the larger ones—
potentially a sign of insecurity. But neither Pashtuns nor Tajiks are united
in support of, or in opposition to, the government. Support for particular
issues is not determined solely by ethnicity, and no community is repre-
sented by only one political party. As noted, even during the process of
constitution formation, differences existed within the two larger commu-
nities. In addition, the Parliament is incredibly factionalized and corrupt.
In the case of representation in the administration, Article 50 of the
Constitution is very clear: “[t]he citizens of Afghanistan shall be recruited
by the state on the basis of ability without any discrimination, according
to the provisions of the law.”61 In addition, there will be no appointments to
the bureaucracy based on residency or membership of a particular commu-
nity, creating instead “procedures which ensure recruitment and promo-
tion of merit.”62 Appointing solely on the basis of merit has the advantage
of ensuring that the best candidates for the job are hired, but it can also
easily reinforce historical ethnic domination. Historically, Pashtuns have
dominated the higher echelons of the army and government and, because
Dari in practice was the “lingua franca of the country as a whole,” Tajiks
have had an active role in the administration of the state.63 Other minority

60. Many thanks to Anna Wordsworth, senior research officer, AREU, Kabul, for discuss-
ing these issues with me.
61. Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004.
62. Public Administration and Economic Management Consultative Group, “Public Ad-
ministration Reform: The Government’s Strategy,” Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, May 29,
2003, available at <>, accessed August 9, 2005, pp. 2 and 4.
63. The term Dari had been adopted and insisted on as the correct term, essentially to dif-
ferentiate the Afghan form of Persian from that of Iran. Hyman, “Nationalism,” p. 300. Both
Dari and Pashto had been official government languages, but, despite attempts to increase
usage of Pashto, Dari remained the predominant government language.

TABLE 1 Parliamentary Alignment by Major Ethnic Group

Government Opposition Non-Aligned

Ethnic Group Seats % Seats % Seats %

Pashtun 47 39.8 16 13.6 55 46.6

Tajik/Aimaq 21 39.6 16 30.2 16 30.2
Hazara/Shia 8 19.5 28 68.3 5 12.2
Uzbek 0 0.0 19 95.0 1 5.0
Others 5 29.4 5 29.4 7 41.2
Total 81 32.5 84 33.7 84 33.7
SOURCE: Andrew Wilder, “A House Divided? Analyzing the 2005 Afghan Elections”
(Kabul: AREU, December 2005), p. 9.

TABLE 2 Ethnic Breakdown of Wolesi Jirga Members with Political

Party Affiliation
Ethnic Group Total Seats Party Affiliated (%)

Pashtun 118 49
Tajik/Aimaq 53 70
Hazara/Shia 41 80
Uzbek 20 100
SOURCE: Ibid. to Table 1, p. 10.

communities have not benefited from the same educational and occupa-
tional opportunities, and this is likely to radically restrict their ability to com-
pete on merit.
Meritocratic appointments will only prevent tensions among communi-
ties if it is perceived that the appointments are fair and generally represen-
tative of the society. But mere ethnic representation would not address the
problem of “fairness.” Providing for representation along demographic
lines would not diminish Pashtun or Tajik domination of government ap-
pointments, and the overrepresentation of the smaller communities would
possibly alienate both Pashtuns and Tajiks. Data on the ethnic composi-
tion of the bureaucracy are currently not available; given the central gov-
ernment’s decision not to include ethnicity as a question in the census, it is
unlikely that official data will be forthcoming soon.
Pashtuns have traditionally dominated the officer corps in the Afghan
army, although Tajik soldiers were more dominant after the defeat of the

Taliban by virtue of having aligned with the victorious American forces.

In 2003, Tajiks were estimated to hold 40% of military positions, Pashtuns
37%, and the rest were shared among other ethnic communities.64 Despite
claims of discrimination against Pashtun recruits by Tajik officers, tradi-
tional Pashtun dominance in the army appears to be reasserting itself.65
This will do much to dispel that community’s fears of domination by Ta-
jiks, but it will not allay the fears of the Uzbeks and Hazaras. Nor will the
creation of an “ethnically balanced” army argued for by Human Rights
Watch dispel such fears, given that the Pashtun and Tajik communities are
much larger than the others.66 Anecdotal evidence exists of a de facto eth-
nic recruitment policy in the army to ensure that smaller communities are
not excluded. However, even though the Uzbek warlord Dostum was ap-
pointed chief of staff of the armed forces in March 2005, he “soon found
that the job carried more rank than responsibility.”67
In addition, the central government formed tribal militias in June 2006
to guard places where the government security forces cannot readily reach.
Because these areas are located mostly in the southern regions of the coun-
try dominated by Pashtuns, commanders in the non-Pashtun areas of Af-
ghanistan have complained that the government “is collecting arms from
the [northern militias], but giving arms to others in the south.”68 The al-
liances made with the resurgent Taliban in the south contrast markedly
with the government’s demand that political parties affiliated with north-
ern Generals Dostum and Abdul Malik disband on the grounds that they
“continue to maintain military wings.”69 These developments do not augur
well for reducing ethnic tensions in Afghanistan.

64. Giustozzi points out that, in the late 1980s, Hazara and Uzbek divisions were created,
which “had the advantage of avoiding the problem of imposing Hazara and Uzbek officers
on Pashtun troops, which might have caused trouble.” Antonio Giustozzi, “Military Reform
in Afghanistan,” in Mark Sedra, ed., Confronting Afghanistan’s Security Dilemma: Reforming
the Security Sector (Bonn International Center for Conversion, 2003), p. 29.
65. Ibid.
66. “Afghanistan’s Bonn Agreement One Year Later: A Catalog of Missed Opportunities,”
Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2002, available at <>, accessed Au-
gust 5, 2005.
67. Sayed Yaqub Ibrahmi, “The General and the Taleban,” Institute for War and Peace
Reporting, March 27, 2006, available at <>, accessed March 28, 2006. He
has subsequently been suspended from that post in early 2008 following allegations of kidnap-
ping and assault.
68. Simon Cameron-Moore, “Getting Desperate: Afghanistan Mulls Forming Militias,”
Washington Post, June 11, 2006.
69. Amin Tarzi, “Afghanistan: Government Turns Its Sights on Northern Warlords,” Ra-
dio Free Europe, August 21, 2006, available at <>, accessed on December
30, 2006. Both generals were fighting for supremacy in the area.
Polyethnic Rights
Polyethnic rights are the weakest form of recognition and are not depen-
dent on a community being territorially concentrated. Polyethnic rights
include the right to retain personal laws for ethnic communities such as
marriage laws, and the recognition of different languages for use in gov-
ernment institutions. These types of rights remain controversial because
they challenge the assimilationist or integrationist strategies of dominant
political elites. Giving legal recognition and rights to a community’s cul-
ture, language, or religion provides security for those identities, but it also
arguably sets them in opposition to other identities. The danger is that
such recognition will undermine loyalty to the central state. Yet, this argu-
ment ignores the possibility that individuals are capable of possessing mul-
tiple loyalties and identifications, not all of which are in opposition to one
another. Indeed, the refusal to recognize a part of an individual’s identity
not only undermines the security of that identity but also potentially
places it in opposition to the state-supported identity.
Despite the rejection of formal self-governing and representation rights
in the Afghan Constitution and the removal of the word “ethnicity” from
its preamble, a significant change was made in the recognition of polyeth-
nic rights. Ahmed Rashid describes this as being “the single most impor-
tant development in the LJ [Loya Jirga] and the most surprising.”70 It is
hard to disagree with this assessment. In the first draft of the Constitution,
only Pashto and Dari were recognized as official languages—a status that
both have enjoyed since the Constitution of 1923. In the revised Consti-
tution of January 2004, significant changes were made. Article 16 retained
Pashto and Dari as the official languages of the state but provided that
“[i]n areas where the majority of the people speak in any one of Uzbeki,
Turkmani, Pachaie, Nuristani, Baluchi, or Pamiri . . . any of the afore-
mentioned languages, in addition to Pashto and Dari, shall be the third
official language, the usage of which shall be regulated by law.”71
As with the previous draft, the Constitution eventually provided that
“the state shall . . . design and apply effective programs to foster and de-
velop all languages of Afghanistan.” This sends a potentially strong sig-
nal of the state’s commitment to these “language communities,” at least in
this regard. The debates over language policy occurred late, and creation
of the Constitution almost foundered on them. On January 1, 2004, 40% of
the delegates boycotted the CLJ. This boycott was predicated around sev-
eral issues: the power of the presidency, the lack of effective powers for pro-
vincial legislatures (Uzbeks in particular), and the lack of language rights

70. Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga.”

71. Government of Afghanistan, The Constitution of Afghanistan 2004.

(especially for Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras). Rashid argues that “[t]he op-
position of many Pashtuns to giving minority languages a local national
status and their insistence on the national role of [Pashto] was an impor-
tant fault line.”72 In earlier sessions of the CLJ, Pashtuns had objected to
the equality of their language with Dari, demanding that Pashto be the
only national language and that the national anthem only be sung in it. In
a highly symbolic concession, Pashtuns did manage to secure agreement
on the anthem issue.
The recognition of provincial languages is unlikely to pose any signifi-
cant threat to the unity of Afghanistan. This is largely so because the rec-
ognition of provincial languages will most likely promote dual identities,
including a sense of loyalty to the center. After all, the recognition of poly-
ethnic rights in terms of language policy has conferred a sense of perceived
worth by the central government to Afghanistan’s various “linguistic com-
munities,” as well as offering them access to power, especially at the local
level. Indeed, the granting of these polyethnic rights could actually prove
to be a powerful integrative force for post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Centralization without power-sharing at the center in ethnically divided
societies has the potential to alienate ethnic communities, especially if they
are territorially concentrated and a minority in the state as a whole. This is
a very real danger in Afghanistan, particularly in regard to the Hazaras and
Uzbeks, even though Afghan provinces are not all homogeneous along eth-
nic lines. Although Afghanistan is not in danger of de facto centralization
—it is not for nothing that President Karzai has been described as being
merely the mayor of Kabul—if the provincial councils are unable to be ef-
fective institutions of government, an ethnic backlash could further under-
mine the sense of national identity. This will be compounded if the center
becomes paralyzed in the absence of strong political parties. The provincial
councils realized this, and demanded “increased powers and resources
through a resolution collectively adopted” on March 1, 2006.73 Yet, little
progress has been made on this issue, portending center-periphery prob-
lems to come with possible ethnic dimensions as well.
As noted, Afghanistan rejected a formal quota system. Given the history
of ethnic discrimination and conflict, continued ethnic harmony is only sus-
tainable if significant members of the various communities are appointed
to positions of power in the administration. A middle ground for Afghan-
istan could be to institute quotas to ensure a basic level of community

72. Rashid, “Lessons from Loya Jirga.”

73. Lister and Nixon, “Provincial Governance Structures,” p. 8.
representation, supplementing these quota seats with others to be allo-
cated according to merit. This is extremely unlikely to happen because the
dangers of “entrenching” ethnicity are perceived to be too great. Manag-
ing the expectations of all communities with regard to government jobs
will be a major challenge for Afghanistan in the future. If de facto quotas
operate—as has been the case with recruitment and appointment to the
army—then this danger may be averted, but this is a comparatively weak
and informal system that has the potential to disintegrate.
The decision to have a dual vice presidency was an important compro-
mise between representatives of the various communities, but if future
running mates are not chosen with an eye for more than symbolic ethnic
representation, the danger of one community’s domination of this impor-
tant institution looms large. Instead, individuals selected for this post need
to be powerful leaders in their own right with significant support within
“their” own ethnic communities. The absence of strong political parties
will not work in favor of political unity and may well lead to instability in
the Parliament. If governance becomes difficult or impossible, then the
conditions for renewed conflict can easily emerge.
The constitution formation process in Afghanistan demonstrated that all
three types of political recognition formulated by Kymlicka—self-governing
rights, representation rights, and polyethnic rights—were discussed exten-
sively and were highly contentious issues. Although the recognition of
linguistic rights (a polyethnic right) was a point on which the CLJ almost
floundered, compromises were made to secure agreement on means of rep-
resentation. The method of representation that was eventually agreed on
cannot be divorced from Kymlicka’s notion of representation rights, be-
cause the choice of a presidential system was made in deliberate opposition
to those who demanded a parliamentary system to ensure their communi-
ty’s representation in a powerful elected central institution.
There is no “correct” answer to whether identities should be recognized
in the institutions of the state or confined to the private sphere. Both ap-
proaches have potential dangers. What is important is, if communities are
not given recognition and protection in the institutions of the state, they
should not perceive discrimination by those same institutions. The Afghan
Constitution and the institutions that it spawned have not been in opera-
tion long enough to definitively judge their effectiveness in managing eth-
nic tensions. Assuming that ethnic politics and tensions will disappear if
they are not politically recognized is a dangerous game to play, especially
if the informal mechanisms of cooptation currently helping to maintain
ethnic harmony break down.
In early 2007, an opposition group called the United National Front
was formed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan.

Its stated aims were to “advocate increased power for parliament and . . .
direct elections for provincial governors.”74 It also advocated changing the
electoral system from SNTV to a more proportional, and as yet unspecified,
system as a move to strengthen political parties and demanded a prime
ministerial system of government, in an obvious challenge to Karzai. This
group also includes leading members of Karzai’s own cabinet—including
the Tajik Ismail Khan, the Uzbek Rashid Dostum, and Karzai’s own vice
president, the Tajik Ahmad Zia Masood. Many commentators character-
ized this opposition group as being an alliance of convenience among for-
mer warlords, but it also has an important ethnic dimension as well.75 Even
though the newly formed United National Front has projected itself as an
all-Afghan body with members from all ethnic groups including Pashtuns,
such as the grandson of the former king Zahir Shah, it is nonetheless
dominated by former Northern Alliance members and by members of the
Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups. For this reason, the Islamabad-based In-
stitute of Policy Studies concluded that “this mostly non-Pashtun conglom-
erate may fear the continued rule of Pashtuns . . . through [the] presidential
system, as Pashtuns would always outnumber them.”76 Thus, the contro-
versial debates over recognition of ethnicity seen earlier in the CLJ appear
to be reasserting themselves in contemporary Afghan politics.
In conclusion, this paper has proceeded from the assumption that insti-
tutions matter and that they structure interaction among communities. The
decisions taken in regard to self-governing, representation, and polyethnic
rights were all contested, and arguments on different sides of the debate
were generally defined by the ethnicity of the participants. How important
actors saw these institutions operating, and what they sought to gain or to
prevent through their adoption, was vitally important. Yet, these institu-
tions do not exist in a vacuum. The role of a few key players, such as Kar-
zai, has proven to be instrumental in the operation of these institutions. In
Afghanistan, the informal ethnic cooptation of community leaders has
provided flexibility and accommodation without codifying any particular
identities or encouraging mobilization around them. Whether these infor-
mal mechanisms will survive Karzai, who has become politically weakened
since his 2004 election victory, is highly questionable. After all, it takes time

74. “Former Afghan President to Head New Opposition Group,” Radio Free Europe,
April 4, 2007, available at <>, accessed June 25, 2007.
75. Graeme Smith, “New Afghan Party Full of Strange Bedfellows,” The Globe and Mail
(Toronto, Canada), June 25, 2007, p. A11.
76. Naseer Ahmad Nawidy and Sheharyar Khanryar, “National Front: Mapping the Af-
ghan Political Landscape,” Policy Brief: Afghanistan, vol. 3 (Islamabad: Institute of Policy
Studies, May 2007), p. 1.
for informal conventions to become entrenched. Furthermore, even if norms
and modes of operation become institutionalized, they still remain easier
to change than are formal structures.77 Thus, despite Karzai’s ability to se-
cure support from all ethnic communities in the presidential election of
2004, he is only one man, and an increasingly vulnerable one at that. In
the absence of formal institutional arrangements for ethnic coalitions, this
may prove ominous for the future of ethnic relations in Afghanistan.

77. Peter Hall and Rosemary Taylor, “Political Science and the Three New Institutional-
isms,” Political Studies 44:5 (1996), pp. 936–57.

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