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Cablegate: Politicized Parliament Faces Challenging 2008

VZCZCXRO9682
PP RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0599/01 0690951
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090951Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3178
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 KABUL 000599

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MSHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV AF
SUBJECT: POLITICIZED PARLIAMENT FACES CHALLENGING 2008
AGENDA

REF: A. KABUL 361
B. 07 KABUL 1605

1. (SBU) Summary: The Afghan Parliament considered more
legislation in 2007 (ref A) than in its inaugural session.
It is increasingly seen by Afghans as a vehicle to take their
concerns to the government. Lower House Speaker (and
presidential aspirant) Qanooni's willingness to use his
position to challenge President Karzai on a number of issues,
including executive prerogatives, meant Parliament focused
more on political issues than on legislation. The
increasingly personal Karzai-Qanooni debate resulted in
frequent divisions among Qanooni supporters, Karzai
supporters, and a growing number of MPs who just wanted
Parliament to get on with business. With presidential and
parliamentary elections looming sometime in 2009-2010, the
2008 parliamentary session will be even more contentious.
This will complicate timely passage of critical legislation,
including the annual budget, the revised election law, and
the interim government decrees still pending parliamentary
approval. For both sides, each legislative battle
contributes to a larger constitutional contest between Tajiks
and Pashtuns vying respectively to institute a parliamentary
system of government or maintain the current presidential
system. There is also a deepening struggle underway over the
future of Afghanistan's constitutional order as old style
warlords seek to shape the system to their purpose while a
nascent group of reform-oriented politicians is beginning to
emerge.

Warring Past Shapes but Doesn't Dictate Politics
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) Building from its first year in 2006, Parliament
continued to develop as a political institution. Members put
some of the issues that focused early 2006 debate behind
them, including whether female and male members can sit next
to one another, and now use their committees and plenary
debates to address legislative issues and Afghanistan's broad
political challenges. Rivalries of the past continued to
define internal allegiances, but members began to divide into
three groups that reflect the national political landscape.
Qanooni led a broad northern-based grouping, organized
increasingly around the United Front, which he used to
challenge Karzai. President Karzai opposed Qanooni through
the Palace office of Parliamentary Affairs, run by Farouk
Wardak, and supported by a second group of MPs. A very
loosely affiliated third group of members attached to new,
small, and mostly reformist parties sat between these two
giants of old Afghanistan. Despite these divisions, Afghans
of all stripes sat next to one another and grappled with
difficult questions using not weapons, but words (and the
water bottles they occasionally hurled in early 2007).

Parliament Improving but Highly Politicized
-------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Parliament continued to grapple with the challenge
of reviewing the interim government decrees put in place
prior to Parliament's inaugural session (ref A). Nearly all
of the bills treated by Parliament in 2007 were revisions of
decrees that defined fundamental aspects of Afghan law, such
as the tax code and the bill legalizing provincial councils.
The legislature considered and passed more bills during its
second annual session (2007) than during its first, and
avoided some of its 2006 failings, passing, for instance, the
1386 (2007-2008) national budget on time. Parliament also
drafted original legislation, including a controversial bill
proclaiming amnesty for all those involved in the Jihad
against the Soviets, civil war, and resistance to the
Taliban.

4. (SBU) Legislative throughput remained low in 2007, in part
because of resource constraints and members' lack of
technical expertise, but also because of the increasingly
charged political atmosphere between Parliament and the

KABUL 00000599 002 OF 004


Palace. Speaker Qanooni, when he was present, drove
Parliament's agenda. During his absence, First Deputy
Mohammad Arif Noorzai's ineffective leadership presented a
striking contrast to Qanooni's successes, leading to
suspicions that Noorzai, a Karzai relative by marriage, was
being set up to look ineffective. Noorzai in fact lost his
job in Parliament's 2008 leadership elections (septel).

Speaking for the People can be Expensive
----------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Ordinary Afghans increasingly saw Parliament as a
conduit for expressing grievances and making demands on the
government. In April, the Workers' Union of Afghanistan
protested against several articles of the Labor Law bill,
originally written by the Ministry of Labor with considerable
input from the International Labor Organization. Discussions
between Lower House members and a delegation of protest
leaders assuaged protesters' concerns and informed Lower
House debate on the bill. Constituents also approached
members with a steady stream of demands for development
projects and improved security. This led MPs to seek
international assistance for projects in their provinces.
Sometimes frustrated by the long and complicated
international disbursement process, members highlighted that
their re-election likely hinges on their ability to provide
constituent services.

6. (SBU) The strengthening connection between members and
their constituents created an expanding financial burden for
members. Lower House representatives report that delegations
of constituents arrive at their doorsteps in Kabul expecting
to be hosted in traditional Afghan fashion. Several affluent
MPs have built guest houses to host these delegations; others
feel they must pay hotel bills or at least provide meals to
not violate Afghan norms. Some complain that their salaries
are insufficient to support a continual flow of guests, and
that because they lack offices and staff to receive visiting
constituents, visitors consume their time.

Parliament: Stage for Public Debate; Tug of War with Palace
--------------------------------------------- --------------

7. (SBU) Parliament served as a forum to debate sensiive
issues such as Coalition missteps and the proper role of
Islam in Afghan legislation. Though discussion frequently
became heated, mebers predominantly sought and arrived at
reasoned decisions and courses of action. In earl April,
for example, members voiced outrage ater a Coalition convoy
allegedly opened fire on civilians in Nangarhar province.
While some used the attack to demonstrate concern for their
constituents and purview over Coalition action, the Lower
House ultimately sent a fact-finding investigation to
Nangarhar. The team reported that Coalition forces
appropriately dealt with the transgression, and Parliament
did not discuss the issue further.

8. (SBU) Similarly, conservative mullahs in Parliament
brandished their piety during a September debate of the
Passport Law bill. They argued that women cannot travel
alone under Sharia law and should not be able to obtain their
own passports. Ultimately the mullahs ceded to moderates'
counter that obtaining passports and traveling alone are not
connected.

9. (SBU) The Lower House also became the stage for
increasingly bold United Front opposition attempts to
publicly discredit Karzai's government. In May, the Lower
House supported a no-confidence vote against the Foreign
Minister and Refugee Minister for their "failure" to stop
Iran from forcibly repatriating a large numbers of Afghan
refugees (ref B). The vote focused on the ministers (Karzai
dismissed the Refugee Minister; Foreign Minister Spanta kept
his job), but was ultimately an effort to assert
parliamentary authority over the executive. The Lower House
similarly demanded that several executive branch officials

KABUL 00000599 003 OF 004


resign in the wake of the November bombing in Baghlan, which
killed six members of Parliament. In both cases, Speaker
Qanooni used events as referenda to criticize Karzai's
leadership.

Daily Grind Wears Members Down, Weakens Quorums
--------------------------------------------- -

10. (SBU) Toward the end of 2007, many Lower House members
began to tire of debates on the long list of presidential
decrees and skip plenary sessions. Members' absence made
reaching quorum (50 percent 1) increasingly difficult and
interfered with Parliament's operation in October and
November. Weak quorums could enable minorities to control
the agenda. Groups took advantage of shaky quorums on
several occasions by walking out to stop voting on
contentious issues, including potential overrides of two
Karzai vetoes. International community work to develop
Parliament's ability to draft legislation and manage an
internal budget will help feed long-term popular interest in
the still young institution.

Elections, Politics will Dominate 2008
--------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Parliament's 2008 leadership elections (septel) set
the tone for a divisive and contentious year. The Lower
House is divided between independents, Karzai supporters, and
Qanooni's followers. The Upper House appears more united
under the new Harmony group, led by Senator Hamed Gailani,
but Gailani's group is a fourth faction that will pull
Parliament's agenda in yet another direction. These groups
will divide Parliament and Afghans in a year that the
legislature is slated to consider several key bills,
including the elections timing bill, the election law bill,
and the 1387 budget. All these, but especially the election
bills, are at the heart of the Qanooni, Karzai, and now
Gailani struggle. Each politician will seek to have
Parliament modify laws and approve resolutions to support
their political goals. Their singular focus on reaching the
palace in 2009/10 drives their policy decisions.

Constitution, Institutions, and Tribal Politics
--------------------------------------------- --

12. (SBU) At this formative phase of its political
development, several fundamental issues, political and
constitutional, are still playing out. First, Afghanistan's
long history of tribal animosity, which has been unfolding in
Kabul's institutions since the drafting of the constitution,
still colors every aspect of the process. During the
Constitutional Loya Jirga, well-organized Tajiks, who are
strong in Afghanistan's northern regions but do not have
enough votes nationwide to carry the presidency, advocated a
parliamentary system that would distribute power throughout
Afghanistan. Less-organized Pashtuns, who are a plurality in
Afghan society, advocated for a highly centralized
presidential system. Both sides are still engaged in this
contest; they believe the victor will control Afghan politics
for the foreseeable future. Second, the institutions of
government are still defining their constitutional
relationships, relative strengths, prerogatives, etc. in this
tribally and politically charged atmosphere. Parliament's
attempt to impeach and remove Foreign Minister Spanta last
May, Karzai's refusal to comply, and the Supreme Court's
ruling in the President's favor, are prime examples that
would resonate with scholars of American's early experiences
under the Constitution. In 2008, the United Front will
likely use Parliament to force referenda on the Karzai
government and assert Parliament's primacy over the executive
branch. Karzai, meanwhile, will likely push back by
continuing to veto bills passed in Parliament in an effort to
control the institution. Finally, the less well defined, but
very real, battle between the old and the new is shaping and
cutting across all these issues. This is a struggle between
the last 30 years of Afghanistan's history, represented by

KABUL 00000599 004 OF 004


the warlords, and a nascent effort to define a new reformist
and forward looking paradigm. The latter group is centered
around Afghans with international experience, often an NGO
background, but still with broad-minded deep and authentic
ties to the country. More in their national outlook, this
still shaping alignment has a less exclusively ethnic focus,
greater comfort with balancing modern governance and
institutions with traditional (tribal) structures, and
readiness to move beyond the deep divisions of the last 30
years. How these various struggles interact and where they
lead is anyone's guess, but it promises to be a tumultuous
few years.
WOOD

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