Afghan strongmen form 'united front'
Kabul, April 3, 2007 (AFP): Strongmen from Afghanistan's war-filled past, some of them once staunch enemies, launched a new political coalition Tuesday saying they wanted to build unity in the divided country.
About 300 people, many of them key players in the country's turbulent past, gathered at a ceremony to launch the United National Front with former president Burhanuddin Rabbani as its leader.
The new coalition is perhaps the most significant political group to emerge since the fall of the extremist Taliban government in 2001 set the country on an internationally agreed path to democracy.
Coalition member Prince Mustafa Zahir, grandson of ailing former king Mohammad Zahir Shah, said the front would promote unity.
"It's important to bring different people and factions together for peace in the shattered country," he said at the event attended by heavyweights like ex-defence minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and parliamentary speaker Yonous Qanooni.
Among its goals is to change the 2003 constitution to allow for political parties to stand for proportional representation in parliament and for the appointment of a prime minister, Rabbani said.
The 2005 parliamentary election, the first to be fully democratic, used the "single non-transferable vote" system in which ballots are cast for an individual and not political parties. The next legislative vote is due in 2010.
The president is elected separately.
"We are in favour of a parliamentary system under which both individuals and parties could be candidates for election," Rabbani said.
The new front also wanted governors of the 34 provinces to be elected by direct vote rather than appointed by the president, said Rabbani, a parliamentarian.
It would "not work against the government. It will work besides the government for the betterment of the nation," he said.
The front is mainly made up of various leaders of the armed resistance to the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation who turned on each other in a 1992-1996 civil war that was fought along ethnic lines. It includes former communists.
Many of the men in the new alliance were behind a rally of up to 25,000 people in Kabul late February that backed parliamentarians' demands for an amnesty for crimes and abuses committed in wars and conflict since 1979.
Karzai later agreed to allow amnesty for groups but said individuals still had the right seek redress for atrocities.
About 1.5 million people were killed from the start of the Soviet invasion to the removal of the Taliban.