by Wahab Raofi
themselves in to Afghan National Security Forces
a forward operating base in Puza-i-Eshan,
A monarchical system of government may sound regressive to
Westerners, but Afghanistan once thrived under monarchy, and the
existing Western-imposed government is destined to fail.
Something must change in Afghanistan. The status quo will never
On April 30 two bombings in Kabul killed at least 25 persons,
including nine journalists - the deadliest single attack involving
journalists in Afghanistan since at least 2002, and one of the most
lethal. This came as Afghan president Ashraf Ghani offered an
unconditional peace plan to end the war.
The Taliban then
announced their spring offensive. There seems no hope for peace...
Trump's strategy to address the
conflict in Afghanistan has been a moving target since his first
days in office.
disparaged the idea of "nation-building."
Then he vowed to
increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.
More recently, he
seems to have shifted to favoring a political solution, as
signaled by remarks from U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim
Mattis during a surprise visit to Kabul in March.
"We do look
toward a victory in Afghanistan," Mattis said.
military victory - the victory will be a political
reconciliation" between the Taliban and the Afghan
Yet there's no reason to
believe any reconciliation forged within the current political
system will bring lasting peace.
The hostilities in Afghanistan can never be solved without a full
reckoning with the country's tribal culture and ethnic dynamics.
Fierce, competing internal forces exacerbate conflicts in a region
that has been plagued by foreign invaders for centuries.
Neither a blizzard of
bombs nor peace with the Taliban will lift the country out of its
violent quagmire. Disparate factions continually weaken central
government, and that doesn't figure to change even if the Taliban is
given a seat at the table.
But there is another option...
As a native of
Afghanistan who has worked for the past 10 years as an interpreter
for NATO forces, I believe the country needs a complete overhaul of
its political system and the re-establishment of a constitutional
To Americans, the idea of monarchy may seem regressive. But
Afghanistan is a country where monarchy has been shown to work. It
was not so long ago - during the reign of
Mohammad Zahir Shah, from 1933
to 1973 - that a king presided over a period of striking political
and social stability.
During the Shah's four-decade reign, the pace of social and
political reform in Afghanistan accelerated.
In 1964, the adoption of
a new constitution for the first time recognized women's equal
rights and allowed them access to education in a society long
dominated by men.
When I share with American friends photographs of life in 1960s
Kabul - a cosmopolitan city where men and women, dressed in Western
attire, worked and attended school and university together - they
shake their heads in disbelief.
"Are you are kidding
me?" they say,
...because their only
experience is an Afghanistan torn by war, suicide bombings and
The roots of Afghanistan's present-day troubles go back to 1973,
when the Shah was overthrown in a bloodless coup by his cousin
Mohammed Daud Khan, who was
seeking to avenge his dismissal as prime minister.
Daud Khan ruled as
president until his assassination in 1978, after which the country
sunk into a bloody war. The young pro-Soviet officers who overthrew
Daud Khan faced stiff resistance from a religious and tribal
Afghanistan evolved into a democratic republic ruled by communists
who promised land reform, free housing, and education and economic
prosperity, but failed to deliver. Instead, they eradicated their
opponents with a campaign of terrorism and imprisonment, which was
followed by an invasion of Soviet forces to support their clients in
Soon Afghanistan was
roiling in blood as the US-backed
Mujahedeen and other groups vied
for political power. The result was a breakdown of law and order and
hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The Taliban eventually was able to seize control, and Afghans
embraced these fighters who promised citizens they would restore
much-needed law and order.
Citizens believed that
the rise of the Taliban would clear the path for a return of the
king because they knew the king enjoyed broad support among Afghans,
and because the Taliban were mainly
Pashtun from Kandahar.
The Taliban also promised
citizens that they would not seek political hegemony and would
instead allow the people to chose their own political destiny.
Unfortunately, the citizens were misled on all counts. After
disarming their opponents and taken control over most of the
country, the Taliban established The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
and imposed their own restrictive interpretation of Islam on
Later, when America was dropping bombs on Taliban targets, Afghans
and the U.S. government were searching for a leader to fill the
political vacuum that was certain to emerge after the Taliban's
To many, the former king looked like the best option.
He was a symbol of
moderation, and Afghans were tired of the Islamic regime and sharia
law imposed by the Taliban. They enjoyed the distinct line between
government and religion during the king's four-decades reign.
In 2001 BBC reported that about 10,000 people gathered in a football
ground to hear speakers call for moderate Afghans to decide their
own future by calling for Afghan tribal gathering, a
Loya Jirga, under the former
At the same time, I was a freelance journalist, and traveled to Rome
to interview the Shah, who was in exile there.
intellectuals, influential tribal leaders and militia commanders
from Afghanistan, along with foreign dignitaries, all of whom had
flocked to Italy to express their support for the king's return to
head a revived constitutional monarchy.
In December of that year, Germany hosted the Bonn Conference, where
a group of Afghan delegates representing different ethnic groups
(including the king's own delegation, headed by Abdul Satar Syrat, a
former justice minister) met to decide on the future of a
But two major things went
Taliban, who controlled most of the country, were excluded
Alliance - a united front made up mostly of Tajiks that had
helped the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban (which is comprised
mostly of Pashtuns) - leveraged their military gains to
usurp most government positions.
few remaining positions were filled based on religious,
regional and tribal affiliations, which stoked resentment
among Pashtuns, who felt disfranchised.
king's delegate, Syrat, was blocked from heading the
provisional government pending the convening of a loya jirga
(a tribal council of ethnic, religious and tribal leaders to
settle matters of national importance).
delegates in Bonn chose Hamid Karzai, a relative unknown
from the south.
Later, Syrat told
supporters at a meeting in San Diego that delegates had
voted for him, but that because he was an Uzbek, not a
Pashtun, he was passed over in a secret deal between
representatives of the Northern Alliance and Karzai, who is
And now, despite the help
of tens of thousands of U.S. troops and billions
of U.S. dollars, the Afghan government teeters on the brink of
So would a return to monarchy with a Pashtun king be welcomed by
Afghanistan's multi-ethnic tribes? I believe it would, at least in
part because it's obvious that sham presidential elections have
The 2014 election - between Ashraf Ghani, who had the support
of Pashtuns, and Abdullah Abdullah, favored by the Tajiks -
ended in deadlock, with each side claiming victory.
Government affairs were
brought to a halt for nearly a year.
This was a perfect
example of how democratic elections modeled on those in Western
countries simply cannot work in Afghanistan, where political battles
incite long-standing ethnic tensions.
then a presidential candidate,
addresses reporters as US Secretary of State
Kerry U.S. looks on,
July 12, 2014
US State Department
If not for the vigorous mediation of John Kerry, then the
U.S. Secretary of State, who brokered a deal for the two candidates
to share power, the country's civil war with the Taliban could have
exploded into utter chaos.
Even so, four years
later, Ghani and Abdullah reportedly are quarreling constantly, and
the government is dysfunctional.
The Taliban still inflict
deadly attacks on Afghan security forces, and Kabul and other major
cities remain targets of horrific suicide bombings.
The atmosphere has become so chaotic that members of parliament,
other politicians, and prominent tribal elders are calling for both
Ghani and Abdullah to step down, although their term doesn't end
until next year.
There is even talk of
convening another loya jirga to select a transitional government
until the 2019 presidential election.
But neither a tribal council nor further U.S. efforts can stop the
violence in Afghanistan. After all, the U.S. has been in the country
for 16 years, and Afghans have held many loya jirgas and peace talks
since the fall of the monarchy.
If not for the 1973 coup, the Shah's dynasty might have ruled the
country to the present day.
constitutional monarchy - with the right king in place - could unify
Afghanistan by bridging connections across ethnic, religious and
tribal lines, which in turn would help quell the current spiral of
It worked for 40 years
under King Zahir, Disparate tribes and provinces embraced his fair
and gentle rule. It could work again. One option would be to restore
the Durani dynasty - comprised of Pashtun tribes - which
could satisfy the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
It may be in America's interest to talk with the Taliban, but
without a change in the current Afghan system, American political
efforts are as likely to falter as its military ones.
No foreigner can impose
peace on a fractured state like Afghanistan. The country needs a
homegrown solution - ideally, a monarch who would bring together the
varied tribes and provinces.
It's worth a try. Nothing
else has worked...