Afghanistan and Mental Construct of Power


There are two dominant mental constructs of power in Afghanistan: an Afghanistan-centered mentality and another mentality that is centered on the idea of Greater Khorasan.

Throughout history, these two mental constructs have been engaged in a serious challenge over power, by occasionally seeking monopoly on it, and in doing so, have created crises in the country. This mental construct of power has been one of the main reasons why the existing unity government has not been able to solve the problem of balanced distribution of power between two election camps, that is, the Reform and Partnership Team led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive officer, and President Ashraf Ghani’s Change and Continuity team. As a result, it has taken a long time for the two politicians to reach an agreement over ministers and fill all cabinet posts. This means that the construct of power has been intermingled with ethnic demands, thus bolstering other obstacles that stand in the way of achieving this goal. In other words, the two aforesaid mentalities have been represented objectively by two ethnic currents of Pashtun and non-Pashtun, with Tajik people as the main axis of this dispute. Like it or not, Abdullah represents Tails in the mentality of the Afghan people and, as such, represents the Greater Khorasan mentality. This mentality has its roots in past history of the country and dates back to the time when Greater Khorasan included the entire present-day Afghanistan, Central Asia, China’s Xinxiang province and parts of eastern Iran.

On the contrary, another powerful mental construct has taken shape around the pivot of Pashtun people, which focuses on present-day Afghanistan. Although historical background of this mentality is not as ancient as Greater Khorasan mentality, it has become petrified within the Pashtun ethnic group, at least during the past two or three centuries. As a result, it believes that having monopolistic and unrivaled grasp on power is its historical and indisputable right. Despite his apparent affiliation with technocrats, which should have theoretically enabled him to think free from ethnic boundaries, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is in practice attached to the Pashtun mental construct. Both mentalities that are based in Greater Khorasan and present-day Afghanistan are of an ethnic nature and, therefore, seek their own monopolies on power. The fact that both groups that are loyal to Abdullah and Ghani consider themselves free from ethnic affiliations and accuse the other side of seeking monopoly on power cannot change the nature of their actions. At least, one may claim that, the real outcome is the same because in any case, it prevents balanced distribution of power between two rival camps.

The problem with the distribution of power, however, does not end here and two additional mentalities have further helped institutionalize this mentality: the technocrat mentality and the Mujahid mentality. The rivalry over power between these two mentalities is also intense and not conforming to democratic norms. Mr. Ashraf Ghani represents technocrats while Abdullah Abdullah belongs to the Mujahideen. The past track records of these two key figures of the unity government attest to this claim. Ashraf Ghani has been accused of having focused on his own private life outside the country during the Jihad period and has played no role in the Jihad of the Afghan people. On the other hand, Dr. Abdullah has been also accused by his opponents of being part of the country’s warmongering culture, which caused the country to enter into a civil war following the termination of Jihad against the Red Army of the former Soviet Union, and at the end, led to the emergence of the Taliban and subsequent occupation of the country by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Regardless of how right or wrong these viewpoints are, the important reality is that both groups have a monopolistic approach to power. Although in certain cases the intensity of the monopolistic tendencies of one camp may be less than the other, the ultimate result is the situation that we currently see in Afghanistan, which has practically barred the complete establishment of a national unity government in the country.

The success or failure of the new experience of power sharing in Afghanistan in the form of the national unity government will depend, more than any other thing, on the mental construct of power either in the form of Pashtun – Khorasan binary, or in the form of technocrat – Mujahid binary. This means that if two different camps of “Reform and Partnership” and “Change and Continuity” could solve the problem of power sharing on the basis of their previous agreement and through mediation of US Secretary of State John Kerry to establish an efficient cabinet free from factional and ethnic tendencies, the experience of the national unity government could be relatively successful. However, if on the other hand, the mental construct of power continues on the basis of past and petrified mentalities and if the national unity government is formed through clandestine, factional, ethnic, and corrupt deals, and cabinet members are chosen out of close friends of either side with no respect for their qualifications, then the failure of the national unity government will be much more possible. At least, one may claim that the government of Afghanistan will fail to achieve its main goals, which include establishment of peace and stability, fighting organized corruption, prodding sustainable development of the country and returning millions of refugees home from other countries. As is clear during the relatively long period that has passed since the agreement on the establishment of a national unity government was signed, almost all the government’s energy has been spent on the conflict over maintaining and distributing power on a 50-50 basis. As a result, the government has not been so far able to fulfill any of its promises.

Under conditions when a deadlock evidently exists between the Afghan president and the chief executive officer over how to distribute power, it has become somehow easier to pass a judgment in this regard. It is also evident that Ashraf Ghani does not consider the post of the chief executive officer as important as is seen by Abdullah Abdullah and his supporters. Therefore, Ghani does not consider Abdullah as a full partner for the distribution of power on a 50-50 basis. Such an attitude can be explained by the mentality of power monopoly that stems from ethnic origins. On the opposite, Dr. Abdullah will suffice to nothing less that the full implementation of the agreement and obtaining 50 percent of the political power and government posts for his team. The ideas of the president and the chief executive officer are rooted in their historical backgrounds and emanate from the binary of Afghanistan vs. Greater Khorasan, or the binary of technocrat vs. Mujahid. These binaries, in turn, have their roots in the history as well as ethnic and racial biases. This is why resolution of this problem has not been as simple as John Kerry thought and the realization of his expectation for Afghanistan to pass over its historical mentality of power in a healthy manner and form a technocrat government free from ethnic affiliations seems actually impossible.

This is especially true because without due attention to historical roots of the mentality of Afghans about ethnic monopoly on power, Americans tried to bypass the central government under the former president, Hamid Karzai, and form local centers of power under the rule of local governors in provinces. By doing so, willingly or unwillingly, they helped division of power along local, regional and ethnic lines and further strengthened the power monopoly mentality that already existed in southern, eastern, central and northern parts of the country. As a result, today, the same local centers of power, in certain parts of the country, are even stronger than the national unity government. The national unity government is not able to convince local rulers to give up the power or step down in favor of somebody else, so that the central government would be able to organize such divided centers of power and enforce national sovereignty in all provinces. This problem also plagued the government of Karzai and right until the last day of its government, he could not take customs revenues from local governments in favor of the central national government.