As the peace talks in Afghanistan stalled until Joe Biden’s administration takes further action, calls for more power-sharing mechanisms to represent many groups in the political system are gaining momentum. ‘magnitude. It’s a tempting idea, and Afghans have had a taste of power-sharing in recent years, starting with the appointment of Hamid Karzai as chairman of the ethnically diverse cabinet, then the deal between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah after an electoral conflict. .
But the dangers of this idea of consociation outweigh the benefits. Look no further than the disaster that struck Lebanon. In 1975, the Lebanese state all but collapsed and the country descended into civil war, in many ways due to the entrenched divisions of society in politics. Belligerents such as state elites, proxy actors and militia groups have exploited these sectarian identities through violence, dividing society along community lines in pursuit of strategic interests. The series of massacres, kidnappings, assassinations, revenge killings, ethnic cleansing and sexual violence have been carried out in the name of sectarian identities across Lebanon.
Without a workers’ state, the Lebanese warlords carved out sectarian fiefdoms within the communities they claimed to defend. Issues such as education, health care, postal service, electricity and garbage collection have become the focus of sectarian militias. By providing basic services, militias have extended coercive control over their communities. Instead of uniting the country, the 1989 Taif peace accord institutionalized the sectarian dynamic of war by recalibrating the consociational system created at independence to accommodate the main Christian and Muslim sects in Lebanon. He also increased the number of seats in parliament, divided them between sects, made the Christian Maronite president a leading figure and made the Sunni prime minister accountable to the legislature.
He let bigotry be the foundation of state-society relations, leaving the door open to new conflicts. Peace was achieved with the apparatus which ensured that neither group could dominate the state. The Lebanese system of government today is built around this model with the spoils of civil service and state resources distributed to sectarian elites on the basis of a dark system of patronage. Ministerial and government positions are distributed among leaders who use these roles as the basis for political favors within their own constituencies and also for their own gains.
The Lebanese state has not been able to provide adequate public services and social protection. For example, the supply of electricity is the fourth worst in the world. The system, abused by an elite that has renamed itself from militia to political party, permeates public and private relations, and this elite has ensured continued access to power in networks of patronage. It has been the target of nationwide protests for corruption and mismanagement, as the country goes through its worst economic recession and must recover from the recent devastating explosion in the port of Beirut.
As Afghanistan contemplates its future, it must seek to avoid the dangers of bigotry. Talks between the Taliban and the government are the best chance for Afghans to end the violence, reach a lasting settlement, agree on the system of government, and then move forward. Lebanon and Afghanistan are pluralistic, but the management of pluralism in Afghanistan, which still has a fighting chance, must allow cultural security while establishing a national identity. Afghanistan can only be built on what its constituents have in common to achieve consensus.
The Afghan government has never been able to rule largely at the local level, allowing those in power to enjoy some autonomy and administer economic activities, relying on informal advisory bodies, such as community councils, and tribal laws and customs. While a strong central state is essential, greater administrative decentralization of power adapted to the country’s needs will ensure its sovereignty.
But while the future of Afghanistan should be sensitive and inclusive of informal institutions and representative of the diversity of its own people, the consecration of differences in power-sharing structures will be detrimental not only to efforts to build government. , but to its survival.
Patricia Karam is Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Republican Institute, which works to promote democracy.