“The basics of sound politics are people’s vote and sound leadership"

Wahid Omar has served as the spokesperson of the president of Afghanistan. He was born in Kabul and has expertise in transitional justice. The field he has opted signals his inclination towards innovation and novelty. While talking to Omar, one will find him a young man who is updated on current politics and seems purposeful and committed. Motivation for moving forward can be clearly observed in his social and political activities. Rah-e Madaniyat Weekly Magazine has conducted its first interview with Wahid Omar for the section ‘Young Politicians.’ The interview is presented here to our readers:

What kind of person is Wahid Omar?

I am a simple person who firmly believes Afghanistan will stabilize one day. My greatest objective in life is to contribute in development of Afghanistan as country that can provide a democratic and religiously moderate environment for our coming generations.

Where were you born?

I was born in Kabul. My father was seriously in favor of educating his children. Therefore, I and my siblings were able to continue our education. I belong to large family. We are 13 sisters and brothers. Nonetheless, I am the only one who is involved in political and civil society activities. All my sisters and brothers are busy with their own professional lives.

Please tell us more about your education.

It studied in Kabul up to eighth grade. With eruption of the civil war, my family migrated to Pakistan where I completed my high school. In Pakistan, the environment was not feasible for continuing my education, albeit I studied some courses. After the fall of Taliban government, I went to the United States where I did my under-graduation in diplomacy and international relations. Then, I got my master degree in political science from a university in Britain. My major is transitional justice and I wrote my thesis on ‘Facts Finding in Post-conflict Scenario of South Africa and its Comparison with the Condition in Afghanistan.” I am probably among the limited number of people in Afghanistan who have done their majors in transitional justice. 

When did you start taking part in politics practically?

I was interested in politics while I was still too young. During civil war in the country I was a student but even then I took part in establishment of a culture organization for youths of Afghanistan. Although it was a cultural organization, we also took part in politics. Even in those times, I was interested in political gatherings and speeches. When it was the Taliban’s government in Afghanistan, with cooperation from some of my friends I established the organization under the tile ‘Solidarity of Afghanistan Youths’ in Peshawar, Pakistan. With the passage of time the organization developed so much that we started receiving threats from Pakistani government. When the condition bettered in Kabul we transferred our organization here. I have been somehow involved in major political issues of the country for instances preparation of constitutional law and the first presidential and parliamentary elections. In 2003, I launched a huge project with support from a German organization under the title, ‘Society of Young Leaders’ where a great number of youths gathered and participated in training programs, discussions and meetings pertaining to hot issues of Afghanistan. After eleven years, the project still continues. Additionally, I have written much on political and cultural issues. I have written a book for children and its title is ‘The Fruitless Shovel.’ In 1997, this book was published by an organization in Peshawar and was awarded the first position among the writings of Afghan youths. Then, I did not write books but wrote many articles on various issues. One of my articles ‘Afghanistan: Young King and Huge Deception’ became very popular and created much fuss among many circles.

What is your definition of sound politics and political culture?

Some define politics as an art of social administration. But from my point of view, politics has various and different aspects that must be included in its definition. Sound politics is based on the votes of the people and respect to the views they express. The democracy we experienced over the past 12 years has been accompanied with pitfalls. However, this process has been comparatively sound as a result of which we have witnessed certain rounds of elections. The political transition that will be subsequent to April election has great historical importance. The basics of sound politics are people’s vote and sound leadership.

Has sound politics found its place in the traditional society of Afghanistan?

I am not a philosophical person. What I say is based on the experience that I have practically gained. I have been involved in various programs implemented in the center and provinces and contrary to what many think I can say Afghan society is no more very traditional. Although people follow certain customs and traditions, majority of them naturally believe in sound politics and democratic values. The fact that our leadership and political parties have not been able to create more public awareness relates to their objectives. Their objectives did not allow them to increase the awareness of the people and make them trust in democracy. They thought in the traditional society of Afghanistan only traditional policies are compatible. Experience over the last ten years has established that the youths participate in and support the democratic process and back the people who practice sound politics. Thus the fear that change must not come in Afghanistan, politics should not go sound and the politics should remain confined to certain traditions - that are used by tribal elders for their own benefits – is baseless. Fortunately, experience shows the trend is gradually moving towards reform.  

While there is a parliament formed by the votes of the people and there is also the conventional loya jirga. With such a condition, can appropriate political decisions be made?

I think loya jirga was once a comparatively democratic way of decision making on major national issues. Nevertheless, in today’s world people’s representatives and their votes have the main role. As I said earlier, sound politics is based on the votes of the people. In 21 century, no politician can succeed without public support and it has been established over the past 12 years. Young politicians today can distinguish and judge between conventional political instruments and democratic political instruments in a better way. The later one is more democratic although it too might have some demerits. This, however, does not mean traditional way of politics in Afghanistan is wrong. Traditions can be both good and bad. Meanwhile, for centuries, Afghanistan has been a victim of limitations created by politician but indeed this country welcomes change more than any other countries, especially our neighboring ones. The people of Afghanistan have better understanding of the situations and have high political awareness. Our young politicians must not be conservative due to the fear that there will be people that would criticize their sound politics. That is what our politicians practiced in the past but the outcomes have been negative.

You said Afghans have been the victims of policies of our leaders and political parties. Do not you think the same persist today? Do not political parties try to influence young and democrat politicians even today?

I am optimistic in this regard. Optimistic, because based on my discussions and contacts with leaders of political parties I can say their thoughts and beliefs have significantly altered. Those who believed in conventional methods of leadership have now realized they can no more use such methods. This change of thought is encouraging. It can be observed that mujahidin’s political parties put much effort to bring change in their structures and cope with modern values and socio-political changes. These changes automatically diminish outdated thoughts and create new ideas and clusters that are compatible with the social norms. This trend will gradually continue and there will be no obstacle to stop it. The difference I see between the new generations of Afghans and Pakistanis is exactly the same. In Pakistan still the traditional political parties have great influence as they had fifty years back. Its people blindly support members of some renowned families. Same is the condition in India but it is no so in Afghanistan. Here things change quite quickly. Revolutions occur quite fast. Therefore, the young politician must realize that conventional instruments are no more of use and must try to find new ways of doing politics.   

What do you think about the fact that activities of political parties are not based on their structure but on individuals who fund them?

This is a major discussion. In developed countries of the world this issue persists and has not been addressed so far. In western countries either, political groups and parties somehow depend on charisma of certain individuals for succeeding in elections, take the system in their control and manage their activities. This trend persists both in Europe and the United States. One of reasons for why Democrats succeeded in 2008 election in the US was the charisma of Barack Obama. The Democrats would not win if they had not a candidate with characteristics such as that of Obama. In other words the charisma of individuals have role in political processes although it can be risky sometimes. That is because charismatic individuals become overly confident which results they become very proud and thus the chances that they switch to dictatorship go high. In Afghanistan the trend of trusting organizations rather than individuals has started. Most probably the charismatic individuals will continue to influence political process for long time and this is inevitable. It cannot be claimed that a political party will be formed one day in which the charisma of individuals will not have any role. But a balance between depending on the structure of political parties and overly depending on charisma of individuals must be brought so that this balance can cause both the structures and individuals play effective role in leading the country.  

Social security is pivotal for institutionalizing democratic values. How do you evaluate social security at present?

Social security or social protection, undoubtedly, influences any political process. In the recent years, not many democratic structures that believe in human values have been formed. The reason is that democratic individuals and organizations could not appear on scene due to the fear of lack of social protection. On the other hand, the belief of traditional parties and organizations that rely on force and wealth is gradually diminishing which is a positive point. Now, they believe more in change and coping with current situation. Lack of social protection caused many people to keep their relations with conventional political structures. This is a very long and time consuming process. For achieving better outcomes, for the next five years we need a system that must work on improving and strengthening social protection. Our people have always been concerned that the condition might further deteriorate. Firstly, this should not be allowed to happen and then ways to improve the condition should be thought. The greatest challenges for the upcoming election it is considered deterrent of chaos, not development. After 2006, opportunities shrank while capacities improved. Both from security and social protection point of views opportunities became unfavorable. This happens specifically in post-conflict countries. Although I do not include Afghanistan in that category, it is somehow a post-conflict country too. The form of the conflict has changes, there is an elected government, and the conflict is somewhat managed by the system but our society is a post-conflict society. The country is facing insurgency. In a post-conflict country, expectations of the people go very high and it becomes difficult to manage them. The more we take distance from change, the more expectations will not be met and a disappointing environment will prevail. The period between 2006 and 2013 was the period of disappointment in the country. When we get closer to a change, motivation is formed and currently we are getting nearer to a change in the country. Over the past one and a half years we can see that once again political activities are gaining momentum and young leaders are appearing. This has got two reasons: One is fear and the other is motivation. Every change creates motivation. In the past two years, social protection did not improve and the security condition did not change. What simulated the young generation was motivation. In this period of two years many young females started taking part in the politics and became famous. In this regard I am very optimistic. When I was a member of the central council two young women were selected for its managerial activities because of their talent and abilities. This is a major achievement. This opportunity has become available in the past 12 years and now women too can have leadership roles. I believe in the next five years, women will have the opportunity to assume first-line political responsibilities. Women despite unfavorable social condition take bold steps. If we could bring stability in the country in the next five years, we will definitely witness more young women appear as politicians.  

How will you evaluate the role and participation of young politicians in elections?

In 2011, we wanted the youths both males and females to act as an organized force in 2014 elections and efficiently contribute in forming the new government. We undertook some activities but they are insufficient as the time was short. I have to admit that we could not appear as a group that could directly affect the election process. Ultimately, we decided that everyone must work for improvement of election process wherever he/she is. In the last parliamentary election 67% of the voters were formed by young people aging between 18-30 years. This signals high level of awareness among our young generation in taking part in elections. Our colleagues are committed to put efforts, wherever possible, for correcting things. I believe that our youths try to participate in elections and they do this because they are aware. The claim by some individuals that they have millions of people’s votes in their pockets now seems quite baseless and impracticable. Young people who form a major portion of our society especially in major cities vote sensibly. As we can see presence of youths in campaigning teams of some presidential candidates is quite significant while in some other teams unfortunately it is not so.

You are one of the founders of civil-political movement ‘Afghanistan 1400’ and most of its members are young people. Keeping that in view, how much could you practice a politics both theoretically and practically?

We established ‘Afghanistan 1400’ for the purpose of mobilizing and encouraging youths of Afghanistan to participate in politics as a strong force. In the beginning there were two concerns: Firstly, we feared that this movement might become centered on individuals and secondly we were concerned that this group of youths might be used as tools by experienced politicians for their own objectives. Fortunately, we have not countered such situations so far. No one including me claims that ‘Afghanistan 1400’ has been established by one person. Every step is taken with consensus of all its members in a very fair and democratic environment. The head of this organization is not a person who will pass orders on others and cannot take decisions alone. This is a great achievement. Meanwhile, other politicians have not been able to misuse members of this movement. One of the decisions we made was that we would not collectively go to election camps and would not support any individual. All political parties have tried to attract ‘Afghanistan 1400’ towards them but this organization overcame the challenge and kept its independence and solidarity over the past two years. ‘Afghanistan 1400’ as a fresh political movement thinks very strategically. In the next five years it will be significantly involved in major political issues of the country. 

How do you see your political perspective?

Five to ten years ago, I had very high objectives. At current, as person who has been involved in politics for about 16 years, I am more practical and realistic. So far, whatever I have wished for in my life I have achieved it. Now the question that what my aims are for the next 5 to 10 years, (laughing) I will tell you when I reached them.