Hezbe Wahdat - Ideology and Ethnicity

Ideology and Ethnicity

Ideologically, most Hizb-e Wahdat leaders were political Islamists. In a way the formation of the party was the culmination of a process of Islamisation of the Hazara anti-Soviet resistance groups in Afghanistan. The process was accompanied by the gradual rise to dominance of the clergy in the political leadership of the region, and in fact it marked the final victory of the clerical Islamists. By unifying under the new name they further consolidated their political dominance. The Wahdat manifesto emphasized the continuation and intensification of efforts for the creation of an Islamic government based on the Quran and Sunnah. It called for further efforts to incorporate all other genuine Shiite groups into the party and to act in solidarity with all Islamic organizations of the Sunnis. The language of the manifesto clearly indicates that Wahdat was to be, at least predominately, a Shiite organization, despite references to solidarity and cooperation with the Sunni organizations. It demanded an equal status for Shiite jurisprudence alongside the Hanafi school, dominant among Sunnis in the country. As a religious party, Hizb-e Wahdat can be credited with an openness and inclusiveness exceptional in a conservative society like Afghanistan. In an exceptional move among the Afghan mujahedin, the party included ten women members in its central council and had devoted an entire committee for women’s affairs that was headed by a university-educated Hazara woman.

The main point, however, is that the movement gradually tilted towards its ethnic support base. Subsequent political developments in Kabul exposed the difficulties of establishing an Islamic government in the country. With the fall of the communist regime in Kabul and the failure to form an Islamic government, the warring factions turned to their ethnic and regional support bases. While Islamism remained the officially proclaimed ideology of most groups, ethnic demands and power struggles surfaced as major sources of political mobilization. Wahdat’s leaders were endeavoring to strike a balance between ethnicity and religion. The result was an Islamic ideology used to express and further the rights of a historically disadvantaged community; a strong desire for unity of the Hazaras was its main driving force. In fact, ideologically, Nasr’s trademark combination of ethnic nationalism and radical Islamism increasingly became the ideology of Wahdat, an ethnic discourse dominated by, and expressed through, an Islamic language.

Abdul Ali Mazari, a former member of Nasr and first secretary general of Wahdat, was the main agent of the explicit transformation of the party into a platform for the rights and political demands of the Hazaras. When he arrived in Kabul in 1992, he further opened the door of the party to Hazaras of all social and ideological backgrounds. A group of former leftists and government bureaucrats joined the inner circle of the party leadership, generating further rifts. This was a real test of political tolerance of the more conservative section of the clergy. While the party was created to unify the predominantly Islamist and clerical organizations, in Kabul it confronted groups of educated Hazaras much larger than had been the case in the provinces; these were also mostly leftist and relatively well organized. The question of whether the party should accept these individuals divided the party leadership. The ulema (Scholars) needed the knowledge and experiences of these educated Hazaras to help the party adjust to an urban political setting. The party suffered from a chronic shortage of members who had benefited from a modern education. Furthermore, most of the clerics had little familiarity with the politics of Kabul. Most of them were educated in religious centers in Iran and Iraq and had mainly engaged in politics in rural Hazarajat. Finally, Wahdat fighters lacked military skills suitable to an urban environment. Despite that, many key figures in the central council opposed the inclusion of the educated Kabulis in the party, viewing them as godless communists. While none of the former leftists were given any position of authority within the party leadership, their strengthening relationship with, and perceived influence on, Abdul Ali Mazari angered the more conservative sections of the party. Most notable in this regard was Muhammad Akbari, who consistently opposed Wahdat’s alliance with non-jihadi groups such as General Dostum’s Junbish Milli and the Hazara leftists. On the other hand, the leftists did not seek any official positions within the party ranks. They were mostly concerned with ensuring their personal security and avoiding persecution by the mujahedin.

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