A new political movement is taking shape in Afghanistan that is pro-Western in orientation and seeks to present Afghans with a clear ideological alternative to the vision offered by the resurgent Taliban movement. The movement's leader maintains that a "great" number of Afghans want to move in a democratic direction.
The movement, Fedayeen-e-Sul, or Sacrificers for Peace, is led by Hamed Wardak, the 31-year-old son of the current defense minister of Afghanistan, Abdul Rahim Wardak. The younger Wardak is a graduate of Georgetown University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in Britain.
The movement aims to be pan-ethnic, reformist and democratic. Wardak said he acted to establish the movement after traveling around Afghanistan, speaking to local elders and painstakingly building a network of respected local leaders. "The more I deal with elders, I realize the potential for democracy in this country is so great. The type of ideals that we have, they also share, they just express it in different ways," he said.
In his talks with elders, Wardak said he often refers to the important role that women played in the life of Mohammed. "What we're pitching is that al Qaeda is un-Islamic," he said. "We're using Hadith and quotations from the Koran and we have our own mullahs working on this."
Wardak discussed the movement's origins and aspirations during a January 31 forum in Washington, DC, hosted by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at The Johns Hopkins University.
There are about 30 members of parliament who are ready to affiliate themselves to Fedayeen-e-Sul, but at present not all of them want to be publicly identified as such, according to Wardak. He couldn't provide a specific figure for the rank-and-file membership, but asserted that it is "in the thousands." The movement currently does not take money from foreign groups, but Wardak did not rule out the possibility of it doing so in the future: "The question is, when is that appropriate?"
In Afghanistan's nascent democracy, there are few well-defined political movements or entities operating within the system, other than a Communist Party, a legacy of the Soviet occupation, and a loose confederation between militia leaders from the South and former leaders of the Northern Alliance. That lack of political organization has hurt the parliament's ability to get things done, said Marvin Weinbaum, an Afghanistan expert at the Middle East Institute, who also spoke at the CACI event.
"We're finally seeing what we should have seen earlier, the formation of political groups," Weinbaum said.
"What you have in effect [today] are 249 different parties
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.