Stunned by a string of assassinations and fearful that President Hamid Karzai will cede too much ground to the Taliban in peace negotiations, his ethnic rivals are struggling to form a coalition that will give them more say in the peace process and offer a credible alternative to his administration.
Their effort has foundered despite high-profile leaders, a strong presence in parliament, a flurry of meetings and a large rally in the capital last month. Even as Karzai's domestic popularity dwindles and his hostility increases toward Western forces fighting the Taliban, he remains largely unchallenged.
"The president always welcomes opposition voices, and they have every right to express their opinions," said Waheed Omer, a spokesman for Karzai. He acknowledged that there are "people who fear the peace process" or want to "make it into an ethnic issue", but he insisted that there was nothing to worry about. "There are red lines we will not cross," he said.
The opposition's struggles illustrate the broader problems that beset Afghan politics a decade after Taliban rule ended.
The system is a modern democracy on paper, but it is still dominated by individual and tribal loyalties, while political institutions remain weak and parties are based on personality cults rather than ideas.
There is constant talk of burying hatchets, but ethnic identity still looms large, injecting mistrust into national priorities such as the peace process. Karzai comes from the Pashtun south; opponents from the former Northern Alliance, which once fought the Taliban, represent a mix of minority groups from the north. Within the opposition, there are generational divisions, grudges dating to the civil war of the 1990s and the temptation of lucrative government posts.
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