Afghanistan: the run-off election

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 11.06.14

Will the second round of presidential elections on June 14 proceed uninterrupted in
Afghanistan? The world is still fearful of the chances of trouble and with that the onslaught
of the Taliban as a formidable foe crosses one’s mind. The successful holding of the
elections and the subsequent installation of the new government will have a symbolic value.
It will mark the fruitful completion of 13 years of the stay of foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Secondly, it will signify the smooth transfer of power into the hands of pro-democracy locals.

Will the symbolic value bring the non-democratic history of Afghanistan to an end? In the
first round of presidential elections that took place on April 5, 2014, Abdullah Abdullah won
45 percent of the vote whereas Ashraf Ghani won 31.56 percent of the vote. As per the
Afghan constitution, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the two leading
candidates will contest a run-off. In the second round, the race has been narrowed down
from eight to two candidates. Nevertheless, more than 60 percent turnout of voters in the
first round of elections symbolises the change of mind of the Afghan voters. First, they
prefer democracy to Talibanisation. Second, they value the formation of the government
through an electoral system instead of decisions issued through the barrel of a gun. Third,
they intend to have a say in the future of Afghanistan. On the other hand, the Taliban were
relatively dormant when the first round of elections was being conducted and they had not
yet launched their spring offensive, which they initiated in May. Hence it seems that the
second round of elections will be held under the shadow of the spring offensive and
speculation arises that we may not witness the same turnout.

It is said that the electoral result will be the expression of the ethnic divide amongst Afghan
voters. In the same vein, it is said that the Pashtuns were divided in voting for or against the
given eight candidates in the first round of elections. This time, in the second round, the
contest will be between a Tajik-Pashtun mix (Abdullah) and a pure Pashtun (Ghani). The
Pashtun voters will again be divided. Abdullah is sure of his victory because (first) he has
the backing of non-Pashtun voters from the north and (secondly) he requires just five
percent more votes than he secured in the first round to be the next president. This is one
of the reasons why Abdullah’s convoys are under attack by the Taliban. In a way, his
election campaign is being sabotaged this time. In the emergence of Abdullah, Pakistan
may not feel comfortable but India will be happy. Interestingly, if Pashtun votes were to have
the final say in Abdullah’s win, the situation would swing in favour of Pakistan. The
fundamental preference of Pakistan in Afghanistan is not the Taliban but the Pashtun
whether they are in the uniform of the Taliban or not. Similarly, Pakistan’s preference is not
to rule Kabul but to have a secure western border, though Pakistan puts a premium on
peace in Afghanistan to foster trade ties with the countries of Central Asia.

Much anxiety is being shown about when to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA)
with the US. Both Abdullah and Ghani have already pledged to sign the agreement. This is
the first thing either of them will do after the swearing-in ceremony, which will be held on
August 2. The BSA will allow the US to keep forces, somewhat fewer than 10,000 in
number, in Afghanistan till 2024. The BSA shows the long-term commitment of the US
towards Afghanistan. This point is also the validation of the Taliban reality in Afghanistan,
beside the apprehension of an al Qaeda presence. In the presence of foreign troops,
especially in the presence of air power, the Taliban will be in no position to dictate terms to
Kabul. An occasional assault may be one thing but a perpetual battering to destabilise the
Kabul government may not be possible. The same impossibility will hold the potential of
demoralising the Taliban, though they will keep on persisting. To dishearten the Taliban
further, the voters voting for both Abdullah and Ghani know that both candidates have
committed to signing the BSA once either of them is elected. Hence their participation has
the import of a tacit approval.

Hitherto, four messages aired to the Afghans are clear: first, Afghanistan faces a major
challenge of getting accepted by the world as a civilised country. Afghanistan may be a
dumping ground of international powers but at the cost of thousands and millions of Afghan
bodies. The world thinks in terms of the cost-effectiveness of war translated through air and
drone strikes. Second, the world is ready to destroy their country and afterwards may try to
(re)construct it if the Afghans do not become stakeholders in the affairs of their country.
One of the best ways to do so is through casting votes, especially beyond their ethnic
affiliations. Third, the world has also given its declaration that an Afghanistan strewn with
non-state actors is no longer acceptable. Even the friends of Afghanistan, whether they are
in its vicinity or far from it, cannot save it from the wrath of the world. Fourthly, a non-
democratic Afghanistan is incongruent with the countries of the world. An internecine war
may help one warlord or one ethnic group take over the other, but this war cannot impress
the world enough with the prowess of the winner to allow him to be the final ruler of
Afghanistan. The win should not lie in how to destroy the system laid down by the world but
by how to see opportunities in the system in Afghanistan.

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