Fu­ture Un­cer­tain

The list of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates an­nounced by the Afghan Elec­tion Com­mis­sion has gen­er­ated a mix­ture of op­ti­mism and un­cer­tainty about the out­come of the polls.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

The April 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are an op­por­tu­nity for Afghanistan to climb out of the predica­ment of war and work to­wards democ­racy.

Afghanistan’s his­tory of war and in­sur­gency has re­sulted in nu­mer­ous chal­lenges to good gov­er­nance and sta­bil­ity. With the im­mi­nent with­drawal of the in­ter­na­tional forces, and mount­ing pres­sures of con­trol­ling a weak econ­omy, there is a need for strong in­sti­tu­tional and pol­icy struc­tures. The pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in April 2014 serve as an op­por­tu­nity for Afghanistan to climb out of the predica­ment of war and work to­wards democ­racy.

In July 2013, the Par­lia­ment of Afghanistan in­tro­duced a se­ries of elec­toral laws to es­tab­lish the ground­work for free and fair elec­tions. An in­de­pen­dent elec­tion com­mis­sion has been set up to over­see the demo­cratic process. In Oc­to­ber 2013, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ceived 27 nom­i­na­tions for the forth­com­ing elec­tions.

Af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial process of elim­i­na­tion, nearly 16 can­di­dates were dis­qual­i­fied for in­suf­fi­ciency of pa­per­work and their ed­u­ca­tional back­ground. The de­ci­sion was heav­ily crit­i­cized as the Com­mis­sion only ex­cluded ‘soft tar­gets’ from the elec­toral process while the ma­jor­ity of the suc­cess­ful can­di­dates were in­flu­en­tial politi­cians. More sig­nif­i­cantly, Khadija Ghaz­nawi, the only fe­male can­di­date, and Hash­mat Ahmedzai, the leader of Afghanistan’s no­mad pop­u­la­tion were also dis­qual­i­fied. This raised se­ri­ous ques­tions about the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women and in­dige­nous groups in the

po­lit­i­cal process.

In Novem­ber 2013, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion an­nounced the fi­nal bal­lot list for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. The list has gen­er­ated a mix­ture of op­ti­mism and un­cer­tainty about the out­come of the polls.

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah’s nom­i­na­tion comes as a bea­con of hope. In the 2009 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, he con­tested as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date and man­aged to gain 30.5 per­cent of the to­tal votes. How­ever, Ab­dul­lah boy­cotted the runoff elec­tion as he was skep­ti­cal of Hamid Karzai’s com­mit­ment to­wards change.

De­ter­mined to chal­lenge Karzai’s brand of democ­racy, Ab­dul­lah formed the Coali­tion for Change and Hope, which was sub­se­quently re­named the Na­tional Coali­tion of Afghanistan. Over time, the fo­rum has re­ceived an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse from Afghan po­lit­i­cal par­ties and mem­bers of par­lia­ment. Ow­ing to his un­flag­ging ded­i­ca­tion to a hu­man­i­tar­ian agenda and will­ing­ness to work to­wards the wel­fare of Afghanistan, Ab­dul­lah has been billed as an ef­fi­cient and ac­count­able leader.

The nom­i­na­tion of Gen­eral Ab­dul Rahim War­dak has gen­er­ated both ex­pec­ta­tions and doubts. War­dak’s po­lit­i­cal pro­file is, at best, con­fus­ing. He had pre­vi­ously served as de­fense min­is­ter of Afghanistan and man­aged to strengthen diplo­matic re­la­tions with Pak­istan and al­le­vi­ate ten­sions be­tween eth­nic groups in the coun­try. How­ever, his ten­dency to show ex­ces­sive sup­port for the United States has earned the ire of many Afghan politi­cians. In Au­gust 2012, War­dak re­ceived a vote of no con­fi­dence from the par­lia­ment for his pro-U.S. stance on po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

De­spite the un­cer­tainty and doubts, it has be­come ev­i­dent over time that Gen­eral War­dak is com­mit­ted to com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and build­ing a strong cen­tral gov­ern­ment. His as­tute ob­ser­va­tions on the prob­lems that plague the re­gion make him a suit­able pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. But whether he will be able to find re­al­is­tic so­lu­tions to these prob­lems re­mains a moot-point.

Ab­dul Qayum Karzai is also among the po­ten­tial can­di­dates for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. His nom­i­na­tion is largely con­tro­ver­sial and could un­der­mine the pos­si­bil­ity for change. Ab­dul Qayum is the el­dest brother of Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and has a ques­tion­able rep­u­ta­tion as a leader. While he has pre­vi­ously served as a par­lia­men­tar­ian in the Wolesi Jirga, he was fre­quently rep­ri­manded for his poor at­ten­dance and lack of com­mit­ment. His al­leged in­volve­ment in a clan­des­tine deal to ne­go­ti­ate with the for­mer Tal­iban gov­ern­ment has fur­ther dented his cred­i­bil­ity. Ab­dul Qayum’s nom­i­na­tion has raised doubts about the trans­parency of the elec­toral process.

Gul Agha Sherzai’s de­ci­sion to con­test the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions also adds fuel to the fire. Sherzai has served as gov­er­nor of two prov­inces. He had pro­vided as­sis­tance to the Amer­i­can forces in seiz­ing Kan­da­har from the Tal­iban in 2001. Sherzai was in­volved in a con­spir­acy to oust Mul­lah Naqib, the pre­vi­ous gov­er­nor of Kan­da­har. He was sacked as gov­er­nor of Kan­da­har be­cause of his al­leged in­volve­ment in opium traf­fick­ing. Since he is a trusted ally of Hamid Karzai, it is un­likely that he will bring any pos­i­tive change to the sta­tus quo.

De­spite the doom-and-gloom sce­nario, some can­di­dates on the fi­nal bal­lot list pro­vide hope for progress and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. He­dayat Amin-Ar­sala’s se­lec­tion for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is a cause for cel­e­bra­tion. An ac­com­plished econ­o­mist and politi­cian, Ar­sala has con­sis­tently worked to­wards im­prov­ing the im­age of Afghanistan. He has pre­vi­ously served as fi­nance min­is­ter, for­eign min­is­ter, vice pres­i­dent and se­nior min­is­ter of the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Afghanistan. He was the first Afghan to join the World Bank where he worked for 18 years. He ac­tively re­sisted the Soviet in­va­sion of Afghanistan and or­ga­nized a peace cam­paign which played a piv­otal role in the po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the re­gion.

Ar­sala has led the In­de­pen­dent Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­form and Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion and chaired the Eco­nomic Co­or­di­na­tion Coun­cil and the Na­tional Cen­sus Com­mit­tee. He has, on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, served as a mem­ber of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, and even, act­ing pres­i­dent.

His con­tri­bu­tions to the in­tro­duc­tion of the first bud­get in Afghanistan strength­ened his im­age as a strate­gist. He has also worked with the IMF to gen­er­ate eco­nomic sta­bil­ity in the re­gion. Ar­sala has drafted laws geared to­wards achiev­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and has con­sis­tently tried to en­cour­age bi­lat­eral trade agree­ments in Afghanistan. Ow­ing to his ex­per­tise and in­no­va­tion, He­dayat Amin Ar­sala stands out amid the glut of in­com­pe­tent politi­cians.

Af­ter the with­drawal of NATO forces in 2014, Afghanistan will need to for­mu­late a vi­able strat­egy to­wards democ­racy and sta­bil­ity. But pos­i­tive change can only come with in­no­va­tion, be­lief and hard work. The Na­tional Demo­cratic In­sti­tu­tion of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs has ex­pressed ‘guarded op­ti­mism’ about the forth­com­ing elec­tions. The fi­nal bal­lot list by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion pro­vides am­ple jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the mar­gin of doubt about the forth­com­ing elec­tions. Only time will tell whether Afghanistan will ben­e­fit from pos­i­tive change or con­tinue to fall prey to the machi­na­tions of a cor­rupt lead­er­ship.

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