Voting for a New Vi­sion

Seven mil­lion Afghans cast their votes de­spite Tal­iban threats, prov­ing that the na­tion be­lieves in a demo­cratic and peace­ful Afghanistan

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Daud Khat­tak The writer con­trib­utes to the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

The Afghan na­tion has proved that it be­lieves in a demo­cratic and peace­ful coun­try.

Notwith­stand­ing com­plaints of rig­ging and other flaws in the elec­toral process, the par­tic­i­pa­tion of al­most 60 per­cent of the 12 mil­lion reg­is­tered Afghan vot­ers in the pres­i­den­tial polls in Afghanistan is a clear in­di­ca­tion that a vast ma­jor­ity of Afghans see the fu­ture of their coun­try in peace and democ­racy, in­stead of war and blood­shed.

In the days leading to the elec­tions, the Tal­iban launched sev­eral deadly at­tacks, in­clud­ing an at­tack on a lux­ury ho­tel in a high se­cu­rity zone. They also tar­geted a vot­ers’ reg­is­tra­tion cen­ter in Kabul.

Ac­cord­ing to the Afghanistan In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, the body re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing elec­tions, as many as seven mil­lion Afghans, both men and women, cast their votes de­spite Tal­iban threats of killing any­one who dared to go to polling sta­tions.

Apart from show­ing the people’s trust in a demo­cratic and peace­ful Afghanistan, and their op­po­si­tion to in­fight­ing and war-lordism, the April 5 polls also put an end to the spec­u­la­tions that Hamid Karzai was re­luc­tant to quit of­fice.

Un­der the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion, a per­son could serve only twice as the elected pres­i­dent of the coun­try. Thus, Hamid Karzai was the first leader who fol­lowed the con­sti­tu­tion and stepped down from his po­si­tion. Pres­i­dents and kings have been over­thrown, some­times in vi­o­lent coups, over the past 113 years. Some of them were killed while oth­ers were forced to go into ex­ile.

In the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with the dis­mal per­for­mance of Dr. Zal­may Ra­sul, the man be­lieved to be Hamid Karzai’s fa­vorite can­di­date, the real con­test was fought be­tween for­mer for­eign min­is­ter, Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, an eth­nic Ta­jik and the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter and ex­em­ployee of the World Bank, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai. The lat­ter is an eth­nic Pash­tun.

Ac­cord­ing to the pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures re­leased by the AIEC on April 20, Ab­dul­lah was leading by al­most 11 per­cent by gain­ing 44.9 per­cent votes. Ashraf Ghani fol­lowed with 31.5 per­cent votes. As pre­dicted by a vast ma­jor­ity of pun­dits, the elec­tions have gone in the sec­ond round as none of the two leading can­di­dates could win over 50 per­cent votes in the first round.

Un­der the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion, a suc­cess­ful can­di­date must win over 50 per­cent of the to­tal polled votes. If any can­di­date fails to gain over 50 per­cent votes, the con­sti­tu­tion calls for a sec­ond round be­tween the leading can­di­date and his run­ner-up. In 2009, the sec­ond round was averted at the eleventh hour as Karzai’s then key ri­val, Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah agreed to with­draw his claim of large-scale

rig­ging.

In the sec­ond round, Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah and Ashraf Ghani will be con­test­ing one-on-one. The lat­ter will have more chances of vic­tory mainly be­cause the so far di­vided Pash­tun vote bank would pre­fer to rally be­hind an eth­nic Pash­tun just as the ma­jor­ity of eth­nic Ta­jik pre­fer Dr. Ab­dul­lah over Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai.

Out of the nine pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, eight were Pash­tuns. Since Dr. Zal­may Ra­sul, the third-most pop­u­lar can­di­date who ap­par­ently en­joyed the back­ing of Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, will be out of the sec­ond round along with the six other Pash­tun can­di­dates, it will be Ashraf Ghani’s golden chance to bag the ma­jor­ity of votes that were ear­lier di­vided among sev­eral can­di­dates.

Though both of the leading can­di­dates kept the coun­try’s econ­omy, de­vel­op­ment and peace and se­cu­rity on top of their agen­das dur­ing their elec­tion cam­paign and never prop­a­gated the eth­nic is­sue, it is most likely that the sec­ond round would be au­to­mat­i­cally over­shad­owed by an ap­peal to their re­spec­tive eth­nic­i­ties.

Un­like Hamid Karzai, none of the Afghan pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Dr. Ab­dul­lah and Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai, op­posed the sign­ing of the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment (BSA) with the United States.

In their in­ter­views and elec­tion speeches, all can­di­dates stressed the need for sign­ing the se­cu­rity pact with the United States un­der which the lat­ter is likely to keep an es­ti­mated 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for train­ing the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces and deal­ing with the threat of ter­ror­ism.

From Afghanistan’s point of view, the BSA is a guar­an­tee from a strong backer, sup­porter and fi­nancier that Afghanistan is not go­ing to be aban­doned – both on the mil­i­tary and eco­nomic fronts. How­ever, the agree­ment is not go­ing to be signed till July-Au­gust this year.

Many an­a­lysts see a dooms­day sce­nario with the with­drawal of for­eign troops by the end of 2014. But one needs to look at the trans­for­ma­tion of Afghan so­ci­ety and its think­ing over the past 10 years be­fore jump­ing to any con­clu­sion.

Be­sides, the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces are leading the op­er­a­tions af­ter tak­ing charge of se­cu­rity from the in­ter­na­tional troops last year and they have suc­cess­fully thwarted sev­eral Tal­iban at­tacks in the re­cent months. It is a fact that 2013 was deadly for the Afghan forces, but the ca­su­al­ties suf­fered by the Tal­iban were higher. Ac­cord­ing to the an­nual UN Sanc­tions Com­mit­tee re­port, there were 10,000 to 12,000 in­sur­gent ca­su­al­ties dur­ing 2013.

Sec­ondly, the Tal­iban have so far failed to cap­ture a sin­gle city or district even in their for­mer strongholds of Kan­da­har, Ghazni or Hel­mand. Ac­cord­ing to Borhan Os­man, an Afghan jour­nal­ist work­ing for the Afghanistan An­a­lyst Net­work (AAN) in Kabul, the south­ern and south­east­ern cities of Kan­da­har, Lashkar­gah and Khost, which once used to be a strong­hold of the Tal­iban, have be­come safer in re­cent years as com­pared to 2008-2010.

Borhan says that an­other weak­ness in the Tal­iban ranks is their in­ca­pa­bil­ity of en­gag­ing in a frontal bat­tle. “So far, they have rather fo­cused their ef­forts on hit-and-run at­tacks,” he wrote in one of his re­ports af­ter vis­it­ing the south­ern cities of Afghanistan for sev­eral days.

There is an­other im­por­tant is­sue that de­mands at­ten­tion: the coun­try’s shaky re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pak­istan and Afghanistan has mostly re­mained an on-again, off-again af­fair over the past 10 years. This was partly be­cause of Hamid Karzai’s un­nec­es­sary fin­ger point­ing at Pak­istan. The Pak­istan mil­i­tary’s dom­i­nance over the coun­try’s civil­ian au­thor­i­ties on Afghan pol­icy has also been an is­sue. As a new govern­ment is in place in Pak­istan, which in­tends to take con­trol of for­eign pol­icy, a new govern­ment in Afghanistan is likely to be look­ing with hope to­wards its east­ern neighbor.

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