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
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
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.