Afghanistan Win­ners and Losers

By cast­ing their votes against all odds, Afghan vot­ers have emerged as the real win­ners in the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Daud Khat­tak

By cast­ing their votes in face of threats, Afghan vot­ers have emerged as the real win­ners in the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

While fi­nal re­sults about the win­ners and losers of the June 14 run-off polls, con­tested between two for­mer min­is­ters in Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai cabi­net, will take a few more weeks to be made public, those who scored the real vic­tory in the elec­tions were the Afghan peo­ple them­selves.

De­spite fac­ing nu­mer­ous odds, threats and in­tim­i­da­tions, war-weary Afghan men and women thronged polling sta­tions for the sec­ond time in less than two months to elect their future leader through a demo­cratic process.

Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who was a runner-up in the 2009 pres­i­den­tial polls, once again failed to bag the required 50 per­cent plus one of the to­tal polled votes on April 4 and thus the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion went into the sec­ond phase, with Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai as Ab­dul­lah’s runner-up.

Un­like the April 4 polls, the sec­ond phase on June 14 wit­nessed an over­whelm­ing sup­port for Ashraf Ghani, who is an eth­nic Pash­tun hail­ing from the coun­try’s cen­tral Logar prov­ince. His sup­port was par­tic­u­larly good in the south­ern and east­ern prov­inces of Afghanistan.

Un­of­fi­cial fig­ures have re­vealed that Ashraf Ghani is lead­ing with at least a mil­lion votes while Dr. Ab­dul­lah, who once as­pired to be the suc­ces­sor of Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, has al­ready lev­eled al­le­ga­tions of fraud and rig­ging in the elec­tions.

Un­like the first phase, where a to­tal of 11 can­di­dates were in the field, with nine of them be­ing eth­nic Pash­tuns, tac­tics such as an ap­peal to eth­nic­i­ties and even cheap tricks to grab votes were very much vis­i­ble in the sec­ond phase which was a oneon-one con­test between Ashraf Ghani, who rep­re­sented the Pash­tuns, and Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who rep­re­sented the Ta­jiks and Pan­jsh­eris.

It was an ap­peal to the re­spec­tive eth­nic­i­ties that dou­bled the vote bank of Ashraf Ghani in the Pash­tun belt in the south and east where a large num­ber of peo­ple even de­fied their tribal el­ders and war­lords who were sup­port­ing Dr. Ab­dul­lah.

This caused some bad blood in the ri­val groups that may lead to prob­lems in the days ahead for the future pres­i­dent. How­ever, it is most likely that the dif­fer­ences would dis­si­pate over time.

It is gen­er­ally be­lieved that de­spite the al­le­ga­tions and counter-al­le­ga­tions, the two sides are likely to come to terms on how to steer the coun­try out of the present cri­sis, in­clud­ing the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and the frag­ile econ­omy.

An­other im­por­tant devel­op­ment seen dur­ing the two phases of the Afghan pres­i­den­tial polls was the Tal­iban’s in­abil­ity to dis­rupt the polls de­spite threats and or­ders to the peo­ple to stay away from polling sta­tions.

This gives cre­dence to the gen­eral be­lief among the Afghans and a num­ber of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional an­a­lysts that the Afghan Na­tional Army (ANA) has enough strength and ex­per­tise to de­fend the coun­try against the Tal­iban af­ter the with­drawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2014.

Re­gard­less of whether the Tal­iban were un­able or un­will­ing to dis­rupt the polls, the suc­cess­ful and un­in­ter­rupted elec­tion has en­cour­aged the com­mon Afghans and ce­mented their trust in their coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces. Be­sides, we have seen many ex­am­ples of Afghans who over­whelm­ingly par­tic­i­pated in the elec­tion de­spite threats.

Jawaz Jan, a res­i­dent of Tanai district of the south-east­ern Khost prov­ince, whom this writer talked over the tele­phone, re­lated a mov­ing tale. His daugh­ter passed away on June 14 (the polling day) but he did not an­nounce her death till the end of the polling time lest his vil­lage peo­ple did not go to the polling sta­tion and would at­tend the fu­neral.

Sim­i­larly, as the demo­cratic process in Afghanistan is tak­ing root, the war­lords, who sub­ju­gated the com­mon Afghans for decades, are now on the way out. For in­stance, none of the no­to­ri­ous pow­er­ful men and war­lords man­aged to emerge as front run­ners ei­ther in 2009 or in 2014.

In­stead, peo­ple like Hamid Karzai and now (al­most) Ashraf Ghani have been pre­ferred by the Afghan peo­ple to be their future lead­ers. The con­tin­u­a­tion of the sys­tem, de­spite all its weak­nesses, is a guar­an­tee of bring­ing an end to the cul­ture of war­lordism that had be­come preva­lent in Afghanistan over the past three decades.

As for the two pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, both have ex­plic­itly ex­pressed their will­ing­ness to sign the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment (BSA) with the United States while Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai con­tin­ued to re­ject the agree­ment fol­low­ing his se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences with the U.S., the key backer of the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

Be­ing a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter, Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah is well-known among Afghanistan’s neigh­bors, in­clud­ing Iran, Pak­istan and In­dia. Sim­i­larly, Ashraf Ghani also served in Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s cabi­net as fi­nance min­is­ter and has been re­spected for his straight­for­ward ap­proach to is­sues such as cor­rup­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms.

Apart from the de­clin­ing se­cu­rity

sit­u­a­tion, the two other big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing the next Afghan pres­i­dent will be the ever-in­creas­ing cor­rup­tion and weak econ­omy. Many Afghans, whom this writer spoke to, be­lieve that Ashraf Ghani has the ca­pac­ity to wage a re­lent­less war against ad­min­is­tra­tive cor­rup­tion while he can also im­prove the coun­try’s econ­omy.

As fi­nance min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai-led tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment (till 2004), some of Ashraf Ghani’s key achieve­ments in­cluded tough mea­sures against cor­rup­tion, long-term plan­ning and sug­ges­tions for poverty erad­i­ca­tion, over­haul­ing of the cus­toms, is­suance of new cur­rency in a record time, adop­tion of non­d­eficit fi­nanc­ing and cen­tral­iza­tion of rev­enues.

It is gen­er­ally be­lieved that his com­ing to power would be a good omen for Afghanistan’s fall­ing econ­omy and would help bring the wide­spread cor­rup­tion un­der con­trol. His oc­ca­sional ill-tem­per, how­ever, is seen as one of his ma­jor weak­nesses, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to his future re­la­tions with tribal el­ders and op­po­nents from other eth­nic­i­ties.

The pre­lim­i­nary re­sults of the runoff polls are not go­ing to be made public be­fore July 2 and may fol­low a pe­riod of sharp dif­fer­ences between the win­ning and los­ing par­ties. How­ever, Afghan an­a­lysts be­lieve that any of the two can­di­dates who makes his way to the pres­i­den­tial palace would fol­low an in­clu­sive ap­proach, which will guar­an­tee his five-year term in the palace. The writer con­trib­utes to the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

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