Afghanista­n elec­tion rep­re­sents progress

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - ARTHUR I. CYR Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.”

Afghanista­n’s Sept. 28 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion pro­vides some promis­ing ev­i­dence of long-term po­lit­i­cal progress, even as vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ist acts con­tinue.

The United States is try­ing to find an exit, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally with­out any dis­ci­plined long-term plan­ning.

This struggle to find a rea­son­ably re­spon­si­ble, ac­cept­able diplo­matic route for de­par­ture re­flects sub­tle but sus­tained and strong sen­ti­ment among Amer­i­cans that the in­volve­ment has surely gone on long enough.

That sen­ti­ment in­cludes the White House.

This vote is only the ini­tial round, de­signed to nar­rowthe field. The fact the elec­tion took place at all is sig­nif­i­cant.

Ini­tial me­dia re­ports on the elec­tion stress low turnout, and Tal­iban in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lent at­tacks de­signed to dis­rupt, but the to­tal pic­ture is de­cid­edly much more mixed. Gov­ern­ment forces thwarted a ma­jor planned at­tack in Kabul.

Con­text is im­por­tant. Afghanista­n has no es­tab­lished his­tory of for­mal rep­re­sen­ta­tive elec­tions, Western-style rule of law or re­li­able na­tional gov­ern­ment. Lo­cal tribal lead­ers re­main im­por­tant, pow­er­ful, tra­di­tion­ally lethal in armed con­flict.

The ear­lier elec­tion held in 2014 rep­re­sents a much more sig­nif­i­cant bench­mark of progress in Afghanista­n. Turnout of ap­prox­i­mately 60% of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers was high, de­spite Tal­iban in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence. The na­tional elec­tion com­mis­sion tes­ti­fied cor­rup­tion was much re­duced from the 2009 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

In­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai could not run for re­elec­tion again. World Bank vet­eran Ashraf Ghani was vic­to­ri­ous among a field of eight can­di­dates.

With the elec­tion, Afghanista­n com­pleted a peace­ful demo­cratic tran­si­tion in lead­er­ship. This is an his­toric first. Ghani is run­ning for re­elec­tion this year.

The Tal­iban claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for 2014 vi­o­lence, but some at­tack­ers may ac­tu­ally have been from the Haqqani net­work, an af­fil­i­ated group close to al-Qaeda. Me­dia com­men­tary sim­pli­fies by au­to­mat­i­cally as­sign­ing all at­tacks to the Tal­iban.

De­spite pol­icy dis­agree­ments and in­sur­gent at­tacks, in­sti­tu­tional ties be­tween Afghanista­n and the U.S. strength­ened.

In July 2012, Afghanista­n and the U.S be­came for­mal al­lies. This re­la­tion­ship goes be­yond the long-term but lim­ited mul­ti­lat­eral ef­fort to sta­bi­lize the na­tion.

As a re­sult, Afghanista­n joined 14 other na­tions in the dis­tinc­tive, spe­cial cat­e­gory of Strate­gic Part­ner of the U.S. These in­clude Ar­gentina, Aus­tralia, Is­rael and Ja­pan. Other part­ners are no­tably stronger eco­nom­i­cally, and more sta­ble po­lit­i­cally, than Afghanista­n.

The bi­lat­eral part­ner­ship brings closer co­op­er­a­tion en­com­pass­ing reg­u­lar de­liv­ery of mil­i­tary equip­ment, sup­plies and weapons. This in turn be­comes more im­por­tant as the in­sur­gency per­sists.

Pres­i­dent Karzai and for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton an­nounced the al­liance, then jointly at­tended a con­fer­ence in Tokyo, where donor na­tions pledged $16 bil­lion. For­eign aid is peren­ni­ally un­pop­u­lar among the Amer­i­can peo­ple, yet re­mains an im­por­tant source of po­lit­i­cal lever­age aswell as eco­nomic progress.

The long and frus­trat­ing na­ture of the South Asia struggle can mask such pos­i­tive changes as rea­son­ably hon­est elec­tions, and grow­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion of women. De­spite lack of in­fra­struc­ture, tech­nol­ogy is spread­ing steadily. Cell­phones and the in­ter­net, as well as tra­di­tional tele­vi­sion, are now fea­tures of iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties.

His­tory is in­struc­tive. While the dis­as­trous Soviet mil­i­tary in­va­sion and con­se­quent de­feat in the 1980s iswell known, the more com­plex long-term in­volve­ment of Bri­tain is gen­er­ally ne­glected.

Through the 19th cen­tury, siz­able British mil­i­tary ex­pe­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced frus­tra­tion in Afghanista­n. How­ever, Lon­don even­tu­ally was rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful with Kabul through eco­nomic aid, mil­i­tary ef­forts and— above all— as­tute diplo­macy.

With our mil­i­tary with­drawal from Afghanista­n, eco­nomic and diplo­matic tools be­come pri­mary. Amer­i­cans and Afghans must rec­og­nize the lat­ter ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine— and face re­spon­si­bil­ity for— their coun­try.

Mean­while, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic free­dom spread.

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