Afghan elections

While Afghanistan is moving towards some degree of uncertainty in view of no clear winner, the recent elections could in the long run bring a much needed change to infuse fresh blood into the system which has been paralyzed for some years.

But as the fighting months are fast approaching, with the absence of a credible government at the moment will make the present situation further complicated going by recent surge of violence by the Taliban which is trying to seize power once the NATO troops leave the country.          

Afghanistan is set to hold a second round run-off in its presidential elections after preliminary results showed no candidate was able to win an absolute majority.

The second round will be on June 7 as per Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, a constitutional body whose entire leadership has been appointed by incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

The vote will be contested by former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

The IEC has said that Abdullah finished top with 44.9 percent, followed by Ghani with 31.5 percent. Zalmay Rassoul was a distant third with 11.5 percent. The final result is due to be announced this month.

In the meantime, authorities will investigate allegations of fraud involving up to half a million ballots.

The first round of presidential election in the war ravaged country of Afghanistan has registered a significant higher turnout of 60 per cent of 12 million eligible voters. The threats held out by Taliban to disrupt the elections did not deter the voters to exercise their democratic right.

Strong determination

People are now trying to transform the country into a democratic set up and they are showing sustained determination despite all kinds of Taliban assault. The candidates and President Hamid Karzai had meticulously planned and executed the election process along broad-based ethnic lines.

The main contender Abdullah Abdullah, who had opted out of  second round  of 2009 elections  was now a unanimous candidate of a coalition of political parties, mainly Jamiat-e-Islami led by Salauddin Rabbani (a Tajik), People’s Unity Party of Afghanistan led by Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq (Hazara group) and a faction of  Hizb-e-Islami led by Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal (A Pushtun).

Abdullah Abdullah’s father was a Pashtun, while his mother was a Tajik. Additionally, Pakistan based warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is supporting Abdullah and nominated Ahmad Khan as Vice president under him.  

The other important contender Ashraf Ghani was mainly supported by the Junbish party led by General Dostum (an ethnic Uzbek), a faction of Wadahat Party led by Mohammad Kaim Khalili and Afghan Millat led by Anwarulhaq Ahadi (Pashtun) and Right and Justice Party led by Hanif Atmar (Pushtun).Thus the involvement of these two warlords apparently provide a counterweight to the threat of violence by Taliban.

The third main contender Zalmai Rassoul is considered close to President Hamid Karzai, that shows his keen interest in bringing about the democratic set up.

Karzai is maneuvering to keep his proximity with the winner in these elections that could brighten up his chances in the next presidential elections to be held by 2019, being constitutionally not debarred from contesting the same.

Pashtuns have a predominant trait of showing reluctance to relinquish power after having ruled the country. To retain political proximity after he demits office, Karzai is thus credited with having idea of Plan A and Plan B ready to achieve his desire.

According to Plan A, if Rassoul wins, Karzai may try to replace the presidential form of government to a parliamentary one where he can function as prime minister under the President. This is a familiar route taken by Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier.  

Plan B envisages that  in the event of his candidate did not achieve a clear win, Karzai would take the lead in forming a coalition of all top candidates, ensuring a prominent role for himself in the future government.

To win the presidency, the leading candidate must secure more than 50 per cent of valid ballots failing which the top two candidates will enter a second run-off. The results of 1st round which were declared on 26th April may start intense negotiations among the three leading contestants to clinch the Presidency.

In the event of such a deal not materializing, the second round of run off will commence and results will be out by this month. “This is a preliminary outcome and will now go to the IEC and they will work on this. As soon as they share their findings with us we will also announce it,” IEC chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani said.

The election results carry a risk of plunging the country again into a civil war. Pakistan may be tempted to play its wild card by fomenting trouble through the route of Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s banned Tehrik-e-Taliban operating in Tribal belt of Waziristan.

Both are amply assisted by equally unlawful organization of Haqqani network that straddles the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders and makes the problem even more complicated.

It is here that US administration will have to act quickly by exerting a severe financial pressure on the civilian government of Pakistan that must be accompanied with immediate drone attacks on Taliban elements in Waziristan to bring the situation under control and to normalize the situation on a long term basis.

Side by side, US administration may have to  engage seriously with Pakistan’s numerous centres of power  in the form of  ISI, the military generals deployed  to quell the tribal disturbances, foreign office and the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff who at critical times are found to act  in cohort.

Such a concerted act will automatically desist both Pakistani state as well as non state actors from further aggravating the situation.

The tribal belt of Waziristan is within the sovereign jurisdiction of Pakistan but a loophole arrangement has been deliberately created so that Pakistan may escape the blame of any mischievous acts of any one of these actors. Indeed, US may do well to try to rectify the situation even by authorizing the UN to also supervise the region in question.

India’s approach

India is seriously engaged in investing heavily in the economy of Afghanistan. It also seeks to empower women in the country by prosecuting various civil projects as well as by providing financial assistance.

India however takes a very cautious approach not to hurt Pakistani sensitivity and does not intend to send any troops to this country. It has only agreed to Karzai’s request for equipping ANA with arms like tanks, guns and helicopters and also ready to meet the expenditure of such items supplied by Russia.

India in coordination with Iran is developing a seaport in eastern Iran at Chhabahar that will act as a sort of hub for flow of traffic from India to Afghanistan and onward into Central Asia and beyond.

It will also facilitate the flow of traffic through this hub from other destinations and may add to improve the economy of various states in this region. It will act as an alternative to Pakistan’s restrictive policy of not allowing free trade to Indian goods through its land routes.

Iran’s Chhabahar Port, located 72 kilometers (44 miles) west of Pakistan’s Gwadar port, holds immense strategic and economic significance for India.

US is finally withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and the next president will face several challenges, including the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan later this year as well as attacks by the Taliban.

Thus, US is also saddled with the moral obligation to ensure that conditions in Afghanistan does not deteriorate. There is a striking instance of Iraq where Sunni element attacks have created hellish conditions that have given rise to Al Qaeda activities to flourish in Fallujah.

US is therefore seriously engaged in entering into Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan that will allow to keep a minimum residual force to properly train the Afghan National Army to enable it to meet the challenges from disruptive forces.

US President Barack Obama is also contemplating setting up of a base in Afghanistan/Pakistan or India to attend to such challenges of this area as it departs to take charge of ‘Pacific Pivot’ where it may require fresh action due to rather assertive Chinese policies that are perceived as expansionist design of China in the garb of globalization.