Special to Times of Oman
Afghanistan has experienced two elections in the past, which were marred by extensive fraud.
However, expectations this time have been high. It was demonstrated in the huge turnout across the country. Still, there have been two pitfalls as well. First, new political elite as well as power brokers in the country controlled most of the polling stations in the Afghan capital, Kabul and most of the provincial capitals. They might have forced locals to vote only for their own favourites. Second, in those areas where Taliban were in control or influential, people were unable to exercise their right to vote, for obvious reasons. There have been generally mixed feelings of optimism and premonition about the outcome.
It is also clear that President Hamid Karzai is transferring power unwillingly, as he has no other option. His reluctance to relinquish power is evident from his desperate meddling in the elections by backing up Zalmai Rasoul, his feckless ex-foreign minister, from behind the scene.
Karzai's departure from power is similar to Babrak Karmal, who under duress from Russians stepped down from power in 1980s. Karzai shows no intention of leaving Kabul, however, Karmal was forced by the Russians to leave Kabul and settle down in a dacha in Moscow.
Except for Ashraf Ghani, most of the main presidential candidates are puppets of the old Northern Alliance and very close to the seat of power in Kabul. If Ghani wins at the ballot and Afghans accept his legitimacy, he can open a new chapter in Afghan politics for bringing peace and reconciliation after decades of bloodshed and destruction.
As an academic and intellectual, he knows better than anyone else that the presidency should be about salvation of Afghanistan. He also fully understands Afghan political history and knows that nothing can be done in a war-torn country, unless peace is restored first.
With a genuine support from the West and having a truly expert working team, he could be a transformational leader and bring an indigenous solution to the Afghan tragedy. He gave voice to such a sentiment by his slogan of 'renewal and change.'
He is a charismatic leader and enjoys the support of the majority in the country, including disgruntled Afghan intelligentsia. His alliance with a notorious warlord, Rashid Dustam may be a skeleton in the closet; however, many Afghans see this union tactical and necessary at this juncture.
If Abdullah Abdullah, a blue-eyed boy of the American media wins the election, he will, no doubt, stir a new wave of ideologically motivated anti-Pashtun sectarianism in Afghanistan. Abdullah's is committed to changing the presidential system into a parliamentarian one, which is in fact a covert agenda for giving autonomy to some provinces by guaranteeing direct election of the governors.
In my view Karzai's legacy could be summed up in one word — an abject failure in every front. With his distinctive chapan coat and a karakul hat, he will be remembered as a colourful political leader installed by the West in 2001. Afghans and those who are familiar with the culture of the country understand that his clownish outfit symbolises his loyalty to the Northern Alliance. Karzai has always been a follower not a leader. He showed an exceptional skills and proficiency in promoting a single bond between his supporters and cronies, and that is cash.
This way he managed to hold together strong power-brokers and his family members. Corruption, kleptomania, demagogy and the world's biggest heroine industry epitomise Karzai's legacy. This legacy calls for a herculean task to be fixed.
Pakistan, however, doesn't want to see a stable Afghanistan and knows very well that a stable Afghanistan will ask Pakistan to leave the stolen Afghan land, I mean Pashtunistan. Undeniable historical evidences suggest that Pakistan has no lawful sovereignty on this Portugal-size land.
Pakistan has successfully created two narratives. For the Taliban, it is a powerful supporter of the global Jihad and for the Americans, it is fighting on the front line of war against terrorism. Pakistan is ramping up to use them as proxy forces in Afghanistan once the United States and Nato leave.
On the other hand, it is both bizarre and funny that the United States is ceaselessly rewarding Pakistan with more than two billion dollars each year. This money is part of Kerry-Lugar bill that the US gives Pakistan in return for the latter's assumed fight against terrorism. If this sickening policy remains unchanged after the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the West has to brace itself for a grand strategic defeat in Afghanistan and the region.
The author is an Adjunct Fellow with the Writing & Society Research Group, University of Western Sydney. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.