The prospects of Afghan reconciliation post-2014

Definitive news on the results of the Afghan elections will probably not come even on the April 24 when the Independent Election Commission (IEC) is scheduled to make a preliminary announcement.

But it is almost certain that there will be no clear winner and there will be need for a runoff election probably some days after the final results are announced on May 14 after the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) have made decisions on the large number of complaints received about irregularities in the conduct of the election.

The runoff election will be a time consuming exercise and will probably mean that the inauguration of the new president will be delayed until July.

While both the lead candidates, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ashraf Ghani, have categorically ruled out any 'deal making', many political figures in Afghanistan believe that a deal would be the best way to get a new administration installed quickly and to ensure that this administration includes representatives of all political forces, thus avoiding the divisions that Afghanistan can ill afford at this critical time.

It will enable the new administration to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and commence negotiations immediately on the desperately needed economic and military assistance, without which Afghanistan would find it hard to maintain a level of stability.

For such negotiations to succeed in capitals where there is enormous donour fatigue and disillusionment, the new government must move immediately to implement the administrative and economic reforms to which Afghanistan committed itself in Tokyo as a condition for getting $4 billion annually in economic assistance.

The urgency is merited. My pessimistic analysis of Afghanistan's economic plight has been echoed in reports that have appeared since in the American media.

These  indicate that there has been a serious shortfall in Afghan customs revenues, which provide 44 to 48 per cent of the Afghan government's income, and that if immediate foreign assistance is not infused, Afghanistan may not be in a position to pay salaries to its employees.

The latest reports of Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) pointed out corruption's contribution to this shortfall, but also highlighted the inability of Afghan ministries to spend aid money properly.

USAID has said that of the more than $600 million earmarked for the Afghan government, only $200 million have been disbursed because of these concerns. A new administration enjoying complete support would also need to move on reconciliation with the Taliban.

The Taliban have said that they regard the complete withdrawal of foreign forces as a necessary precondition for peace in Afghanistan.

They will not welcome the BSA but may be persuaded to accept it if it is to last only till the end of President Barack Obama's term.

Agha Jan Mohtasim, a former Taliban leader with whom the Karzai-appointed Afghan High Peace Council was negotiating, has, according to reports from Kabul, been placed under house arrest somewhere in Middle East.

It was of course known that whatever his past status in the Taliban hierarchy, Mohtasim had been specifically disowned by Mullah Omar's spokesman.

There was hope, however, that if something reasonable was worked out, Mohtasim could 'sell' it to Mullah Omar and his current associates.

No one has confirmed Mohtasim's detention but it is known that the Afghans have not been able to contact him for some days. As I write this it seems that this possible path to talks on reconciliation has been blocked.

The new administration, with help from friends, must quickly find another way. Mohtasim's efforts at reconciliation may have had limited chances of success but there are reliable reports of divisions within the Taliban ranks, many of whom have become doubtful of achieving success on the battlefield.

They must also realise that tolerance for their presence on Pakistani soil is fast diminishing.  The question is: can the new Afghan administration make the right moves to strengthen these elements?

The Express Tribune


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