Gathering fog on Afghan horizons

Special to Times of Oman

The euphoria over the presidential election in Afghanistan began to evaporate amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud; this weekend's partial result indicated no clear winner.  

The two front-runners Abdullah Abdullah, a leader of the old Northern Alliance (NA) and ex-foreign minister, with 41.9 per cent and Ashraf Ghani, ex-financial minister, with 37.6 per cent vote might head for a run-off.  The tally was based on half a million ballots or 10 per cent of an estimated seven million cast.

Abdullah's leading role signals that the announcement has been politically motivated and has to be presumed as a warning. Political elite or old NA — propelled to power after the US defeated the Taliban in 2001 — will, it seems, continue to rule Afghanistan.  

Afghan observers blame the outgoing President Hamid Karzai and his allies for horse trading behind the partial result declared.  

The partial result also may be calculated to address the demands of the powerful campaigners for Abdullah Abdullah, who threatened that in case Abdullah isn't the ultimate winner, Afghanistan could
be awash with new waves of bloodshed.  

Afghanistan's ground realities and political history suggest that if a run-off takes place or a back stage deal wins Abdullah the presidency; he will be unable to deliver.  

He is a man with a history.  He was actively involved in the Afghan civil war (1992-1995) that brought about Taliban's medieval theocracy with the help of Pakistani military.  

Following the fall of the Russian installed Communist regime in an internal coup in 1992, the proxy militia of the NA ruled Afghanistan for almost four years, leaving a dark legacy of gross human rights violence, rape and looting.  More than 50,000 civilians were killed in the civil war.

Abdullah as the president of Afghanistan would be a gift for the Taliban, as they have already cashed in on the growing marginalisation of the Pashtuns in the south and the east of the country.  

Seen as a radical sectarian among Pashtuns, Abdullah will polarise ethnic division at a time that the international community is shrinking its financial support once foreign troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The domination of the NA in Afghanistan will have powerful implications for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as well.  He will be virtually an outsider within an exemplary corrupt government with the NA at its centre of gravity.  

In his pre-election campaign, he said that when he was the finance minister, he refused the demand of the warlords of the NA to pay for an imaginary 700,000 defence force.  He continued to reject such extortionist demands despite real threats to his life when the warlords of the NA surrounded his ministry by tanks and armoured vehicles.

Ghani might have all the potentials of former Czech Republic President Válcav Havel who played a decisive role in post-Communist era of his country, but it would be too hard for him to overcome an endemic corruption, nepotism and drug syndicates linked to the country's power elites.  

Ghani as the president of Afghanistan could weaken the Taliban and their grip on the Pashtuns.  In the event of strong Pashtun support behind Ghani, the Taliban might soften its stance and become willing
to participate in negotiation and reconciliation.

This is crucial for the future of Afghanistan, as America and its Nato partners in their 13-year war in Afghanistan failed to either defeat the Taliban or bring them to a negotiating table.  They also failed to stop the neighbouring country from actively abetting insurgency.  Forces from across the border still remain Taliban's enabler and their covert actions and goals remain threats to peace in Afghanistan.  

Consequentially, one major factor to this failure has been the amorphous vision of the international community vis-à-vis Afghanistan that has helped undercut the Afghan internal dynamics.

By all indications, the present phase of the Afghan presidential election is in a troubled state.  The final results are to be declared in mid-May once thousands of complaints of fraud are fully investigated.  

Hot conspiracy theories in Kabul suggest that at the last minute, the embassy of the United States in Kabul will cherry-pick the new president.  Uncertainties now loom large on the embattled and blood-soaked nation and the prevailing anxiety is like that in the past.

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.


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