Afghanistan’s presidential election heralds the very first peaceful transition of power in its history. The election was welcomed on the whole and there was a good voter turnout. Additional security was ensured along the border by the US in coordination with the Afghans. Rough tallies of Afghanistan’s presidential elections seem to predict a second round run-off .The two frontrunners would go into a run-off on May 28.
This election had more credibility than the controversial 2009 elections as fewer voter complaints were registered. Eight men competed for President; three candidates are leading: Ashraf Ghani who is a former World Bank official and has been Karzai’s aide in the past, Abdullah Abdullah who was the runner-up in 2009 and Zalmay Rassoul, Mr. Karzai’s former foreign minister. Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are the two leading candidates and the final tussle is between them both.
General Rashid Dostum is an ex-warlord running for vice president with Ghani, he is said to be popular with the Uzbeks. Abdullah Abdullah is a Tajik, close to the late Ahmad Shah Masood who fought invading Soviet forces in the 1980s.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Zalmai Rassoul are from the Pashtun majority. Mr Rassoul is widely regarded as Karzai’s protégé though all three have been ministers in the Karzai setup. None of the candidates have displayed the intention of challenging the election results as yet; they have both ruled out a deal and will contest elections a second time if required. Some feel that election monitoring bodies could be influenced by President Karzai. On the whole, a multi -ethnic coalition might be the answer to Afghanistan’s problems rather than a single group of any ethnicity. The next President has to have Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara support, this is more important than the election result.
For Pakistan, a stable Afghanistan is of the utmost importance. Pakistan has not been involved behind the scene in the Afghan election process and hopes the reconciliation efforts succeed.
Once the elections are over and the situation unfolds on the ground, Pakistanis policy towards the new government would be decided. Pakistan and Afghanistan go back a long way, Pakistan has helped the latter many times especially at the time of the Soviet invasion, Pakistan provided vital support and helped Afghanistan achieve independence.
At that point in time, Pakistan became the country with the highest amount of refugees in the world when Afghans fled from the war-torn country. Even now, Pakistan has 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees, actual figures are much higher, and they do not wish to return home. This is the highest Afghan population outside Afghanistan, Pakistan is the country with more common links with Afghanistan than any of the other neighbors even though India has a quantity of consulates across the length and breadth of the country to achieve influence.
The ending of the US war in Afghanistan does not bring about the end of the Afghan war as Afghan troops might not have the capability to secure the entire country. According to reports and statistics derived from US reports, half of the Afghan army has opium and heroin addictions and 90% is illiterate. The quality and training of an army is of great importance, even though they have an agreement with India where the latter would provide those with military training.
The US has spent $90 billion on aid and security training for the Afghan army. Even if the Afghan army were able to provide peace and security, the country’s multi ethnic and economic problems are a threat. There were more civilian deaths in the first eight months of 2013 by 16% according to a United Nations report. This shows that the country is not secure in reality.
The U.S. military’s assessment is that everything is under control “Afghan security forces are now successfully providing security for their own people.” Fierce battles with local law enforcement agencies resulted in record fatalities last year violence. As foreign troops left, violence soared.
As it is, large areas of the country are under control of the Afghan Taliban, militants seem to be waiting for the right time. This reality on the ground does not fall in with the Pentagon’s analysis of a war cooling down. The delay in election results will leave no time to complete a pact between Kabul and Washington to keep up to 10,000 U.S. troops in the country beyond 2014.
As the foreign troops leave Afghanistan, there will be a resulting vacuum which would require a true leader to steer the country through an abyss.
The election could further exacerbate problems and weaken state control if northern and western Afghanistan is dis-satisfied with the new government. Such cracks in the armor would decrease the effectiveness of the Afghan National Army and cause powers like India, Russia and Iran to interfere on a greater level. These interested neighbors would increase lethal support to forces in the north and west and inevitably Pakistan could also influence Pashtun groups in the south and east if such a tug of war happened. This is why a political consensus is of the utmost importance.
The economic drawdown of international development agencies, lesser aid and support will create an unstable investment climate. There will be flight of capital, investment risks and a shortage of reconstruction, logistics and transportation. Economic growth would dwindle.
Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a think tank reported that widespread lack of confidence in the future has already contributed to a crash in property values in Balkh province, Afghanistan’s strongest economies.
Conflict ridden Southern and Eastern provinces which get massive international military aid , will suffer much more.
Afghanistan already has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Economic downturn can destabilize even highly developed nations such a recession would be devastating for a fragile state like Afghanistan.
It just cannot keep on relying on the checkbooks of other countries and has to have a viable infrastructure providing education , health , transportation, agricultural facilities and most important , job opportunities.
The situation in Afghanistan seems unstable in the future and only good economic prospects could consolidate the ethnic tensions and financial disparity, a higher literacy rate would help in building a modern Afghanistan.
The country has had a chequered history full of warfare and bloodshed on the whole. A stable and neutral Afghanistan is in Pakistanis interest, it is improbable that India could achieve a stronghold in the country though it has tried its best.
India has given $2 billion in aid, it is Afghanistan’s fifth largest donor. If there is civil war, India is will resume support to the Northern Alliance, it is trying to reopen the Farkhor Airbase that it used to support Northern Alliance forces prior to 2001.
Once the Americans leave the situation will be altered and India will be the first to feel the changes realities. India and Iran are considered reliable allies as they look towards Afghanistan for a trade route and maybe a gas pipeline, the security transition and presidential elections would determine which way the wind blows for both of them. It is unsure that Afghanistan would even achieve a modicum of stability with many unreliable factors threatening to upset the applecart.
China has increased its business interests in Afghanistan as well , a strong economy is a priority and this would increase Chinese influence .There have been a few China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral dialogues , this is a new forum to highlight China and Pakistan, shared goals in Afghanistan , both countries want to prevent Afghanistan from being used to destabilize its neighbors. China is also, the only country with an immediate border with Afghanistan. It is involved in twelve major projects in Afghanistan, Aynak copper mine and Amu Darya Basin oil projects being the most sign fact. China opposes any alternate route to the historical Silk Route, seeing that as part of the great game of Western powers.
Iran will seek to advance its economic interests as well to ease the pressure of US and UN sanctions. It will try to secure its eastern borders to avert the Taliban threat.Considering all the factors above, elections in Afghanistan are a major turning point. Stability in Afghanistan is crucial for its progress and safety of its neighboring countries. This goal is hard to achieve in the near future as Afghanistan struggles to re-invent itself from its ashes.