In early November several of the Afghanistan Analyst Networks' analysts and members gathered in Stockholm, to brainstorm, exchange ideas and participate in the annual SCA conference. We started the discussions by doing a quick round, asking everyone what the one or two issues were that are likely to be central, or that should not be forgotten, as we move into a different phase of international engagement in Afghanistan. Given the gathered knowledge and experience it seemed like a good idea to share an off-the-cuff overview of some of the things to watch.
The single most mentioned issue was political economy. It is becoming increasingly clear that you cannot track what is happening in Afghanistan's political field without understanding the economic ties and interests linked to the new elites. Analysts who want to stay on top of the shifting power relations have to grapple with new fields such as the banking or mining sector, the murky world of contracting, and the impact that the Western money flows have on the country's economy and politics.
The second obvious subject to watch was the "talks" and "talk about talks," as well as the political processes behind them. But more than that, there is a need for much wider public conversations on what kind of state Afghanistan should have, what peace should look like and how far the country should go to try to achieve it -- a conversation that should not just be held between representatives of the government and the armed insurgency. This links to another theme that has been playing out in the background, and will continue to do so in the years to come, namely Afghanistan's need to grapple with its extremism -- it is a fallacy to think that a successful military surge will do the trick -- and its conservatism, in the context of modernization and the need for some form of pluralism.
A third clear theme was the ambiguous impact of the international engagement, its denial of Afghan realities as it seeks to wind down and weave a narrative that will persuade home audiences, and the fact that it is the Afghans who will suffer the aftermath. There was a clear sense that both analysis and engagement needs to start looking beyond this phase of Afghanistan's history, and that there is a need to identify and strengthen those groups and individuals -- the brave journalists, the determined human rights activists, the outspoken opinion leaders, the local peacemakers, the evolving political movements -- that can become the future backbone of change. There was also a shared acknowledgement of the need to document, to bear witness and to put things on the record, to counter the fog of spin, policy-speak and strategic communications.
A fourth field to explore is the youth and, in a broader sense, the linkages between demographics, poverty, education and conflict. The current generation is growing up in a fragmented society and culture that is shaped in a confusing way by both conflict and state-building. Their heroes and dreams are likely to be different from those of their parents and this will affect Afghanistan's future in ways that we do not yet understand.
A fifth obvious field that was mentioned many times was the region and in particular Afghanistan's closest neighbors. Relationships are changing, several countries themselves are in flux, and the announced Western drawdown has opened up possibilities for political realignments.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
The IEC has released a figure for the indicative turnout of yesterday's poll (40 percent). It is now being widely repeated and compared to other figures, including previous elections and turnout percentages in our home countries. It happens so often. For some reason nobody finds it necessary to understand where these random figures come from and what they mean. For some reason nobody finds it necessary to ask: 40 percent of what?
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As the country gets ready for the elections, the discussions -- as usual -- focus on security and fraud. There seem to be two worlds. One is the world of procedures, barcodes, scanners, and tamper-evident bags. Of recruitment criteria, complaints forms, female searchers, and police contingents. Of confident reassurances that everything is under control. The other is the world of rumors, threats, money, and power. Of disillusioned voters, scheming candidates, interfering government officials, and threats of targeted attacks. The two worlds don't seem to meet.
Diplomats, U.N. officials and electoral advisers have been genuinely impressed by the measures taken by the IEC. Staff has been moved around, in an attempt to disrupt the links and agreements needed to organize effective fraud, and many of those working in last year's elections were not re-employed (although this could mean many things). The list of polling centers has been released well ahead of the elections and the IEC has withstood pressures to add centers (the distribution of the centers has, however, not yet been properly analyzed). Procedures have been significantly tightened. This means that if they are followed it will be much more difficult to tamper with the vote -- and if they are not followed, it will be easier to track where things have gone wrong. So there is cautious -- and not so cautious -- optimism that this vote will not be as messy as last year's.
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While half of the world is on holiday and the other half is going through the Wikileaked documents or is wondering how to follow-up on the successes of the Kabul conference, the electoral campaign in Afghanistan for the September parliamentary elections is going ahead -- at least in parts of the country. The cities are covered in posters and banners, the newspapers carry campaign ads and the candidates in the provinces are trying to find ways around the limitations posed by security and powerful rivals. Listen to what some of the candidates and voters say, when talking about the elections.
I just resigned from my job to campaign. Because I don't have money to invite people to gatherings, I meet them individually. I am travelling to the villages and meeting the elders. And I am sure the youth will support me. I haven't printed any posters or banners yet because I can't afford it, but I hope to find a businessman or a donor who has the same political views as me and who will finance my campaign. I will also contact some of the TV stations where I have friends and ask them to invite me for interviews. I have learned this during the workshops that I attended; they taught us to use any source to achieve our goals. But the economic mafia won't support us, because they know that people like me won't work for their interests.... The competition in Kabul is between 98 women candidates, including famous parliamentarians, it is a challenging competition especially for those, like me, who are young and who are running for the first time.
Young female candidate from Kabul.
I am a candidate in Kabul -- not in my own province because I have not lived there for 20 years. I have the support of both my tribe and my party and I have 29 people campaigning for me. My program focuses on the rights of martyrs and disabled, the rights of refugees and IDPs, the rights of teachers and getting them insurance, telecommunication because many people complain that the mobile phone companies are stealing from them, the bombings by international forces, a fair distribution of scholarships among the groups and tribes, proper education requirements for senior officials, and the reinstatement of the old cadre that is sitting at home - they should be used because they are a force for good.... Many candidates only registered to see if they could make a deal; they bought the [copies of] voter cards that you need to register and they are now going around and offering to step down. I was called by one of the sitting MPs, he offered me $200,000 to step down in his favour, but I refused. It's a lot of money, but he made so much more while he was an MP.... Karzai and his people are working to get at least 140 MPs elected that will listen to them, because this Parliament bothered him a lot. There are people who are making lists for him, they are making deals with candidates who promise to be loyal and they are giving them money, at least $60,000. One of the government people asked to see me a few times, but I have not responded yet.... In Kabul there are more than 600 candidates, so normally you should be able to get elected with around 3,000 votes. That I can get easily. But I am worried about the fraud.
Kabul parliamentary candidate, originally from southwest Afghanistan
My sister is a candidate in the nation-wide kuchi constituency. She has already started her campaign: she has travelled to the north and visited Balkh, Samangan, Sarepol, those places. Later this week she will probably go to Jalalabad. Many people are coming to our house, they are looking for someone to represent them. The voters are disappointed with the MPs that got into Parliament last time; they just took the money and did nothing. The tribe is behind my sister, the people are behind her and the government is also looking favourably on her. They are not supporting her directly, but they are not against her candidacy.
Brother of a female kuchi candidate living in Kabul
One of the MPs asked me to work for him. I understood it was because of the elections and because I am close to one of the religious leaders in my area. He wanted me to arrange the support of this leader and he wanted me to travel to the province to convince people to vote for him again. I told him I could not leave my family, so he told me he no longer needed my services... When I was still with him I was present at some of the meetings. One day some elders came because their relatives had been detained and badly beaten. Two of the relatives had been sent to Pul-e Charkhi prison and they asked the MP to intervene. The MP told them he could get the prisoners released, but only if he was re-elected and that they should promise to vote for him. One of the elders promised, he said: "all of us will fill the boxes for you, even the Taliban will help." Another day a villager came who had no money. Three of his sons were detained and he asked the MP for help. But he didn't help him; without money or promises he doesn't help... There are other strategies as well: This MP encouraged ten people from other areas and other tribal groups to candidate themselves, so that the vote of his rivals would be split.
Voter in Kabul, originally from southern Afghanistan
Do you see that campaign poster? I know one of the relatives of that candidate. He told me that the candidate, who is a rich businessman, said that he will spend up to 3 million dollars, as long as he wins a seat in Parliament. Just imagine the amount of money you must be able to make as a Parliamentarian.
Voter from Kabul
I am a candidate in Kabul. My campaign has started -- mainly in the districts, because the city is so crowded with candidates that it is like a buzkashi field. It went well so far. I don't have much money and I don't have anyone promising that they will make me win, but many people said they would vote for me. I have learnt from watching the last two rounds of elections: When people promise me 1,000 votes, I count it as a hundred. People exaggerate and hope that you will promise them something in return, like building a school in their area. But for me every single vote is important.... I will register my candidate agents in the coming day, I already have the forms. Having observers is important, they can watch for fraud but they also represent votes. If they are your observer, they should also vote for you and encourage one or two others to do the same. So if you have 500 observers that could be 1,500 extra votes. I will mainly send them to the areas where I have a lot of support; it is a waste of someone's time to spend all day in a polling station where you get only 10 votes.... There will not be so much fraud in Kabul city, because there are too many candidates and observers. The worst will be Sorobi district, because of the security situation. It will be difficult to send observers there. So people can take the ballot boxes and stuff them, without anyone saying anything.
Female Kabul candidate, originally from northern Afghanistan
You need to have a lot of money to run for Parliament. Yesterday the going price was $10 per vote, but the price is already going up. In the provinces where there will be a lot of fraud, the candidates are watching each other. If one finds out that his rival has arranged 5,000 votes, he will try to get 6,000. When the first one finds out that the other is preparing for 6,000, he will raise his number as well. It will become more all the time.
Politician from Kabul
I can introduce you to some of the candidates, I know most of them, but I cannot vouch for them. They will probably not tell you the truth. You see, all the candidates are getting ready for fraud. Maybe one or two of the more interesting candidates will not participate in the fraud, but all the others are making the necessary preparations. The provincial council elections were still relatively okay, but I have no idea how we should analyze the next elections: they will probably be stuffing 1000 votes per box. Several of the candidates have made deals with the local Taliban who have agreed to help with the ballot stuffing. And in the areas where the Taliban has not agreed to help, there will be fighting. So there will be ballot stuffing there too, although not in the areas themselves. And the ECC has decided that they will try to make nobody upset this time around, so they will not say very much.
Voter from Baghlan
Every candidate has their own system of campaigning, one does it in this way, the other in that way. What my system is? I used to be a commander in a large private security company. I have a kind of a protocol with my former colleagues that they will vote for me. I think I can also make agreements with people in other security companies as well. Then there are many families in Kabul from my district. The other candidate from my district is very weak, so I am quite confident that I will get many votes from my tribe. All together I should be able to get enough votes to win a seat. My only concern is fraud; that others will buy votes or steal my votes.... I have handed out business cards with my picture and my details to everybody I know or meet. And I will be hanging big posters in the city, but not yet. I will wait until the end of the campaign, when the posters of others have been damaged or are no longer being noticed. Then I will put my posters up. I have an appointment at the studio later this afternoon to get my pictures taken. And I will have a page on Facebook. I will not do that myself but my friends will do it and they will write good things about me so that people will vote for me.... I know many foreigners, but those were work relations, not political relations. I don't know how to be in touch with the political foreigners. I am trying to find out if anyone is supporting the candidates with money.
Candidate in Kabul, originally from the Shomali
The head of the IEC in my province recruited two people from my district as civic educators, one man and one woman. He told them that they don't have to do anything, but that half their salary is his. So they earn half of $400 per month for three months for doing nothing.... During last year's election I was the DFC (district field coordinator) in my district. A representative of one of the candidates brought a big bag of voter cards and wanted to use all of them to vote for his candidate, but I didn't allow it. We worked with three people in my district. This year when we applied again, the provincial IEC head was changed and the new one told us he did not need us anymore. But it is our right. We worked very well and very cleanly.... One of my colleagues had to leave the district after the elections because the Taliban were threatening him, they detained his father and his brother and then he left. My other colleague also left, he is now in Kabul. He became afraid, because he is a head teacher. And I left the area a few years ago after the Taliban attack in my village. But still the three of us wanted to work in our district in the elections again.
Former DFC (electoral district field coordinator) from southern Afghanistan
There are 22 candidates in my district alone, including two big former commanders. Two or three of the candidates are not bad. The campaign manager of one of the commanders is also not a bad man. I know him from the past and he helped me a lot recently when I had problems with the security services. So when he asks me to come to the campaign meetings of the big commander I say "of course". I will go with him later this week to the campaign meeting in the mosque. But my vote is mine, I will give it to whom I want.
Voter from Paghman, Kabul province
For more reactions from the campaign
trail, visit the Afghanistan
Analysts Network, where Martine van Bijlert is co-director and where this was originally published.
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Yesterday morning saw the opening of a three-day national conference to identify "best practices and effective measures" in the fight against corruption. There will be workshops attended by government officials and civil society actors from all over the country, but yesterday I only stayed for the opening statements in the grand hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And what was said and not said in those few hours both illustrated and confirmed how difficult dealing with corruption is going to be.
Of course we had to wait quite a while for the meeting to start -- standard practice for any event attended by the president -- so we chatted. Nobody was optimistic. On one side sat a former high ranking official, now adviser to some city development project. He said he was reading a book on corruption in India: "They have come such a long way in India. They have a functioning judiciary and police and prison institutions. And they still have so many problems. How can we ever deal with corruption without having these institutions?" But how do you make corrupt institutions function, so that you can then address corruption.
On the other side sat a former employee of an earlier anti-corruption commission, many years ago. "We had seventy-two files detailing the evidence against high government officials involved in corruption, even at that time. Nothing happened. We could do nothing. Most of those people are sitting here today." He and his friend had joked earlier that the conference should announce the arrest of 80 percent of those present as the first effective step in the fight against corruption.
Our conversation was joined by a governor in the seat in front of us. He shrugged: "We Afghans are not realistic, we are always idealistic and over the top. Now we are trying to get rid of corruption in a short time, but you cannot. We are trying to apply the most advanced formulas in a backward society. We should apply Afghan formulas and they should originate from within the people." But who should formulate the "formulas" and ensure that they are followed? We didn't quite solve that one. The foreigners were also at fault: "They treat Afghanistan as a laboratory to test their newest ideas and methods." Except that even the testing is not really done seriously.
There was a blast just as we were about to start -- a bomb in Wazir Akbar Khan as we heard later, killing seven or eight. The governor shrugged again, "I am used to these things. It is not the bombs that are dangerous; it is the fear that damages everything." Earlier in the conversation someone had described how that morning ministry staff, who had been unaware of the event, had been roughly treated and even beaten by the President's security detail at the gate. The Minister, who had himself gone to ask the guards to be a bit more respectful, had been brushed off.
And then there were the speeches. Osmani, the head of the High Commission of Oversight and Anti-corruption, was eloquent enough -- "literary language from Zahir Shah's time," scorned a female MP later, but she had had something pointed to say about everyone -- and the listing of the several forms of corruption that plagues the country did seem to hit home for a second. Bribes for government services, corrupt appointment practices, awarding of contracts, revenue collection, redirection of natural resources and government property -- it was actually quite powerful to hear that articulated in a government gathering. These are, after all, issues that many Afghans feel very strongly about -- a combination of shame, anger and disgust -- and it really bothers them that this is how their country is now seen by the rest of the world.
President Karzai's speech was largely improvised, so it can be considered a fairly accurate reflection of the things that came to his mind as he thinks about corruption. He talked about how people can get nothing done in government offices without a waseta -- a connection, someone on the inside -- and wondered how all the officials and civil servants could afford constant holidays to Dubai (when even the salary of a President was not enough to buy a bicycle), making the case for the registration and investigation of assets. After which he discussed at length how people cannot even feel safe in their own homes, when the judiciary and the law enforcement agencies can come whenever they want and detain or demand bribes at will, particularly from those who could call nobody to come to their defense. That this was also a form of corruption.
It was a fair point. People do get picked up for no reason other than extortion or personal grudge, but somehow what he said didn't sound right. I was getting the uneasy feeling that this was maybe actually about the case of the Kabul mayor.
The Kabul mayor was arrested about a week ago, after a court had sentenced him to 4 years in prison, apparently for wastage of government funds by not properly tendering a contract (he is said to have lost about $16,000 which doesn't seem very much considering the kind of money that is usually involved in being a mayor). He was released the next day and returned to his job, although the latest reports are that he has now resigned.
The case is incredibly opaque and opinions vary wildly as to whether he was unfairly framed or unfairly protected and whether it was his conviction or his release that constituted a miscarriage of justice. Some blamed the prosecutor's office for presenting a hurried and sloppy case, claiming that there was much more that should have been investigated, while others argued that the mayor was targeted for being the only clean official in a corrupt environment. There were also those who thought he had been undermined for his role in the recent land distribution controversy, which has seriously damaged the reputation of both the President and the Parliament, although opinions again varied on what his exact role had been. The case had left many people guessing as to whether he was being supported or undermined by the President -- well, at least that has been clarified.
As the speech progressed, Karzai addressed the issue head on: the mayor was a clean man. He may have some faults, but that was no reason to so deeply damage his reputation with a stain that could not be removed in a lifetime. This was a form of corruption and revenge-taking in itself (which put his earlier comments on how the administration and the judiciary needed to be de-politicized in a different light as well).
The subtext was clear, as he welcomed the mayor who was sitting at the front of the gathering: the man should not have been arrested, there is no merit to the case, it should be dropped. And all the speeches that came after that and all the discussions that are still to be had cannot take away the main conclusion of the conference: it is business as usual. The President, and his friends, will decide who can be touched and who cannot -- for reasons that most of the time will remain quite opaque, even to those involved.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the AfghanistanAnalysts Network, where this was originally published.
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By Martine van Bijlert
"Did you hear about the Australian dog that was lost?" We had been discussing everything from the latest tribal gossip to the final announcement of the provincial council and the recent local appointments. And now, as we are packing up to go, there was apparently still a story of a dog.
I had noticed the reports in the media. A sniffer dog with the Australian military in Uruzgan had been lost a year ago and had recently returned to the troops where he was welcomed like a long lost war hero. The man smiles from under his turban, "The dog was with Mullah Hamdullah."
Mullah Hamdullah is a Taliban commander and the latest in a string of Hamdullah’s and Hamidullah’s who had been vying for power in the area. So he tells me. That the dog had been taken during a fight with the Australian troops about a year ago. That Mullah Hamdullah had been so proud of it that he showed it around everywhere. That the Australians had arrested Hamdullah's father a few days after he took the dog and had made it known on the local radio that they would exchange the dog for the father. That Mullah Hamdullah had refused (and his father was released not long after).
Apparently he had tired of the dog. So he had sent an envoy, a local malek, to the military base with the message that he was willing to negotiate and sell. After the malek had returned to take pictures and all were satisfied of the dog’s identity, the men settled on a swap -- apparently for $10,000 but somehow the malek managed to return more or less empty-handed. Mullah Hamdullah was not amused. He had refused to swap his father earlier and was now left with just pocket money instead. So he told the malek that he could "keep" $2,000, because he was a white beard, but that he still had to come up with the rest of the money. The malek scraped together as much as he could -- the equivalent of around $1,300 -- and the local elders decreed that if he arranged 60 portions of aid wheat to be redirected to Hamdullah (a relative of the malek involved in the distribution simply made up a village name) he would only still owe him the equivalent of $2,600.
The villagers couldn’t help but find the story quite amusing. The commander and his dog, the PRT and their efforts to get him back, the attempted (and refused!) prisoner swap, the money that was lost.
"Did you hear that they gave they dog a medal?" He keeps a somewhat straight face. "And when the Australian Prime Minister came to Afghanistan, they showed him on the news, together with the dog." He tries not to smile too broadly. "It must have been a very high-ranking dog."
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.
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By Martine van Bijlert
Former diplomat to Kabul, Richard Colvin, caused quite a stir in Canadian politics with his testimony to a parliamentary committee on the Afghan mission on 18 November 2009. Colvin described how he repeatedly alerted his superiors to the fact that prisoners handed over to the NDS (National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence agency) were likely to face torture and abuse.
He argued that most of the Afghans detained by Canadian soldiers were not “high-value targets” but “just local people, farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants, random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time” and that Canadian troops had “detained and handed over for severe torture a lot of innocent people.” (You can find an extract of his opening statement here, one of the first articles discussing his statement here, and the video of his testimony here and here).
Officials and conservative MPs were quick to undermine Colvin’s credibility, arguing that his testimony was based on hearsay and that he had been fed with Taliban propaganda. Defence Minister Mackay claimed that "there has not been a single, solitary proven allegation of abuse involving a transferred prisoner by Canadian forces." Others however testified that the government at the time had mainly been struggling with the chaos of fighting an unexpectedly fierce insurgency and that it had only gradually came to grips with the fact that it couldn’t really tell whether the detainees it handed over were tortured.
The detainee dossier has been awkward from the very beginning and for all countries involved (Canada was by no means alone in this, ask the Dutch, the Danes, the Brits, the Norwegians). To pretend otherwise is disingenuous -- or extremely ill-informed. There is no argument on whether torture and ill-treatment takes place during interrogation in NDS detention. Details provided by human rights organisations, former detainees and people from within the system have been consistent over the years. A November 2008 Human Rights Watch report for instance mentions the "persistent reports of mistreatment in NDS detention" while the Amnesty International 2007call to halt the transfers of detainees cites "consistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS." Or as Mark Sedra, a long-time analyst of the Afghan security sector, remarks in his comments here: “the revelations of Colvin are nothing new. Most Afghans would also express little surprise; their only shock would be over the naïveté of those who believe some form of torture is not a routine aspect of prison life in Afghanistan.”
This is also corroborated by several -- heavily blacked-out -- emails that describe visits by Canadian officials, including Richard Colvin, to various detention centres in Kandahar and Kabul (copies of the emails can be found here). The released emails do not clearly establish who knew what when and who for that reason is to blame, nor does it answer the question whether the ‘Canadian’ detainees were tortured as well -- all the things that Canadian politics is currently obsessing over. But they describe reports by detainees of threats, stress positions, sleep deprivation, slapping, beatings with cables or unknown objects (the prisoner could not tell as he was blindfolded) and electric shocks -- which are consistent with what is generally known about NDS interrogation methods.
The second piece of uncomfortable information that Colvin provided the Canadian public with was that many of the detainees, who may have been tortured, had been innocent. The military sought to dispel this notion, describing how Canadians only detained those who tested positive for a gunshot residue test, were found with guns or bomb-making parts or near IED strikes, or were otherwise 'highly suspicious,' such as well-dressed men carrying large amounts of Pakistani cash.
But even if you formulate guidelines on what kind of people are considered suspicious, this does not take away from the fact that suspicious is not the same as guilty and that you are handing them over to a system that is unlikely to make that distinction. The net cast -- by both international military and local security agencies -- to find and detain ‘suspicious elements’ tends to be very wide indeed. Arrests of people who were falsely reported on, who happened to have the same name as a wanted person, or who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time are widespread. And the methods of interrogation -- repetitious questioning, threats and physical abuse, and the fixation on a confession -- are ill-suited to determine who is really a threat and who is not.
It is of course true that claims of innocence by detainees are fairly universal and often self-serving, but in Afghanistan, I have to say, they are often the more credible of the various possibilities. Reported details of conversations between interrogators, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and prisoners often contain absurd details that are difficult to fabricate and that illustrate how far off the system is.
Over the last few days I have been trying to pinpoint in my mind what the real issue is. It is not so much about deplorable conditions in Afghanistan’s detention centers, although it would be very good if we could do something about that. It is also not in the first place about whether Canadian forces -- or any other forces for that matter -- have possibly been responsible, several years ago, for the hand-over of innocent people into torture. Because that dilemma can be ‘solved’ by establishing monitoring and tracking agreements -- as many of the nations involved have done -- so that you can regularly interview ‘your own’ prisoners and assure your capital that they are being treated well. The real issue is that under our noses there is a security agency that tortures and that for years we have chosen to look the other way. Occasional -- and often very discrete -- calls for NDS reform and greater oversight have been consistently brushed aside.
This is part of a wider pattern in which the urgency felt, either in the context of a global ‘war on terror’ or as a result of being under constant attack by an elusive enemy, is blurring the thinking on what is acceptable and what is not. This is not a new phenomenon. It is prevalent in every country or context where torture or ill-treatment has been practiced, condoned or tolerated. It has been fought in many countries; it needs to be fought here too.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
By Martine van Bijlert
Afghanistan has a new president. After several hours of deliberation on how to respond to Abdullah's pull-out (and after initial statements that Saturday’s second round would go ahead as planned) the IEC announced today that as Karzai had received most votes in the first round and no longer had a competitor in the second, he is now Afghanistan’s elected president.
After two-and-a-half months of twists and turns, of posturing and positioning on the part of the competitors, of interfering and holding back on the part of the international backers, the outcome itself does not really come as a surprise. But it was quite sudden, and it has left much of the debate on legitimacy and how that can be ensured (or even “bestowed” as Clinton would have it) in mid-argument.
So what will happen now? First of all everyone will need to respond.
The outcome will be welcomed by the main international actors, who are
in dire need of a resolution that is not too messy. The U.S. have already
congratulated Karzai with his victory in this “historic election”
(which is one way of putting it, Ban Ki Moon on the other hand chose to
describe it earlier as "one of the most difficult elections the UN had
ever supported"). Abdullah has not yet responded, but he can hardly
have been surprised by the outcome. He will probably state his
objections for the record – his supporters have already commented that
the IEC decision did not have any basis in law and that it will not
solve Afghanistan’s problems – but he is unlikely to contest Karzai’s
presidency (and there are rumours of still a deal in the making).
Karzai himself has also not yet responded (he is expected to do so
tomorrow) but he and his supporters are likely to feel a deep sense of
vindication, as well as a fair deal of resentment towards those who in
their eyes have unnecessarily complicated matters and smeared Karzai’s
name over the past few months.
The Afghan people will of course display a wide range of opinions and outlooks on how this process should have been handled and where things went wrong -- and those discussions will still be had -- but for the moment the overwhelming sense is likely to be one of relief. With every twist and with every turn there was an immense worry and apprehension that things may spin out of control and that this could be the beginning of a violent unraveling. It has happened before.
The international community, in particular the U.S., can now say it has a partner in Kabul and conclude its discussions on strategies and decisions. The credibility of the new government-in-making will be talked up in formal statements and its willingness to move in new ways in the fields of rule of law and corruption, government appointments, the security sector and the peace process will be assumed. But for Afghans the proof will be in the pudding. Who will be appointed? What will be the priorities? And most importantly, what will those linked to government be allowed to get away with?
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.
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