Afghanistan 2014: Near-Term Political Projections

25 Mar, 2014    ·   4354

Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy anticipates a complicated but hopeful future for the country

Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
Deputy Director

The upcoming months hold several changes for Afghanistan. They can be categorised under politics, security and economics, with implication for both the country, and the region. This article assesses the political aspects of the transition, and answers the following questions:

What are the potential trends that can be expected in the country? Will the elections be free, fair and inclusive? How stable will the Afghan parliament be after the elections?

Electoral Process: Conjectures
Ethnic identities play a huge role in the social and political governance in Afghanistan. Hence, an election in this country, where there are seven major ethnic groups and many other ethnicities that collectively make a considerable chunk of the population, dominance by one ethnic group on another in the overall national governance will not be viable. Although the ethnic groups in the country will team up to fight outsiders, the infighting among them in the absence of an external threat/enemy is a well-known fact.

Afghan identity politics is somewhat like that of India’s, where every group has to be substantially represented. The upcoming presidential election, hence, is a manifestation of how well this reality is understood among those in the country and those aspiring to govern the nation. All presidential candidates have chosen their two vice-presidential candidates from different ethnic backgrounds. While, interestingly, all the presidential candidates are Pashtuns, the running mates all come from varied backgrounds. This essentially means that there cannot be any region that can be completely in favour of one candidate alone. Votes from every region will be split between different candidates, given the diversity in the choice of running mates – who hold sway on regions.

Resultantly, predicting the outcome of the polls is not an easy task. However, given the attrition rate among the presidential candidates, the latest withdrawal being from former Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, it is likely that the 5 April election will lead to a run-off and the final results will not be out until May.
Among the leading candidates, technocrat Ashraf Ghani has good prospects of winning. Although one of his running mates is former warlord Rashid Dostum, his leadership abilities and track record in his roles in governance structures posit him a likely winner, and a worthy leader the country needs today. Furthermore, his campaign is based on detailed plans to weed out corruption and nepotism, and bringing in a culture of accountability in the government.

Qayum Karzai’s withdrawal of candidacy from the presidential race to endorse incumbent President Hamid Karzai-backed fellow candidate and former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, also hints at the complexities of pre-planned back-door dealings for alliances.

However, the Afghans are well aware of what their nation needs, and it is they who will decide what kind of leadership they want for their nation. It is best not to tell them what to do or whom to vote for.

That does not discount the delicacy of this particular election for the future of the country. Whether the elections will be free, fair and inclusive cannot be answered in a simple yes or no. While there will be effort to keep the polls free, fair and inclusive, the lack of the necessary level of capacity will mean there will foul play at all levels. However, the chances of foul play on the scale of the presidential elections of 2009 might not be the case.

Given the delicate security situation in the country, especially in the South, some challenges can be expected on the election day. The inability of the security forces to provide optimum and adequate security to the voters as well as the polling booths could lead to instances of ballot-stuffing, and/or the resultant but mostly unintentional denial of legitimate voting rights to the Pashtun ethnic groups residing there. This could lead to some tensions.

And the level of stability in the Afghan parliament can be assessed only after the results of the presidential elections are out.

Democratic Processes: An Assessment
At present, in most cases, it is the politicians who are identified with and not the political party itself. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. These representations, identifications, and discourses over politicians and their agendas – and the evolution of the new form of politics in the country – are taking place in an organic manner, which epitomise some of the very principles that define democracy.

Hope for the country lies in the very fact that the practises of discourse and debate are becoming are common thing among the citizens. The televised presidential debates – where candidates running for office shared the same stage and addressed the audiences on their positions over several pressing issues is a sign of healthy progress. Change cannot be expected immediately, or in as short a span as a decade. However, Afghanistan has undergone rapid change, and pressurising the nation to change at a pace higher than what it can perform at is not advisable.

Of course, ethnic politics and alliances between several factions have the potential to frustrate the democratisation process, given that historically, Afghanistan has found ethnic allegiances more dependable, but it is too early and cynical to assume that this particular election will be doomed. Scepticism, not cynicism would be preferable, if anything.

As far as democracy as a concept is concerned, a lot of evolution still remains to happen in the country. While of course the basic principles will remain the same, eventually, the ideology of democracy will take on a unique character tailor-made for the country, as it does in most cases.

It would be wise to stay calm and patient, and of course, prepare for all potential scenarios that can become a reality.