By S. Binodkumar Singh
September 29, 2014
After days of negotiation between the two Presidential candidates, former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an agreement for the formation of a National Unity Government was signed on September 21, 2014, in the presence of incumbent President Hamid Karzai, Cabinet members and other high level Government officials. The resolution of the protracted faceoff following allegations of massive electoral rigging, was facilitated by the United States (US). The agreement included provisions for the sharing of power, the role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the release of final vote results. Later, on September 26, 2014, Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani Chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that Ashraf Ghani had secured 55.27 per cent of the total vote during the run-off Presidential Election, i.e., 3,935,567 votes out of 7,120,585 valid votes. Meanwhile, as per the agreement, Ashraf Ghani was declared President and Abdullah, the runner-up, was pronounced CEO in the new Government.
Afghanistan had been in political paralysis since the June 14, 2014, run-off election to choose the successor to President Hamid Karzai, after the first round of the Presidential Elections, held on April 5, 2014, failed to throw up a clear winner. Remarkably, Abdullah, secured 45 per cent of the total votes, followed by Ashraf Ghani, with 31.56 per cent, in the first round of the Presidential Elections. Meanwhile, the preliminary results of the run-off election on July 7, 2014, showed that Ashraf Ghani had cornered 56.44 per cent votes in a direct faceoff with Abdullah, who got just 43.56 per cent. Unsurprisingly, the preliminary elections sparked allegations of fraud provoking a dispute that threatened to push the country into a phase of protracted political instability. On July 8, Abdullah vowed to reject the preliminary result, alleging he was the victim of "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing, and declared himself the winner. He also swore to a crowd of thousands in Kabul that he would put his life on the line to stop a "fake Government" taking power and hinted that he could consider forming a "parallel Government".
In the previous Presidential Elections held on August 20, 2009, which were characterized by a lack of security, low voter turnout and low awareness of the people about the election and election process, as well as widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud, out of a total of 4,597,727 valid votes, the incumbent Hamid Karzai secured 2,283,907 (49.67 percent), while his main rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah finished second with 1,406,242 vote (30.59 percent). Then, the run-off vote scheduled for November 7, 2009, was cancelled as Abdullah dropped out of the race because he was convinced that the election would continue to be marred by fraud.
Meanwhile, disturbed by developments that could plunge Afghanistan into deeper crisis, US Secretary of State John Kerry, rushed to Kabul at the height of the political squabble and announced, on July 12, 2014, "Both candidates have committed to participate in and stand by the results of the largest most possible audit. Every single ballot that was cast will be audited." Meanwhile, on July 17, 2014, the Afghan Election Commission begun the audit of 7.9 million votes cast in the June 14 run-off. Later, on August 27, 2014, Abdullah boycotted the audit process, describing it as illegitimate, and arguing that it failed to uncover hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots. Further, during a news conference at his residence in Kabul on September 8, 2014, Abdullah rejected the results of a United Nations (UN)-led vote audit of 8,109,493 run-off ballots, stating, "We were the winner of the elections; we are the winner of elections based on the real and clean votes of the people. The audit process failed to explain an extra one million votes cast in the second round of elections. The future of a stable Afghanistan could not be based on the foundation of fraud or fraudulent Government. We do not accept fraudulent election results, and we will not accept a fraudulent Government for a day."
Indeed, confirming the huge scale of the fraud in the first round, Nader Mohseni, spokesman of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), which the Afghanistan Electoral Law authorizes to handle frauds, objections and complaints in Elections, had told reporters on April 28, 2014, at Kabul, that IECC received 71 complaints against preliminary results of the April 5 Presidential Elections mostly from Herat, Kabul, Ghazni, Paktia and Balkh Provinces. Likewise, Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, Chairman of the IEC, told reporters in Kabul on July 7, 2014, "We cannot deny fraud and violations in the process. In some cases some Security Forces (SFs) were involved, in other cases senior Government officials like the Governors or lower-level officials were involved. The preliminary result in no way means the announcement of the winner of the election. After addressing all the complaints, the objections and the inspections, a change in the result is possible."
Eventually, however, a compromise prevailed. The formation of the National Unity Government augurs well for the country that was teetering on the brink of chaos. Expressing concerns regarding the negative financial impact of the protracted political crisis, Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal noted, on August 25, 2014, "Afghanistan has suffered over $5 billion financial loss due to political impasse as a result of election deadlock and also resulted in capital flight from the country which amounts to almost $6 billion." Earlier, the Business Tendency Survey Report, released by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) in July 2014, based on interviews conducted with managers from 541 Afghan firms, covering the manufacturing, services, trade, and construction sectors across the Kabul, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Herat regions, pointed to a clear worsening of the situation: business conditions had deteriorated rapidly, orders were contracting, firms were closing shop, and layoffs were becoming more widespread. The rising economic crisis in the war ravaged country, threatened by the deepening crisis of the pullout of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Forces, could only worsen the prevailing difficulties of economic and political reconstruction.
Afghanistan's security scenario continues to be worrisome. According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Afghanistan has recorded at least 4,752 fatalities, including 457 civilians, 426 Security Force (SF) personnel, 3,869 terrorists, just since the first round of Presidential Elections held on April 5, 2014, (data till September 28, 2014). During the comparable period [five months and 23 days], preceding the Presidential Elections, the number of fatalities was 1,253, including of 320 civilians, 180 SF personnel and 753 terrorists. Similarly, other parameters of violence, such as number of major incidents and suicide attacks, also increased sharply. There were 137 major incidents and 29 suicide attacks between April 5 and September 28, 2014, in comparison to 90 major incidents and 22 suicide attacks recorded during the preceding comparable period. Clearly, the country has suffered significantly due to the political squabble.
Nevertheless, despite all predictions of impending doom and collapse, genuine grounds for qualified optimism persist. In a joint statement sent to the NATO summit in Wales (United Kingdom) on September 5, 2014, the two Afghan Presidential candidates declared, "We are fully committed to signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreements to honour the decision of the representatives of the people of Afghanistan in order to continue this partnership with our allies." On September 4, 2014, NATO had issued the Wales Summit Declaration on Afghanistan, reaffirming the commitment to fulfil all three core tasks set out in the organisation's Strategic Concept: collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.
Despite the extended period of acrimony, the eventual agreement between the two Presidential candidates is a positive step towards improving stability and security in the country. The challenges that confront Afghanistan, nevertheless, remain gargantuan. Chief among these is, of course, the Taliban backed by Pakistan's relentlessly malefic state; the problem is infinitely compounded by a glut of arms in the hands of local and irresponsible non-state actors, corruption, the interference of regional extremist groups in Afghan affairs, and serious economic vulnerabilities that can only grow with diminishing international support. Moreover, the Cabinet to be appointed by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah will have mountains to climb in the coming months, starting with winning the approval of Parliament. With all their controversies and tensions, the elections are but a tentative step forward on a long and troubled journey for Afghanistan.
S. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review