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Afghan Elections in Context

Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari spoke on “Afghan Elections in Context” to an academic forum packed with students at the University of Mary Washington on October 21, 2009 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The panel, discussing the recent Afghan presidential election, consisted of four faculty members, including Professor Ranjit Singh, who observed the elections on August 20 in Afghanistan.

Haidari noted that it was important to put Afghanistan’s recent presidential election into context to understand why the claimed voting irregularities took place in certain parts of Afghanistan. “Objectively analyzed, it is easy to conclude that Afghan elections neither took place in Switzerland nor in the U.S. State of Florida. Rather, August 20th in Afghanistan witnessed another day of intense violence including the killing, maiming, kidnapping, and intimidating of innocent civilians in an already deteriorating security situation, particularly in those areas where voting irregularities were reported,” said Haidari.

He added that security had been declining in Afghanistan since 2004, when the first presidential elections were conducted in the country. But because the last U.S. Administration took its eyes off Afghanistan as early as 2002 and increasingly focused on the Iraq war, indeed, “a war of choice” over a “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda effectively began regrouping in Pakistan, from where they have rapidly expanded their terrorist operations across the border into Afghanistan, in the following years.

Haidari noted that “As each year has passed since 2002, the Taliban insurgency has increasingly gained momentum to fill the security and governance gaps in areas of Afghanistan, where the Government is either too weak or entirely absent.” Therefore, in the months, weeks, and days leading to the elections in August, a fully resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorist alliance had been trying hard to score a strategic victory by preventing the elections from taking place at all. “And that is why for the first time in eight years, the Commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General Stanley A. McChrystal, highlighted in a comprehensive assessment—leaked in late August—what is most urgently needed to rescue Afghanistan and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the region,” said Haidari.  

He stressed the fact that in spite of the Taliban’s hard efforts to derail the election process in Afghanistan, the presidential and provincial candidates campaigned hard in the pre-election period, while millions of Afghans braved many threats to their lives and turned out to cast their ballot on August 20th.

Haidari said that some 30 presidential candidates along with some 82 vice-presidential candidates contested the election. “We shouldn’t, of course, forget about some 3195 provincial council candidates, who ran for 420 seats across Afghanistan,” he reminded the audience. He added that “Like 2004 and 2005 elections, women actively participated in the election process this year; there were 2 female presidential candidates and 7 vice-presidential candidates running with their male counterparts. Also, the number of women, challenging provincial council seats, increased by 20 percent compared to the 2004 and 2005 elections.”

Moreover, Haidari noted that Afghan presidential and provincial candidates reached beyond their ethnic bases. Candidates with different ethno-sectarian backgrounds focused on issue-based rather than ethnic- or personality-based platforms. “And for the first time in our history, the leading candidates took part in a series of Western-style presidential debates to discuss their visions of ‘change’ or ‘continuity,’ he added. Afghans across the country either watched or listened to these important debates, and welcomed this constructive development in the Afghan election politics.

However, Haidari emphasized that these positive but underreported aspects of the Afghan election notwithstanding, the growing terrorist activities of the Taliban and Al Qaeda since 2002, which only intensified on the elections day, had intimidated and threatened Afghans enough to ensure a low voter turn-out on August 20th. As a result, intense violence and insecurity in a number of areas in the south and east of Afghanistan prevented national and international election observers from monitoring the voting process there. “This led to the reported irregularities, which the Afghan Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission subsequently resolved,” noted Haidari.

On the post-election period, Haidari said that international experience was quite instructive. “Of course, it is clear that holding elections is just a democratic exercise that must happen. But what matters the most, in case of Afghanistan, is the extent to which the international community will firmly commit to a strategic partnership with the country’s post-election leadership to help build, reform, and equip the Afghan security and governance institutions—both on the national and sub-national levels—so that peace and democracy will take root and evolve overtime to become sustainable in Afghanistan.” Haidari noted.

He stressed that “As far as Afghans are concerned, every recent poll indicates that they are unconditionally committed to democratic security and a future with the international community, not with the Taliban again.” He recommended that the United States, Afghanistan, and their nation-partners capitalize on this strategic asset by simply delivering on the basic expectations of the Afghan people. “And those Afghan expectations certainly are not about the overnight transformation of our pre-war least developed and post-war most destroyed country. But about the minimum of ensuring a stable Afghanistan that will not serve as a transnational terrorist base again, as it once did in 1990s that unfortunately led to the tragedy of September 11, 2001,” Haidari concluded.

  

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