Spearhead Analysis – 14.04.2014
By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan
Afghanistan 5 April, 2014: 7 million people, 65% percent of the registered voters, braved the looming threats from the Taliban and left their comfort zones to vote. Afghanistan’s election in 2014 will be decisive, more so than the previous elections by virtue of its timing. Since 2001 the country has been defended from Taliban by the United States, NATO and global goodwill. For many this rescue from the tyrannical Taliban government was less for humanitarian aspirations and more for securing respective domestic interests. Whatever the cause, the US is adamant to leave this year after thirteen years of protection, sustenance, and violations. And the government to assume office will dictate the terms and conditions of this pullout and all else that will follow.
Pre-election violence remained on a high, leading most to predict a massive bloodbath on the Election Day. The Taliban who had threatened to disrupt ‘US-sponsored’ activities were able to muster 700 attacks nation-wide, not one of them in Kabul or any of the other main cities. The damage incurred was negligible compared to the damage estimated. For the Afghan Security Forces this is a massive achievement as 350,000 personnel for the first time secured the election process without foreign support. More tellingly, the number of women voters increased over the last election by 40 percent, signifying their dedication against misogynistic customs and coercion.
Any candidate able to secure 51% or more of the total vote will secure the title of President- Results of which will be announced on May 14. A run-off election has been scheduled for 22 May in case no single aspirant secures majority of the vote. So far former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani appear to be leading presidential race. Abdullah, the opposition leader, and Ghani, an economist and former World Bank executive, would represent a significant departure from Karzai, whose influence will likely be limited following the leadership transition.
For the Afghans exercising their democratic right is all about taking domestic matters in their own hands after decades of being dictated. The higher voter turnout despite the massive security threats and predicted bloodbath re-enforce this growing consciousness. For the leading aspirants addressing issues of sovereignty was therefore vital in order to muster mass support. Both candidates indicated that they would conclude the long-stalled Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which would allow for a limited American troop presence in Afghanistan following the general withdrawal at the end of this year. The remaining troops would partake in specified counter-terrorism operations and train the Afghan National Security Forces.
For the elected government perhaps addressing the Bilateral Security Agreement and concluding it is only the tip of the iceberg. The most likely outcome will be a residual of 12,000 predominantly US security personnel, just sufficient to meet the security requirements, and protect from an abrupt collapse. But what of the domestic forces standing tall against the current system? Everything Afghanistan’s current political establishment and people are hoping to achieve in the coming years can be traced back to fending off the armed opposition.
The first predicted blow for this democratic state will be the sudden cut of $100 million in economic assistance from the United States, as decided in Chicago. More so, in order to maintain 352,000 Afghan National Security Forces a further a further $ 2 billion will be required annually, of which nothing has been arranged so far. More importantly for Afghanistan meeting the requirements of the Tokyo agreement (July 2012) amidst high levels of corruption is another challenge very unlikely to be met in the near future. This is expected to further jeopardize the US-Afghan working relationship with respect to strategic security partnership.
More so, Afghanistan’s increasing economic challenges and lack of preparedness on the security front combined will have an enormous spillover effect in the whole region. Till date Afghanistan is the largest exporter of refugees, and Pakistan the largest recipient state according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Despite foreign support in the 1980s, and today, Afghanistan remains unstable, unsafe and unbelievably helpless in terms of assuring safety to its citizens. As millions of Afghans risk their lives in hope for security, the entire region bears the brunt. Countries like Australia have enough resources to guard their borders, but Pakistan remains struggling herself. For the government prepared to assume office these matters also need addressing and timely action.
Afghanistan has been the focal point of international security interests since the Soviets invaded the country in search of warm Indian Ocean waters. The breeding ground for fierce warriors, and after 9/11 as the perceived safe haven for Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan’s domestic affairs have for decades had massive global repercussions. For the Obama a clean exit of the troops in 2014 is the priority of this presidential term. And this clean exit may come at a very high price for the Afghan people. The Security deal for these very reasons has caused friction between Karzai and Obama. More freedom for Obama’s troops would translate into less freedom for the Afghan people. But the upcoming government must realize that this deal is only laying the foundation for Afghanistan’s real problems.
The real threat to Afghanistan today lies dormant in their own land, among their own people. If appropriate measures are not taken democracy can once again collapse, and the fight for liberal Afghanistan will turn into a decade of appropriation of spoils and oil contracts; tricky terrain even for the US. The only true measure of success today is the stability and safety that will follow once Afghanistan stands on her own feet completely; while premature celebrations will only serve to play up on vulnerabilities.