Afghan Elections—2018

Spearhead Analysis – 30.10.2018

The third Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan were held in October 2018. The present Afghan Parliament is functioning under a Presidential decree that extended its tenure beyond 2015 — the scheduled end of its tenure in 2015. The reason was a controversial Presidential election in 2014 and security concerns stemming from stepped up Taliban activity and a failure to achieve consensus on how to ensure a free and fair election. Considering the fact that in the 2005 elections the turnout was 49 % and in the 2010 elections it dropped to 40% the 2018 election turnout of an estimated 45% is a marked improvement. The IEC (Independent Election Commission) also deserves credit for its conduct of the elections under difficult circumstances. The security forces also seem to have done a commendable job though the IEC has received more than 6000 complaints and allegations of malpractices in the polling process. The technical issues that led to a one- day extension in polling were resolved. The preliminary results are due by mid-November and the final results sometime in December.

As expected there was considerable election related violence before and during the elections. The most significant event was the insider attack that killed the Kandahar Governor Raziq though the US Military Commander who was with the Governor escaped unhurt. This led to the postponement of elections in Kandahar till October 27. The Taliban had captured Ghazni Province in August 2018 and though it was recaptured by Afghan Security forces there were serious security concerns and much disagreements over constituencies. Elections in Ghazni could not be held and so far a date has not been indicated. The Taliban did demonstrate their disruptive power and according to estimates there were a total of 192 security related incidents with 67 killed and more than 120 injured. Another 50 incidents took place on the second day of polling—October 20. Considering these statistics, the conduct of the elections and the 45% turnout are impressive.

From all indicators there is tremendous popular support for the electoral process and a democratic dispensation in Afghanistan. Compared to the 2010 elections there has been an almost 50% reduction in the acts of election related violence. Though fewer the attacks in 2018 were far more deadly in 2018. UNAMA statements on the October 2018 elections indicate the success of the electoral exercise — “These elections were the first completely run by Afghan authorities since 2001 and are an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance” and “…the elections, which have been carried out under difficult security conditions under full Afghan ownership, constitute an important moment in the democratic development in Afghanistan.”

UNAMA released figures indicate a marked increase in the overall levels of violence in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period in the last two years. Evidently the Taliban have retained their influence. According to SIGAR reports 14% of all Afghan Districts are fully under Taliban control with over 30% ‘contested’ — implying significant Taliban influence. Unofficially the level of Taliban control may be much more. This means that the conduct of elections in 2018 was a real achievement given the overall security scenario in the country.

Afghanistan must now brace and prepare for the Presidential elections due in 2019. That will be a real challenge considering the criticism within and outside the country after the last such election in 2014 that brought President Ashraf Ghani to power amid much controversy. The National Unity Government was formed only after an accord (after considerable arm twisting) between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah. The security situation will only improve if there is a breakthrough in the talks with the Taliban — unlikely before the Presidential elections though there are some positive developments taking place right now. The Taliban are fully aware of the fact that they stand to lose stature if they are sidelined by a successful democratic dispensation in Afghanistan. If they are given no other option, then they are likely to intensify the struggle to capture more and more space and influence — vast swathes of the country will then be outside the elected governments’ control.

Pakistan has clearly stated its support for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and the dialogue process that can lead to such a future. There have been no reports or allegations of interference from Pakistan in the Afghan elections and the violence before and during the elections. The US needs to note Pakistan’s supportive stance.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)