Interview: Ghani Says 'All Walks Of Afghan Life Will Be Represented'
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani says that, if elected, he will do all in his power to promote "genuine reconciliation." Ghani is among the front-runners to win the April 5 presidential election. He spoke to RFE/RL's Frud Bezhan about what he will do if he doesn't win the first round, and what his plans are should he be elected president.
RFE/RL: What would Afghanistan look like with you as president?
Ghani: God willing, if this national honor is entrusted to me, Afghanistan will become stable, peaceful, democratic, and it would have the foundations for prosperity.
RFE/RL: What key reforms will you bring about if you are elected president?
Ghani: Rule of law is the first imperative. It's going to start from me. Not a single edict, action I will take would be without a prior review on the basis of the laws.
Second is the issue of governance. We hope on the issue of corruption -- to advance, within three years, 100 points on Transparency International's index. I’m confident that we will be able to achieve this and then lay the foundation for one of the cleanest governments in the region. Third is [the] issue of the economy. Our rate of growth in 2012 was 12 percent; in 2013 it was 4 percent; by the time we take office it might be zero or in the negative territory. Unemployment and poverty are two of the major threats to the country, particularly poverty. Attending to the vulnerable to make sure we have an inclusive economic system and a growth that is sustainable so we get out of dependency on international assistance would be a key drive and we have the advantages to do that. Most significantly, we need to reach a lasting peace. A lasting peace means that the government institutions have to become strong enough to guarantee the individual safety and security as well as the well-being of every Afghan.
RFE/RL: Since the April 5 presidential election, have you met with President Hamid Karzai and your rival candidates? If so, what did you discuss?
Ghani: Yes, I have met with the president and I have met some of my fellow -- I don't call them rivals but partners. We are having conversations, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, but I've met with others. We talked about the transparency of the election. I thanked the president for his neutrality and that this day passed without any incidents, and that we hope that the neutrality the president has shown will be preserved throughout and that the legal institutions, mainly the two [election] commissions will do their work.
RFE/RL: Will you contest a second-round run off if you do not win an outright majority? There have been suggestions that candidates could look to strike a behind-the-scenes deal to avoid a runoff.
Ghani: Absolutely. The electoral law is very specific. The two leading candidates are required to participate in a runoff. We hope that we'll win, but should it come to that, we're fully committed to obeying the law because the people of Afghanistan should have a choice. In a field of many candidates, a mandate is not as clear as it would be in a two-way contest. And we need the mandate in order to reform. Having said that, I’m committed to a government of national unity so that all walks of Afghan life will be represented. I do not believe in a formula of 'winner takes all' because the stability of this country requires political consensus, and we must forge that.
RFE/RL: If you become president, will you prosecute former warlords and corrupt government officials?
Ghani: The people want a form of transitional justice. Our culture – our Islamic and our national culture – is one of mercy and forgiveness. We will design a very culturally specific term that will give us the psychological release and a genuine reconciliation. But we are not going to get bogged down in our past in a way that deprives us of a future. That means coming together, accepting responsibility and moving on, and making sure that if there are victims we attend to them. We heal. It's a process of healing our wounds. We're a deeply wounded society.For the first time, centrist politics in Afghanistan, where everyone is accepting each other, is becoming the norm. April 5 was a justification of our approach.
All people from Afghanistan came and embraced the democratic process. Let's give [a chance] to the democratic process to work out so we can resolve the issue of the past. Let the people arrive at the formula [for reconciliation] that is acceptable [to them]. We are not brushing anything under the rug. But violence is not an answer to violence.
RFE/RL: Are you saying that those who have committed war crimes will go unpunished? We are talking about individuals involved in crimes like mass murder and even ethnic cleansing.
Ghani: The process is going to be designed to make sure we reach genuine reconciliation. A society in conflict like Ireland, did it choose to hang people or reconcile? Look at Europe's history. Germany has become a marvel of democracy and tolerance. But wasn't it one of the most intolerant countries? Germany found a way. Allow us to find our way.
Do not prejudge things. We have the moral authority because my hands are clean. But we need to genuinely reconcile. The first imperative of a society is stability. And we need to arrive there. It is a lot of work.
RFE/RL: If you are elected president, what kind of government will you create?
Ghani: A government of competence; a government that delivers. I had no money and I had no backing from a government party or foreign backing. This is a genuine social movement, and it is going to deliver.
RFE/RL: If you lose the election, will you go to the opposition?
Ghani: I'm going to win the election. So, let's talk about options after the legal process has taken its course.
Trailing candidates in Afghan election hold power to decide next president
KABUL — Some of the influential politicians who competed in Afghanistan’s recent — but still undecided — presidential election have begun to accept their failure to win. And with that acknowledgment, their power has grown.
It appears likely that the election will produce a runoff between two front-runners, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. That has left the six remaining candidates to decide whom they will endorse — a choice that could determine the next president.
Ghani and Abdullah have begun quests to garner that support, crisscrossing Kabul to recruit their former rivals and, with them, the voters whose loyalty they command. In a country still torn by ethnic and political tensions, coalition building is as crucial as it is delicate.
“They ask, and we will decide,” said candidate Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, a former mujahideen leader who is not expected to win a significant portion of votes but still wields significant power, particularly in traditional ethnic Pashtun communities.
For now, the public’s focus remains on the results of the first round and the Afghan election commission’s ability to resolve hundreds of formal complaints of fraud. The election commission is due to assess those complaints and release official results in mid-May, and it’s unlikely a second round would take place for several weeks afterwards. But already, there are early signs that the six candidates are trying to come together as a single, powerful bloc. Earlier this week, they met as a group at Sayyaf’s office.
Publicly, each of the eight presidential candidates has expressed confidence that he might still win the election if fraud is eliminated. But several have quietly conceded that the race is between Ghani and Abdullah, and it’s now time to go about the complicated effort of choosing sides without causing harmful political of social rifts.
“Who we decide to support will be crucial,” said a top member of Zalmay Rassoul’s campaign team.
Those decisions are part of a larger effort to build a coalition that would resolve the election peacefully, either before or after an electoral runoff.
A runoff is legally mandated between the two front-runners if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, an outcome that looks likely based on preliminary results. According to those results, gleaned from less than 10 percent of overall ballots, Abdullah won 41.9 percent of the vote and Ghani 37.6 percent. Rassoul won 9.8 percent to Sayyaf’s 5.1 percent.
But some Afghan officials are hopeful that either Ghani, a Pashtun, or Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, could be convinced to drop out of the race before a runoff in exchange for a top position in the next government.
“Different people have been talking about a division of governing responsibility that would allow for a broader range of representation in the government,” said a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic.
Some observers have suggested that the position of prime minister could be created for the candidate who bows out of the race.
“If we can by consensus avoid a second round, we will,” Sayyaf said. If a second round is held, he said, “the winner will be the driver, but we will all be in the bus.”
So far, both Ghani and Abdullah have publicly rejected the prospect of abandoning the race. Abdullah has said that if he is elected, the only position he could envision Ghani playing would be “loyal opposition.”
But both Afghan and U.S. officials say that avoiding a second round would prevent the violence and unrest likely to accompany the vote, and many continue to root for such an outcome.
Another alternative, raised by Sayyaf and others, is convincing Ghani and Abdullah to agree in writing that the loser of a runoff would join the winner’s government, avoiding a potentially bloody post-election standoff.
“A coalition would ensure that all Afghans are represented,” Sayyaf said. “Otherwise, the situation will go to the worst.”
Over the last decade, President Hamid Karzai has worked to create a diverse team that would win over voters, as well as maintain stability in a country with deep ethnic fractures.
Many Afghans objected to a government led by people from disparate backgrounds, appointed to maintain the balance of power, but even Western officials who are critical of Karzai express admiration for what they view as his feat of political acrobatics.
“Karzai spent a lot of time balancing different imperatives and different regional and ethnic demands on his government, and however the discussion evolves this time, it will be a big job for the next president as well,” the Western official said.
Many Afghans assume that any coalitions formed by the losing candidates will be structured along ethnic lines, with Sayyaf and Rassoul supporting Ghani, a fellow Pashtun. But key members of those candidates’ teams suggest that there is a strong possibility that Pashtun power brokers will side with Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, in exchange for top positions in the next government.
Although Ghani is Pashtun, the presence of former communists such as Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum and Hanif Atmar on his team has upset former Pashtun mujahideen commanders, who spent years fighting against the Soviet Union.
“We have our problems with both sides,” said a senior Afghan official, one of many trying to decide whom to support.
Despite fears of insurgent attacks, election day in Nangarhar passed off quietly, activists and young people said at an IWPR-run debate on April 13.
Asef Shinwari, a writer and journalist, said people had been proud to vote in defiance of the threats of violence.
“Although [our] opponents issued a lot of propaganda… against the government and people were scared, people showed they were serious about determining their destiny,” he said.
Anwar Soltani, a civil society activist, told the 100-strong audience at Nangarhar university that NGOs and ordinary people helped ensure a good turnout.
“Civil society played a positive part in these elections, paving the way for all people to vote,” he said, adding that he hoped that the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) would deal fairly with any matters referred to it.
Nangarhar university lecturer Professor Bashir Dodyal said that people had put their own safety at risk for the sake of the future.
“The people risked their lives to vote and showed the country’s enemies that this nation can hold proper elections,” he said, adding that he hoped that a similar atmosphere would prevail if the presidential vote went to a run-off.
Zabihollah Ghazi is a student at Nangarhar University and an IWPR trainee.
Analysts See Promising Trends From Afghan Election
WASHINGTON — While uncertainty remains over the outcome of the Afghan election, analysts say the vote is showing some promising trends toward democracy.
Partial results released from the April 5 election point to the likelihood of a runoff contest between candidates Abdullah Abdullah, who received 41.9 percent of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani with 37.6 percent.
Both men are former high ranking members of President Hamid Karzai’s government. A runoff vote would be held after May 28.
Despite threats from the Taliban, which had escalated its campaign of violence to disrupt the election in the weeks prior to the vote, Afghans in the millions stood for hours to cast their ballots.
An image of an Afghan voter who had his index finger cut by the Taliban in the 2009 election went viral when he cast his vote and took a picture of his hand with ink on his finger.
Charles Niemeyer, a professor of war and peace at Georgetown University said the vote clearly demonstrates that Afghans support democracy.
“I would think that this is a tremendous event for the future of the nation of Afghanistan. It does demonstrate the willingness of the people to run the risk and participate in elections,” he said.
Young Afghans vote
A big portion of the voters were young Afghans. Afghanistan has an astonishing number of young people.
According to U.N. estimates, 68 percent of the population in Afghanistan is under 25, which makes Afghanistan one of the youngest countries in the world in terms of population.
Young Afghans like 19-year-old student Fatima Khalil Ahmad, who cast her vote for the first time, said her top priority is the status of women in her society.
“I want my president to give priority to women rights and security,” she said.
Sayed Maisam Ehsani who describes himself as an activist for Afghan youth said his country has made great progress over the past 12 years, but he says the government has failed when it comes to giving young Afghans a voice in the country’s future.
“The next president should be a voice for a disappointed majority and provide them with educational and employment opportunities,” Ehsani said.
A vote for the future
For the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) election day was a much-needed success, analysts say.
While sporadic attacks took place across the country polling stations escaped the violence and security forces provided a relatively safe environment for the people to cast their votes.
Security was tight at most polling stations.
Jason Campbell, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, said above all the election showed a majority of the Afghan people support a future free of the Taliban.
“This was definitely in many ways a referendum showing that the majority of the Afghan people are not going to be intimidated with regards to their future and that there is still a lot of hope in the future for Afghanistan,” Campbell said.
He added that “if you were to sit down and write your best case scenario going into the election, what transpired on the election day was very close to that.”
But Thomas H. Johnson, who directs the cultural and conflict studies program at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey said it would be wrong to say the Taliban does not have deep ties to local communities in parts of Afghanistan.
“I think that we underestimate the actual amount of public support they have in some parts of the country especially down in the south,” Johnson said.
But on the question of the election he said Afghans clearly voted by the millions for a better future despite the problems they live with every day.
“The level of corruption seems to be much lower than 2009. I think this election was different and the Afghan people are starting to understand what representative government is all about,” he said.
UAE lifts restrictions on Taliban peace negotiator Agha Jan Mutasim
This week's roundup of Good Reads includes the challenge of winning Iraqis and Afghans asylum in the US, how a broadband monopoly came to be, an essay by an Israeli sniper, new ancient evidence of human activity, and the evolution of the submarine.
As American troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is leaving behind thousands of interpreters and fixers to live with countrymen who view them as traitors, writes Paul Solotaroff in Men’s Journal. In 2008 and 2009, Congress opened the door for more than 33,000 Iraqis and Afghans to find asylum in the US, but these special visas are notoriously hard to claim. “Just 15 percent of the Iraqi slots were granted in the first four years...,” says Mr. Solotaroff. “In Afghanistan, the figure was unfathomably low: Only a handful of visas a year came through between 2008 and 2012.”
The main roadblock, according to Solotaroff, seems to be trepidation from the State Department, which has trouble fully vetting applicants amid the ongoing conflict in their home countries. The article focuses on Army Reserve Capt. Matt Zeller and his multi-year fight to secure asylum for Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter who saved the lives of at least five Americans. Frustrated by the slow pace, Zeller reached out to an acquaintance at the State Department who said “that the Taliban had seen the news stories about [Mr.] Shinwari and phoned a lie to an anonymous-tip line that he worked for them,” writes Solotaroff. After three congressmen leaned on the State Department and Shinwari underwent multiple polygraph tests with the CIA, he eventually received a visa for him and his family.
Living under a broadband monopoly
People in London may choose from as many as eight different high-speed Internet providers. However, Rachel Margolis in Brooklyn, N.Y., has one. Time Warner Cable services her apartment building – period. If her connection speeds slow to a crawl, Ms. Margolis has only two recourses: go without cable Internet or move to a new place.
“We actually know the exact day that [the United States] chose to go down this path,” says Zoe Chase of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. “March 14, 2002.” Back then, the Federal Communications Commission needed to decide, What is the Internet? Is it essentially an extension of our existing phone network, or is it something different? Under US law, phone companies must rent out their lines to anyone that wants to reach a customer’s home. The FCC decided in 2002 that Internet providers do not need to follow this rule. Critics of the decision say large swaths of the US must now live under a broadband monopoly. This was not the intent. The FCC wanted companies to compete with each other by building ever-faster Internet connections, but lobbying, future policy decisions, and the huge expense of building out a better network largely derailed these good intentions.
Confessions of an Israeli sniper
The Jewish Daily Forward ran an essay from a former Israeli soldier about his final days as a military sniper. While this is clearly a one-sided tale, the author, who does not give his real name but is identified as an American grandson of a Holocaust survivor living in Israel, talks frankly of his mixed emotions about hunting alleged terrorists near the Gaza border. He wants to perform well, but doing so means opening fire on people who have no chance of fighting back. “I don’t understand the seeming lack of fear I see in the men we target,” he writes. “They get shot at and come right back.”
Discovery of ancient tools
Humans arrived in South America thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a controversial new study. A rock shelter in Brazil held primitive stone tools that researchers believe date back 22,000 years, during the height of the last ice age.
If corroborated, this finding would rewrite our understanding of early human history. For decades, archaeologists pointed to 13,000-year-old spear points in New Mexico as the earliest evidence of humans in the Americas. Since then, dig sites in Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia suggest even earlier origins, perhaps 15,000 years old.
The new research, submitted by a team from Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3 University in France, has drawn skepticism. Scientists had previously found ancient human footprints in Mexico, only to discover later that they were not footprints at all. Similarly, rock shelters can be misleading, writes Michael Marshall in New Scientist. Fallen, shattered rocks can appear to be crafted tools. But the French team says the 113 unearthed tools were made from stones not found at the site. The materials must have traveled at least 15 miles to arrive at this location.
The first submarine
Submarines date back much earlier than German U-boats and the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. In a brief history of humankind’s underwater adventures, Amanda Green of Popular Mechanics traced the origins back to 1620, when a Dutch engineer convinced the English Royal Navy to build three steerable submarines out of wood and greased leather. A dozen oarsmen breathed through snorkel tubes for three hours as they rowed a dozen miles from Westminster to Greenwich and back.
While these first journeys ventured just 15 feet below the water’s surface, the US military has now devised a submarine-launched aerial drone that fires from a torpedo tube, bursts out of the waves, and then takes flight.
KABUL, Afghanistan — An official says three Taliban insurgents escaped from a prison in northern Afghanistan using weapons smuggled into the facility in a jailbreak that killed three police guards.
A spokesman for the Faryab provincial government, Ahmad Jawad Dedar, said on Friday that the breakout took place the previous night. A fourth inmate who was also trying to escape was killed in a shootout with security forces.
Dedar says the fugitives are low-level Taliban operatives who were jailed for planting roadside bombs.
The four inmates launched their breakout during the nightly count of prisoners, throwing several grenades and shooting guards with at least one pistol.
Dedar said authorities have launched a search for the three fugitives and are investigating how the weapons were smuggled into the prison.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
WASHINGTON — Until now, fighting the Afghan war has been an American project, and Americans have feared most that their withdrawal will be followed by chaos. That’s why they have focused on handing over the fighting to Afghanistan’s military.
But the first round of the presidential election on April 5 opened a new prospect. Just by turning out in large numbers in defiance of Taliban denunciations, Afghans showed that they craved a stable future — and would need friends in the neighborhood to help broker their differences. That creates an incentive for every nearby country to collaborate on holding Afghanistan together after the Americans leave.
With that in mind, it might be best for the United States to focus first on handing over the peacemaking to Afghanistan’s neighbors, as the most credible strategy for ending the war quickly. Ever since 9/11, Washington demanded that the region’s powers support its strategy in Afghanistan. But the region was split: India and Russia were content to see America seek outright victory over the Taliban and pursue the war to its end; Pakistan and Iran, which share ethnic roots with groups in Afghanistan, have long wanted America to end the fighting by negotiating its way out.
Because the neighbors’ interests never coincided in clear support of America’s view, the region watched America experiment — with mixed results — at counterinsurgency and state-building, and later at peacemaking with the Taliban.
Now it will be up to the neighbors, who — despite all their differences — share an interest in seeing Afghanistan avoid a new bloodletting. They question the Afghan Army’s ability to defeat the Taliban in battle; the force is still largely made up of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras from Afghanistan’s north and west, leaving it likely to provoke resistance among the Pashtuns of the embattled south and east, from whom the Taliban spring. The neighbors remember the collapse of an earlier Afghan army soon after the Soviets who had trained it left, as well as the decade of civil war that followed in the 1990s. No neighbor wants that experience repeated, and a regionally supported peace deal would be the surest way to dissuade outsiders from supporting any Afghans who did.
So how does the United States proceed?
It should keep reminding everyone that it is about to leave, and that it is in their own best interest to build a regional consensus for an Afghan peace. That means joining hands with the Americans to ensure that a strong president emerges from the messy election process.
On Election Day, the first reaction was relief at the turnout. But now there is concern that the final ballot count will prompt claims that the margin of fraud exceeds the margin of victory. The early first-round results point to a tight runoff race between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, and a need for America to help broker a fair outcome, since a disputed outcome could divide the country.
America should call on Afghanistan’s neighbors to assist. Any political wrangling would draw in Iran as well as America, since the two nations have had the most influence on Afghan politics. They should take a page from their quiet cooperation in 2001, when they supported a conference of Afghan leaders in Bonn, Germany, that prepared Afghanistan for its transition to a constitution and elected government.
Once in office, Afghanistan’s next president will face myriad problems, not least that the Afghan economy will shrink as American funding for the war ends. Meanwhile, the most important task will remain keeping the Taliban at bay. If Afghan forces are not up to the job, Afghanistan will need a strong president with American and regional backing all the more. His job will be to negotiate a reconciliation with the Taliban. Which raises the question of how his disparate neighbors might find common ground to help. They should, because chaos in Afghanistan would threaten all of them.
Moscow still sees extremism in Afghanistan as a threat to Muslim regions of Russia like Chechnya, and to the Muslim-populated former Soviet republics of Central Asia. China similarly worries that upheaval in Afghanistan could exacerbate Islamic extremism in Xinjiang; India thinks the same could happen in Kashmir. And Shiite Iran almost went to war with the Taliban, an extremist Sunni movement, in 1997; its leaders do not want a repeat of that crisis. Iran is already home to over two million Afghan refugees, and to a huge number of addicts dependent on heroin trafficked from Afghanistan. War next door would aggravate the first problem, and lawlessness would compound the second.
Pakistan may be the most problematic — and important — neighbor. It has long looked to the Taliban to protect its interests in Afghanistan, but lately its government has been challenged by its own violent Islamist groups, including the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistanis have opposed Indian influence in Afghanistan on the ground that India might turn Pashtun nationalism against Pakistan. But that hypothetical fear has to be balanced with the tangible threat that, in the absence of American troops, Pakistan’s own ascendant Taliban could feel free to join hands with Afghanistan’s Taliban.
In other words, these days even Islamabad is interested in putting the Taliban in a cage — or a peace agreement. In fact, Islamabad has favored a negotiated reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban all along, if Kabul would agree to include a role for Pakistan and its interests.
The United States is now talking to Iran. Its relations with Pakistan have stabilized. Its withdrawal from Afghanistan is in the works. All of this could make possible the kind of regional dialogue that could give Afghanistan a chance for a future.
Afghanistan had a good election, but the war is not over. America will not be fighting that war, but it can help bring about a peace.
Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is the author of “The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat.”
The euphoria over Afghanistan’s April 5 elections has begun to evaporate amid allegations of widespread electoral fraud. This weekend’s partial result indicated no clear winner. The two front-runners—Abdullah Abdullah, a leader of the old Northern alliance and ex-foreign minister, with 41.9 percent of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani, ex-finance minister, with 37.6 percent—might head for a run-off. The tally was based on half a million ballots of the estimated seven million that were cast.
Abdullah’s leading role signals that the initial announcement was politically motivated. It has to be viewed as a warning that the political elite or the old Northern Alliance—propelled to power after the United States defeated the Taliban in 2001—will continue to rule Afghanistan. Afghan observers blame the outgoing President Hamid Karzai and his allies for horse trading behind the partial result. The partial result also may be calculated to address the demands of Abdullah Abdullah’s powerful supporters, who threatened that in case Abdullah isn’t the ultimate winner, Afghanistan could be awash with new waves of bloodshed.
Afghanistan’s ground realities and political history suggest that if a runoff takes place or a backstage deal wins Abdullah the presidency; he is unable to deliver. He is a man with a history. He was actively involved in the Afghan civil war (1992-1995). Following the fall of the Russian-installed communist regime in an internal coup in 1992, the Northern Alliance and its proxies ruled Afghanistan for almost four years, leaving a dark legacy of gross human-rights violations, rape, and looting. Fighting between the Northern Alliance—with Abdullah as one of its key advisers—and its radical Islamic rivals (led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), devastated the Afghan capital even before the Taliban came. More than fifty thousand civilians were killed in the civil war.
The American military intervention in 2001 in Afghanistan was something of a lottery for the new political elites and Abdullah Abdullah, who’s shown a fondness for bespoke European suits allegedly worth several years of an average Afghan’s income. He served as foreign minister in Karzai’s regime (2001-2005) and filled the ministry from top to bottom with his own fellow Panjshiris. Panjshir is a provincial district, though the NA and Karzai elevated it to the rank of a province in recent years, his birthplace. With strong bonds with Karzai’s family, Abdullah and other warlords of the NA created a multi-billion dollar mafia that dominates the economy and politics in Afghanistan.
An Abdullah presidency would be a gift for the Taliban, which already benefits from the growing marginalisation and disenfranchisement of the Pashtuns south and east. Seen as a radical sectarian among Pashtuns, Abdullah will deepen ethnic division just as the international community is shrinking its financial support once foreign troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The domination Northern Alliance in Afghanistan has powerful implications for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as well. He will be an outsider within an exceptionally corrupt government centered around the NA. In his campaign, Ghani said that when he was the finance minister, he refused the demand of the warlords of the NA to pay for an imaginary seven-hundred-thousand-man defense force. He continued to reject such extortionist demands despite real threats to his life when warlords surrounded his ministry with tanks and armoured vehicles.
Ghani has the potential to be Afghanistan’s version of former Czech president Válcav Havel, who played a decisive role in post-Communist era of his country, but it would be too hard for him to overcome the endemic corruption, nepotism and drug syndicates linked to the country’s power elites. He doesn’t have the skills of Karzai to work as a puppet for the NA. However, Ghani as the president of Afghanistan could weaken the Taliban and their grip on the Pashtuns. In the event of strong Pashtun support behind Ghani, the Taliban might soften its stance and become willing to participate in negotiation and reconciliation.
This is crucial for the future of Afghanistan, as America and its NATO partners, in thirteen years of war, have failed to either defeat the Taliban or bring them into effective negotiations. They also failed to target the Pakistani military for actively abetting insurgents killing the Western troops and Afghans. Pakistan remains the Taliban’s enabler, and its role in Afghanistan makes it a mortal threat to peace. One major factor in these failures has been the amorphous vision of the international community vis-à-vis Afghanistan that has helped undercut the Afghan internal dynamics.
By all indications, the present phase of the Afghan presidential election is in a troubled state. The final results are to be declared in mid-May once thousands of complaints of fraud are fully investigated. Hot conspiracy theories in Kabul suggest that at the last minute, the Embassy of the United States in Kabul will cherry-pick the new president. Uncertainties looms and the anxiety is that like in the past, the election would be used to rubber-stamp the control of someone acceptable to the power brokers.
Ehsan Azari Stanizai is an Adjunct Fellow with Writing and Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney.