The fraught ambience of Afghanistan was exposed yet again on Tuesday when the declaration of the presidential election result coincided with the killing of two American soldiers by the Taliban in the midst of the peace talks that may yet produce a deal. If a deal does attain fruition, it will arguably carry within it the seeds of its own destruction.
Equally, is it an index to Afghanistan’s fractured polity that the result was declared close to six months after the election was held ~ in September last year. President Ashraf Ghani has been afforded yet another innings at the crease, albeit with a wafer-thin margin of victory. The incumbent has gained just 50 per cent of the votes, and the psephological message reaffirms the inherent instability.
His main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has swiftly rejected the result and declared himself the winner. Both sides have accused the other of fraud, with Mr Abdullah declaring the result as “national treason”. He has even pledged to form what he calls his “own inclusive government”. In the context of this dispute, Afghanistan is poised for a difficult political showdown at a critical juncture.
The US is inching towards a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, and this should pave the way for “intra- Afghan talks” with the government in Kabul. Notably, Ghani and Abdullah are claiming occupancy of the presidential palace with powerful support bases. The peace negotiations to end a decades-old civil war has reached a complicated stage; the process could turn out to be still more difficult.
Disputed election results would be traumatic for a country that craves stability and strong government; but this week, Afghans are also expecting a US-Taliban deal to be announced. That deal should usher in the start of talks between the Taliban and other Afghans. Post the result, the fundamental question is: Will the Afghan political class be able to agree on a team or a negotiating strategy if they are locked in battle as to who sits in the presidential palace?
The election was a virtual replay of the 2014 contest, when Ghani and Abdullah were the main contenders and even fell out over the result, trading accusations of fraud. Six years after, it bears recall that the impasse only ended when the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, stepped in to broker a power-sharing deal. With an agreement within reach, the White House might be more inclined to help resolve the post-election power struggle in Kabul.
The tokenism of governance must end. Afghanistan’s suffering innocents ~ their patience sorely tried ~ deserve better, both from the political class and the Taliban, let alone Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Donald Trump’s America. It has been a victim of powerplay, both onshore and offshore… thus affording an occasionally free hand to the Taliban, which once ruled the fractured nation.