Afghan leadership transition & Pakistan
Kabul has finally had a peaceful democratic transition of leadership, the first in four decades and in the bargain attained two: a president and a first ever chief executive to share powers. More than seven million of an estimated eligible twelve million Afghan voters (34% of them women), braved inclement weather, Taliban threats and terror attacks cast their vote on April 5th, 2014 amidst tight security. The process had to be repeated on June 14 for a second round run-off, since no candidate secured more than the mandatory 50% of the vote. Despite sporadic assaults by miscreants including one on June 6 in which, candidate Abdullah Abdullah narrowly survived an assassination attempt, the second round took place. It raised the specter of further uncertainty, since Abdullah Abdullah, who fared marginally better than his rival in the first round, was declared the loser to Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and challenged the results vociferously.
Months of bickering and accusations of polls rigging further marred the electoral process till US Secretary of State John Kerry jumped into the fray announcing on July 12 that all ballots would be audited under UN supervision. The US has mercifully not played favourites and aided the transition neutrally.
The UN commenced monitoring and recount of the second-round ballots on August 29. In the backdrop of whispers of election fraud on both sides, on September 21, Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner and the bitter wrangling was put to rest with both candidates announcing a unity government of power sharing with Ghani assuming the mantle of President and Abdullah Abdullah the newly created post of Chief Executive, which following a constitutional amendment may be turned into the position of Prime Minister. It was the end of a bitter squabbling of power struggle, which has the potential of morphing into a bloodier carnage than the one which followed the 1989 Soviet retreat and departure of US-led allies who created the Afghan resistance to rout the Red Army.
John Kerry’s deft shuttle diplomacy, reminiscent of the “Kissinger era”, cajoling, counseling and even threatening the candidates of shutting off the spigot of US financial support ultimately bore fruit. The US is a major stakeholder for peace in Afghanistan with the drawdown of international forces targeted to conclude by yearend and the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to be signed by the new Afghan incumbent, a prerequisite adding urgency to hpw the conclusion of the electoral process. The BSA will provide the legal framework for the US to continue to train, advise and assist Afghan national security forces in an endeavour to insulate Afghanistan from becoming a refuge for terrorists.
Post Karzai Afghanistan faces enormous challenges. The absence of sound state institutions, lack of reforms to harness the unbridled powers of the warlords, massive corruption and acute nepotism has badly shattered the capacity for any government to rule the highly fragmented Afghan society, let alone a coalition of opposing factions. The Afghan National Army too is far from ready to meet the challenges of terror attacks and keeping the Taliban at bay, especially from the key Southern province of Helmand, notorious for drug cultivation. The economy is in doldrums and according to US media sources; the Afghan government is on the verge of bankruptcy, necessitating an emergency $537 million bailout just to pay its government employees. All social service projects started by allied countries may come to a standstill without further funding from pledged donors.