The June 14 Elections Confirm Afghans’ Verdict Against the Taliban

On the June 14 election day, Afghans again delivered an anti-Taliban verdict. Despite the strong Taliban offensive preceding the day, 7 million Afghans (60% of registered voters) cast their votes. True, the euphoria that dominated the first round was absent; yet Afghans turned up in numbers as large as before.

The voter turnout represents a second referendum against the Taliban. The increased number of female voters this time—38% compared to 35% in the previous round—indicates women’s increasing determination to avoid the violation of their rights and insecurity that would accompany a return to Taliban rule.

Political agreements and deals must be reached between the newly formed government of Afghanistan and the Pakistan government, without unhelpful interventions from outsiders. 

The large voter turnout also indicates Afghans’ increasing confidence in the ability of their institutions to ensure voters’ safety and protect democratic rights. This election was organized and secured solely by Afghans and Afghan institutions, including the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Election Complaints Commission (IECC).

Security efforts were redoubled by the Ministry of the Interior. As a precautionary measure, all educational institutions and offices were closed for the week preceding the election, and vehicle check points were operational for the entire week. The Taliban failed to make dents in urban areas, although attacks in remote rural areas could not be prevented entirely. Close to 150 attacks across the country resulted in deaths and injuries in police, army and civilians, including children. In Herat province, ink-stained fingers of 13 voters were cut off.  Over 200 polling stations that had operated in the first round remained closed due to security reasons, resulting in disenfranchisement of voters in the region.

The IEC, which predicted less fraud for this round, requires all complaints to be submitted within three days of the election date. On the election day, 100 complaints of fraud were registered and are being investigated by IECC.  A high-level IEC officer has been accused of ballot-box stuffing. Complaints have been filed against continued presence of some IEC staff members who were accused of fraud in the first round.

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Election observation by both local and external observers is of immense importance for fraud prevention. The election of 2014 might have failed in this count. Under threat of Taliban attacks, foreign observers were few in the first round, and were still lower in the second round. A vast majority of the more than 6000 polling stations across the country were left unvisited. The European Union appointed a 66-member team to observe in only three provinces. Canada refrained from monitoring the election (even though it has appointed a 500-member team for Ukraine elections).

The IEC issued sixty thousand local observer certificates—but numbers do not represent effective monitoring. I found during my visits to polling stations and discussions with local observers in the first round that certified observers received no training. The time span between the two rounds was too brief for provision of training for effective monitoring. If the number of fraud complaints is larger than the margin of difference in votes gained by the two candidates, it is feared that supporters of both candidates might resort to violence, with the danger of returning to the civil war scenario of the 1990s.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) criticized the ethnic undertone of this election, and ethnic divisions showed a nasty face on election day in an altercation between supporters of Ghani and Abdullah in a Pashtun province. Despite the efforts of the candidates in this round to reach out to all ethnic communities, the dangers of ethnic division persist, threatening peace and national solidarity. In spite of the endorsement of Abdullah by high-profile Pashtun leaders, Ghani (of Pashtun origin) retains a strong Pashtun support base; and if Abdullah wins, his presidency might not be accepted by the largest ethnic majority, the Pashtuns.  The Taliban, of Pashtun origin, might take advantage of this situation and further promote divisive trends, hampering progress towards a peace process.

Security must be the foremost priority in the days after the formation of a legitimate government. It requires not only securing Afghanistan from the Taliban insurgency but also promoting regional security in order to foster a legitimate peace process.

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The signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) might help to some extent in keeping indigenous militancy under control. However, Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops—and NATO’s decision to follow suit—are grounds for concern, since Afghan security forces might not be strong enough to resist the Taliban onslaught on their own. Reconciliation with the indigenous Taliban is an essential task to be taken up as a priority by the newly elected president.

An honest deal with Pakistan is required for Afghanistan to secure the support of the Pakistan political leadership against the ISI (the intelligence wing of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force), which aids the Afghan Taliban insurgency. Many Western powers, including Canada, blame Pakistan for the Afghan Taliban upsurge; but while the ISI’s involvement in this insurgency is undeniable, the claim that the current Pakistani government supports the insurgency is unfounded. In fact, Pakistan’s government itself is hit with nastier and more vicious Pakistani militant attacks than those inflicted by the Afghan Taliban.

It would be best for the Western powers to avoid stoking tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan with their sporadic, unthoughtful comments. Political agreements and deals must be reached between the newly formed government of Afghanistan and the Pakistan government, without unhelpful interventions from outsiders.  It is in the interest of India and other regional powers to promote an alliance between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, the regional powers’ support must be cultivated by the newly elected President and his cabinet in order to promote a peace process.

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