Future tense

It is over a month since Afghans went to the polls to elect a president. But there are no indications of what the election outcome is or what will unfold in the coming months. Serious allegations of election rigging have been made and investigations and recounts are on in several areas. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai was said to have won around 54 per cent of the vote but this could fall if the ongoing recount results in invalidation of a large number of votes cast in his favour. While rigging seems to have taken place in areas loyal to both, Karzai as well as his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, it appears to have been more widespread in Pashtun areas that are hoping to see Karzai return as president.  The rigging casts a long shadow over the country’s future as a democracy. International observers are hoping that a thorough investigation of fraud allegations will enable the winner, whether Karzai or Abdullah, to emerge with a semblance of credibility.

If a run-off poll is needed it will have to be held by end-October given the severe winter in Afghanistan. The slow pace at which the recount is happening suggests that an October run-off poll will not be possible and may have to wait . This will leave Afghanistan with a potentially destabilising power vacuum, which has serious implications for the security in the country.

 The security situation in Afghanistan is worrying. Assessments by neutral observers say that the Taliban has a ‘permanent presence’ in around 80 per cent of Afghanistan. Provinces like Kunduz, which were free of Taliban activity all these years, have now emerged as hotspots. The political uncertainty triggered by the dubious presidential election will only enable this Taliban presence to grow. Senior commanders of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are warning that the military operations against the Taliban are poised to fail if coalition members do not step up their military contributions to ISAF.

Several NATO countries have thinned their force presence in Afghanistan; others continue to deploy  soldiers in safe areas rather than in regions where  troops

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