Crisis deepens

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal from a United Nations-supervised vote audit of the recent presidential election has plunged the country into a dangerous crisis.

 President Hamid Karzai had set September 2 as the deadline for his successor to take charge.  But with the audit of 8.1 million disputed ballots cast in the June presidential election still to be completed, this will not be possible.  Abdullah, who secured the largest number of votes in the first round of voting, was relegated to the second place by rival Ashraf Ghani in the run-off vote in June.

Accusing Ghani and Karzai of colluding in widespread fraud, he rejected the result and threatened to form a parallel government. A US-brokered deal provided for an audit of the votes and envisaged a national unity government. While the winner would become president, the loser would not go empty-handed but would become the chief executive. Unfortunately, this deal began to unravel soon after as the two sides were unable to reach agreement on criteria for invalidating a suspect vote.  There are differences too on the question of diluting the president’s powers.  It culminated in Abdullah’s walkout from the audit. It is unclear at the moment whether Abdullah’s withdrawal from the audit will lead to his rejecting the result.  If it is aimed at securing maximum concessions for his supporters in the unity government, a compromise is still possible. 

The wrangling at the top has triggered a wave of anxiety in Afghanistan as the stalemate is likely to be exploited by the Taliban. Indeed, the Taliban has already escalated violence across Afghanistan in recent weeks, signalling that it will not be a quiet bystander in the unfolding power struggle, especially in the context of NATO’s scheduled pullout in a few months.   Braving a Taliban call for boycott of the polls, Afghans showed up in large numbers to vote in the presidential election.

 This evoked great optimism worldwide, as it seemed that a smooth democratic transition would take place. Sadly, these hopes have been dashed and Afghanistan is staring at another bloody civil war. This is of concern to the international community as the war’s impact will be felt beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Afghanistan’s friends such as India, Iran and Russia need to work together to help it get past this crisis. They need to use their good offices to convince Ghani and Abdullah to put aside their personal ambitions for the sake of Afghanistan’s future. 

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