Can Delhi broker peace in Kabul?

Ashraf Ghani has won a second term as Afghanistan’s President, as per preliminary results announced on Sunday. Having secured 50.64% of the vote cast in the election, he has managed to win a majority, albeit a narrow one. This means that there will not be a run-off vote. However, the result is likely to be challenged, with Ghani’s main rival Abdullah Abdullah expected to lead that challenge. The two had locked horns in 2014 as well. Then, Abdullah contested Ghani’s victory and it was only after the United States brokered an agreement under which Ghani became President and Abdullah was appointed Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer that the conflict was resolved. However, the two remained at loggerheads throughout Ghani’s first term. Soon after the recent vote, both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory without producing any evidence. It was evident then that another bout between the two lay ahead and that the loser would reject the verdict. Although voting took place on September 28, it has taken almost three months for the preliminary result to be announced as protests and allegations of fraud marred the counting process.

Abdullah is expected to file an appeal against the result, although he trails way behind Ghani with just 39.52% of the vote. He has challenged some 3 lakh votes and is perhaps hoping to deny Ghani a majority, thus forcing a run-off where he can secure the support of other leaders that could propel him to the presidency. The coming weeks and months are important for Afghanistan’s future as a democracy. Abdullah and Ghani must reach a compromise swiftly. Should their challenging of the credibility of Afghanistan’s democratic processes and institutions continue, it is the democracy that will suffer. The faith of Afghans in democracy will weaken. It is for this reason that Afghan politicians must hammer out a compromise at the earliest. At a time when the Taliban is rapidly advancing militarily on the ground and politically at the negotiating table in talks with the US, Afghan politicians cannot afford to be divided among themselves. A divided political establishment will only benefit the Taliban.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already congratulated Ghani and invited him to visit India. But Delhi must avoid taking sides in the current wrangling for power between Ghani and Abdullah. Engaging all sides, irrespective of their ideology, beliefs or ethnic origin, should determine its policy towards Afghanistan. It has had strong ties with Ghani as well as Abdullah and this should not change. If the Afghan people want India to play a role in defusing the current crisis, India should agree to broker an agreement that is fair, principled and in the interest of Afghan democracy.

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