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Afghanistan Elections: Elusive Democracy
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
True democracy in Afghanistan remains elusive as the country goes for Presidential elections with a month to go. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's incumbent President remains a clear favorite in the elections scheduled on 20 August. He has called upon a cross section of the Afghan society to vote in large numbers in the elections including an appeal to the Taliban. "It is also my wish that our Taliban brothers and all other Afghans who are not in Afghanistan for various reasons and are standing in opposition ... I request them again and again to renounce violence, not only on the election day but forever," Karzai said. President Karzai has been appealing to the Taliban for almost a year now to join the mainstream and has been favorable towards holding talks with the so called moderate Taliban. However this has not moved many elements within so far and the call for joining the elections is likely to fall on deaf ears. However the appeal will have impact on general voters and would see Karzai normally called as the mayor of Kabul and a puppet of the West in a more favorable light enhancing his support base in an election where most people believe he is the best bet.
On 26 June a massive rally was held in Kabul to support Mr Karzai. This also included the Hazaras who had not supported him previously. The logic of the masses is simple, President Karzai is a known entity and is therefore preferred and they would like to give him a second chance. "People say Karzai did not do us any good in the past seven years but he will in the future," said Mohammad Hassan, "Now Karzai knows what to do. If someone else replaces him it will take many years to learn what Karzai has already learnt." An opinion survey also gives 31 percent support for the president. His main rivals former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, failed to breach the double digit.
The Taliban and other groups have already directed Afghans to boycott the elections and are expected to cause large scale disruption in the same. "I'm sure there will be attempts by the insurgents, the Taliban, to interfere with the polling," John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said at his headquarters in Belgium.
The challenges for conducting elections in Afghanistan are no doubt many; however the process and the fact that it is being gone through a second time would be highly encouraging. While so far it appears that Mr Karzai is a certain winner, the level of participation by a large number except from the Southern provinces has led to greater recognition of validity. There is a concern that the security situation would not be favorable in many parts of the South and the East which may lead to reduction in turn out but overall it may be a fruitful exercise.
To ensure security there is a surge in 8,000 and 10,000 troops for NATO-led forces specifically for elections. Added security for the Afghan Elections is welcome and should be deployed as early as possible developing a model of covering the candidate's security, their campaigning including the meetings and movement and personnel protection. In the second stage security would be required for booths and polling stations as well as for the polling staff who will be targeted by the Taliban. Finally for the counting there is a need for security at the counting stations. The Taliban are likely to launch varied attacks to disrupt the election process, the momentum for which is likely to pick up.
In the larger perspective though, Presidential elections may turn out to be, 'more of the same thing' if structural changes are not made in Afghanistan. A recent International Crisis Group report highlights the same thus, 'More broadly there needs to be a focus on building consensus on how the Afghan political system can be made more functional and representative, ending the current over-reliance on a largely unaccountable executive that has encouraged an ever-growing culture of impunity. _____ there must be broad agreement, even within the bounds of the current constitution, on a balance of power among the branches of the state and between the central and local government; on identifying which body is the ultimate constitutional arbiter; and ensuring a more appropriate role for political parties.'
So is Mr Karzai willing to take the plunge of change in the country or will continue to perpetuate the status quo remains the question, what is even more alarming is that the international community too seems to be happy to be in stasis.
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