Afghanistan: failed transformation, death of democracy or hope for reform?

2015 is supposed to mark the start of Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade,” notes a prominent analyst. But if the country is to even get to 2015 in one piece, its new leaders must act fast to correct course after the failed transformation of the last decade, Ahmed Rashid writes for the New York Times:

On Sunday, after months of bitter wrangling, the two leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election agreed to form a national unity government. Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun technocrat, is to be president, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister of mixed Tajik and Pashtun descent, is to be chief executive, a newly created post akin to prime minister. …The four-page joint agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah calls for convening a loya jirga, a traditional gathering of tribal representatives and elected district councilors, in the next two years in order to amend the Constitution to reflect the recent creation of the chief executive post.

But a loya jirga should be called as soon as possible, so as to promptly give constitutional cover to the power-sharing agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah. The assembly should also discuss how the present presidential system, which is highly centralized, could be improved and how electoral reforms can be made to prevent future vote-rigging. And the gathering should be convened before the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year: This would allow the legislators who are elected then to have some of the legitimacy that is lacking at present.

NY Times

NY Times

“Death of democracy” is the phrase that has gone viral on social media among young Afghans since the September 21 announcement of a deal between the country’s two presidential election rivals, according to Afghan analyst Helena Malikyar:

Afghans celebrated the end of a deadlock that had plagued their country’s April 5 presidential elections because of the tremendous adverse effects that the impasse had brought onto the nation’s economy, security, and the function of the entire state apparatus.

However, the political deal that entails the formation of a “government of national unity” by rival presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, is widely seen as a setback in the country’s process of democratisation. By brushing aside people’s votes, the political elite’s deal has disenchanted ordinary citizens and has shaken their confidence in the democratic process

Appointments will be key to everything, both in terms of how power is split and wielded and what sort of government Afghanistan is to get, Kate Clark writes for the Afghanistan Analysts Network:

The deal keeps repeating that appointments will be on merit, but that is something that has proved very difficult up until now. In Afghanistan, positions are often considered as ‘spoils’ and a means of rewarding supporters; patronage underpins power and authority. What has enabled the government so far to nevertheless survive has been the large inflows of foreign capital and foreign military support, but both are already tailing off. A united government will already have difficulty coping with all the problems Afghanistan faces. A weak and contested administration could well find those problems overwhelming.

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

But the National Democratic Institute (NDI)* welcomed the conclusion of the 2014 presidential electoral process and the political agreement that enables the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.

“The establishment of the national unity government provides a critical framework for political leaders to work in tandem to address the country’s political, economic and security challenges,” the group said, and it also commended the new government’s plan to form a special commission on electoral reform:

The commission should examine the root causes of serious flaws in the electoral process and offer recommendations for reforms that, if adopted, could promote Afghan confidence in the country’s electoral and political institutions. Such reforms could include constitutional, legislative, operational and institutional aspects as well as accountability mechanisms. Political will must be exercised and adequate resources allocated to implement such reforms. 

The Middle East Institute’s Louis R. Hughes Lecture Series this week hosted a panel discussion exploring the role of democratic governance in both Pakistan and Afghanistan (above). Have the conditions been right within these countries for democracy to take root? Has it been given a fair chance to succeed? Should it be held to different standards than democracy in the West? Experts Hassan Abbas (National Defense University), Sarah Chayes (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Joshua White (Stimson Center), and Moeed Yusuf (United States Institute for Peace) consider these questions, as well as whether future reforms could improve the efficacy of the existing governments in both countries.

* NDI’s election assessment mission fielded 100 Afghan staff observers in 26 provinces for the April first round elections and the June presidential runoff. The Institute mobilized 25 international and 25 Afghan observers to monitor the presidential runoff audit. The NDI mission was informed by a pre-election assessment the Institute conducted in December 2013. NDI supported the efforts of multiple domestic monitoring groups that mobilized thousands of citizen monitors for the two elections and the comprehensive audit. The Institute will issue a final report on the 2014 elections, including recommendations to strengthen the electoral process, in the near future.  

Afghanistan’s Karzai, UN call for national unity government

afghanpollwikicommonsAfghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that his successor must be chosen soon to “salvage the country,” which appeared to grow more volatile as the day progressed, the Washington Post reports:

In a rare public statement since he has been forced to postpone his departure from office, Karzai addressed hundreds of Afghan leaders gathered in the capital to honor a slain guerrilla commander. Karzai pleaded with the audience to join him in pressuring Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to put aside their differences so they can form a national unity government.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a similar appeal to both of them to work together for a speedy settlement of the political crisis, VOA reports:

In a statement, he noted that in the U.S.-mediated deal in early July, both the candidates agreed to accept the nationwide audit of the presidential runoff results and form a government of national unity. It added that with the main audit completed last week and the announcement of updated results anticipated shortly, the Secretary-General expected the presidential hopefuls to now abide by their commitments to enable Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of power. 

Perhaps the most significant step is to continue encouraging the creation of a national unity government in which the winning candidate integrates key supporters of the loser’s side, notes SethJones, director of the RAND Corporation’s International Security and Defense Policy Center, and author of “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan.”

This would include appointing supporters to key cabinet posts or provincial governor positions. It might also involve the losing candidate selecting a chief executive officer in a new administration, he writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Most important, the U.S. and other NATO countries need to emphasize that their continued economic and military assistance to Afghanistan is contingent on a resolution of the political crisis. It makes little sense for the U.S. to sign a bilateral security agreement with a country that can’t even agree on its leader.

It would be a tragedy if one or both sides allowed the disputed election to fracture the country and increase the odds of a Taliban military victory—an outcome that neither side wants, and that would harm the Afghan population most of all.


Afghan candidate threatens to withdraw



Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened on Tuesday to withdraw (AFP) from a United Nations-supervised audit of votes cast in the disputed election, potentially undermining a process aimed at rescuing the country’s first democratic transfer of power, according to the Council on Foreign Relations:

The audit was part of a U.S.-brokered deal between presidential candidates Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom claim election victory in the contest to succeed President Hamid Karzai (Reuters). General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said Monday that the United States had devised plans that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year if the election stalemate persisted and prevented the signing of a security agreement (AP).


“The best available solution is for Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani to cooperate fully with the ballot audit, accept the results (which were never going to be fraud-free, given the immaturity of the democratic system) and quickly form a functioning government that reflects the country’s diversity. If they manage to do that, there might be some hope that they could, in time, restore voter trust and put Afghanistan on the path to a real democracy,” writes the New York Times.

“More broadly, it isn’t clear that the number of U.S. boots on the ground translates into meaningful political leverage, or is necessarily conducive to an enduring, much less healthy, stability. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. shouldn’t push Ghani and Abdullah to compromise, and continue providing economic support,” writes Bloomberg.

There is also independent evidence of large-scale fraud, mostly on Mr. Ghani’s behalf, the New York Times reports:

The most credible local election observer organization, the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, has submitted 2,684 files of cases of major irregularities and fraud, including blatant ballot stuffing, to the Electoral Complaints Commission. “We have videos of I.E.C. officials doing it for both sides,” said Nader Nadery, the head of the observer group [apartner of the National Endowment for Democracy.]

“Iraq could hardly be a clearer cautionary tale: If the United States withdraws before the Afghan security forces are fully prepared to lead the fight against the Taliban and to deny safe haven to al Qaeda, jihadists are almost certain to regain safe haven there, much as the Islamic State (IS) has gained ground since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. That is what losing the war in Afghanistan looks like,” writes Paul Miller for Foreign Policy.

Afghanistan: UN urges respect for poll audit as process resumes





The process to check thousands of ballot boxes in the Afghan presidential election run-off is now underway after several delays, the United Nations mission in the country confirmed, calling for local commitment to complete the audit without any more postponements, according to reports.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan ( UNAMA ) “urged the full commitment of the parties for the unprecedented and vital endeavour that should be completed without any further delays and interruptions.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), under whose authority the audit is being carried out, with international supervision, resumed the process on 3 August, following the Eid holiday, but without the participation of representatives of one of the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah.

Dr. Abdullah’s campaign, the Reform and Partnership Team, rejoined the process today after having sought clarification on the audit, for which the UN has been jointly requested, by the two candidates, to coordinate international supervision.

Meanwhile, more than 200 full-time international observers — hailing from the European Union and including its Election Assessment Team and the American non-governmental organizations National Democratic Institute, Democracy International, as well as Asian Network for Free Elections, are now in auditing warehouses in the capital.


Unrest looms over Afghan vote




Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory on Tuesday, rejecting preliminary election results that gave his rival, Ashraf Ghani, a lead of a million votes, the Council on Foreign Relations reports:

Abdullah also called on thousands of supporters rallying in Kabul to give him time to plan his next steps and avert a crisis (TOLO). An Abdullah ally and provincial governor called Monday for “widespread civil unrest” and warned of forming a “parallel government,” drawing a swift condemnation from U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, who warned that an extralegal power grab would jeopardize international financial and security support (WSJ). Kerry is expected in Kabul at the end of the week to mediate the crisis (WaPo). Meanwhile, a Taliban suicide bomber killed four NATO troops north of Kabul, as well as twelve civilians and Afghan police (AFP).


Abdullah’s re-engagement in the election process is fundamental to any hope of an outcome to this election which is acceptable to all parties. However, the presence of his observers is also, in a very practical way, crucial to getting an audit that actually scrutinizes the ballots,” writes Kate Clark for the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“There is pressure on the Afghan government to get this election completed and install a new presidential administration in time to meet the political, economic, and military challenges of the transition period as foreign troops leave. There’s a crucial NATO summit in September, a major meeting of donors in November, and other hurdles that will require a functioning new administration,” International Crisis Group’s Graeme Smith told DeutscheWelle.

“If this moment is decisive, as I suggested, it is because it will determine whether or not Afghan leaders have truly adopted the logic of democracy—as Afghan voters seem to have done—or whether the source of power is ultimately non-institutional, negotiable, the result of behind-the-curtain deals, and permanently dependent on international arbitration,” writes Scott Smith for the Global Observatory.