FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 05

Positives from Afghan elections

Two main candidates have claimed victory in the recent presidential election in Afghanistan, though final results are expected to be announced on November 7. The people of Afghanistan and the whole world are keenly waiting for the result of the election. Holding the election despite threats and attacks from the Taliban is a great victory of the country, its security forces and people.

Local and foreign analysts believe the election has weakened the position of the Taliban in their possible peace talks with the United States. The relatively peaceful polls have also improved the image of the Afghan security services, which made it possible for the election to be held at all. Most observers say Afghan voters are the real winner of the exercise, who literally defied death and reached polling stations to cast their votes.

Initial estimates say only one in five registered voters cast their ballot in the presidential election. The unofficial voter turnout estimate of just over 2 million people or about 20pc of registered voters solidifies fears that a low participation rate could mar the vote, reported Deutsche Welle (DW). Despite tight security, Taliban insurgents unleashed a string of attacks on polling centers across the war-ravaged country. More than 9.6 million Afghans in the country — with an estimated population of 35 million — had registered for the election, according to the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC). About a third of those registered are women.

Voters in Afghanistan who were consumed by fear on the eve of the election must have rubbed their eyes in astonishment. Despite the Taliban’s warlike threats in the run-up that they would prevent the election with attacks and bombings, their promised firestorm — to everyone’s surprise — did not take place. It’s true, there were several attacks, including some in the big cities. However, the majority of them failed, with five dead, a few dozen wounded — things were actually much quieter than on the many other days when no such important event is taking place. Such comparisons may seem cynical, but there are often many more victims to mourn, DW noted.

It seems there are already two winners in the election: Afghan voters, who literally defied death in going to the polls, and the Afghan security services, who made it possible for this election to be held at all. Often berated for lacking training, being poorly equipped and having lax morals, the security services have clearly succeeded in maintaining calm, generally speaking, especially in the metropolitan centers like Kabul, or Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.

News feeds and social media were full of pictures, of young people in particular. Videos showed them standing in line outside the polling stations. Their principal complaints were about administrative shortcomings; for them, the Taliban weren’t really an issue. In any case, those who were afraid stayed home — and there were certainly considerably more of these than in previous elections. But, let’s face it: How high would voter turnout be in well-established European democracies if voting booths were threatened by attacks like these? Regardless of how high the turnout actually was this time, Afghan politicians should take their responsibilities especially seriously, given the civil courage displayed by the people who voted for them.

What an insult it would be if the coming weeks were to be dominated once again — as in previous elections — by presidential candidates squabbling about real or alleged fraud. And if, once again, it takes months to form a government, a period in which the Taliban would have free rein to extend their power base. Politicians would be playing a reckless game with the future of the country. Unfortunately, previous elections have shown that, until now, the rival parties have cared little about it. This has to change. Because the election must make one thing clear, to politicians in Afghanistan and around the world: There is a will for democratic self-determination in Afghanistan, even with the threat of the Taliban, the German broadcaster observed.

Many observers think the election could be a game changer in peace negotiations between the Taliban and the US. The army and the police have proved that their capacity to foil terrorist attacks is increasing and the day is not far when they will become a real match for the Taliban. The relatively peaceful election has undermined the Taliban’s position in talks with the US. Now the US and the Afghan government will talk to them from a position of strength.

An important question is: Have the Taliban become irrelevant to Afghan politics and the peace process after failing to sabotage the election and not taking part in it? The fighters are against elections because they believe they lack political support among the common people and cannot win through votes. On the other hand, the US cannot leave them out of the peace process in the country because of fears of the Taliban joining the ranks of Al-Qaida and Islamic State (IS).

US analysts fear Taliban commanders and hardliners, who were opposed to joining the peace process, could join Al-Qaida and IS, if talks fail. IS is not a strategic threat to Afghanistan for the time-being. But if the peace process goes wrong and doesn’t really integrate all of the Taliban, the hardliners may join IS, which could become a strategic threat to Afghanistan and its international partners.

Experts say the position of the Afghan government has improved immensely after the election. The US, the Taliban and the Afghan government want to negotiate from a position of strength. Last month, President Trump had abruptly canceled the year-long Doha talks after the death of an American soldier in a Taliban-executed bombing, throwing the future of the talks into disarray.

Analysts believe the Afghan Taliban have lost heavily after the election and their position has weakened in the peace talks. Others say they had not struck with full force to sabotage the polls because they were expecting a new round of peace talks. It is clear that peace in Afghanistan is not possible without their participation in the process. In return, they will also have to accept the ground realities and transform their war machinery into a political asset.