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Written by Tawab Malekzad

The election

As many as 27 candidates have filed their nomination papers for the Afghan presidential elections that will take place in April 2014. However, on October 22, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) overseeing the elections announced that 17 of the 27 candidates did not meet these requirements. The head of the IEC said that the candidates were disqualified mainly because they did not manage to gather enough signatures or because they possessed a dual citizenship.

What is somewhat peculiar is that the candidates who actually qualified did not choose their running mates on the grounds of shared political, economic, or social ideologies; rather, they strategically chose their partners in order to use their political popularity to get into the presidential palace. Right now, there are two teams that could potentially enter the general election.

Candidates

The first team is the one headed by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. His two running mates are an ethnic Uzbek and a Hazara. The second team is the one headed by Abdullah Abdullah, who lost to Karzai in the 2009 presidential election. Ethnically, he is both Pashtun and Tajik. His running mates are also from different ethnic groups—one is a Pashtun, the other a Hazara.

first party

From the left: General Dostom, Ahmadzai, and Danish [Photo Credit: Reuters]

Ahmadzai, known as ‘the technocrat’, is not a very popular figure among Afghans. Knowing this, he selected two running partners that are instead quite popular among their respective ethnic communities.

 Ahmadzai did not chose a Tajik, the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, as a running partner because Uzbeks and Hazaras had the highest voter turnout for the past two presidential elections. Ahmadzai hopes that having such partner-candidates will earn him enough votes to get into the Gul-Khana.

 Ahmadzai might win the support of Uzbeks. However, the political landscape of Afghanistan has changed since the last election. Ahmadzai may not achieve the majority of votes if the number of Tajik voters increases this election. Moreover, his second vice president is not as popular as Abdullah’s second vice president among the Hazara community. Therefore, it looks like the majority of Hazara votes might end up going to Abdullah.

second party

From the left: Mohammad Khan, Abdullah, and Mohaqiq [Photo credit: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images]

Like Ahmadzai, Abdullah has selected his running mates with the hope of playing on their popularity. While Ahmadzai’s strategy is to select running partners based on those ethnic groups with historically high voter turnouts, Abdullah’s strategy seems to be a desire to bring together three popular civil war rivaling parties— Hezb-e-Islami, Hizb-e-Wahdat, and Jamiat-e-Islami— hoping to earn the majority of the votes.

However, his strategy of bringing these three parties onto the same ballot could end up costing him votes, primarily because Tajiks accuse his Pashtun partner of having taken part in the killing of a senior Tajik resistance fighter in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, Abdullah could still possibly gather the Tajik vote because Afghanistan has been ruled by Pashtuns for the past 300 years. Therefore, Tajiks see this as an opportunity to finally install a Tajik into power.

Afghans Worry About the Withdrawal, Not the Election

In spite of the intricacies of Afghan election politics, the outcome of the 2014 elections are not the primary concern among Afghans and neither are corruption and voting frauds:  these are inevitable in Afghanistan. Through recent phone conversations I had with an Afghan official, it is clear that Afghans are more concerned about the outcome of their Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., than about anything else.

Afghans are more concerned about security and stability in the country, particularly after the international troops will depart next year. Whether the BSA is signed or not, the U.S. has no choice but to support the central government of Kabul. Once the international troops withdraw there is no doubt that the Afghan National Army (ANA) will no longer be capable of defending the majority of the country. Therefore, the U.S. should provide enough support for the ANA such that it can defend major cities from falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

abdullah_ghani_candidats_presidentielle_afghanistan432

Abdullah Ghani during a press conference [Photo credit: AFP]

Between the two candidate teams, Abdullah’s team is the one more likely to bring stability to Afghanistan with the help of the Americans.

Abdullah is the better candidate for two reasons. First, Afghans are more likely to relate to and, thus, support Abdullah than Ahmadzai; Abdullah is seen as a person who was in Afghanistan during the Afghan jihad and fought the foreign invaders, while Ahmadzai was seen as sitting behind a desk somewhere in the west.

Second, compared to Ahmadzai’s teammates. Abdullah’s partners have much influence over a larger portion of the Afghan population and they are held in high esteem by their respective ethnic communities. Consequently, if Abdullah and his running mates make it into office, they will have great support from the population.

Such support will unite Afghans behind one man, thus giving him the best chance of finally bringing stability and security to the country.

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2 thoughts on “The 2014 Afghan elections and the post-2014 future of Afghanistan

  1. Well written, but I have a problem with the last line.

    Many Afghans do not associate themselves with the central government at all. While US and ANA forces may be able to secure main cities for the most part, the rest of Afghanistan will continue to struggle with Taliban rule. Over time their forces will build up, with local and non-local peoples and we will be at square 1 again.

    Karzai is Pashtun and yet the majority of the violence in Afghanistan is in the south, the main region of the Pashtun people.

    The area of little violence, central Afghanistan, also has the least amount of people and one of the smaller ethnic groups, Hazara, so capturing that vote should not be the focus.

    Until Afghanistan has a leader that puts an emphasis on the entire country, not just the central cities, it will continues to have stability and security problems.

    If it’s seen that the new president is catering to the needs of the ethnic minority in a highly unpopulated area then the Taliban might have enough support for a comeback in the south.

    • I agree with you that many Afghans do not associate with the central government. I also agree that Afghanistan will never be secure and stable unless we have a President that protects the whole country not just his tribe or ethnic group.

      I am arguing that a strong Afghan central government backed by US forces should have a strong presence in the center of each province in the North. In the south the US and Afghan forces should not only secure the centers but also be constantly fighting the local Taliban and pushing those Taliban who entered Afghanistan from Pakistan back to Pakistan.

      Therefore, I think that Abdullah’s team, which represents three ethnic majority groups, is more likely to achieve a strong central government. Moreover, Mohammad Khan, Abdullah’s first VP, has more political influence among Pashtuns elders than Ahmadzai.

      I also agree that if the new president is someone who caters to the needs of the ethnic minorities then there will be a backlash. If Ahmadzai’s team wins the election it could cause this backlash. He has picked two ethnic minorities as running mates and has ignored the Tajiks, which is the second biggest ethnicity.

      What we should be afraid of is that if Ahmadzai wins the election and the international troops withdraw, Tajiks might feel abandoned and could possibly start a movement against the central government.

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