The Afghan Deadlock – Ayaz Wazir

The recently held elections in Afghanistan, conducted in a comparatively peaceful atmosphere, were interpreted by many as a crushing blow if not outright defeat for the Taliban and their ideology. The first round was completed without serious allegations of irregularities in some parts of the country. It also did not bring any factor of ethnic unity or disunity to the fore as eleven candidates, of different ethnicities, were in the forefront for the post of president. 

In the second round two candidates, a Pashtun and a Tajik, emerged the strongest from the first round to compete against each other. The ethnic divide that existed beneath the surface was beautifully camouflaged through a cobweb woven around the two contenders to elect running mates from opposite ethnic groups. The divide however resurfaced when Dr Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun from Logar province, was bracketed with the Pashtun community and in the second round obtained the maximum votes from it while his opponent Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik from Kabul (with a Pashtun step-father from Kandahar) was bracketed with the Tajiks, Uzbecks, Hazara etc and succeeded in getting the majority vote from them.

The election deadlock has revived ethnic divisions. It reminds me of an unfortunate incident in the past in Mazar-e-Sharif when Abdul Malik had revolted against Gen Rashid Dustam in connivance with the Taliban. Relations between him and the Taliban commander soon reached a point of no return. It was then that he sought my intercession for conveying to the Taliban commander that they should not try disarming his men as had been done elsewhere in the country simply because the Tajik and Uzbeck etc do not trust the Pashtun and vice versa. 

Since the majority of Taliban were Pashtun therefore the question of men from other communities such as Tajik, Uzbeck etc laying down arms before them did not arise. Any effort to do so would be a fatal mistake. But that is exactly what the Taliban attempted. They tried to disarm the personal guards of Abdul Malik who not only refused to oblige but turned their guns on them killing them by the thousands and driving them out of Mazar-e-Sharif within no time. It is a different matter that the Taliban returned a year later and did what they should not have done, settling the score and also killing Iranian diplomats living inside their consulate in Mazar-i- Sharif. Denying the existence of ethnic tensions is wrong. An undercurrent is always present and the tensions flare up whenever any incident triggers them off.

The other day on BBC’s “Hard Talk” programme Abdullah Abdullah could not mask his reservations when asked if he would accept defeat in case it was so declared by the commission constituted for audit of the eight million votes. Instead of giving a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer he started rambling as to how best the process could be conducted to the entire satisfaction of the two sides. Without stating so he made his reluctance apparent that he would not accept any position other than what he had claimed before announcement of the official result namely that he had won.

Although the possibility is remote even if he accepts defeat he will still become the chief executive (prime minister) under an agreement brokered by John Kerry last month and agreed upon by the two candidates. If the process is allowed to complete as envisaged then the constitution will have to be amended to accommodate this change.

A major effect of this change will be that the chief executive will emerge extremely powerful as most of the key positions in civil and military establishments are in the hands of non-Pashtuns. Also Abdullah Abdullah being a politician and a long time associate of Eng Ahmad Shah Masood would prefer leaving his own mark on the national fabric of Afghanistan rather than follow the policy guidelines of the duly elected Pashtun president. 

What happens next is difficult to predict but so far indications are that he will not accept the verdict of the commission if it happens to be contrary to his expectations of having won the elections. It is quite possible that he may take his case to the streets rather than serve in a junior position in the government.

On the other hand Hamid Karzai has been quoted as saying that his successor will take oath of office on September 2, despite the slow pace of the vote audit. The United States has also been pushing for the next president to be inaugurated before the forthcoming Nato summit on September 4, which should sign off on follow-up support after the transatlantic alliance’s combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year.

The possibility of the political crisis getting worse if Abdullah Abdullah pulls out of the audit or rejects its outcome will not only pose a major challenge which the national security forces will find difficult to control but it will make it easy for the Taliban to mark their presence in the capital. 

The likelihood of the crisis generated because of the two contenders locking horns over the election results worsening cannot be ruled out. Non-acceptance of the commission’s result by either side or both puts a question mark on the inauguration of the new president on the date announced by Karzai. 

Keeping in mind Afghan history which has examples of brazen continuation in office by the incumbent president one cannot discount President Karzai deciding to continue using the presidential standard till such time that the matter is sorted out in accordance with the constitution in due course.