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Semple, Taliban, elections…

February 6, 2014

Summary: Michael Semple paper highlights standard Taliban rejections of the election and the prospect of increasing violence as a result.  But the Taliban are also watching the process with interest.  Might 2019 see a Taliban candidate test their popularity?

Semple paper, Taliban electionsAn interesting short paper from Michael Semple looking at the likely position of the Taliban on the upcoming Afghan presidential elections.  His conclusions as follows:

  • The Taliban publically reject the legitimacy of the elections and call upon its commanders inside the country to disrupt them
  • But the Taliban take interest in electoral developments and monitor it closely
  • The Taliban will be able to increase attacks during the election period but will be unable to derail it

Semple has a long track record of engagement inside Afghanistan and is always worth reading.  When deputy EU Special Representative, he was famously thrown out of the country by President Karzai for talking members of the Taliban in 2007.  He appears to retain strong personal contacts within members and associates of the Taliban

There are no surprising revelations in his useful piece but his analysis of the distinction between the official rhetoric and the reality of Taliban interest in the electoral process is worth thinking about.  He highlights the differing views amongst the diverse commanders on the ground and the friction between “pragmatists and hardliners”.

“Despite the robust top-level rejection of the process, comments from many Taliban leaders and mid-level officials suggested that they follow the election process with interest and curiosity through broadcast media…The most prevalent view among the Taliban, that the Americans will pick the winning candidate, is a belief shared by many non-Taliban Afghans as well…A former senior minister gave a Shariat-based defense of the institution of elections but lamented that the presence of foreign troops robbed the process of legitimacy.”

The Taliban still have dilemmas over how many civilians they should kill in order to achieve the official goal of disrupting the elections.

“Some eastern field commanders expressed dissent about this guidance – not because they favour the elections, but because their operating ability depends upon maintaining local popular consent”.

An increase in violence, Semple suggests, will likely have the impact of reducing voting in the south and east, lessening slightly the chances of the Pushtun candidates who depend upon these areas for their voting base.

In the last few months the other main insurgent group, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) have indicated that they will be advising their supporters to take part in the election and vote for a HIG-approved candidate (although they have yet to state who they favour).   This is possibly a half-way move towards future political re-engagement.  The parallel with the Taliban is not precise – HIG were an organised Afghan political party before the Taliban were born – but the Taliban may well also look sideways at HIG and see how this plays out.  With the infidels likely departed by the time of the next Presidential election – due in 2019 – perhaps we might see Taliban candidates venturing to test their popularity with the ballot box vice the gun next time round?

They might find testing their policies and popularity levels in full public gaze a bit of a shock…

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