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Afghanistan: worrying reminders

June 11, 2014

Summary: A presidential candidate narrowly escaping assassination and a “friendly fire” incident underline the risks to Afghan progress.
Abdullah assasination attempt, June 2014Two recent events in Afghanistan have value as reminders that the country’s progress remains fragile. On 6th June an assassination attempt comprising two near simultaneous explosions targeted Dr Abdullah Abdullah and his convoy of election campaigners in Kabul, reportedly killing six, including an Abdullah body guard and injuring over twenty. Abdullah, highly likely to become Afghanistan’s next president, was unharmed and quick to broadcast his survival on TV. On 10th June, five US soldiers and two Afghans were killed by a “friendly fire” airstrike conducted by an American combat aircraft.

abdullahAbdullah has had a narrow miss and it may not be his last one. By the standards of 2009’s highly flawed presidential election process, this year’s election has been highly encouraging for Afghans and the internationals alike – neither violence nor fraud have been able to stop the process being deemed broadly acceptable. But the nation’s political “progress”, in all its myriad varieties of definition, should not be taken for granted. Although the Constitution is probably sufficiently robust enough (and respected) now to survive the deaths of major political figures, it is still very possible that fragile Afghanistan can come undone with a handful of well-placed bombs or bullets. The Taliban have issued a “final warning” to those Afghans participating in the presidential second round run-off, due to take place this Saturday, 14th June.

Taliban statement, 11th June 2014: We once again call upon the people not to participate, even inadvertently, in forthcoming election drama of 14th June. They should Taliban flagcompletely reject it as they have done in the past. If they do not follow the instructions and demands of the Islamic Emirate and do participate in the elections, they will be held responsible for all the unpleasant consequences come what might, because following the infidels’ plans is a kind of directly supporting them and participation in this untoward process is considered a felony according to the sacred religion of Islam.  The Islamic Emirate calls upon all the devoted Mujahidin throughout the country to carry out their assaults in a well-organized manner according to the prescribed planning. They should circumspectly detect all the polling stations and should bring them under decisive attacks

In reality, they are unlikely to be able to stop the process from taking place other than by killing one of the two candidates still in the running – Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani – or some similar major atrocity. I expect Dr Abdullah to be declared President in the next week or two.

I still sense that the biggest danger to the country is not so much the actions of the Taliban per se but the actions and reactions of the Afghan political elites in response to the political, military and economic stresses. The risk of “reverting to type” is still high: warlords and old guard “mujahideen” pulling away from the centre, political competition for control and allegiance of the army and police while the security services are under military pressure over 2015 – 2018, corruption and syphoning of precious assets and resources.

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