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Afghanistan stumbles pragmatically forward…

September 22, 2014

Summary:  Ghani, Abdullah and numerous international brokers resolve the election by agreeing on a power-sharing transition of power.  Is this durable?  Was this even an election? 

Now the battle for cabinet posts can begin...

Now the battle for cabinet posts can begin…

It seems as if a minor step of progress (NYT; A shaky step forward”) has been made in the political fortunes of Afghanistan with the announcement that the two presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani, the Pushtun former finance minister and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Tajik former foreign minister, have “resolved” the issue of who got the most votes to become President.   Brushing aside the vote count itself, the two candidates, after intensive behind–he scenes brokering by John Kerry, the United Nations and many others I am sure, agreed a power division formula whereby Ghani is President and Abdullah is a sort of chief executive/prime minister/details TBA…

With every passing day of delay Afghanistan had become more shaky and the Taliban more emboldened.  On the plus side, many, (most even), are happy to see this as a successful resolution to the flawed election process.  It is a relief that they have finally reached a decision of any sort.  It is good that a transition of presidential power doesn’t involve the previous encumbant being carried out in a wooden box or removed at gunpoint.  As long as the two men – extremely capable in their own right, but clearly prone to friction – can focus their energies on the country’s pressing needs of every kind, does it really matter how they came to power?

Given the significant problems in the country, we perhaps shouldn’t expect the electoral process to be much better than “barely adequate” in 2014.  In 2004 I thought that once Afghanistan had got five such presidential elections out of the way, then we would know which way the country was tipping.  But this recent “process” does matter for the future, and the future might not be that far away.  The solution does beg many questions, starting with “what was the election for in the first place?”.  I don’t think we yet have a sense of the views of the population, but many literally risked their lives to take part in a democratic electoral process.  This will not be a rhetorical question for them.  Somewhat ironically, one of the conditions of the Ghani/Abdullah merger was that all mention of the final voting scores be dropped, at least for a while.

I am sure various warlords and local power-brokers will be lining themselves up for positions within the cabinet as reward for support/favours/funding given.  What happens to the two vice Presidents of each candidate?  How fat and flabby will the government be, once all official positions have been dished out?  Will there be months of in-fighting as senior members are pushed out and new faces push in?  But the bigger issue is this.  If significant figures and power-brokers, faced with the difficulties of a faulty election process, can simply tear up the electoral and constitutional plans and carve up power, what prospects will there be for the next election?  If there is another one.  Perhaps the US, UN et al are currently too exhausted from this recent crisis to give it a thought.

And if Ghani and Abdullah or their lieutenants do start squabbling, their talents – and Afghanistan’s prospects – will be thrown away.

Amidst all the official breaths of relief, I am not convinced that anything more than fighting the most pressing fire has been achieved.  I look forward to hearing government discussion – and perhaps even some action – on the issues facing Afghanistan.  I guess their first task will be to start the European and international tours to restate the case for financial aid – starting with the money that was wasted merely marking time over the last few months…

One of the most realistic observations I read from a western goverment official came at the end of the 2009 electoral process: “A crisis averted is not progress”.

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