KABUL, Afghanistan — On June 14, Afghanistan conducted an election that would mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power in its history. In the months since then, the country has been at a standstill as allegations of fraud have prompted officials to recount the votes. The resulting weeks of waiting have given rise to threats of an interim government, as well as political, economic and security backlash on innocent civilians.
Preliminary results of the Afghan election showed former finance minister and World Bank executive, Ashraf Ghani, in the lead with 56.4 percent of the vote, and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah with 43.6 percent. After the announcement of the results, Abdullah claimed the election was marred by fraud and it was brought to a halt.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Afghanistan to foster an agreement between Ghani and Abdullah’s parties. The two men, as well as the U.S. and the U.N., have all agreed to honor the results from an election audit.
That was good news. The electoral commission in charge of the audit had said the Afghan election results can be finalized by the end of August, meaning the new president could be inaugurated in time for the September NATO summit. The summit is critical in determining if international troops will remain in Afghanistan and support domestic security.
However, Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network referred to the timeline promised by the electoral commission as “suspiciously optimistic,” and warned that, in the likely event a president is not elected by September, “it could be a bad year for all Afghans.”
To expand upon Foschini’s declaration of a “bad year for all Afghans,” there are three major areas in which the elections standstill will affect Afghans: domestic security, the economy and ethnic tensions.
After 2013, the Afghan defense and interior ministries no longer release statistics on casualties sustained by the war between pro and anti-government forces. This decision was made because the numbers were simply too high. By September of that year, more than 100 soldiers and police officers were killed every week.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has conducted a survey in Afghanistan for the first half of 2014. The results of civilian deaths “is proving to be devastating,” the report says.
January 1st to June 30th 2014 saw 4,853 documented civilian casualties, 24 percent more than the same period in 2013.
“In 2014,” explains Director of the Human Rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon, “the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public spaces and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued and disturbing upward spiral.”
The Taliban has taken responsibility for 147 attacks, 69 of which were intended to kill only civilians.
With the death rates of innocent bystanders rising rapidly, the need for solid government and international support is strong. The Taliban, sensing weakness, has made advances this summer, moving into once-safe areas near the capital with apparent ease.
Afghanistan’s economy has been growing since 2001, but is dependent on foreign aid. Afghanistan is the U.S.’s largest recipient of aid. In the fiscal year 2012, the U.S. gave $12.9 billion in aid to Afghanistan, most of it going to arm and train military and police forces. The rest, almost $3 billion, went to economic assistance.
The recent Afghan election turmoil has prompted various groups to announce they will take control of the Afghan government if no one else will. Earlier in the summer, Abdullah’s supporters threatened to violently take over. Now, a new threat of an interim government has emerged.
The U.S. has made their position on all of these movements clear: any violent or extra-constitutional grab of power will result in the end of U.S. aid.
Threats of an interim government come from a powerful coalition of Afghan government ministers and officials. The officials hope that by releasing their plans for a take-over, Ghani and Abdullah will make the compromises needed to speed up the election process or will join the movement. Both men have refused to support the interim government idea.
If an interim government is established, it would jeopardize the long-awaited democratic transfer of power and threaten the stability of the country. Egypt and Thailand are both examples of interim governments taking over, allegedly to save the country, and ending in disaster.
Afghanistan is in no position to risk losing U.S. aid to their economy, as revenue from taxes are so low that Afghan officials have predicted that soon there will not be enough money to pay civil servants.
The longer officials dispute over election results, the more chance there is for long-harbored ethnic tensions to arise. Abdullah’s party support mainly comes from the ethnic Tajik community, a minority group in the country. Ghani’s backing, however, belongs to the majority Pashtun community. The Tajik and Pashtun have a history of conflict.
Tensions between ethnicities began in the mid-1980s, when “signs of ethno-linguistic and sectarian divides began to appear among jihadi organizations,” explains Helena Malikyar, Afghan political analyst and historian.
The clash between Abdullah and Ghani threatens to further entrench Afghanistan into the previously drawn ethnic battle lines.
There is hope for the country, despite its dire conditions. The election audit is currently supported internationally, as well as by both leading candidates. It has the potential to bring Afghanistan its first democratically elected president. The future of the country depends on the auditors’ ability to make a speedy finish and the country’s forbearance in not succumbing to promises of unconstitutional power grabs.
– Julianne O’Connor
Sources: Time, The Guardian, UN News Centre, New York Times 1, New York Times 2, Forbes, Al Jazeera