- Interim results were declared in Afghanistan almost three months after votes were cast on 28 September in Afghanistan’s presidential elections
- It is not surprising that Chief Executive of the National Unity Government, Abdullah Abdullah, and some other candidates have rejected the result
- These results may lead to widespread resentment and split Kabul’s political unity further
- If chaos ensues, the US would have to intervene as it did after the 2014 presidential elections, to work out a modus vivendi between President Ghani and Abdullah
- The Taliban are unlikely to either accept a ceasefire or Ghani as the legitimate president despite the elections
Almost three months after votes were cast on 28 September for Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the country’s election commission has declared ‘interim results’.
Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent president, has secured 50.64 percent of the vote, while his main rival and current Chief Executive of the National Unity Government, Abdullah Abdullah, got 39.52 percent of the votes cast.
The election process, the polling itself, and the counting of votes has been mired in controversy and serious allegations of fraud.
Ghani has welcomed the result, for it means that he will be declared as the clear winner; the constitution requires that the winning candidate secures at least 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round, otherwise the election goes into a second round run-off between the two who obtained the highest number in the first round.
Why Ashraf Ghani May Not be Able to Claim De Facto Legitimacy
It is not surprising that Abdullah and some other candidates have rejected the result, throwing the entire purpose of the election exercise into jeopardy. Ghani was insisting on the elections not only because his constitutionally mandated five-year term ended this year, but also because he wanted to strengthen his negotiating position with a renewed mandate in the discussions that may take place with the Taliban on the country’s political future. If now the main candidates and the Kabul political class question the fairness of the election, Ghani will hardly be able to claim de facto legitimacy even if he becomes the de jure president.
Worse, these results may lead to widespread resentment and split Kabul’s political unity further.
If this happens, the US would have to intervene as it did after the 2014 presidential elections, to work out a modus vivendi between Ghani and Abdullah. That had resulted in the National Unity Government (NUG) with Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive. The 2014 elections had gone into a second round which Abdullah was expected to easily win, because he was far ahead of Ghani in the first. However, large scale fraud in the second round had led to Abdullah being robbed of victory. Clearly, that continued to rankle with Abdullah and impaired the NUG’s functioning since its inception.
The Real Play Lies in Taliban & US Arriving at an Agreement
These elections can only muddy the overall Afghan situation; they cannot meaningfully contribute to resolving it. The real play in the country lies, first of all, in the Taliban and the US arriving at an agreement. They had come very close to it in September but that was so heavily tilted in favour of the Taliban that many of Trump’s advisors, and then Trump himself, baulked at the last moment and called it off.
Now, after going through a round to typical Trump chest-thumping gorilla noises, the Americans have bowed to the inevitable and resumed discussions with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
While a tight lid is being kept on the discussions, its contours do not admit of really deviating from the four points which were in focus all through the eleven months of the first round of discussions between October 2018 and September this year.
These points relate to:
- the Taliban providing guarantees to the US that it would not allow territory under its control to be used by any international terrorist group to carry out anti-American activities
- the US giving a firm time-table of withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan
- the Taliban, preferably agreeing to a ceasefire with both the US and the Afghan Security Forces, and if not, then to a very substantial reduction in violence
- talks between the Taliban and the Kabul-led political class to arrive at interim political arrangements to be followed by an agreement on governance systems through such modifications as may be needed in the constitutioning
Afghanistan Needs Leaders Who Can Lift It Out Of Conflict
The Taliban are unlikely to either accept a ceasefire or Ghani as the legitimate president despite the elections. The former is because it fears that if it gives up using its cadres for violent acts, they may just leave and go back to the villages. Also, because it is its capacity to unleash violence and deny stability to the country that has forced the international community to take it seriously. The latter because as long as it denies the Afghan government legitimacy, it will be the principal group in intra-Afghan talks, as and when they take place. If the Afghan government is accepted by it as the legitimate authority, then its own status will be reduced to that of an insurgent group. That will change the entire dynamics of the negotiating process.
In the continuing situation of flux, the Afghan presidential elections cannot meaningfully contribute to creating conditions for the country to return to stability.
The country needs a leader who can lift it out of four decades of conflict and war, and weld it together. It found such leaders in the 18th and the 19th centuries in the person of Ahmad Shāh Durrānī aka Ahmad Khān Abdālī, who laid the foundations of the Afghan state in 1747, and in Amir Abdur Rahman Khan who cemented the state in the last two decades of the 19th century.
When will it find its 21st century counterpart — strong, visionary and unifying?
(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached@VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)