Hope and Challenge

Ajmal Shams

South Asia Magazine (April  2014)

This year the beginning of spring in Afghanistan will also be the beginning of the end for President Karzai’s almost 12 years of rule due to upcoming presidential election scheduled on 05 April 2014. Afghan constitution permits only two terms in office for the same president, which President Karzai is about to complete in few weeks time. One cannot overemphasize the Significance of this upcoming presidential election due to several considerations. First and foremost, it will be the first time ever in Afghan history that power will be transferred peacefully from one elected president to another. Second, the timing of this election is highly crucial. All international forces shall be leaving the country by the end of 2014. The enduring presence of US forces that will be instituted within the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) is yet to be decided.

Peace talks with the insurgents, fight against rampant corruption, building of state institutions, accelerating the pace of reconstruction and providing a conducive environment for sustainable economic growth are some of the recurring themes in candidates programs and agendas. Foreign policy is another important area in which candidates are trying to show their capabilities to Afghan voters and international audience.

Being a young democracy that almost started from a scratch since the Taliban’s collapse in late 2001, the dynamics of politics in Afghanistan are interesting and sometimes fascinating. Twenty-eight candidates originally filed for running the presidential campaign out of which only 11 were accepted by the Election Commission. Two candidates have already dropped out of the race. The nine are still in the run but probability of further drop-outs is high. Due the past three decades of civil war and instability, becoming successful in politics is not through reaching out to masses from party platforms and pursuing of certain political agendas. Becoming prominent in Afghan politics today is through short-cuts. Being in high level government position is the easiest way to becoming prominent in Afghan politics and that also means becoming wealthy. Political corruption is one of the most serious challenges the country faces today.

Due to lack of political parties having nationwide credibility, Afghans give more importance to personalities. Educated Afghans might still be interested in candidates’ agendas but this election is more about who the candidates are instead of what they offer to the nation. Thus the criteria for credibility is what are the personal profiles of candidates, past performance and what capabilities they and their teams can bring to deliver on their election promises.

The coming years will be decisive in addressing some of key challenges that are facing the country now. The most pressing issue for the future leadership will be bringing the much-needed peace to the country. Without peace, there can be no security and without security no development program can succeed. That is why all candidates have listed peace process at the top of their election agenda. The fate of Bilateral Security Agreement with the US is yet to be determined. All presidential runners have categorically expressed their commitment to sign the BSA as soon as they take office if elected. US commitment to Afghanistan is crucial for the country’s security as well as civilian sectors. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), a major accomplishment during the past twelve years, can only be sustained through sustainable financial and technical assistance of the US and its NATO allies. That is why the future Afghan leadership will give high importance to this relationship with the US. No compromise on relations with the US seems to be feasible.

Relations with neighbors especially Pakistan and Iran are equally important for the future elected administration. A common desire of friendly relations can be sensed, however with alternative approaches and perspectives.

During the past twelve years of President Karzai’s rule the focus was more on crisis management. The decade ahead is that of consolidating the gains already made in various sectors. Afghanistan has been designated as one of the most corrupt nations of the World by Transparency International. Improving Afghanistan’s international image will be pre-requisite for the future Afghan leadership to expect civilian aid. In Tokyo, Afghanistan was pledged billions of dollars in development aid. Yet, the assistance was conditional upon the Afghan government’s performance in rooting out systemic corruption and improving governance.    

Bringing change in a post-conflict and war-ravaged country is a daunting task. The complexity of the dynamics of Afghan politics, foreign aid-dependent economy, wide-spread corruption and ethnic divisions instigated by years of foreign intervention and civil war are the main hurdles to bringing social and economic stability. Yet, with proper leadership in place that has both vision and political will to lead the country in the right direction, change is not only possible but a common desire of all Afghans.

All Afghans are looking forward to the upcoming election with an eye of the wind of change for the better which will benefit the common man unlike the past decade which created millionaires and billionaires with little positive impact on the quality of life of average Afghan. The divide between the rich and the poor significantly widened. How this gulf can be bridged is something for the future administration to handle among plenty of other challenges.   

With all eyes on the upcoming leadership, Afghans look at the election process with mixed feelings of hope and uncertainty. If everything goes well, the country will have an elected ruler in place with renewed vision and prioritized program for peace, stability and prosperity. Yet, the risk of election ending in a political crisis due to the complex political environment and the government bureaucracy’s purported intervention in favor of the candidate of its choice run high.

The future political and economic stability of Afghanistan, to a large extent, depends on the efficiency, legitimacy and competence of the new leadership. As of now, three candidates seem to have emerged as front-runners with Dr. Ashraf Ghani topping the list due to highest popularity, national and international reputation and past achievement in governance and development. The other two that are being talked of are Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Zalmay Rasool. While all the three major contenders portray more or less similar campaign slogans. Dr. Ghani goes far beyond election rhetoric and has come up with more specific, well-defined and focused strategy for peace, nation-building and state-building.

President Karzai and his entire state machinery have a major onus on their shoulders. There are concerns that both Karzai and his team might be using the state machinery in favor of a particular candidate. If true, the credibility of election will be jeopardized that will be a major blow to all prospects from the electoral process. President Karzai must ensure free and fair election to go down in history as someone who peacefully and smoothly transferred power to a legitimate successor. (Courtesy: South Asia Magazine - April 2014 Issue)

The writer is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party well know as Afghan Millat National Progressive Party and is based in Kabul, Afghanistan.

دافغان ملت ملي مترقي ګوند

 Afghanistan Social Democratic Party

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