That Afghan Runoff Election

That Afghan Runoff Election


Don’t expect any miracles after President Karzai’s decision to accept a second round in the much-disputed Afghan elections. (The latest totals give Karzai 49.7 percent of the vote from the August election, just under the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Earlier, Karzai had claimed 54 percent of the vote.)

First of all, it’s unlikely that a second round of elections will be much fairer, or better run, than the fraud-marred first round. Turnout, which was estimated to be about 30 percent in the August round, may fall further. In Pashtun areas, and in areas where the Taliban is strong, turnout was often 5 percent — or less.

Second, the extreme international pressure on Karzai makes him seem puppet-like, in spite of his defiance. He was called or visited by virtually the entire US government, and British Prime Minister Brown called Karzai three times in three days. Senator Kerry, who traveled to Afghanistan, met repeatedly with Karzai. In deciding to go along with a second round of elections, perhaps Karzai was acceding to the inevitable. But to many Afghans, his decision will look like what it is: a humiliating capitulation to US-UK pressure and intimidation. That can hardly enhance Karzai’s ability to present himself as a credible national leader.

Third, whatever the outcome, the road ahead is extremely difficult. Perhaps Karzai will be reelected, the most likely outcome. Perhaps Karzai and his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, will strike a deal, either after the election — to form a coalition of sorts — or before it happens, thus making a second round unnecessary. But in either case, the resulting government in Kabul will still be seen by the armed opposition, including the Taliban and its allies, and by the majority of the ethnic Pashtuns as one-sided, representing the interests of the old Northern Alliance, and the ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities that dominate it.

The path to a passably stable Afghanistan will require a new Afghan national compact, one that results in a rebalanced, power-sharing agreement between the ruling powers in Kabul and the Pashtuns. That, in turn, will mean accommodating the Taliban, or most of it, and winning the support of the Taliban’s backers in Pakistan.

President Karzai has repeatedly declared his willingess to negotiate a deal with the Taliban and to convene a tribal council for reconcilation among Afghanistan’s factions. Once the election crisis is out of the way, it will be critical for the United States and world powers to support Karzai in that direction — making it clear, at the same time, that Karzai may ultimately have to step aside to make it work. That’s the political solution to the war, and it will have to be underwritten by Afghanistan’s neighbors, especially Pakistan, India and Iran, who are all heavily invested in support of Afghanistan’s factions. (Iran, for instance, has strongly backed Abdullah.)

Too often, the Obama administration seems to indicate that they see the emergence of a new Afghan government under Karzai as critical to the counterinsurgency (COIN) policy that the generals are addicted to. But that’s a formula for a Thirty Years’ War. A new Afghan government could indeed kick start a solution there, but only if it’s focused on a diplomatic and political settlement, not an escalated war.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy