Afghan Elections Statement
Afghan Elections Statement
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Statement / Asia

Afghan Elections Statement

Afghanistan has reached a critical moment in the development of its democratic system. In the coming days, the behaviour of the two candidates in the presidential contest – and the conduct of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) – will determine the credibility of what is meant to be the first peaceful handover of power in the country's history.

Millions of ballots are under review, and both sides accuse the other of widespread fraud. The final result will be less important, however, than the way the contest is decided. Such periods of transition are a crucial test for a country's institutions. This is a moment when Afghans must hold tight to their constitution and the rule of law, despite political turmoil.

The optimism that emerged from the 5 April first round of the presidential elections has been tarnished by the 14 June second round. Electoral authorities' claims that eight million voters participated in the second round – a million more than were said to have voted in April -- seem implausible, given reports of lower turnout in the second round. Leaked wiretaps of phone conversations involving electoral officials have further undermined confidence in the system.

Supporters of the two candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, accuse each other of widespread fraud. Abdullah, who led in April but trails in preliminary second round results, has rejected the process and withdrawn his observers from the electoral commissions.

There is an urgent need to bring both sides back into the process. This requires energetic diplomacy by the international community to help forge an agreement between the two camps on the extent and mechanics of the fraud investigations in the coming weeks. International observers and representatives of both camps will be required to monitor the process. It is important both that it be completed by 2 August, so the constitution is adhered to and the dangers of a leadership vacuum are avoided, and that the audit be as extensive and thorough as feasible so fairness standards are met. The candidates need both to accept the extent of the audit and its procedures and to commit to accept its outcome. Such acceptance is most likely if they also agree on the inclusive nature of the next cabinet, regardless which of them ultimately takes the presidential oath.

But most crucially, Abdullah and Ghani must agree at the outset to accept the results. Authorities must debunk rumours about an interim government, a repeat of the runoff, or other improvised measures that would circumvent the legal and constitutional framework.

Some understanding must also be reached between the two camps that this bitter contest should not split the country. Afghanistan is burdened with a highly centralised system, which can breed a winner-take-all approach to the presidency.

Whoever wins must promise to build an inclusive and representative government that embraces all tribes and ethnic groups. Ideally, the new president would also work to reform the electoral institutions before another crisis emerges during the 2015 parliamentary elections.

The reality is that it's hard to run a perfect election during an intense civil war. Civilians are killed and injured more frequently now in Afghanistan than at any point since the arrival of U.S. forces; in this context, no vote will reflect the full range of public opinion. But the rising violence should also motivate the Afghan ruling class to settle their feuds and turn their attention to the urgent political, economic, and military challenges of the transition period as foreign troops withdraw.


Podcast / Asia

The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s foreign relations and what the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul says about the threat from transnational militants in Afghanistan a year into Taliban rule.

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

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