Ghani’s Win “Only a Partial Victory”
Ghani’s Win “Only a Partial Victory”
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
Interview / Asia

Ghani’s Win “Only a Partial Victory”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Monday, July 7, that former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won the June 14 presidential election runoff poll with 56.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. His rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, came second with 43.5 percent of the vote. The turnout was reportedly more than eight million out of an estimated electorate of 13.5 million voters, much higher than expected.

The numbers and outcome might still change, however, when final numbers come out on July 22. The runoff vote had been widely regarded as a major step in the country’s democratic transition, as it comes at a critical time in the country as foreign troops prepare to leave in the coming months. But the vote has been marred by allegations of massive fraud.

In a DW interview, Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group, says any significant delay in the electoral calendar will it make it harder for the US and NATO to reach a deal to keep troops in the country after the end of the year. It remains unclear whether both the candidates will accept the final election results.

What do the current preliminary results mean for the electoral process?

Graeme Smith: This means that Ghani’s team has successfully persuaded the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to release the preliminary results in a timely fashion. That was a key demand of the Ghani campaign, which wants the process to go ahead.

Abdullah’s camp, however, wants the process halted, and demands that results be delayed until his team is satisfied that the ballots will be rigorously checked for fraud. So, this is a partial victory for the Ghani campaign, but we’re still a long way from final results – and, most crucially, even further from those results being accepted by both candidates.

How likely is that his rival Abdullah will accept the result?

Abdullah’s campaign has already rejected the preliminary results as fraudulent. Even a cursory look at the vote totals posted on the IEC website confirms obvious fraud – for example, a polling centre where several boxes contained exactly 500 votes – but it appears that the fraud was committed by supporters of both sides. The key will be getting the two campaigns to agree on mechanisms for checking the validity of the results.

Election officials said the turnout was over eight million in the June 14 vote, far higher than expected. Is this figure likely to trigger further allegations of fraud?

Both the first and second rounds of this election featured some optimistic turnout figures, which may not reflect the actual number of voters. Still, the system has been designed in a way that makes it very hard for international observers to confirm whether any particular ballot cast is connected to a real voter.

Why did the Independent Election Commission decide to release the election results today, despite international calls to conduct a more thorough audit?

There is pressure on the Afghan government to get this election completed and install a new presidential administration in time to meet the political, economic, and military challenges of the transition period as foreign troops leave.

There’s a crucial NATO summit in September, a major meeting of donors in November, and other hurdles that will require a functioning new administration. Most urgently, Afghanistan needs to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States and associated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO, so that foreign troops – including German forces – can stay beyond the expiry of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mandate on December 31, 2014.

Abdullah had previously boycotted the election process over what he called “blatant fraud” committed in favor of Ghani. Ghani countered by arguing that the election was relatively clean. Given the deadlock, is a power-sharing agreement still on the table regardless of which candidate comes out on top?

Nobody really knows what kind of conversation is taking place right now between Abdullah and Ghani, but it’s fair to assume they’re not only discussing the mechanisms of electoral politics. They both have powerful supporters who depend on access to the levers of authority in Kabul, so whatever is happening behind closed doors at the moment probably involves some way of accommodating those vested interests.

How likely is it that this result will lead to further ethnic tensions and perhaps violence if no agreement between the two candidates is reached?

The extent to which this election upsets the many balances of power in this country may determine the level of violence that follows the results. Afghanistan has many fault lines – Junbish vs. Jamiat, Ghilzai vs. Durrani, Uzbek vs. Tajik, Pashtun vs. Tajik – and all of these, among others, could be strained by this tense political contest.

What would the failure to reach an agreement between the two candidates mean for the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and the future of the country as a whole?

Any significant delay in the electoral calendar will put pressure on US and NATO plans to keep troops in the country after 31 December. These are complicated military plans that are difficult to arrange at the last minute, and some troop contributing nations may be reluctant to sign onto a post-2014 mission without some political certainty in the near future.

Some Afghans hold outgoing president Hamid Karzai to some extent responsible for the current crisis and claim he has engineered this deadlock to extend his stay in power. What is your view on this?

It’s hard to say to what extent Karzai managed, or mismanaged, this process because most of his actions have been taken privately. Assuming he does hand over power to a new president in August, as scheduled, that single act would set him apart from all other leaders in Afghan history – and may redeem his legacy to some extent, depending on the future survival of the government.

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.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.