James Stavridis and Craig Charney call the Afghan presidential election, the second round of which was held successfully on Saturday, a major sign of progress:
The Taliban’s impotence was obvious during the first round of this year’s elections, which they had promised to violently disrupt — and failed to. Their inability to engage in large-scale disruption was underlined last week by a desperate attempt to abort the runoff by killing Abdullah in a suicide bombing, which left the candidate unharmed in his armored car but killed a dozen passersby and bodyguards.
This failure is also echoed in the 90 percent drop in coalition casualties since 2010 and the rise in attacks on “soft targets” by frustrated insurgents. The Taliban may be a continuing problem, but they do not seriously threaten a military takeover of the country. Afghans noticed the change: In the Dec. 2013 polling, nearly two-thirds rated local security as good. In fact, security no longer tops their concerns. Rather, the leading issues are the economy, infrastructure, and corruption — as in other poor South Asian countries.
Emily Schneider summarizes the news from election day, which saw no major acts of violence:
During the first round of voting, about 375,000 votes were disqualified because they were deemed fraudulent. Camps for both candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have said that fraud would be the only reason for their candidate’s defeat, so getting the campaigns, and their followers, to accept the final results may prove challenging.
While the voter turnout was high, scattered violence was reported throughout the country: the country’s Interior Ministry reported that 10 Afghan soldiers and at least 20 civilians died in gun battles and bombings; After the polls closed, authorities in Herat Province reported that the Taliban had cut off the fingers of 13 people who had voted (CNN,AP). But, as the polls closed, it appeared that the Taliban had failed to carry out any major attack in an urban area.
The final results will take weeks to come in. In a preview of the runoff last week, Kevin Sieff profiled the two remaining candidates:
[I]n the absence of concrete platforms, Afghans are looking closely at the biographies of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, speculating about what their lives say about their ability to lead. Afghan politicians are still judged to a large extent by their roles in the nation’s recent history, particularly the anti-Soviet uprising of the 1980s. At that time, Abdullah was an aide to the mujahideen leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a relationship he advertises in speeches and campaign posters. Ghani, on the other hand, was launching an impressive academic career that led to professorships as well as World Bank positions. From those experiences, their supporters and detractors have drawn conclusions. Abdullah is seen either as a patriotic war hero, willing to die for his country, or a representative of old-school Afghan politics, based in muscle rather than policy. Ghani is seen as a well-educated reformer, or a Western intellectual without deep Afghan roots.
Regardless of who wins, Scott Smith wants assurances that the US will continue to support the Afghan government:
If the next Afghan government is seen as vulnerable because it lacks international support, the predatory currents of Afghan politics will combine with the unhelpful rivalries of Afghanistan’s neighbors conditioned to use Afghanistan as a proxy battlefield. This, in combination with a still-resilient Taliban, may prevent the government from functioning, leading to a breakdown of order. Every major actor, including the Taliban, is basing their strategies and next moves on their perception of whether the government in Kabul will hold together. Much of that perception hinges on whether or not the Afghan government will have sustained international backing.