How Crippled Is Afghanistan’s Democracy?

In Daniel Berman’s view, the rift created by Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of widespread irregularities favoring his rival Ashraf Ghani casts the country’s entire future into doubt:

While it seems almost certain now that Ghani has/will win, with recent rumors putting his AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION-UNRESTtotal as high as 59%, the United States and NATO, perhaps distracted by Ukraine, have done little or nothing to respond to Abdullah’s blackmail. This is worrying because behind it lies a more serious threat. With the impending withdrawal of American forces and fears of a Taliban resurgence among Tajiks, Afghans affiliated with the former Northern Alliance have begun rearming, placing their future in their own hands rather than with Kabul’s. In many ways Abdullah’s candidacy is being sold as their last overture to national unity; the victory of a Pashtun candidate, even one as  liberal as Ghani may well be treated as a signal to withdraw from the national government in Kabul.

The result would be devastating, the current events in Iraq enacted on a smaller scale. Without the need to conciliate non-Pashtuns, the national government would become increasingly infiltrated by pseudo-Taliban elements, likely backed by the Pakistani ISI. This in turn would reinforce the Tajiks in their determination not to have anything to do with it. This political death spiral can still be prevented by American pressure. But the opening to do so is vanishing rapidly. And if America’s focus remains dead set on Iraq, it may well find itself implicated in a second Civil War.

Last week, Leela Jacinto plumbed the depths of the controversy:

[T]he figures the Abdullah campaign has been citing are initial, regional IEC tallies. Preliminary runoff results are only due on July 2, and final results on July 22. The sheer ferocity of Abdullah’s premature response has sparked questions over whether the former mujahideen-era leader is simply trying to cover up his loss. Reports of the ongoing vote count suggest that Ghani has made a surprise comeback after finishing behind Abdullah in the April 5 first round.

Ghani contends that a successful voter mobilization campaign ahead of the latest vote is responsible for the last-minute surge in ballot casting. That could be true. Or it could just be a cover-up for dubiously magnified figures. With suspicions feeding the Kabul rumor mills, there have even been mumblings that the Taliban did not stage attacks on election day because the Pashtun militant group favors a Ghani victory. There’s no proof of this, of course. And even if it were true that the Taliban has an insidious, unacknowledged stake in favoring one candidate over another, it may not necessarily be disastrous for Afghanistan.

Ashley Jackson just hopes the election authorities can sort out the mess:

In my conversations with Afghan friends and colleagues in Kabul over the past few days, no one disputes that there has been widespread fraud and many are disillusioned with the way the process has played out. Few think the accusations should be brushed under the rug. But they also think it is up to the election bodies, with the international community’s support, to investigate and address discrepancies — however long it takes.

So far, the international community is sounding the right notes with the deputy head of the U.N., Nicholas Haysom, affirming the protestors’ rights but urging calm. Karzai has also voiced support for the U.N. in mediating the crisis, but this is ultimately a dispute that must be settled by Afghans.

(Photo: Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah shout slogans during a demonstration in Kabul on June 27, 2014. Abdullah led thousands of demonstrators at a noisy rally through Kabul, upping the stakes in his protest against alleged election fraud that has triggered a political crisis. Abdullah has vowed to reject the election result, saying he was the victim of massive ballot-box stuffing in the June 14 election with vote counting reportedly putting him far behind his poll rival Ashraf Ghani. By Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)