Afghanistan’s future

We had hoped that with the Taliban peace talks with the US underway since last October, Afghanistan’s future would by now be clearer. But with the collapse of the talks and President Trump making it clear last week that they had been scuppered, there is now greater uncertainty than ever before. There are, however, some good omens. Despite the threat of violence by the Taliban and attacks by militants at various polling stations, Afghanistan’s presidential election went ahead this past Saturday, although the turnout was surprisingly low.
The risk of death at the polls is not one many people are willing to take. This means the winner of the contest, which chiefly involves current president Ashraf Ghani against his own chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, may enter office with a weak mandate which would mean greater difficulty leading a struggling democracy or launching effective peace talks with the Taliban who today control more of Afghanistan’s territory than at any time since the end of 2001.
The results of the polls will be announced in the middle of October, with the final results not expected until early November. Ghani is expected to win once again, collecting more than 50 percent of the vote which would once more place him in the president’s office. Until now, the Taliban have refused to talk to his government, calling it a US puppet regime. Whether this will change in the future is difficult to predict – although the question arises that with the US pulling out of talks with the Taliban and the group able to conduct attacks in Afghanistan’s major cities they have no reason to enter into discourse with a weak government in Kabul.
According to unofficial estimates, just over two million voters, or one in five Afghans, turned out to cast their ballots. This makes up 20 percent of registered voters. In a country with a population of 35 million, more than 9.6 million Afghans had registered for the election. About a third of those registered are women. The predicted participation level of less than 25 percent is lower than in any of Afghanistan’s three previous presidential elections. A huge troop deployment was put in place to ensure security, though despite this more than 400 attacks were reported according to some Afghan news agencies on election day through the country.
Most were fortunately minor. But the low turnout was not simply generated by fear. There is also widespread scepticism about the ability of either candidate to rescue Afghanistan from its present misery and take it to a new future. To win, a candidate needs 51 percent of all votes. There are 18 candidates in a race. If no one gets a simple majority, the top two candidates will face off in a second vote. With the election over, the key question lies in what the next Afghan government can accomplish and what role Pakistan can play in enabling it to sit at the same table as the Taliban.