Afghanistan: Winter of troubles before April spring

The world will be looking at Afghanistan when it goes for elections in April 2014, which if they do take place, will be in the face of insurmountable odds

Srinivas Rao Sohoni Pune


April 5, 2014, is a Saturday, and billed to be a date of particular significance in Afghanistan—having been notified as Election Day for the Presidential elections, as well as for elections to 34 provincial councils.

The electronic, print and social media in Afghanistan are replete with election-related news, comments, and analyzes although D-day is still a few months away. That the democratic process has claimed the interest and participation of the Afghan people reflects their ingrained understanding of political processes. This bodes well for the future of a developing country anxious for peace and progress, having been ravaged and ruined by war and insurgency for decades
on end.

Already, 16 candidates have filed their nominations for the presidential elections and after preliminary scrutiny, 10 remain in the fray pending further verification of documents.

Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic composition, with no single ethnicity being in the majority overall, has occasioned the phenomenon that all tickets–of presidential candidates with partners for the two vice-presidential positions–are composites, i.e. every presidential candidate has running mates of other ethnicities. Election rules require each candidate for the presidency to file voluminous documentation in support of his or her candidature, including proof of electoral support from the country’s 34 provinces. These materials undergo verification, and the field could narrow.

Several candidates now on the list for the presidential elections have occupied positions of trust and high responsibility in governance roles under President HamidKarzai, and are known to have filed their nominations with varying degrees of endorsement from presidential quarters.

This shows that, irrespective of the Constitutional limit of a maximum of two terms as president, the incumbent has gained influence in domestic politics. A student of political science, Karzai has averred he will strive to foster a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to a duly elected successor.

The elections are crucially important to Afghanistan’s emergence as a stable and democratic nation-state, one equipped peacefully to compose internal differences and manage national issues with maturity
and balance.

That the democratic process has claimed the interest and participation of the Afghan people reflects their ingrained understanding of political processes

There is, however, a range of diverse and interconnected challenges to the due process of elections in Afghanistan. Paucity of funds is a constraint of serious nature; so is shortage of trained human resources for election management positions; and shortage of equipment, vehicles, fuel, spares and other needs pertaining to election logistics.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission is straining hard to cope with
the challenges.

A number of initiatives are underway–from promoting election awareness and awareness of voter rights and duties, to women’s participation in the democratic processes, recruitment and training of election staff, selection of sites for and setting up of polling stations, election materials management, complaints redressal and disposal systems, procedures for preventing election malpractices, and so on.

The officials of the IEC candidly recognize the deficiencies they have to make up. There is evident sincerity of attitude and an approach to manage as best as possible under difficult conditions. Besides, Afghanistan’s harsh winter conditions make elections all the more difficult. Already, the Central Highlands and hilly regions have received the first snowfall. The next five winter months will witness bitter cold weather, blizzards, avalanches, snowbound roads and communications blockages and paralysis.


But it’s the Pakistan-based security threat that remains overall the most serious challenge to the elections in Afghanistan. The self-styled, so-called ‘Emir ul-Mominun’ (Leader of the Faithful), Mullah Omar, is purported to have issued a call to the Afghan people to boycott the elections. Orchestrated from the Pakistan side of the Durand Line, insurgent activity, terrorism and sabotage have intensified. This has implications for the whole range of election organization and management–from the location of the polling stations to the eventual counting of ballots and declaration of results.

Armed insurgent activity threatens to inhibit and disrupt public participation in the electoral process, especially in the predominantly Pashtun provinces of southern and eastern Afghanistan bordering the Durand Line. Broad-based participation matters enormously in the overall credibility and acceptability of whatever is the electoral outcome. If the Pashtuns are prevented en masse from voting or made disinclined to vote, this will undermine the election result and lead to a deepening and widening of ethnic and regional fault-lines as well as increase inherent political tensions across Afghanistan.

Terrorism and armed insurgency in Afghanistan are chiefly sourced from Pakistan, sponsored by Pakistan’s military leadership, and supported by the narcotics trade and funds from the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf. The same entities channel radical, fascist, political Islam, and aim to destroy Afghanistan’s time-honoured traditional Islamic culture and subjugate population clusters to their totalitarian and moribund ideology.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2013