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Democracy Under Fire: The Afghanistan Elections of 2019

By Khan Wali Khan Basharmal

No one knew what the Afghanistan election of 2019 would bring. Neither the international community, nor the Afghan people, not even the opposition to the current Democratic administration of President Ashraf Ghani. The election was fraught with its own logistical issues. The election date itself was changed twice; some say due to the incompetency of the electoral commissions. However, everyone was talking about peace. Or at least a partial peace between the United States and the Taliban, which it toppled in 2001. This unilateral peace deal was prioritized even above the Democratic elections. The Afghan government did its best to try to keep the elections at the forefront. It strove to prioritize Democratic elections over unilateral peace agreements by opening an office in Wazir Akbar Khan, a core diplomatic area of Afghanistan, A full six months prior to elections.

This office was established for the people of Afghanistan as well as the international community to show that Afghanistan was to pass through its transitional period from the dark ages of warlordism and Taliban oppression into the new Democratic age. Afghanistan’s neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, have their own self-interests. Their historical actions and desires are to create and continue using Afghanistan in their proxy wars while empowering tribalism. Their support of nonstate actors in Afghanistan has plagued the international community for decades. Russia also promotes its own self-interests in Afghanistan, viewing the possibility of a failed democracy in Afghanistan as a blow against The United States and its allies. The population responded. They were reluctant to go to the election sites due to the security and corruption issues of the 2014 elections. I personally have witnessed a few gatherings in which the elite class itself was uncertain about the probability of elections. Core foreign diplomats, including Afghanistan’s all-weather friend, India, were not assured that the elections would even happen. Some were ready to accept an interim government; in all respects admitting the failure of the Democratic attempt.  

The will of the people of Afghanistan was ignored throughout the whole process but President Ghani realized that the fragile dream of democracy was in jeopardy. So, he reached out to the oldest Democratic body In Afghanistan, the Loya Jirga. The Loya Jirga goes back thousands of years, and this time it consisted of leaders from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. The president asked for a manifesto for the people of Afghanistan; an agreement that would address not only peace with the Taliban, but also the elections, and renewal of friendship with the Afghan population and the international community.

This was perhaps the toughest decision for President Ghani. He brought together all ideological opponents and political rivals to come around a table and determine the fate of the people on peace and security. Still, some were not enthusiastic to participate in the elections. Others had their own agendas and political visions; While still others simply ignored what the population wanted.

Now the situation is critical. The warlords, those great leaders who were heroes of the 90s turned oppressors of the last few decades, face an uncertain future as well. They are facing their mortality as rifts within their ranks increase. Other warlords seek this to shield themselves from the Ghani Administration’s pursuit of anti-corruption. The will of the Afghan people concerning the role of the warlord is quite clear; their time has passed. The youthful population is now the largest demographic in Afghanistan, and they understand the time of the warlord and the oppression of the Taliban are not the future for them.

President Ghani’s opposition is allied with the warlords, so they must agree to push for an interim government. It is the only way that they can retain power and authority and thereby preserve their corrupt influence. They claimed the election was fraudulent due to corruptive influences in the process. Nonetheless, the outcome of the election was quite clear. President Ghani exceeded the 50% requirement and finish a full 10 points ahead of his next nearest rival.

The ideological growth of Afghanistan is evident. The First Lady, Rula Ghani, has been accepted fully by Afghan society and most are happy with her excellent role in empowering women, creating jobs, and supporting entrepreneurship. President Ghani in coordination with his young team has worked hard to revive the history, national heritage, and Afghan persona during the last five years. The people of Afghanistan have turned out and supported him with their votes through the use of modern technology for the first time. The elections were conducted solely with Afghan money, technical capacity, and security. One very important aspect of this election that differed from previous elections was that the loser was not showered with money.

Sacrifices have been made by the international community, the government, and the people of the United States. This sacrifice will not be forgotten in the land of Afghanistan where the memories are long. President Ghani’s government has given its full support to the will of the people and the people of the United States and vows never to go back to the Stone Age. The current government of Afghanistan has successfully managed the gap with the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops and NGOs. The Afghan government has guaranteed the international community and its people that the resurgence of the warlords and the Taliban to power will not be possible.

President Ghani has systematically replaced corrupt warlords with young talent and capable cadres. He has done this largely without the help of the international community. He has proven even with a split government that corruption can be addressed, and incompetence can be eliminated. His government has been busy increasing regional connectivity, infrastructure development, empowering women, bringing youthful talents, improving and reforming the economic security and military installations. The international community and the US government have only to accept the will of their own people and the people of Afghanistan. Afghanistan cannot afford to return to the time of the oppressive Taliban nor to continue the corruptive influences of warlords. Any strategic move by the USA and its international partners should have as its cornerstones the preservation of democracy and the stability and security of the region. 

Basharmal is a political economist engaged in the Afghan and international spheres while writing on relevant concepts and strategies.

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