Of destarkhans and deals

Chatting with Afghan friends over mantu and qabuli last week in their south-east London home, I was quickly reminded that elections and the so-called transition are causing just as much of a stir in the diaspora community as they are in Afghanistan. Fervent Abdullah supporters, of Panjshiri origin, these particular friends were concerned primarily with the candidate’s ability to counter the threat of government vote-rigging and behind-the-scenes deals. Any kind of negotiation, they felt, to replace a run-off, would be undemocratic.

And yet that was before yesterday’s partial results were announced. With Abdullah leading by around 4 percentage points in these initial figures, I wonder whether views on a run-off – both here in London and in Afghanistan – will have changed. And this is not to say that people’s views on what is and is not democratic are fickle, but rather that as the stakes change, ideas of what is for the best in the best of all possible worlds may shift also. Indeed, as results continue to come out in a staggered, piecemeal fashion, as was the case in 2009, serious conversations about the possibility of pre-run-off deals between Abdullah and Rassoul or even Ghani and Rassoul may become common currency across destarkhans the world over.

What will not be up for debate, however, is the need for transparency. If a negotiated settlement is arranged as a means to prevent a run-off, the exact terms on which that settlement is made will need to be communicated publically in order to avoid the complete erosion of any democratic progress that April 5th symbolised. And even if these terms are communicated well, speculation will abound as to the additional, secret clauses that exist between candidates that may surface later on. This being the case, while candidates may attempt to mitigate the damage by communicating their arrangements, any deal will inevitably affect the way in which Afghans both at home and abroad perceive their vote and its potential to change the course of their country’s political future.

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