One of the things that we wrote about extensively in Derailing Democracy was the link, often times unscrutinized, between violence and elections, particularly under unstable political conditions. This is as simple as attacks on polling stations and candidates, but can also come in more complicated forms. In ambiguous political situations, violence can be a display of power that are similar to the power demonstrated by mobilizing voters. Thus, losing candidates and their supports (particularly in previous parliamentary elections) have resorted to small and medium attacks in part to simply make sure that they continue to be part of political negotiations going forward. (In America the losing candidate in an election may simply go home and play golf, but don’t expect such a reaction in Afghanistan – these figures will continue to have influence even if they are not leading the government.) In other instances those outside the system (i.e. the Taliban), might use the uncertainty of elections as a moment to renew attacks.
All this sets some worrying precedents now that the preliminary results, showing Ghani in the lead, have thrown the process into chaos. On the most basic level in response to rumors of fraud, some of Abdullah’s supporters have already threatened violent protests. While most are so invested in the current political system, it seems unlikely that they would favor a return to the full scale civil war of the 1990s, the violence does have the ability to both sidetrack development and undermine the legitimacy of the future government. Similarly, attacks by the Taliban, in part because it is the summer fighting season, have increased recently. Regardless of how intentional the strategy, such attacks highlight the Afghan government’s inability to provide security for its citizens (not to mention hold a transparent election). For more on the attacks see this article in the LA Times. All this comes as the UN has released a new report on the increase of civilian casualities in the country (see the WSJ article here). While perhaps not directly linked to the chaos caused by the election process and the increasingly problematic transfer of presidential power, this all contributes to a sense for Afghan voters of the failure of both their government and the international community to support it. There is still a window for negotiations and a stronger presence by the international community as observers and mediators, but that window is closing and the longer the transfer of power remains uncertain, the more likely violence is to affect the day to day life of Afghan citizens.