Good News, Bad News: Kerry and Uncomfortable Parallels with 2009

The deal that John Kerry appears to have brokered between Abdullah and Ghani – basically a full recount of all votes cast in the June election – is good news for the short term stability of the country.  A process that seemed on the verge of collapse has been supported by external pressure and demonstrators with the potential to become violent are likely to return home for the coming days.  Taking a longer term view, however, especially looking back at the 2009 vote, there are some real reasons for worry.

In 2009, then-Senator Kerry flew to Kabul to pressure President Karzai to submit to a second round of voting – a process that was adverted when Abdullah withdrew.  While, again, good in the short term, numerous Afghan voters have pointed out to us in interviews about how this was a crucial turning point away from democracy in Afghanistan.  At this moment, it became increasingly clear that voting was less about transparent processes that Afghans had any hope of running themselves.  Positions, including the presidency, were instead determined through back room deals and closed door negotiations.  The voters had been marginalized.

It seems that in an even more extreme case, history is about to repeat itself.  A full audit of the votes is a welcome result.  However, the overt intervention of the international community is likely to lower the potential that Afghan voters will actually accept the new government as legitimate.  The move also does much to further discredit the electoral system inside Afghanistan – Kerry’s move demonstrates to Afghan voters that the government is not actually able to handle the transition by themselves.  This bodes ill for the future of Afghan governance, particularly as international troops continue to withdraw.  It also raises questions about when and if the US will continue to intervene when political processes seem on the verge of collapse.  One can only image that this will continue to encourage reckless behavior by Afghan politicians, like Ghani and Abdullah, who have done little in the past month to earn the confidence of Afghan voters, but have managed to remain firmly in the glow of the international press, winning more supporters back home.

This is connected to wider concerns.  The fact that election results have broken down very much along ethnic lines appears is making ethnicity a political tool in a way that it has not been for the past decade.  It also is worrying that it is not clear what Hamid Karzai’s role has been in the process thus far or what role he might come to have in any sort of coalition government.  While it seems less likely, if he is positioning himself for a longer term role, the current developments are only helping extend his presidency.

In the meantime, is the short term stability gained worth it?  Perhaps.  However, supporters of both Ghani and Abdullah have shown themselves as deeply entrenched in the current system.  Are any of them likely to actually defect, reject the current governance system and set up a parallel system?  It seems unlikely, but now we won’t know.  And when the final results are released these same individuals will be able to take to the streets, but now criticizing a result that has John Kerry’s fingerprints on it.  Either way, democracy is being undermined as we speak.

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