Undermining the People: Short Term Solutions in Afghanistan

Afghans and international diplomats are breathing sighs of relief in Kabul and elsewhere this week.  A crisis, we are told, has been adverted.  John Kerry brokered a deal between Ghani and Abdullah to do a full audit of the June vote.  But should we all be so relieved?  I’m not sure.

As the details of the compromise come out, they should do little to reassure either Afghans or international observers about the long term future of democracy in the country.  We have long supported a more federal style, parliamentary system, but using electoral upheaval to get there is not the way to accomplish such a change.  First of all, it is not clear at all that there is a constitutional path towards such a system.  A loya jirga would need to be called before a Prime Minister position could be created.  Would the second place candidate wait that long to assume a Prime Minister post?  Who is to say that a democratically chosen jirga would even support such changes?  During all these negotiations will Karzai remain on the sidelines?  More on the short term, how is a second counting of the ballots going to be guranteed to be less fraudelent than the first?  Ghani and Abdullah both say that they are onboard with the agreement today, but will they be tomorrow?  While John Kerry may have solved the crisis this weekend, is he going to fly back (as he also did in 2009) the next time counting goes astray?  Essentially, the negotiated settlement has adverted one crisis, but has paved the way for numerous others that are not too far off in the future.

As the negotiations continue, the main group that is being left out are the voters.  As there is talk of a national unity government, the fact that the voters voted seems to have been forgotten.  Instead, elites in Kabul are moving pieces around, establishing a government that will protect their interests, not necessarily the interests of the voters.  The political elite has removed power from the voters hands, while the international community has helped broker the deal.

The threat of violence also remains.  According to the AP: “Asked about a published report that some supporters were ready to seize the presidential palace by force before the deal, because they feared the June 14 runoff was being decided fraudulently, he declined to discuss details.”  Here it seems, Abdullah’s none answer essentially suggests that violence is something that his supporters might resort to.  By then negotiating with him, Kerry is rewarding Abdullah’s threats to leave the political system instead of punishing them.  At the same time, however, there is no guarantee that Abdullah and his supporters won’t make the exact same threats when the audit is complete.

Today Kabul is peaceful (even while a massive bombing in Paktika and an offense push by the Taliban is happening elsewhere in the country), but the uneasy settlement negotiated by Kerry very much leaves the door open for violence and political upheaval in the medium and long term.

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