Time pressure continues to build on the counting process. Karzai announced over the weekend that the new inauguration will be on Sept 2, two days before the NATO summit. With 70% of the ballots counted, it is possible that this deadline could be met. However, many of the most contentious boxes have not been looked at and given how the process has proceeded thus far it’s somewhat difficult to image the next week going absolutely smoothly. The bigger question is whether the international community, particular the US and UN have a strategy for what they will do when Abdullah announces his protest of the election results. At this point, it seems very likely that not enough ballots will be discarded for Abdullah to make up the difference between himself and Ghani. However, the last time this happened in July, Abdullah and his supporters were able to set the process back and force a recount with rumors of a shadow government and a possible coup. If this happens again, how will Kerry respond? How will Karzai respond? How will the UN respond?
The international community has seemed blindsided at several points during this process by the times when the candidates have stepped outside of the process and used political maneuvers to subvert its legitimacy, even through the ominous threat of civil war. While certainly not ignoring the counting process, it seems like the real energy right now needs to go into preparing for what is going to be a very tricky political situation.
With the finance minister estimating a loss of $6 billion USD to the Afghan economy thus far (see KP article here), any further delays are going to seriously undermine attempts to deliver aid. This is good leverage to use with the candidates, but its worth keeping in mind that NATO countries want to deliver this aid to help stabilize the country and prevent a Taliban resurgence. Going into the meeting without alternative strategies will seriously undermine their bargaining position. Even with eyes on the ballot boxes, the best diplomats are still focused on the political games that are being played out.