Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election results have once again provoked fears about the future of the country following NATO’s withdrawal.
Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Ashraf Gani Akhmadzai, the country’s former Minister of Finance, were both candidates in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election. Now, they have agreed to form a national unity government, although the details of the coalition remain vague.
Both candidates have continued to spar over the results of the second round. In July, a preliminary count indicated Gani had won, but Abdullah refused to recognize the results, accusing his opponent of discarding two million votes, while Abdullah’s supporters threatened to form a parallel government.
Gani expressed hopes that the vote count would be completed by the end of the month, alleviating some of the uncertainty surrounding Afghanistan’s future. Northern provinces of the country had threatened to declare independence if power-sharing was not achieved.
The first round of the presidential election reflected the continuing importance of ethnic politics in the diverse Central Asian state. The majority of ethnic Hazara and Tajiks cast votes for Abdullah Abdullah, while the majority of Pushtuns and Uzbeks supported Gani Akhmadzai. Neither candidate won 50 percent in the first round: Abdullah won 42 percent and Gani 37.5 percent, requiring a second round of voting. Despite the continuing importance of ethnic politics, turnout was around 58 percent, indicating that Afghans are developing faith in democratic systems.
A further cause for concern was tension between the presidential campaigns: Gani’s choice for second Vice-President, Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord who fought alongside the Soviet Union in the 1980s and who maintains close ties to Uzbekistan, is a bitter enemy of Atta Mohammed Nur, powerful governor of Balkh Province and a close supporter of Abdullah Abdullah. Nur had fought alongside the mujahideen against Dostum during the Soviet-Afghan War.
Economists have warned that the political impasse has already done great harm to the country’s economy, leading to capital flight, decreased trade and falling property prices, putting plans for Kabul’s urban redevelopment on hold and likely worsening budgetary shortfalls, which currently total 20 percent of total government expenditures.
Recent violence has highlighted the continuing threat that armed groups pose both to the stability of Afghanistan and the surrounding region. An attack by an Afghan soldier on American General Harold J. Greene and his German counterpart German General Michael Bartscher resulted in the death of Greene and the injury of 12 people. An attack by a suicide bomber in late July killed Khashmat Karzai, the cousin of Khamid Karzai.
The most destructive recent attack took place in June in Karachi’s Airport, when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist organization that has often used Afghanistan as a base of operations, killed 39 people, highlighting the threat that Afghanistan could again pose to Central and Southeast Asia’s stability.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s neighbors are closely monitoring the situation. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an umbrella organization of post-Soviet states, conducted military exercises in Kyrgyzstan in August in preparation for potential spillover from Afghanistan, while Russia has carried out military inspections of its Central Asian Military District to highlight readiness for dealing with a post-NATO Afghanistan.