The head of Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani has said that the country’s presidential election has been postponed by two more months, which is now planned for September 28, to give the authorities more time to organize the ballot and fix the problems that occurred during the October parliamentary polls. The presidential election was initially scheduled for April and later delayed until July 20. Also, the Presidential election is schedule together with the country’s district-council elections and parliamentary polls in Ghazni Province. The Afghan Election Commission added further that it will only be able to organize the polls once the necessary funds have been provided by the stakeholders involved, including the Kabul government and the international community. The October 2018 parliamentary elections were held after months of delay and were marred by inefficiencies including absent electoral staff and missing voting materials. It is said that the date for the polls is pushed back to September in order to “better implement the rule of election law, ensure transparency as well as voter registration.”
The security situation in Afghanistan has not improved. In recent years, Taliban enjoyed a tremendous rise of power and gained enormously through its anti-establishment activities. It now controls vast swathes of rural, mountainous Afghanistan, while the Ghani government retains its grip on the more populated urban centres. According to a US government report, the Kabul government now controls only 56 percent of Afghan territory. The conflict continues to produce record-level civilian casualties, and insurgents continue to hold sway in many areas of the countryside, where in some cases they have set up parallel mini-states. Despite diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war, in recent months the security situation has deteriorated sharply. Another concern is that a place like Afghanistan could potentially be used as a hotbed for breeding international terrorist organizations. Fundamentalist extremist groups are desperately searching for locations just like Afghanistan (one without NATO forces), turbulent and without definitive leadership. The entry of Islamic State (IS) terrorists from West Asia into the region is seen as a contributing factor for the worsening security scenario.
Though talks with the Taliban are in the progress with the US; Afghan officials have voiced frustration at being sidelined from the process, complaining it undermines the legitimacy of the government in Kabul, which the Taliban dismisses as a puppet regime. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the talks for Washington, said after the latest round ended in Doha earlier this month that “real strides” had been made but no agreement was reached on a timetable for a troop withdrawal.
Another important factor impacting the security of Afghanistan is the return of Shia rebels from Syria’s sectarian war. Iran has trained and deployed thousands of Shiite Afghans, known as the Fatemiyoun Fighters, as shock troops in Syria’s sectarian war. Thousands of former Fatemiyoun fighters are returning to Afghanistan, where they are struggling to reintegrate and find livelihood. They are living in fear of a possible crackdown against them by Afghan security forces. What those fighters might do is now very much on the minds of officials who fear that Afghanistan may become the next great sectarian battleground between Iran, as the declared guardian of Shiites, and Saudi Arabia, long the sponsor of conservative Sunni doctrine around the world.
The factional divisions that drove Afghanistan’s devastating civil war in the 1990s were seized on by foreign powers who were seeking proxies. And there’s a new concern: a stark increase in attacks against Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, mostly by Sunni extremists loyal to the Islamic State, is already providing Iran a pretext to increase its meddling in the country. Reintegration of former fighters in Afghanistan could be a key component to a durable peace. More recently the Afghan branch of Islamic State has launched terror attacks on Hazara (Shia) targets.
Script: Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst on Af-Pak Affairs