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The twice postponed, fourth Presidential election in Afghanistan since the downfall of Taliban took place on 28th September amid heavy security with the shadow of violence looming large. 15 candidates contested the Presidential polls. 4,900 polling stations across the country were set up for the 9.6 million registered eligible voters. However, voter turnout was very low at 20 per cent compared to 60 per cent in the last election. With peace at stake, an elected regime would have the legitimacy to hold dialogue mainly with the Taliban, if and when that happens.
There were roughly around 400 attacks including rocket attacks and bombings across the country on Election Day perhaps to intimidate voters. The glitches in the conduct of poll was evident as some voters allegedly found their names missing from the voters list. The two main Presidential contenders were the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the current Chief Executive who shared power with President Ghani. It needs to be underlined that the last election, held in 2014; was controversial which led to hundred per cent audit of the votes cast. A compromise formula was devised to accommodate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Since 2001, Afghanistan has established the Presidential form of government with an elected Parliament. This system of Western democracy has been contested by Taliban which describes the government in Kabul as ‘puppet of Unites States’ and have refused to have any dialogue with it. A series of talks between the Taliban and the United States were steered through the Taliban office in Doha. Apart from talks with United States, there were several other meetings in which Taliban representatives participated. Among the regional actors, Russia organised a multilateral summit last year in which President Ghani sent four members of the ‘High Peace Council’ to participate. Moscow also held an intra-Afghan conference in April this year.
Taliban also held meetings with China and Pakistan. In these forums, the Taliban representatives did not hesitate to engage with the Afghan government representatives. A two day meeting facilitated by Qatar and Germany was held in Doha in July; where for the first time the Taliban representatives met a 50 member delegation from Afghanistan as part of Intra-Afghan Conference for Peace. This was a significant contact between the Taliban and the Afghan government officials.
Taliban had earlier wanted the exit of foreign troops in Afghanistan before any talks; but due to international pressure, it has decide for talks. The insurgent group is also trying to project itself as amenable to girls’ education and women rights.
After the US called off the talks with Taliban following a car bomb attack on NATO’s ‘Resolute Support Mission’ headquarters in Kabul, uncertainty looms large on the future of peace in Afghanistan. In this context, the just held Presidential election is crucial as its holds key to overall peace in the ravaged country.
The poor voter turnout, however, is likely to cast a shadow on the formation of government. Taliban would leave no stone unturned to question the legitimacy of the election with such a low voters turn out. Already, Dr Abdullah Abdullah has said that his supporters would not allow this election to be stolen like the last time.
The big question is whether the election result which is supposed to be announced in October third week would be acceptable to all the parties? With peace at stake, the election results should mark a new journey for Afghanistan because continuity of the institutional framework is extremely significant. There is no other way to provide continuity to democracy other than elections. According to a report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction (SIGAR), 56 percentage of the territory is under Taliban’s control. The new government would have a challenging task ahead to enforce its’ writ on the country.
Script: Dr. Smruti S Pattanaik, Strategic Analyst on South Asia