Afghanistan's Three New Crises
Afghanistan today faces three emerging crises just when one felt that the country, after decades of turmoil and violence unremittingly imposed from external forces, might be looking at a chance of returning to a semblance of normalcy with the second round of the presidential elections concluded on June 14.
No country can afford this instability, least of all Afghanistan as it begins to deal with other crises of increased Taliban activity and the political-economic-security problem of 80,000 refugees from FATA who have crossed over into Afghanistan.
The other two problems have been the rising clashes between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces in recent weeks and the fallout from the events in North Waziristan as the Pakistan Army backed by the Pakistan Air force claims to take on a no holds barred campaign against the TTP.
There was a time after the first round of the elections that Dr Abdullah Abdullah had emerged the leader in the race but had fallen just a little short of the 50% mark. Many presumed that the run off in June would be a formality and that the other candidate Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai would not be able to overtake Dr Abdullah.
The announcement by the IEC Chairman Ahmed Yusuf Nuristani, within two hours of the completion of the second round of polling, that the voter turnout was well above 7 million alarmed Dr Abdullah.
He had reasons to be extremely skeptical. It seemed inconceivable in Afghanistan, which does not have electronic voting, could have collected this data in less than two hours. Moreover, the IEC’s 7 million-plus figure was more than the turn out at the first round figure of 6.9 million. The first round of elections was held for nine presidential candidates and for provincial assemblies as well but this time there were only two candidates and no provincial elections so the figure was expected to be much lower. Instead the figure was a million more than the previous turn out, enough to overcome Dr Abdullah’s lead of nearly 890,000 votes.
Writing for Foreign Policy’s South Asian Channel, Nishank Motwani cites comments by Naeem Ayubzada, Director of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), that the actual turnout was between 5-6 million. Meanwhile there were allegations of election fraud and stuffing of ballot boxes with Dr Abdullah’s team producing evidence when on June 22 they showed evidence on television of an IEC official Zia ul- Haq Amarkhail trying to transport unused ballot papers out of the IEC office. There were recorded conversations too and Amarkhail has left the country.
There were also strange voting patterns reported from eastern provinces of Paktika, Paktia and Khost and Nuristan and Ghor, close to FATA in Pakistan where the number of votes cast in each province was almost as much as the entire population each of these provinces! Despite Dr Abdullah’s assertion that this be investigated and till then he would not accept preliminary results, the IEC went ahead and announced preliminary results showing Dr. Ashraf Ghani leading with 56.44 percent votes with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah trailing at 43.56 percent. This almost exactly reverses the tally of the first round of polling. Dr Abdullah has alleged ‘industrial scale fraud’, adding that at least two million votes were caste fraudulently. Final results are expected to be announced on July 24 and the new president scheduled to take over on August 2. However, given the high stakes in the battle for the highest office a full blown crisis that will also cast aspersions on the electoral process is in the making considering that Dr Abdullah has accused the incumbent President Karzai and his rival Dr Ghani of conspiring to defeat him.
Afghans fear that the 80000 refugees could include a number of ISI sponsored individuals as well as extremists from Pakistan-based terror outfits to be the additional force deployed after the US pulls out next year.
The dismissal of the Kabul Police chief Gen Zahir who had detected Amarkhail first is likely to be a catalyst for protests by people in favour of Dr Abdullah and the government may have, deliberately perhaps, created another crisis to avoid having to hand over power to Dr Abdullah. It is unlikely that either of the presidential hopefuls will back off and if they do not, we are looking at a full blown political crisis and instability.
No country can afford this instability, least of all Afghanistan as it begins to deal with other crises of increased Taliban activity and the political-economic-security problem of 80,000 refugees from FATA who have crossed over into Afghanistan. Recent weeks have witnessed massive clashes in southern Helmand and southern Kandahar provinces between Taliban and Afghan security forces. About 800 Taliban militants participated in the strike in various districts of Helmand that lasted over a week into early July and the Afghan authorities claimed 80 Taliban killed.
Almost simultaneously, there have been clashes between Afghan security and police forces with the Taliban in the northern provinces of Kunar, Kunduz, Badakshan, Balkh, and Zabul. Eight Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban suicide in Kabul on July 1 and nine Taliban suicide bombers arrested in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, known to be a province where the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network operates. 44 Taliban militants were killed in a series of clashes in southern Kandahar. Afghan casualties are not known.
Dr Rangin Dafdar Spanta, the Afghan National Security Adviser, has accused Pakistan of having a direct link to the fierce clashes in southern Afghanistan as well as the attacks in Kunar province. This sudden spurt of violent Taliban activity seems to be a repeat of the Taliban campaign in the 1990s which was to take control of eastern and southern Afghanistan and then move into central and northern Afghanistan.
With the fate of the presidential elections having become uncertain, renewed violence in southern Afghanistan could add to the political instability that prevails today. Kabul will have to ensure that this political impasse does not acquire ethnic overtones. There is even uncertainty if the new President will take office on August 2.
Afghan authorities view the ongoing Pakistan military campaign against terrorists in North Waziristan with justifiably ample scepticism. They are aware that the Haqqani Network has been spared by the military and they have moved to safer havens. The main targets have not been in Miramshah but in and around Mir Ali which is the stronghold of the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan.
Pakistan is unlikely to allow peace and stability to return to Pakistan, unless it is on its terms which includes, primarily, that India be kept out of any role in Afghanistan.
Apart from the refugees that are have escaped to other parts of Pakistan, about 80000 are estimated to escaped into Afghanistan. By launching this operation,Pakistan will claim its good boy bonus from the US Congress enabling it to release funds held back for want of Pakistani action against terrorists in NWA. It will also be able to get financial assistance to look after the refugees.
Meanwhile, it has allowed extremist groups like the Jamaat ut Dawa to provide relief to the refugees and earn their goodwill for the future recruitment of jihadis. Afghans fear that the 80000 refugees could include a number of ISI sponsored individuals as well as extremists from Pakistan-based terror outfits to be the additional force deployed after the US pulls out next year. Pakistan is unlikely to allow peace and stability to return to Pakistan, unless it is on its terms which includes, primarily, that India be kept out of any role in Afghanistan.
Given the acute uncertainty that prevails in the region from Israel’s borders to ours, India has to be vigilant not only about the fate of Indians in West Asia, ensure uninterrupted supply of oil and gas, but also about the situation closer home where instability in Afghanistan will have a direct bearing on our security and thus on economic development. If the past is any indication, each time Pakistan became active in Afghanistan in the 1980s (Afghan jihad) and1990s (Taliban), it activated its eastern borders.
We have to ensure this does not happen again next year. Alongside raising our walls we need to take the battle to Afghanistan as well, through increased military, economic and infrastructure assistance. We have to activate what Pakistan has so far assumed would happen – two fronts. India has no designs on Pakistan and there is nothing India can do to assuage this feeling among Pakistan’s ruling circles but India cannot allow its own security to be jeopardised merely to earn goodwill.