With Afghanistan having gone to polls on 5th April, the die is cast. The Taliban having warned the public not to vote indulged in violence as expected. These included suicide bombings on the biggest hotel in Kabul, as also the election office in Kabul plus the shooting of two foreign women journalists just a day prior to the elections, one of whom succumbed to her injuries. The renowned German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot dead and her Canadian colleague, Kathy Gannon seriously injured. While shooting of the two women journalists reaffirmed Taliban’s barbarianism, the Kabul hotel bombing forced withdrawal of election monitoring NGO bodies like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The good part was the Afghan population defying the Taliban call not to vote. The enthusiasm was evident with first sight estimates of 58 percent votes having been cast and visuals of women voters casting their votes freely.
The Western media is hailing the election as first ever in Afghanistan sans any direct foreign assistance in the process but that can hardly be said in respect of foreign ‘interference’, for the CIA, EU, ISI would be intimately involved in the wheeling dealing to orchestrate results in their own interests, akin to the underhand maneuverings in India.
In the first round on April 5th, some 12 million voters had the facility to cast their ballots at any polling station in the country, this being the third presidential election. Security was tight with some 4,00,000 of the country’s police, army and intelligence services deployed for the polls. The good part was the Afghan population defying the Taliban call not to vote. The enthusiasm was evident with first sight estimates of 58 percent votes having been cast and visuals of women voters casting their votes freely. This is evidence that the population wants democracy and not return to the medieval rule of the Taliban. It is however unclear as to how many Afghans could not cast their votes. In 2011, the population of Afghanistan was reportedly 29,835,392 including 2.7 million Afghan refugees mainly in Pakistan and Iran. Then, in the current election there were reports of polling booths running out of ballot papers since voters were permitted to vote at any polling booth anywhere in the country.
Eight candidates are in the fray, vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai who is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term. The main contenders among the eight candidates are former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah (of Tajik-Pashtun heritage but believed to be Tajik leaning) and Zalmai Rassoul (Pashtun), and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (Pashtun). As per Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, the leading Pashtun candidate is not Zalmai Rassoul, but Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a well known technocrat who has been in and out of government since 2001 and is popular with the youth vote, but is someone whom Hamid Karzai has never liked nor trusted. Abdullah Abdullah had lost the race to Hamid Karzai in the last Presidential election amongst allegations of rigging. Even today, there is high speculation about bogus voters and possibility of rigging of elections but that is no different from India. Our media stings have exposed bogus voter cards on national TV. Besides, the possibility of tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs) itself is suspect, as per the court case filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy in year 2010 and on which the Delhi High Court reserved its order in January 2011, an issue that Government of India (GoI) should have sought clear judgment on forthwith basis.
As of now, Abdullah Abdullah appears to be the front runner, however, if none of the candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, of which there is much speculation, the election will become a runoff between the two leading contenders.
After effects of rigging can be explosive, as resulted in birth of insurgency in J&K albeit the perpetrators were not hounded and continue to even rule that state. Rigging in the current Afghan elections too can be explosive in the words of Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, when he says, “The greatest danger is the fear of rigging by Mr Karzai’s supporters, who control the government machinery. Alleged ballot box stuffing by Mr Karzai’s supporters in his 2009 re-election nearly led to civil war between Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah. Unfortunately, the reasons for rigging then are still present today. Back in 2009, Mr Karzai feared that the Pashtun vote bank would not turn out on election day due to Taliban threats and intimidation. That proved true, as very few Pashtuns in the south and east actually did turn out. Instead, the government was accused of carrying out massive ballot box stuffing of Pashtun votes that made it appear that millions of Pashtuns had voted and gave Mr Karzai an undisputed advantage against Mr Abdullah.” It is obvious that if there is rigging, the losing candidates will unite against the government.
Afghanistan is a diverse country dominated by Pashtun majority who constitute 43 percent of the population. All kings in Afghanistan were Pashtuns and President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun himself. The Pashtun factor was most important in generating initial support for the Taliban who were offered no resistance from Kandhar to Kabul and ruled the country for a decade. It is significant that Burhanuddin Rabbani (Tajik), Interim President in 1992 under the PeshawarAccord would not permit elections of Majlis-e-Shura under the same accord, and more importantly would not permit Gulbudin Hikmatyar, a Pashtun native of Kunduz and PM designate, to enter Kabul. While Pashtuns form 43 percent of Afghan population, the ethnic cluster known popularly as Northern Alliance constitute 46 percent of the population; 28 percent Tajiks, 9 percent Hazaras and 9 percent Uzbeks. The crux of ethnic rivalry symbolizes the two opposite struggles in Afghanistan, one by the Pashtuns to re-establish their dominance, and the second by the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek minorities to seek adequate representation in political power at the centre and autonomy of their respective areas. The Taliban have added to the complexity compounded by external factors, mainly the Pakistan Taliban and Pakistan’s assistance to them and Al Qaeda-Haqqanis. The Northern Alliance is the one that intimately helped the US forces during their invasion of Afghanistan. Today, the Northern Alliance grudge that US has cut them off completely in their talks with the Taliban, which should have not been surprising considering past US behavior.
Preliminary results from the first round are due on April 24. As of now, Abdullah Abdullah appears to be the front runner, however, if none of the candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, of which there is much speculation, the election will become a runoff between the two leading contenders. A cross section also believes that this will lead to extensive under hand maneuvering and maybe violence (assassination attempts?) before the new President assumes power, with the new government being formed by August 2014 or even later. This will raise the ante further about delayed signing of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Arrangement (BSA) and the possibility of residual US troops in Afghanistan, with the US led 53,000 combat troops slated to withdraw from Afghanistan. It is well known that while the Loya Jirga had approved signing the BSA, Hamid Karzai left it to the next government to sign it disregarding the tension this would create between the presidency and US-NATO forces.
…the intention of Pakistan which appears to be as malignant as hithertofore with intelligence reports that Pakistan has been training some 20 odd Mujahid battalions to operate as and in conjunction Taliban once US forces withdraw.
Why Hamid Karzai created this faux passé, could be attributed to many reasons: one, every Afghan asks why the America’s GWOT did not attack the source of terror inside Pakistan; two, the US did precious litter in last 12 years to bring up the economy of Afghanistan; three, the Afghan Peace Process Roadmap to 2015 made by the Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC) in 2012 under US directions was deliberately leaked out, disclosing details like offering Taliban non-elected positions at various levels in government which virtually gives the Taliban complete control of Pashtun dominated areas along Afghanistan-Pakistan border after 2014 elections – apparently backing a two-state solution (or a variant of it) that splits the country into two blocs, a non-Pashtun north and west and the Pashtun south and east, under a weak central government in Kabul, leaving Pakistan with an extended FATA; four, Taliban opening office in Qatar and later elsewhere under anti-Afghan banner and US wanting to the Afghan Government to join talks with them at those locations; five, reports by foreign correspondents of US aided militia spurring ethnic violence in southern Afghanistan; six, US not giving more artillery guns to ANA other than deployed in Kunar and Nangalhar Provinces, and not permitting ANA to raise more artillery units despite cross border shelling and even helicopter supported raids in the past by Pakistan; seven, continued US support to Pakistan military-ISI despite latter unleashing terror in Afghanistan; eight, ISI liked Pakistan Taliban nexus with US supported rebels in Syria; nine, underhand deal worked out by US that Pakistan Taliban entering Afghanistan would not be targeted unless operating in conjunction Al Qaeda-Haqqanis; ten, doubts about US sincerity towards post 2014 Afghanistan, to name some. Considering the mayhem created by the West in Middle East and developments even in Ukraine and Tajikistan, some of these doubts are certainly not unfounded.
Next, the intention of Pakistan which appears to be as malignant as hithertofore with intelligence reports that Pakistan has been training some 20 odd Mujahid battalions to operate as and in conjunction Taliban once US forces withdraw. In a survey into the causes of political instability last conducted by the National Centre for Policy Research, Afghanistan with respect to foreign countries, 43 percent respondents blamed Pakistan. Carlota Gall’s recently released book ‘The Wrong Enemy: American in Afghanistan, 2001-2014’ reveals the underhand double dealing between Pakistani Military-ISI and Pakistan Taliban, that ISI had knowledge of Osaam bin Laden’s hiding place in Abbotabad, ISI and Pakistan’s military establishment supported assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani duplicity responsible for failure of US mission in Afghanistan, ISI running a special desk to handle Bin Laden and using American dollars to fund Taliban and other terrorist groups, besides ISI’s direct involvement in the 2008 terrorist strike at the Indian Embassy in Kabul etc. As for the latter, not only had Afghan intelligence reported ISI involvement in immediate aftermath of the incident. In fact, MK Narayanan, the NSA received a call from Gen Keith Alexander, head of US National Security Agency, informing him about tracing the bomber’s calls to ISI officials in Peshawar; the bomber who was said to have received instructions from the top of the heap of the ISI.
…the irony that the Al Qaeda-Haqqanis are not weakened much as the US-NATO would like us to believe, judging by the impunity with which they continue to undertake terror strikes in the heart of Kabul even now.
Many scholars are advertently or inadvertently duped into believing that Pakistan has no truck with Al Qaeda. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In 2010, Michael Hughes, Geopolitical Journalist had said, “The Haqqani Network is Al Qaeda. Pakistan has had a close relationship with the Haqqanis for over 30 years, who are still seen as a crucial anti-Indian asset. So, for nine years the Pakistanis protected the Haqqanis and claimed ignorance as to the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and the Quetta Shura. Nine years, nearly $300 billion dollars and 1900 dead coalition soldiers later, the U.S. has officially verified that the entire war effort has been focused on the wrong side of the mountains.” This was reinforced in 2011 by Vahid Brown, Princeton CT Expert who said, “Senior leaders of the group concerned with political and financial affairs, like Khalil Haqqani and another of Jalaluddin’s brothers, Ibrahim Haqqani, have long resided in Islamabad. My impression is they mostly live in the cities. Ibrahim Haqqani had lived in Islamabad for the past 20 years. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last year also revealed that the two Haqqanis often traveled to the UAE from Pakistan.” This was further reinforced by Pir Zubair Shah and Carlotta Gall, New York Times (31 Oct, 2011) by saying, “The Haqqani family, which runs the network like a mafia, maintains several town houses, including in Islamabad and elsewhere, and they have been known to visit military facilities in Rawalpindi, attend tribal gatherings and even travel abroad on pilgrimages. Experts say leaders of the Haqqani network may be hiding in plain sight in cities rather than in remote tribal areas.” The bottom line is the irony that the Al Qaeda-Haqqanis are not weakened much as the US-NATO would like us to believe, judging by the impunity with which they continue to undertake terror strikes in the heart of Kabul even now.
What should be of even more serious concern, particularly to India and Pakistan is the fact that Nawaz Sharif has given up his efforts to bring the Pakistani military-ISI to heel, even as utopians read much into the indictment of Musharraf for treason. Through his article ‘Reversing Course’ in the Dawn dated 3rd April 2014, Cyril Almeida says that the ‘boys’ (military-ISI) has made Nawaz Sharif reverse course from a trade deal with India while the helpless public so wanted. He writes that they don’t want trade and normalization. He further says that what doesn’t make sense is why Nawaz backed down. “Nawaz was the guy who was supposed to have got it. Turn east, not west. The boys’ obsession with the eastern border had led to fears on the western border that led to choices that had engulfed Pakistan itself in flames”, he queries. He blames the ‘boys’ to have scuttled the deal. He says that the TTP has been dominating everything, they are everywhere, all that anyone can talk about and Pakistani Punjab has become jihad centric. His observation of Nawaz Sharif capitulating to radicals is hardly surprising, what with the pace of institutionalized radicalization in Pakistan, Nawaz’s brother (CM of Punjab) officially doling out millions of rupees to terrorist organization and Nawaz himself seeking support of military-ISI and terrorist organizations linked with them in order to retain his seat and power. So Pakistan’s foreign policy changing hands from the military-ISI to Nawaz Sharif doesn’t appear possible as of now. So while Abdullah Abdullah may well emerge as the next President in Afghanistan who is bitterly opposed to the Taliban and the Afghan population wants democracy to continue, Pakistan (read Pakistani military-ISI) can be expected to optimize use of proxies against both India and Afghanistan, egged on by US intransigence. Policy makers and defence establishments of India and Afghanistan need to take these factors into consideration, aside from strategizing what exactly are the US plans for AfPak region and the Subcontinent.