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AFGHANISTAN

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai
 

Update No: 034 - (30/09/04)

Elections round the corner
As election day approached, accusation and counteraccusation flourished during September. Opposition candidates were especially suspicious of what they described as government efforts to rig the elections, while government supporters accused the warlords of intimidating voters and forcing them to support opposition candidates. In reality, most candidates, and certainly President Karzai and the leading opposition ones, are trying to buy votes and to attract local warlords on their side. The electoral campaign has therefore mostly amounted to a chronicle of efforts to attract regional power brokers on each candidate's side, with little going on in terms of public meetings and other usual signs of electoral campaigning. The removal of the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, a popular figure among Tajik commanders, is creating a backlash against Karzai and is greatly increasing the support for Yunis Qanuni, who resigned from his ministerial post in August to run against Karzai. Although Qanuni has been criticizing the ineffectiveness of the government and its failure to disarm the militias, he does not have much credibility, since he was part of that same government until recently. Also, one of his key supporters, Minister of Defence Fahim, is the man responsible for the failure to disarm militias so far. Qanuni's appeal is essentially ethnic, as a number of Tajik commanders, who had earlier been leaning towards Karzai in exchange for favours, are now more inclined to support Qanuni in order to "teach a lesson" to Karzai after Herat. 

Lots of talks, little achievements
The multi-side negotiations taking place in Kabul have so far achieved little. It seems very unlikely that the opposition will agree to a joint candidate against Karzai, due to disagreements on the name to be chosen, with some favouring Sattar Sirat and others Qanuni. Also the threat of a boycott from opposition candidates seems to be evaporating, due to lack of agreement on the modalities of such boycott. Karzai, on the other hand, negotiated with a number of opposition candidates, but likely never meant to reach an agreement with any of them, except perhaps Qanuni. His purpose was rather to keep the opposition divided and prevent it from forming a common front. A deal with Qanuni may still be reached, consisting in his reintegration in the government after the elections, but Qanuni might not want to withdraw from the race in order not to disappoint his supporters, who are mostly against a deal.
The replacement of Ismail Khan in Herat represented a major turn in the attempts of the central government to rein in the regional warlords, but its timing could hardly have been worse. Not only Karzai's appeal among the Tajik population has significantly been reduced, but also the threat of instability which comes with it might negatively affect the running of the elections. Immediately after Ismail's removal had been announced, a mob of supporters attacked and burnt down a number of UN offices in Herat, as well as the office of the organization in charge of organizing the elections. 
More turmoil could take place after the elections, as the results become known. A number of candidates might be disappointed with their own performance and decide to claim fraud in order to justify themselves in front of their supporters. This possibility is strengthened by the fact that the expectations of some candidates might not be very realistic, not least because of the ongoing debate about the exact ethnic composition of Afghanistan.

Perceptions and reality of the economy
As the current Afghan financial year reached its half way, the government estimated that GDP growth this year will reach 16%, still high despite a decline on the previous year. Inflation is expected to reach 10%, which if true would represent a modest increase on the previous year, perfectly justifiable with the high GDP growth rate. However, the population perceives a much stronger increase in the cost of living, especially in the case of rent and house prices. 
Some of the underlying economic trends are undoubtedly positive. Following the repatriation of many refugees, the carpet weaving industry is also returning to Afghanistan, after having to a large extent migrated abroad. Although part of the processing of new carpets will continue to be done in Pakistan, the return of the carpet weavers will contribute to the recovery. The improvement in the relations with Pakistan also represents a good omen for the future. The Pakistani Finance Minister Aziz recently promised to remove all remaining obstacles in Afghan Transit Trade, favouring therefore Afghan import-export. Moreover, Pakistan plans or is considering to get involved in a number of infrastructural projects, including road building, the airport of Khost town and the supply of electricity to Afghanistan. Even Uzbekistan reached a deal with the Afghan government in August, concerning the building of a road between the northern Afghan town of Andkhoy and Herat, which would then allow a direct connection between Uzbekistan and Iran. However, the fact remains that the main stimulants of economic growth in Afghanistan are the narcotics trade and foreign help, none of which is supposed to last much into the future. 

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