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AFGHANISTAN


  
  



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Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai

 



Update No: 047 - (28/10/05)

Parliamentary elections: a flawed success
As the end of October approached, the debate over whether the 18 September elections in Afghanistan had been a success or a failure was still going on. The turnout was mostly considered disappointing at 53%, a figure moreover inflated by community voting. Apart from a range of technical problems, allegations of rigging were widespread. In the end the Joint Electoral Monitoring Board opted to exclude 3% of the ballot boxes from the count, a significant percentage but still falling short of what the observers' reports would have suggested as necessary. JEMB focused on punishing ballot stuffing, but ignored well documented allegations of community voting, which were particularly common in the south-east. JEMB's rather cavalier attitude provided plenty of ammunition to defeated candidates to protest against and even before final results were announced, at least two JEMB offices had already been assaulted by candidates and their supporters. 
Determining the actual outcome of the election in the (near-) absence of political parties is a difficult task. An estimate suggests that 60% of the successful candidates were civil war commanders and their affiliates, with the rest being accounted for by tribal leaders, some independents, and some organised parties. About a dozen former communists made it to the 249-strong parliament, but split into several rival groups. A few members of the Pashtun nationalist group Afghan Millat also made it. The biggest failure was that of the new democratic parties, very few of which managed to elect even a single representative. It is not clear how many supporters of Karzai were elected, but a combination of support for his policies and patronage are likely to allow him to push his legislation through parliament.
Possibly with an eye to mark a certain distance from his American patrons and appease future parliamentary critics, in October president Karzai appeared again to challenge US policies in Afghanistan, as he asked for an end to operations against Al Qaeda. Earlier this year he had demanded that the US hand over command over the Afghan National Army to the Ministry of Defence, but without success. 

Interior minister resigns
At the end of September Interior Minister Jalali finally handed over his resignation, following months of speculation that he would be gone before the establishment of the parliament. He had already attempted to resign earlier in the year, but Karzai had convinced him to stay until after the elections. It is known that, despite his denials, Jalali was not happy about Karzai's policy of appointments, as he would have preferred more professional choices. The replacement of Jalali is expected to take place after the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections and is likely to become a major bone of contention, as the Ministry of Interior controls the police and all the appointments in the provinces. 

Fighting disaffection
Possibly because of the rising awareness of the rising disaffection of the population, which showed clearly during the parliamentary elections, in October the Afghan government launched a couple of measures which seemed meant to appease the crowd. A US$7 increase to the monthly salary of state employees was announced, which however failed to make many happy as state salaries remain well below the cost of living. The other measure announced in October was a subsidy to the price of coal, which most Afghan used to warm up during the winter. Considering that the population after will grow with year by almost 2% just because of the returnees from Pakistan and Iran, and the natural growth of the population is also close to 2%, even the estimated 11% GDP growth rate might not be high enough to satisfy the demand for improvement of the people. 
A substantial acceleration of growth seems difficult to achieve in the short term, not least because the driving sector, the illegal economy, appears to have reached its ceiling. The ADB-sponsored pipeline project which should link Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan keeps rurning into trouble. The latest news was that Turkmenistan might now have sufficient reserves after all, although forecast production has been revised downwards in October. The country, on the other hand, keeps importing almost everything that it consumes. In fact indigenous production is in many cases declining further. This year brick factories are under pressure as affluent Afghans increasingly opt for using concrete, especially in Kabul and other major cities.

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