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Update No: 139 - (26/10/13)

Summary: The 2014 elections are fraught with uncertainties and risks. It does not seem very likely, or even possible, that a strong, legitimate national leader will emerge from this process. The question then is, who will steer the country through its most difficult phase since 2001? As the various political factions continue to be worried with the distribution of ‘the spoils’ among themselves, rather than with getting ready to face the future, there is no obvious answer.

No designated successor (yet)
The line-up for Afghanistan’s April 2014 presidential elections could still change due to withdrawals from the race, but it is already clear that President Karzai’s efforts to work at a national unity ticket have failed. Karzai has not been able to bring together a Pashtun candidate of his liking with two strong vice-presidents representative of the main components of the post-2001 ruling coalition. In fact the current ruling coalition seems to be facing the elections in sparse order. Karzai’s own group is split between two tickets, foreign minister Zalmay Rasul’s and the president’s brother’s, Qayyum Karzai. The Jamiat party, the single largest group to sign the Bonn Agreement, runs its own ticket, with Dr. Abdullah as a candidate. Hizb-i Islami, the other largest member of the alliance, is still undecided about what to do after having failed to get Karzai to sponsor one of its men. The technocrats, finally, are rallying around the ticket of Ashraf Ghani. Given the lack of any candidate strongly endorsed by the president, many hopefuls have joined the race: the Pashtun vote in particular is going to be split among 23 different candidates, making a second round almost inevitable. Negotiations are still going on to convince some of the candidates to withdraw and allow a strong Pashtun candidate to emerge, but it is unclear whether this could really happen.

A crisis in the making?
At this point a post-elections crisis seems very likely in 2014. The ‘Tajik’ candidate, Dr. Abdullah, is likely to come out top in the first round; given that turnout is going to be lower in the Pashtun areas than in the north, he might even win a clean election. If he did, most Pashtuns would not accept him as president and further instability would follow. The only way he could lose is through a rigged vote, and there are many signs that ‘the rigging machine’ is gearing up to the vote. But if he was defeated through obvious fraud, then his camp would not accept the results. Perhaps he could be amenable to some kind of settlement like in 2009, although he claims not. The real liability of the vote however is that the sheer number of Pashtun candidates leaves a large degree of uncertainty over who will challenge Abdullah at the second round, and would become president in the event of Abdullah’s defeat. Should this challenger be somebody like Sayyaf, a radical Islamist, then again the country would be bound for serious turmoil. The fact is that of the Pashtun candidates, none not one, can be described as a solid pair of hands to steer the country through a difficult transition, with the NATO contingents leaving the country.

And for good measure, a bit more patronage
One would think that with the prospect of having to face the insurgency without foreign assistance, the Afghan political elite should have clear incentives to get its act together and improve the efficiency of at least its armed forces. Instead at the end of September the elite has engaged in one of the greatest distributions of patronage so far. 46 new generals have been appointed to the army, some of them in key positions; very few of them have adequate professional qualifications and some are barely literate. In a number of cases they have replaced more experienced and better educated colleagues. This wave of appointments is an exercise in political deal-making, as the new generals almost all belong to either Jamiat or Hizb-i islami – Karzai is attempting to keep his coalition together – but at what price?
 

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