LONDON: March 25, 2009. (PCP) Research undertaken by ICOS in southern Afghanistan and Kabul throughout 2008 and into 2009 indicates a real engagement by Afghans in the idea of democracy,
and a vigorous and open discussion of a wide variety of candidates, according to a report issued today by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). ICOS field research has also revealed a remarkable absence of concern over the President’s ethnic background, and an openness to consider female candidates in electoral conversations.
“Despite the dramatic deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan, there is clear evidence that the seeds of democracy have been sown, and the people of Afghanistan are a receptive audience”, said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher.
“Unfortunately, the current security situation in Afghanistan is so uncertain that the state’s capacity to hold truly representative elections in the upcoming Presidential elections to be held August 20, 2009 is in serious doubt,” said MacDonald.
According to ICOS, polling and election activities risk being a magnet for the Taliban activities, allowing them to demonstrate their ability to disrupt government activities, and enabling them to expand their footprint and psychological control especially in rural areas.
“The very act of casting a vote will be fraught with danger in many areas, and may be functionally impossible in some southern and eastern districts” said Paul Burton, Director of Policy.
In a Constitutional controversy, the Presidential elections have been postponed until August 20, 2009 leaving it uncertain if President Karzai will be taking the role of interim President following the official end of his term in May 2009. This issue is further exacerbated by a lack of clarity of how the government will function during this period. Should President Karzai stay, it could well provide the stability required to run the election; if he goes, then the government’s capacity to function may be severely compromised. President Karzai’s political critics argue against him having the advantages of the incumbency in the run up to the election.
Additionally, if the first round of voting in August, 2009 does not yield a candidate with over 50 per cent of the popular vote, a run-off election will be necessary. This will come at significant additional financial cost, and will prolong the Taliban’s window of opportunity to disrupt the democratic process in Afghanistan.
“The uncertainty surrounding the final stages of President Karzai’s second term is in danger of plunging the state into a dangerous stalemate,” said Burton. “While political enemies old and new jostle for position, the insurgency will be able to take advantage of this power vacuum.”
High Level of Participation Underscores Vibrant Political Landscape
In the report, ICOS provides biographical background on 36 political figures that Afghans have identified as potential Presidential candidates. The ICOS report also provides a list of 67 political parties registered in Afghanistan.
Political discussion in Afghanistan has identified five potential candidates that are believed to be viewed as possible contenders to replace President Karzai. The quintet are Mr. Ali Ahmed Jalali, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Governor Gul Agha Sherzai . President Hamid Karzai, despite his many problems, remains in a very strong position and is viewed by some as the only possible choice to assure stability in the country.
The report concluded that many of the less well known candidates identified in the report could have an important impact on the issues raised, and a very positive effect on the dynamics of the election process if properly supported.
According to ICOS, there are many indicators that the West and the US will be unable to resist the temptation to meddle in the process and act in ways with the intent to influence the outcome in favour of their preferred candidate. Also, there is the ever-present danger that the country’s own political veterans will try to fix the election in favour of their chosen candidate.
“Ordinary Afghan’s are embracing the idea of democracy. It is one piece of good news in an otherwise lengthy list of failures in Afghanistan.” said MacDonald. “Despite a challenging security situation, it is now incumbent upon the international community to assure that a truly nationwide election can go ahead without manipulation of the outcome by the West or corrupt local actors.”