Will new political uncertainty in Afghanistan affect post-2014 mission?

According to preliminary results Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani won the election with 56.44 percent of the vote. But his rival Abdullah Abdullah rejected the results.

Questions:

1. After preliminary results were announced would you say that we are heading towards some compromise between Abdullah and Ghani, or maybe not so much and if not what this would mean for Afghanistan?

2. Can the current uncertain situation somehow influence the preparation for post-2014 foreign mission in Afghanistan or there is still enough time to sort it out?

Answers:

Vanda Felbab-BrownSenior Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution

1. There appears to be a partial agreement about which votes will be reviewed for fraud, but that agreement is incomplete. The Abdullah camp is insisting on reviewing many more votes than the Ghani team prefers. So far, there does not appear any agreement at all about any political compromise or a power-sharing deal. We are likely in for more weeks of political tensions and disagreement that may well drag beyond the end of July when the final results were supposed to be announced. It’s not clear whether that date can be upheld with any legitimacy of the review. The question is whether the tensions will escalate into broader street protests and violence and whether the contest will be so acrimonious that no matter what the resolution, the outcome will not be really seen as legitimate by a large segment of the Afghan people.

2. Although the US has stated that the new deadline for the Bilateral Security Agreement is in October and although both candidates have announced that they would sign the BSA, it is possible that as the elections dispute drag on, we could run up close to the deadline without a signed agreement. More broadly, however, if the election is seen as very fraudulent and the dispute becomes very acrimonious and possibly results in violent, international donors and investors will sour on Afghanistan, with the result being a significant weakened security in Afghanistan, emboldened Taliban, and a deeper economic crisis yet, potentially eviscerating the entire decade of efforts in Afghanistan.

Jorrit KammingaVisiting Fellow, Netherlands Institute for International Relations Clingendael

1. If the final results prove to be similar – relatively small difference between both contenders and persistent indications of massive fraud – then a political compromise or some sort of power sharing agreement would indeed be necessary to maintain political stability. Because of the levels of fraud, I think both contenders will push the limits after the final results to claim their victory, but they would not go so far as to risk further political instability and the collapse of the country. They are moderate presidential candidates and know that playing the card of continued violence and insecurity will not get many backers in a country so fed up with decades of instability and infighting.

2. The Resolute Support mission will normally start in 2015 and preparations are already in full swing. That is why I don´t expect a lot of delay, but it is true that this mission will only start once 1) the US has signed a Bilateral Security Agreement with the new Afghan president and 2) NATO receives an “clear unambiguous invitation” from Kabul and can sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the Afghan government. That both needs to happen in the second part of this year, but there is still quite some time. In the meantime, later this week, NATO is taking the next step in preparation for the Resolute Support mission. At a ‘force generation’ conference in Brussels, NATO member states will give a formal indication about whether they will join the new mission and what kind of contribution they have in mind.

Frederic GrareSenior Associate, Director of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s South Asia Program

1. I have no mean to answer that question. To my knowledge there is no indication so far that the two sides are close to an agreement. Similarly what it would mean for Afghanistan is unclear. Some have argued that it could be the opportunity for Karzai to step in and prolong his mandate. What is very clear however, is that it is an additional division of the anti-Taliban camp. Whether the dispute can be solved is certainly not clear to me.

2.  The less unity in the country, the more difficult it will be for the foreign mission in Afghanistan to achieve its objectives and facilitate a relatively smooth transition. Such prospects are moreover rather delusional. The current situation creates on the contrary every incentives for the remaining foreign forces to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Ryan EvansAssistant Director, Center for the National Interest, Editor-in-Chief War on the Rocks

As always, the Afghans lose. The election results, which seem to be fraudulent, are very disappointing but not surprising. The most important question now is how do the different components of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) react over time if Dr. Ghani ascends to the Presidential Palace after such a corrupt electoral process? Much of the the Afghan National Army (ANA) is dominated by former Northern Alliance factions, especially Jamiat e Islami. Obviously Dostum’s militias will be happy with the results, as he is a Ghani vice presidential nominee. But the rest will not, including Jamiat e Islami and Mohammad Mohaqiq’s Hezb-e Wahdat faction.

Does this splinter the ANSF? Does it alienate important parts of the Army from the state? To what extent was this engineered by Karzai and what would his role be in a Ghani presidency? Can we attribute any of these behind the scenes machinations to Karzai’s chief of staff, Abdul Karim Khurram, who might still be working on behalf of his old boss, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hizb-i-Islami?

What’s certain is pervasive Afghan political corruption will only strengthen President Obama’s resolve to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2016 and leave Afghanistan to its own fate.

Daniel Green, Defense Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

My sense is that presently there will not be much compromise between the two candidates until the auditing process is completed and more investigations are concluded into possible voting fraud. However, as is typical in Afghanistan, there might be some sort of face-saving attempt by the leading presidential candidate at that time to allow some followers of the other candidate, including possibly the actual candidate himself, into some sort of coalition government. However, if the elections process is not resolved peacefully, there is a chance for increased violence but I believe the international presence there will mitigate that possibility. I don’t believe the challenges associated with the presidential election will adversely affect the post-2014 mission in Afghanistan.

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