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Will Afghanistan’s election disputes threaten peaceful transition prospects?

July 7, 2014 at 6:24 PM EST
Jeffrey Brown is joined by Andrew Wilder of the United States Institute of Peace and Nazif Shahrani of Indiana University to discuss findings of fraud in the Afghan presidential elections, how the results will influence relations with the U.S. and whether President Karzai holds any sway.
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JEFFREY BROWN: What’s at stake between now and then?

For that, we’re joined by Andrew Wilder, vice president of South and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace. He just returned from Afghanistan last week. And Nazif Shahrani is an Afghan-American who’s a professor of anthropology at Indiana University.

Nazif Shahrani, let me start with you.

How serious a situation is this? And is there potential for a drawn-out, major problem?

NAZIF SHAHRANI, Indiana University: Yes, unfortunately, it is.

The people of Afghanistan have been waiting for the results of the election for some time. And given the environment in which the two candidates, especially Abdullah Abdullah, at this point that is threatening not to accept the results and also some of his supporters in the provinces, as well as one of his vice presidents, are saying that if their demands are not met, they may create a parallel government, which obviously wouldn’t be to the advantage of the country, and people are seriously concerned about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andrew Wilder, you were just there. What did you see in terms of the electioneering or anything that helps us understand the voting, the potential for fraud?

ANDREW WILDER, United States Institute of Peace: Well, I was actually in Afghanistan for the first round of the election, which went remarkably well. And there were problems then, too, but the results were accepted as legitimate. And I think the second round, clearly, there were problems, I think, serious problems, which now need to be investigated.

And this is where I think it’s really important for the two campaigns to — you know, together with the electoral institutions, to agree now on the process moving forward on how to verify the various charges of fraud that have been made actually by both camps, so that we can get this process moving forward, because, as much as there are flaws, the electoral process is all we have right now to actually determine an outcome.

And, ultimately, elections end up with a winner and a loser, and we need to get — it’s very urgent that we get that process moving forward.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let’s talk about why it’s important.

Nazif Shahrani, you first. Help us — remind us here of the stakes. What does it matter between these two candidates and what is resting on the outcome of a good outcome here?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, what is, I think, I hoped for is a peaceful transition of power for the first time in the history of Afghanistan from one elected president, again, fraudulent as it was in 2009, to another president who would have the confidence of the nation.

Unfortunately, the dispute right now in the — particularly in the counting, as well as perhaps the accusation of stuffing of ballot boxes by Abdullah Abdullah against President Karzai and his government in favor of Ashraf Ghani, is making the possibility of outcome rather problematic and very serious for the country, and also for the region and ultimately for the United States and the international community, who have worked so hard in the last 13 years to stabilize the country.

And they all hope, just as the people of Afghanistan hope, that there will be a peaceful transition. And it doesn’t look like it might be.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Andrew Wilder, for the United States, there is the agreement, there is the withdrawal. How does this potentially impact that?

ANDREW WILDER: Well, I think, if it gets too drawn out, I think it could further delay the signing of the bilateral security agreement.

And, currently, the scheduled inauguration date, let’s not forget, is August 2, and so there’s not a whole lot of time to resolve this…

JEFFREY BROWN: Pretty soon.

ANDREW WILDER: … before President Karzai says he’s stepping down and even saying, if there’s no one else, I’m going to turn over power to my vice president at that point.

And I think for the — we have a political crisis, a security crisis already in Afghanistan. We have an economic crisis that’s really brewing, and it’s really imperative that this political crisis get resolved swiftly so that we can start focusing on the other serious issues confronting Afghanistan.

And there’s a major international agenda coming up too, that the new president is scheduled to go to China in late August for an important regional conference. And there’s the — a NATO summit in early September and the U.N. General Assembly. And it’s very important for Afghanistan to have a legitimate successor to Karzai being able to represent the country in these international fora and regain some of the support for Afghanistan that President Karzai has squandered.

JEFFREY BROWN: Speaking — Nazif Shahrani, speaking of President Karzai, what is his role right now? Is he playing a role in this election and the outcome, good or bad?

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, according — according to his own brother, Mahmud Karzai, he has been a spoiler. He has been trying to, according to Mahmud, stay in power, and that he has created this crisis and manufactured it in a way that would perhaps make it possible for him to continue to stay in power, especially if these two candidates cannot reach an agreement and resolve the problem as it stands right now.

So, there is a threat still that Karzai may be manufacturing this particular crisis and may try to take advantage of that in the long run. One hopes that that wouldn’t be the case, but, if it is, it obviously is — he’s going to be responsible for dragging the country back into a very serious crisis.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andrew Wilder, do you see Karzai playing any role like that, potentially negative role?

ANDREW WILDER: I think he’s played a very negative role in the past.

Actually, I rarely disagree with Dr. Shahrani, but on this point, I actually think President Karzai lost control of this process.

I think the palace is actually politically very fragmented. I think the electoral institutions are fragmented. The Afghan national security forces in some ways are politically fragmented. So the idea that President Karzai could mastermind this entire rigging in one direction or another, I actually don’t think he’s powerful enough anymore to do that, because many of the political elites are now looking beyond Karzai for patronage, not looking to Karzai and listening to him anymore.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and on that point, you again, just having come from there, what was the sense of the atmosphere among people that you talked to? Are they eager to get this behind them and move on or…

ANDREW WILDER: Very much so.

I think the people are getting frustrated and want a result and an outcome, you know, because they realize Afghanistan’s future depends on this. And this is why I think we saw so many voters come out to turn out to vote both in the first and second round.

JEFFREY BROWN: More than people expected, I think, right?

ANDREW WILDER: Absolutely.

And so, certainly, some of that, we can attribute to fraud. But I saw it with my eyes the long lines of people turning out to vote on Election Day and throughout the country, the number of voters turning out to vote was higher than I think anticipated.

And I think that was because they were voting for a peaceful future, wanting, you know — and I think that’s why the urgency I wanted to emphasize of getting this process resolved, so we can get a legitimate successor to Karzai in the palace.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Andrew Wilder, Nazif Shahrani, thank you both very much.

ANDREW WILDER: Thank you.

NAZIF SHAHRANI: Most welcome. Thank you.