Afghan election — an exercise in futility?

Published: February 11, 2014
The writer has served as ambassador to Afghanistan and is a member of the government’s team mandated to talk to the TTP

The writer has served as ambassador to Afghanistan and is a member of the government’s team mandated to talk to the TTP

The campaign for the Afghan presidential election due in two months has gathered momentum. Afghanistan is in the grip of election fever. The media hype of the ‘mega event’ has generated huge euphoria and incredible excitement amongst, mostly, residents of urban areas, including the educated youth, both male and female. Those who are expected to be the front runners include former foreign minister and a candidate in the 2009 polls, Dr Abdullah, former minister Ashraf Ghani, adviser and a close friend of President Hamid Karzai, Zalmai Rasool, brother of the president Qayum Karzai, and former Mujahideen leader Professor Sayyaf.

All these contenders for the top slot have been close allies of Karzai over the past 12 years. All have benefited from the US scheme of things in Afghanistan politically, financially and socially. All are proponents of the status quo and all of them would like the US forces to stay in the country indefinitely. All of them would require continued external funding to run the administration and more significantly, external military presence for their political survival.

The list of candidates does not include anyone representing the resistance or someone who is allied with the main resistance group. The Hizb-e-Islami candidate cannot fall into the category of those belonging to the resistance because the Hekmatyar faction is already part of the present government.

Since all candidates have accepted Afghanistan’s status as a ‘close ally’ of the US, or put more bluntly, as a surrogate entity, none of them would have the courage, credentials or the following to bring about any fundamental shift in policy as far as the country’s alignment with US goals in the region is concerned. More importantly, all of them lack the will to extricate the country from the present crippling quagmire because they are of the firm belief that without external props, their government would not survive more than three months. What would, then, the election deliver for the war-weary country? Nothing! Karzai would leave to be replaced by another ‘Karzai’.

But this would not lead to any significant rise in the level of despondency that has overtaken the Afghan population for over a decade now because the downtrodden millions of poor people have no stake or expectations from this farce of an election. The state institutions have become moribund, decrepit and insulated from the masses as they do not provide any protection against the injustices or excesses committed by the local officials on a daily basis. Nor have the institutions provided any hope of delivering peace and punishing the violators of law. It appears that most people in the country consider this phase in Afghanistan’s history as a transient phenomenon that would soon pass and a new era of hope would emerge, where people having deep roots in society and espousing the same sentiments as the bulk of the teeming millions, would take charge of the country. In this backdrop of frustration on the one hand and hope howsoever dim and hazy on the other, some having access to resources are desperately trying to promote their economic and political interests because they see the writing on the wall. Some are investing in overseas real estate and most of the newly rich have houses abroad for the rainy day.

With unemployment hovering around 40 per cent, 95 per cent of GDP coming from foreign aid and spending by coalition forces, the flight of capital per annum reaching $4.6 billion, 12,000 insurgent attacks taking place only last year, 62 per cent of the country being firmly under the control of the resistance groups and opium production staying at the frightening level of 6,000 tonnes, the country is mired in an unsustainable conundrum that will only get worse if the conflict does not end soon. The conflict can only end when all coalition forces have left, the resistance groups brought into the mainstream, all foreign interference stopped and a broad-based, multi-ethnic government that does not need external props for its survival, installed.

Confronted with such enormous challenges, the race for electing a new helpless leader of the country would carry no conviction with the Afghan masses. For most Afghans, it will be an exercise in futility.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Zalmai
    Feb 11, 2014 - 2:05AM

    Mr. Mohmand, it would be safe to say that every election in Pakistan was an exercise in futility, which has rotated the same players every decade or so and the real power lies with the military.

    Pakistan also started out as a surrogate and now it has achieved the status as the 51st US state and Israel is the 52nd state of USA. Hopefully, 65 years later Afghanistan will become the 53rd US state if some other upstart does not beat us to it.


  • RD Sultan
    Feb 11, 2014 - 2:51AM

    But if the US withdraws, how else will Pakistan justify its billions in aid it receives?

    If the US stops subsidizing Pakistan, the country will collapse.

    Afghanistan can however look to potential helpers that were engaged in Afghanistan long before the US arrived.


  • Major Iqbal
    Feb 11, 2014 - 3:11AM

    “62 per cent of the country being firmly under the control of the resistance groups.”

    Out of interest, where did the author get this “number” from?


  • Khattak
    Feb 11, 2014 - 6:07AM

    It is simplistic to think that peace will come to Afghanistan if its leadership set it free from US & others. That would be an ideal world. No country can survive without having good mutually beneficial relationship with the world(US is the only world power) let alone Afghanistan. Karzai is trying hard but US will not let it have peace with the Taliban. One of his pre-condition to sign BSA is that US & Pakistan shall bring Taliban to negotiation table. Modern & smart leaders like Karzai are need of Afghanistan. They do not need those Mollas who waged Jihad with US money & stingers but when it was time to deliver to Afghan people they were trying to convert Reagan to Islam. Such simpleton cant run Afghanistan. Replacing Karzai with leader of level of Karzai will be victory for Afghans. I am happy that Afghanistan is on right track for peace & prosperity. I hope that the world will not let them down & its peril.


  • shah
    Feb 11, 2014 - 6:55AM

    How about you let the Afghans decide on whether an election is worth it or not ?


  • Banday
    Feb 11, 2014 - 8:42AM

    Mr. Mohmand, kindly elaborate on the basis of your judgemental view of Afghan public opinion about elections. There is no mention of any survey taken to ascertain the majority opinion. Realities are bitter, but we need to be cautious in imposing our wish list on others. It compromises the objectivity of the writer, which unfortunately happened in this article.


  • Asjad
    Feb 11, 2014 - 10:23AM

    If one could use ctrl+f and replace Afghanistan with Pakistan and Afghan with Pakistani, it would remain largely similar and acceptable.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 11, 2014 - 11:10AM

    Afghanistan has decided it does not want to be anybody’s puppet. We can see from various Opinion pieces that this development has upset many supporters of the “strategic depth” theory. People in Afghanistan are not fools who do not know the forces that have supported the Taliban and wreaked havoc in their country. The Afghan people have an opportunity to elect their leaders but spoilers are many who want to foist terror minded turncoats through violence. A repeat of occurrence like in late nineties will be a failure.
    The gun toting terrorists are foot soldiers but their Machiavellian masterminds who are often suited booted, well healed and well placed, must be neutralized if the region wants to see Peace. Pakistan must save itself by enacting strong Laws to try those financing and supporting terror outfits. The mistaken belief that terrorists can be used productively by any country stands exposed to all but the blind, over fifty thousand innocents martyred being fruits of the harvest, and still counting. To want to repeat the mistakes of the past and expect a more positive outcome reflects not just Intellectual Bankruptcy but schizophrenia coupled with megalomania. No nation on Earth can carry such a burden and expect a happy outcome.


  • Anticorruption
    Feb 11, 2014 - 11:51AM

    For the writer’s info, whatever type of system up comes into power in Afghanistan (with or without Taliban) will be dependent on foreign donations for the foreseable future. This is because the country does not yet have an economy and tax collection system capable of generating revenues necessary for sustaining a government. This has nothing to do with accomodating Taliban in the power structure except that if they return, many foreign donors could potentially be put off by their extremism especially if they start targetting girl schools and women again. All this may be too much to understand for a Taliban apologist who finds absolutely nothing positive in the current set up. You should publish some Afghan perspectives for a change instead of pro-Taliban nonsense


  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Feb 11, 2014 - 1:11PM

    wow reading this article you can surely guess where the peace talks with TTP will end with !!!


  • TTP's Ambassador
    Feb 11, 2014 - 2:07PM

    Is Rustam Shah on government’s committee or Taliban’s?!!!


  • Feb 11, 2014 - 3:47PM

    the real powers lies in the western power, imf and adbRecommend

  • unbelievable
    Feb 11, 2014 - 11:36PM

    Like it or not Pakistan isn’t all that different than Afghanistan – both dependent on outsiders for funding – both newbie Democracies struggling to find their way – both essentially in a civil war where the opposition refuses to run for elected office. I also suspect the Pakistani “masses” don’t find much difference between Sharif and Zardari and view voting as an exercise in futility.


  • Barekzai
    Feb 12, 2014 - 9:44AM

    Mr Mohmand, you can now wake up from your slumber, for Afghanistan’s not going anywhere other than up. Our politics aside, we’re a united, homogeneous people. Pakistan on the other hand is a basket-case that faces collapse and Balkanization. We both know this, but you go on hoping otherwise, for you know that you’ll have no place in Loy Afghanistan when that reality hits you.Recommend

  • Feb 12, 2014 - 11:58AM

    I think I free in the present day Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Achievements have been made in IT, media, youtube is not banned, 100 tv channels and 250 radio channels, roads, schools, universities etc. Presidential candidates are appearing in debates regularly on TVs side by side, with no one against human rights or freedom. There are signs of hopes rather than disappointment. An old bureau like Mohmand sb must look at the other side of the coin as well.


  • khalid
    Feb 13, 2014 - 2:35AM

    Dear Rustom, This advice would gain more weight if you replace Afghanistan with Pakistan.


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