The latest news about the auditing of the eight million-plus votes cast in the run-off Afghan presidential election is that even while Abdullah Abdullah’s team did not participate in the comparatively short session of vote auditing on August 3, it has sorted out its problems with regard to the guidelines for the audit and will be full participants from August 4 onwards. So far, according to the latest figures released by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), almost 20,000 of the total of 23,000 ballot boxes have been brought into the IEC offices in Kabul and it has been somewhat optimistically suggested that working for three sessions a day, the IEC and international observers will complete the audit of 1,000 ballot boxes a day. Given past record, however, it seems likely that the audit will go well into September, belying the fond expectation of President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson that it will be completed and a new president announced by August 25.
Even mid-September may not see a definitive result. Abdullah’s camp has released an audio tape in which the second vice-president, Karim Khalili, is heard to be saying that the international community and the IEC, along with the president’s office, is taking illegal steps to ensure Ashraf Ghani’s victory. This has been denied by the Ghani camp, which says that the tape is a fake. What is significant is that Abdullah is now accusing the international community (read the US) as being party to what he has called, “industrial scale fraud” and is threatening to release further information to back up his allegations.
What seems certain is that there will be no elected new president to attend the Nato summit scheduled for September 4-5 in the UK. Suggestions have been made that both candidates could send their deputies to attend the summit, but obviously, this is not going to solve the problem of an agreement being reached by an elected president on the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and the parallel agreements that would be needed with other troop-providing countries. The Americans may be able to live with this, but other countries may have difficulties.
Meanwhile, the economic situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. It has been estimated that some $4.6 billion worth of undeclared income left the country last year and one can assume that a similar amount has already left Afghanistan this year as affluent citizens hedge their bets. Afghanistan’s own revenue has declined and aid has been reduced. As a result, it is estimated that there will be a $400 million shortfall in the Afghan budget, 64 per cent of which comes from foreign aid.
The rate of the Afghani has fallen to 56 to the dollar as against the earlier 49 Afghanis. Numerous NGOs are winding up operations rendering many well-paid, educated Afghans jobless and desperately seeking visas to go abroad. The services sector — transportation, construction, housing, etc., highly dependent on foreign presence, is contracting at a rapid rate, and Ghani’s estimate that growth will be close to zero this year, may prove to be over-optimistic. My own assessment is that the economy will shrink this year as more and more of the buildings under construction remain unfinished in the absence of demand, and importantly, if weather conditions affect agricultural output.
Equally alarming are the reports on the security situation. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) figures show that there was a 24 per cent increase in civilian casualties in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year. The Afghan authorities have stopped releasing figures on the casualties suffered by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) because they are so high. There have been many more clashes with the Taliban who, contrary to expectations, have not confined themselves to consolidating their hold in the rural areas, but have moved much closer to such major urban centres as Jalalabad and even in the vicinity of Kabul. In Kandahar, a traditional stronghold, they have been able to stage attacks on the governor’s office, while in Helmand, the centre for opium cultivation, their attacks and control of the Sangin district has now been extended to Now Zad, Kajaki and Musa Qila. In Herat, the provincial council has provided statistics suggesting that more than 80 people have been killed in the last four months. Attrition rates in the ANSF continue to be high and the people’s trust in the national police and the Afghan local police is precipitously low.
The Afghans, local officials and the Afghan intelligence, are holding the Iranians responsible for the unrest in Heart, while Pakistan’s ISI and the Pakistani Taliban are held responsible for the mayhem in the south and east of the country. The Afghan media plays up the fact that missiles launched from Pakistan are hitting Kunar without explicit acknowledgement that insurgents based in Kunar and Paktika are attacking Pakistani posts. Pakistani requests for cooperation are falling on deaf ears. Afghan relations with both Iran and Pakistan are at a low ebb.
Reconciliation is not advancing. The Karzai administration has made much of the meeting the High Peace Council members with Agha Jan Mutassim and his colleagues, some of whom were said to be current Taliban commanders. However, Mutassim’s standing with Mullah Omar’s council is doubtful and his ability to persuade Mullah Omar to move towards reconciliation is virtually non-existent. Recently, our papers have noted Mutassim’s calls for the TTP not to fight against the Pakistan Army. This has been lauded as a clear stand by the Afghan Taliban, but we must not ignore that Mutassim does not represent Mullah Omar or the so-called Quetta Shura. Pakistan is worried and this gives credence to reports that our officials have been pleading with the Americans to re-evaluate their withdrawal plans, arguing that none of the objective conditions for such a withdrawal exist right now. More on this next week.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2014.
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