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Presidential elections in Afghanistan: a point of view
   
 
 
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Presidential elections in Afghanistan: a point of view

 
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 10:44
 
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Epos converses with Fariba Nawa

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

Afghanistan's presidential elections will go to a second-round vote on the 14th of June after final results showed nobody polled more than 50% of the vote in the first-round of elections, held on the 5th of April. The run-off will be between the two top candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah Abdullah took 45% of the vote in the first-round, and his main opponent Ashraf Ghani polled 31.6 %. Six other candidates were eliminated.

"After a thorough review, it is clear that no candidate has been able to win more than 50% and the election goes to a second round", Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, Head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said. The run-off was originally scheduled for the 28th of May: "Some sensitive materials that were stocked at IEC headquarters for the second round were destroyed by the Taliban attack on March 29, providing those materials again needs time", Nuristani said, explaining the delay.

The two men now competing to rule Afghanistan both served under Karzai but promise change after more than a decade of his presidency. During Karzai administration, public discontent has grown about corruption and the civilian casualties in the fight against the Taliban insurgency. Karzai has repeatedly stated that terrorism is "rebounding" in his country, with militants infiltrating the borders to wage attacks on civilians. He demanded assistance from the International Community to destroy terrorist sanctuaries inside and outside Afghanistan: "You have to look beyond Afghanistan to the sources of terrorism", he told the UN General Assembly, and "destroy terrorist sanctuaries beyond the country, dismantle the elaborate networks in the region that recruit, indoctrinate, train, finance, arm, and deploy terrorists". Karzai promised to eliminate opium-poppy cultivation in the country, which helps fuel the ongoing insurgency, but he did not succeed.

Ashraf Ghani said that, if elected, he will do all in his power to promote genuine reconciliation: "We need to reach a lasting peace – Ghani argued - A lasting peace means that the government institutions have to become strong enough to guarantee the individual safety and security as well as the well-being of every Afghan". Abdullah Abdullah said he will not exclude anyone, including his fiercest rivals, from government if he wins Afghanistan's presidential elections: "Based on the priorities of the country, based on our visions, and based on our platform for the future of Afghanistan, those who share our vision and are ready to cooperate, we do not exclude them. We are not making any exclusion. (...) I will make meritocratic appointments based on people's expertise and the needs of the future government of Afghanistan".

There are several political measures and several challenges that the new President of Aghanistan is asked to face. EPOS has interviewed Fariba Nawa, award-winning Afghan-American journalist and frequent speaker on Middle East and South/Central Asian issues. She lived and reported from Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007, and witnessed the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. She has also reported from Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Germany. In this exclusive interview for EPOS, Fariba Nawa comments the results of the first-round of elections in Afghanistan. She talks about the issue of security, the question of the Taliban and the political participation of women in the elections. She also analyzes the challenges and the political measures that the new President of Afghanistan will have to face. You can follow Fariba Nawa on Twitter, @faribanawa.

Nicolamaria Coppola: Dear Dr. Nawa, first of all thank you for accepting our interview!

The initial results of the Afghan presidential elections which took place on the 5th of April are startling. Despite Taliban threats to attack polling stations nationwide, roughly 58% of Afghans turned out to vote. Instead of collapsing, Afghan security forces effectively secured the vote. How do you personally consider the big turnout at the pollsin Afghanistan? Can we consider it as a reaction to Taliban threats?

Fariba Nawa: I see it as a turning point in Afghanistan’s nationhood. This country understood a monarchy and tribalism but now they know the power of democracy. Men and women voted despite threats because it is their last hope for a better future. Most Afghans know that the Taliban may return whether they like it or not, but in voting, they made the statement that they don’t want them back. Each voter did his or her job.

NC: Do you think the new incoming administration will engage the Taliban? Do the Taliban even want to engage the government?

FN: Yes, I think the next government will have to engage the Taliban because Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are going to continue supporting the Taliban. The Taliban may have to engage because now they know the population doesn’t support them. Intelligence reports predict a bleak future with the Taliban taking control of the country by 2017 through draconian measures such as beheadings, assassinations and skinning. Instilling fear so Afghans can submit. The best case scenario is that the two sides will reach an agreement and form a Coalition.

NC: Under the Taliban, Afghan women were barred from work, let alone political office. Even the wife of incumbent President Hamid Karzai has never appeared alongside him in public. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women have benefited from access to education and employment. To encourage their political participation, Afghan laws reserved quotas of seats for women in the national parliament and in provincial councils. The number of women that went to vote has been huge. What do you think about that? Can we consider the last  elections as a revenge for women after years of oppressions and submissions?

FN: I see the glass half full with Afghan women. The power of information is apparent because of the booming media. Women in far corners of the country are aware of their rights and they’re resisting in various forms. Hence, the increase in violence shows that empowerment because they’re actually reporting it. And of course, turning out to vote was the ultimate resistance. Let’s hope their bravery does not end in vain.

NC: What kind of a leader does Afghanistan need after the presidency of Karzai? What qualities should have the next President of Afghanistan?

FN: I’ve always said this in interviews and will continue to say it. Afghans need a leader who has guts, will and vision. They need a leader who believes in and enforces pluralism and the Afghan national identity. But most importantly, the next leader will have to know how to negotiate with the country’s neighbors and international community. Afghanistan’s  geography is its worse enemy. It was created as a buffer zone and hopefully will not remain as one.so that superpowers and empires will continue to use it as a pawn.

NC: What are the first measures that the new President of Afghanistan is asked to take?

FN: I’m sure security and economy are top on the list.

NC: Do you think the relations with the neighbouring countries (Pakistan, India and Iran in particular) and the West (USA and UE) will change with the new incoming government?

FN: It depends on the leader and how he manages to negotiate, but unfortunately, the cards are against him because the Taliban and their supporters have the upper hand by using sheer violence to exert their rule.

NC: Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman's Journey Through Afghanistan is your best-seller book. It talks about the opium production in Afghanistan, centering on the impact of the opium trade on Afghans and, in particulary, on women. In the book you values opium trafficking at $4 billion in the country and $65 billion outside it. 60% of Afghanistan's GDP comes from opium, of which two-thirds is distilled into heroin, a more potent drug. President Karzai did not take significant political measures against the opium trade. Considering the political programmes of the runners at the elections, what do you think will be the attitude and the approach of the new incoming administration towards the opium trafficking? Will we still have child brides and drug lords?

FN: The leader can only do so much to curb the opium trade. As long as there’s violence, unemployment and addiction, the opium trade will thrive. When the Afghan government becomes stable and can find alternative means to opium for an export, then the drug trade will move to the next lawless region. Yes, child brides and drug lords have become an integral part of the drug trade.

NC: As an Afghan first, and as an American citizen then, how do you forsee the future of Afghanistan?

FN: Cynically hopeful. I think the voter turnout surprised us all. As long as people in Afghanistan have hope, I have hope.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy


Last modified on Monday, 18 August 2014 15:07
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