The Afghanistan election for a new president has been dogged by unrest, cries of fraud and the potential for long-term political fallout among the country’s allies.

If conditions continue, the unrest may trigger a democratic collapse and humanitarian crisis. In its first democratic handover of power since Hamid Karzai took office in 2004, the two lead Presidential candidates have become the center of a political debate that threatens the country’s stability. In the most recent election results, ex-World Bank economist Abdullah Abdullah narrowly beat former anti-Taliban fighter Ashraf Ghani in the second round of elections held June 14. According to the Independent Election Commission (EIC,) Ghani won with 56 percent of the vote, although the final results will not be announced until July 22.

In the meantime, Abdullah and his followers have called for a recount of the votes, renouncing the result a “coup” against the people of Afghanistan. Regardless of the winner, if the strife continues, Afghanistan could see the conflict affecting all levels of the country, most notably the poor.

Afghanistan relies heavily upon allies like the United States and its partners to provide money with which to combat the Taliban and keep its economy healthy. While both candidates support a continued partnership with the United States, following the announcement on Monday, Abdullah spoke of forming a parallel government to combat Ghani’s government.

Parallel governments may be formed when countries severely divided by racial or ethnic differences operate under separate laws and rules, concurrently. A notable example of a parallel government occurred in 1942 in Maharashtra, India where people created a local government independent of British writ that technically governed them.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that an effort to form a parallel government would be met by an end of U.S. aid. “I have noted reports of protests in Afghanistan and of suggestions of a ‘parallel government’ with the gravest concern,” he said during a statement issued by the U.S. embassy. “Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community.”

Afghanistan received approximately 35 percent of its Gross National Income from aid reports Global Humanitarian Assistance, a foreign aid watchdog group. This aid funds everything from Afghanistan’s army to its road maintenance. Dividing these funds between two governments would be impossible to sustain. In light of the deteriorating conditions in Iraq, where the void left by retreating US troops has increasingly been filled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) extremist group, maintaining positive relations with western forces has become progressively more important for Afghanistan.

Restricted foreign aid could trigger a regression to mid-1990s Afghanistan, warned Ambassador James Dobbins. During that time period, Afghanistan encountered widespread disease, war, and the institution of Taliban regime. The Taliban first seized power in Afghanistan in 1996, seven years after the Soviet Army’s departure and a resulting civil war.

The Taliban instituted a hard-line form of Islam that banned women from work and school, jailed men for having too short of beards and instituted stoning, amputations and public executions. The combination of the civil war, Taliban government and implosion of natural disasters in Afghanistan, including the worst drought it had seen in 30 years, created a miasma of human suffering. Millions were expelled from their homes and thousands suffered from malaria, pneumonia, polio, typhoid and cholera. While both men vie for the top spot, preventing another humanitarian catastrophe should remain their top priority.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Aljazeera America 1, Aljazeera America 2, The Guardian, Swarthmore, CNN, Olschimke’s Blog Reuters, Global Humanitarian Assistance, BBC

Photo: The Guardian

aid from afghanistan
Preliminary results of the Afghan election, reported by the Afghan Independent Election Commission on Monday July 7, threaten to create further chaos in the country. The situation prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to warn on Tuesday that “Any action to take power by extralegal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the U.S. and the international community.”

The results declared Ashraf Ghani in the lead of his opponent Abdullah Abdullah, sparking demonstrations from both parties claiming the elections to be marred by fraud. Repeated statements from election officials that the results are not final have done little to quench the protests.

Mr. Abdullah’s camp has spent the days since the reporting of the preliminary results building support for a parallel government. Claims that the election was engineered by Mr. Ghani, the election officials and current President Hamid Karzai have been made by allies of Mr. Abdullah.

“From this moment on, we announce our own legitimate government led by Abdullah Abdullah,” writes Atta Mohammed Noor, governor of Balkh Province, on Facebook.

Mr. Abdullah himself has urged his supporters to wait before taking action. He addressed a gathering of his leading supporters on Tuesday: “We are the winner of this round of elections without any doubt. I ask you to give me a few days to consult and speak.” This speech was delivered after a portrait of Hamid Karzai was torn down by his supporters while they cried: “Death to Karzai.”

The preliminary results threatens to inflame festering ethnic tensions. Mr. Ghani and many of his supporters are Pashtun, the majority-ethnic group that has historically been in power. In contrast, Mr. Abdullah derives his support from the Tajik ethnic group, which has been historically marginalized. Mr. Abdullah and his supporters feel they may never see political power, unless they take it by force.

Financial Times quotes Kate Clark, a senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analyst Network: “the election has thrown up ‘a lot of combustible material’ that both candidates had stopped just short of lighting.”

President Obama has personally phoned both candidates, telling them explicitly that violence or illegal action will cause the U.S. to withdraw all aid from Afghanistan. While both President Obama and Secretary Kerry have voiced their support for a thorough election audit, the threat of rescinding support makes clear the U.S.’s position on any action taken by either side outside the limits of the law.

The U.S. has been a strong financial and security backer for the Afghan government. The United States Agency for International Development is one of the agencies working to improve conditions in Afghanistan. In aggregate, since 2002, USAID has spent $13 billion on programs in the country. Economic growth has stabilized at nine percent per year, eight million children are enrolled in school—including 2.9 million girls—and 60 percent of the population lives within access of health services, since the fall of the Taliban.

U.S. aid is vital to the survival of a country where 50 percent of the population lives in poverty and 7.5 million are food insecure.

“America does have a stake in Afghanistan—and Afghanistan still needs America,” Kate Clark sums up the situation.

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: First Post, The New York Times, Financial Times
Photo: Afghanistan Study Group