election in afghanistan
On Saturday June 14, Afghanis vote to elect a new president. The event could mark the first peaceful democratic transition of power in the nation’s history. The runoff election, between Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, will determine President Hamid Karzai’s successor.

The outcome of the June 14 election in Afghanistan will be essential for establishing stability. The results will also greatly affect America’s relationship with Afghanistan. This is because future U.S. military presence in the country is highly dependent upon the winner. Therefore, the election is of particular importance for Americans.

Currently, the United States has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. All combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by December 31, 2014, according to President Barack Obama. But the United Nations as well as the U.S. would like to try and create a security agreement with the new Afghani leader. The U.S. hopes to keep some military presence in the country after the December 31 deadline in order to continue the training of the Afghani military against terrorism threats.

President Karzai refuses to sign the agreement and says that the deal should be made with the new leader. So the U.S. is now left to wait.
But the process of counting the ballots and the time needed for the new president to assume power could take months. This leaves the U.S. with very little time to form an agreement. With the impending December 31 deadline, Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has started planning a “zero option,” which withdraws all U.S. troops by the date if an U.S.-Afghani agreement cannot be made in time.

The “zero option” plan would not only withdraw U.S. troops but also cut billions of dollars in aid. This would likely leave the country vulnerable. And because the Taliban still has strong holds within the country; the absence of aid and military support could leave more parts of the country susceptible to their control.

The Taliban threatened retaliation against all those who voted in the presidential election on June 14. They view the race as invalid because of the presence of U.S. troops in the country. But many Afghanis defied these threats by casting their ballots. In a strong turnout, an estimated 7 million Afghanis voted. There were scattered attacks around the country but no major violence erupted. The election offers a promise of a peaceful future for a nation that has been at war for 13 years.

But claims of fraud and irregularities in the election have come from both candidates. Specifically, instances of ballot stuffing and polling stations running out of ballots taint the legitimacy of the votes cast. The possibility of the losing candidate rejecting the official election results threatens the entire election process. If Afghanistan cannot establish a peaceful democratic transition, then the country risks falling back into instability.

The official preliminary results are not expected before early July. And as the ballots are being counted, both Afghanistan and the U.S. wait anxiously to see the outcome.

— Kathleen Egan

Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NY Times
Photo: CBSNews