2014 Presidential Election and Afghan Political Transition
Afghan political transition is being viewed as the major trendsetter for post 2014 stability of the country. As the final phase of international military drawdown is in progress, Afghan nation, during April 2014 Presidential elections is scheduled to elect political leadership post Hamid Karzai. The presidential election in 2014 is though not the first such activity, as two elections have already been held post Taliban era; nonetheless ongoing electoral activity retains the phenomenal influence on the Afghan future. With the announcement of final candidate list and commencement of formal campaign, the presidential elections process enters in the final phase. What would essentially transpire on Afghan political horizon after the political transition is an issue being debated curiously, not only in the region but at powerful world capitals also. Notwithstanding the loads of optimism attached with the impending political transition; concerns on the prospects of something undesirable also loom on the horizon. Would the Afghan election process lead to greater stability in the country or exacerbate ever present ethnic polarization? Will there be wider acceptability of the elections or the events leading to, and on the vote day have the potential to greatly undermine the transparency and legitimacy of the entire process? And finally, would the ongoing electoral exercise and ensuing leadership bring peace and stability in post Karzai Afghanistan?
As events unfold, the 2014 Afghan presidential elections carry some very interesting dynamics compared to the elections of 2004 and 2009. This time, there are lesser number of contestants compared to previous precedence, as only 11 candidates appear in the list whereas 18 participants in 2004, and 32 presidential aspirants in 2009 took part in the elections. Moreover, only one non-Pashtun (Tajik Dr. Abdullah Abdullah) is contesting 2014 presidential elections while previously, many Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek contenders have been among presidential candidates. In the past, there have not been any potential winner among Pashtuns, other than incumbent Hamid Karzai; however, situation this time is quite different. Whereas there is only one strong and winnable non-Pashtun on the horizon, many Pashtun aspirants, both influential as well as potential winners, are dividing Pashtun vote. If this trend continues and all Pashtun candidates remain in the race, the possibility of non-Pashtun returning successful in the presidential elections is likely to become a reality.
Afghan polity is highly unpredictable and nothing tangible can be inferred till the final day, nevertheless, Afghans has the tendency to support the contender of the top slot from their respective ethnicities if they are to make a choice. As the composition of the presidential panels in 2014 amply reveal, there is multi ethnic representation in the electoral race, with leaders enjoying strong appeal among respective communities joining opposing camps. If Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is the only Tajik presidential candidate, other influential from his community like Ahmed Zia Massoud (brother of legendry Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Ismail Khan (strongman from Western Afghanistan) are the vice presidential candidates of the opposite panels. Same scenario divides Hazara and Uzbek communities too, as the prominent personalities from these ethnicities also form part of different panels, thus potentially dividing the respective vote bank. If we go by the past precedence, the presidential candidate (Dr. Abdullah Abdullah in this case) is likely to attract the Tajik voter more, compared to Tajik vice presidential aspirants. During 2009, in a similar situation, lesser known Hazara Presidential candidate Mr Ramazan Bashardost obtained majority vote of his ethnicity despite prominent warlords Karim Khalili (as the vice Presidential candidate of Karzai Panel) and Muhammad Mahaqiq supporting President Hamid Karzai.
As of today, when all leading candidates are contesting the 2014 presidential elections, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah led panel is being projected as a winnable combination. The greater prospects of electoral win of Dr. Abdullah are being regularly prophesied by domestic as well as international media through various opinion polls. If the prevailing situation persists, and there is no withdrawal from Pashtun panel(s) in favour of other Pashtun candidate, the defeat of the only non-Pashtun presidential candidate will appear unrealistic. Moreover, any such eventuality is unlikely to be accepted by non-Pashtun communities. Alternatively, popular Pashtun reaction to the electoral success of a non-Pashtun President may not be very forthcoming. It is thus a tangible fear that Afghan political transition is 2014 through presidential elections has the potential to impact intra-ethnic harmony in Afghanistan.