Reports from Kabul indicate that differences continue between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani on the proposed power-sharing agreement to resolve the disputed June presidential election run-off. The audit of all the 8 million votes has been completed. However, the final result, which will certainly go in Ghani’s favour, has not been declared over fears of widespread unrest among the Tajiks and Hazaras if Abdullah does not accept it. It is unlikely that he will do so unless the deal is worked out to his satisfaction.
As a consequence of the deadlock the country is in limbo. The security situation already under great strain, is faltering because of the U.S. drawdown. The Taliban with Pakistani encouragement are on the upswing and the lack of confidence in the economy is growing.
This is a pity as the situation could have been avoided had the Pashtun leadership and influential sections of the international community prevented the large scale fraud that occurred in the run-off. Regardless of what the final audit may state, the valid perception in the Abdullah camp, and among the Tajiks and Hazaras is that Ghani stole the election with the complicity of President Karzai and U.S. backing. The statistics of the first round and the run-off reveal the sordid story of the fraud.
As expected Abdullah won the first round – he got 45% of the 6.6 million votes cast. Ghani was second with 31.5% of the vote share. Abdullah got clear support in the Tajik and Hazara areas, while Ghani led in the Pashtun-populated provinces of eastern Afghanistan and in the Uzbek-dominated north-west. He also decisively led in Kabul.
As the Afghan constitution prescribes that a successful candidate must secure at least 50% of votes, a runoff was necessary. It was widely anticipated that Abdullah would have no difficulty in winning the popular mandate, especially after he secured the support of Zalmai Rassoul who stood third with 7,50,000 votes including a clear majority in Kandahar.
The total number of votes cast in the run-off increased substantially from 6.6 to 8 million. The eastern provinces especially Khost, Pakitia, Paktika and Wardak witnessed a dramatic increase in absolute numbers as well as an unprecedented increase in number of women voters. The latter was very suspicious as Pashtun women in these provinces had never come out to vote in large numbers, and there was no evidence of their doing so in the run-off. In Kabul too, fortunes were reversed with Ghani doubling his votes to take the lead.
Abdullah’s supporters were shocked and angered after the preliminary results declared in early July, showed that Ghani had won over 56% of the vote, while Abdullah could manage only around 44%. Abdullah complained of “industrial scale fraud” – his supporters staged demonstrations and urged him to reject the vote and declare himself the elected president. The spectre of political fragmentation, and with that the splintering of the security forces, loomed large.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to Kabul in the wake of these developments, and stitched a deal between Abdullah and Ghani that involved an independent audit of all the votes and a power-sharing agreement between the two. This included the loser being appointed as chief executive. It was also agreed that a loya jirga, or grand assembly, would be called to complete a constitutional amendment within two years to provide for a prime minister. That deal unravelled when the two sides could not agree to the criterion to identify the fraudulent vote. No headway was made regarding the power-sharing agreement either.
Kerry visited Kabul again in August to rescue the deal. The objective was to ensure that the audit process was completed by the end of that month so that a new president would be present at the NATO summit on September 4-5. However, while the two groups pledged to work together during their meetings with Kerry, the momentum could not be sustained. Abdullah complaining of bias, withdrew his observers from the audit. Thereafter, the audit authorities asked Ghani to withdraw his team and went ahead with the process.
It is clear that Abdullah has now come around to the “theft” of the election – provided a satisfactory power sharing deal is worked out. While the sharing of security and economic positions has been agreed to, differences over the powers and functions of the chief executive are yet to be bridged. Abdullah will not be content with being designated a chief executive – he wants to chair the cabinet and have ministers report to him which amounts to being the de facto prime minister. Ghani is unwilling to agree to this demand.
The U.S. and its Pashtun supporters relied on managing the fraud to enable Ghani, their preferred choice, to become president. That has failed. Sooner rather than later the deadlock has to be resolved. It is impossible to expect that this fraudulent election will be nullified to work out an interim arrangement. That will require a continuing commitment by the U.S. which is all set to leave Afghanistan. Therefore, the results will have to announced even without Abdullah’s acceptance. It is probable that an attempt will be made to “buy off” Abdullah’s supporters and isolate him. While some of them may be tempted, they will have to consider that they will be reviled by their ethnic groups.
Will Abdullah declare himself as a rival president? Left to himself it is unlikely, but he will be under great pressure from supporters. He may opt for active non-cooperation making it difficult for Ghani to manage. The danger of a split in the Afghan army is also a possibility.
The path of wisdom would be to accept Abdullah’s views on the power sharing deal for he is the victim in the current situation. That arrangement will itself be difficult given the differences of experiences and world views between Ghani and Abdullah, besides their strong personalities and the deep resentments the election has generated. However, this is the best choice in the present times of transition, and will enable the country to meet the challenge posed by the Taliban.
Vivek Katju has served as India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Myanmar and Thailand. He was one of India’s chief negotiators during the hijack of Indian Airlines flight 8I4 in 1999 at Kandahar in Afghanistan, when he headed the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at the MEA.
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