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Afghanistan at melting point: Will new President bring Peace?

With the election of the new president, arrives a decisive moment for Afghan US diplomacy. The country either moves toward normalization following the withdrawal of foreign forces and an intra-Afghan agreement on a transitional government, or it spirals into a bitter civil war. Will Ashraf Ghani be able to handle the pressure?

Ashraf Ghani

Opinion |

After a long delay, the preliminary results of Afghanistan’s presidential election were announced late last year, and President Ashraf Ghani was re-elected president by a small margin. The final and conclusive outcome will be forthcoming soon.

As expected, Ghani’s close rival, Dr. Abdullah has rejected the result calling it the ‘fraudulent outcome’ of a controversial poll.

It appears, however, that the result will not change to the detriment of the current president.

The whole election process has, to an extent, lost its credibility following over 16,000 complaints of rigging, of bogus votes being polled and well-orchestrated moves to manipulate vote counting.

The most complex of these is the willingness of the Taliban to agree to a limited or phased cease-fire

The long delay in ballot counting also lent credence to rumors about unfair means being adopted to document the vote count of the candidates.

All this reveals the inherent weaknesses of the administrative institutions and the lack of professional competence, managerial skills, lack of oversight and lack of motivation. The fear of attacks from the insurgency also contributed to the lackluster performance of those organizing the polls. Despite these and many other flaws, the result of the polls will have to be accepted because the risks of not endorsing the result will cause even more serious problems.

One significant outcome of this whole exercise could be that the US will now deal with a government no longer haunted by the spectra of uncertainty.

Ashraf Ghani’s stance is well known. He, along with many others, the beneficiaries of the system, would like to prolong the status quo. He will not be easily persuaded to come on board with an arrangement that dismantles the current governance structures so assiduously worked out under US watch. The US will have to change its strategy in relation to future governance systems if it aims at a multi-ethnic government that includes the Taliban as a dominant partner.

Read more: How Will Kashmir Affect The Afghan Peace Process?

The Americans will have to use all the armor in their arsenal –diplomacy, coercion, withholding of funds, etc, to force Ghani to acquiesce in any agreement that they sign with the Taliban. This will be difficult for Ghani to swallow. But then he has to accept the harsh terms if he wants to remain somewhat relevant to the scheme of things.

There are however some stumbling blocks to clear before a deal is reached with the Taliban. The most complex of these is the willingness of the Taliban to agree to a limited or phased cease-fire. As has been stated in these columns many times before, the Taliban are skeptical about agreeing to a complete cease-fire before the full exit of foreign forces from the country.

But as pressure increases on the Taliban to move forward and on Zalmay Khalilzad to deliver a tangible outcome, there will be a renewed urge to move closer to a peace accord. The re-election of Ghani will certainly contribute to a renewed push for a compromise on key issues.

If the US shows its intentions and conveys the impression that they mean business and that a deal will have to be finalized soon, the Afghan President will have to come on board. But if there is a lack of resolve as far as the US is concerned, and things are going to become messy. The worst sufferers will be rank and file Afghan men, women, and children.

Read more: Afghan General Elections: Violence amidst votes

A decisive moment has come in a long conflict. The country either moves toward normalization following the withdrawal of foreign forces and an intra-Afghan agreement on a transitional government, or it spirals into a bitter civil war.

As well as finalizing a deal with the Taliban, the US must begin to undertake a study on how to push forward intra-Afghan dialogue if anarchy is to be avoided.

Rustam Shah Mohmand is a former interior secretary and a former ambassador. The article originally appeared at Arab News Pakistan Edition and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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