Presidential elections in Afghanistan - what’s at stake?
The world’s attention will focus on Afghanistan on October 9th. Developments in Afghanistan have made it possible to hold the first democratic presidential elections in this country. However, it is far from certain if good news will prevail.
The significance of this week goes far beyond Afghanistan. It’s a world event – an historic one. Preparations for the election were supported by the UN, OSCE, NATO, EU, individual countries, the US military operation “Enduring Freedom” and numerous NGOs.
Registering the electorate was the first litmus test in a country where democracy has no history. The official result: 9,7 million of an electorate of 10 million people (out of a population of about 23 million) have been registered – of which 41% are women. Even if these figures are perhaps somewhat "polished", they represent a first success when one takes into account blackmail attempts and terrorist attacks by the Taliban, al Qaida, independently operating terrorists such as Gulbuddin Hekmatjar and various warlords.
In the coming days, we will see whether or these groups will operate and if so, how they will operate. They have repeatedly declared they will foil the election by attacking polling centers and voters. Will it be possible to hold these elections and come to a democratic result? Will there be a clear mandate for one of the 18 candidates – from my point of view preferably for Hamid Karzai, who in June 2002 was elected with a majority of about 80% by the national “loya jirga”?
If the insurgents were able to stop the elections, it would be a dramatic defeat – not just for Afghanistan, but also for the whole region of the “Broader Middle East” and especially for Iraq. The repercussions would hit President Bush hard in his re-election campaign. Operation “Enduring Freedom” would be regarded as a huge failure. This would also be the assessment of NATO’S ISAF operation with about 9,000 soldiers from 36 NATO and non-NATO nations. This result would not be the end of all efforts and chances to bring democracy, security and stability to Afghanistan, but it would undoubtedly be a serious setback.
Let’s have a look at the optimistic option. American and NATO forces could secure sufficient protection. The vast majority of voters are able to exercise their right to vote. Karzai wins a solid majority. This positive result could not be underestimated. It would be the message that democracy can be exported to countries where there is no democratic basis and tradition. It could initiate a new “domino effect” for the “Broader Middle East”. It would be a defeat for the Taliban, al Qaida and Hekmatjar.
This would not be the solution to all of Afghanistan's problems, but it would be a very important first step. It would motivate the international community to continue to help in Afghanistan and in Iraq where elections will be held in January 2005. It would also be a success for Pakistan in the fight against terrorists on Pakistani territory. It would also provide a positive signal for the parliamentary elections that will be held in Afghanistan in 2005.
In a week from now we will know more. A lot is at stake for the whole world – hopefully a safer and better world.