Afghanistan Elections and Pakistan`s Anxiety
- Written by N Yousufzai- Mona Naseer
Afghanistan is holding its presidential elections coming month of April 2014- which could be the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the country. Elections in Afghanistan not only safeguards the political stability and democratic values in Afghanistan- but also heralds another phase of Afghans history
The countdown to the American withdrawal and Afghan election 2014 is perhaps the most talked about phase of the Afghanistan from its political stability to economic viability point of view. Americans success and its goal achievements in the country along with what are they leaving behind in their post withdrawal policy are some of the questions on its neighbours and stakeholders mind. Neighbouring countries are flexing their muscles on how to exploit the situation of a nascent nation by increasing their sphere of influence in Afghanistan if the NATO withdrawal leaves any vacuum.
The three candidates leading in the election campaign are Abdullah Abdullah a prominent member of the former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Ashraf Ghani former finance minister and a popular candidate among Pashtun middle class and urban Afghans.
Another prominent candidate is Mr Rassoul, who has served as President Karzai's foreign minister. Karzai`s family support has brought him into the spotlight and on equal footings in the campaign with the rest of the two candidates.
The neighbouring countries especially Pakistan is closely watching the latest developments in Kabul- where it seems that it can no longer influence the process by playing the old cards of dividing Afghans on the basis of ethnicities. Afghans apparently seem to have learned a lesson from its ethnic and tribal infighting which lead to the destructive 1992 civil war. Younger generation Afghans has shown faith in national unity and has expressed their frustration in the past politics which caused enormous destruction and brought miseries upon them. In a recent story on the Afghan elections, Washington post wrote a "disputed election could lead to ethnic and tribal fighting a corrupt election would be a death knell for U.S. and foreign support for Afghanistan". Afghanistan president Karzai understands the significance of ethnic unification. Al-Jazeera reported that whether these ethnically mix teams were designed by President Karzai or by calculations on the part of the candidates themselves, the result is that no presidential team can be claimed by any one ethnic group.
Meanwhile, Pakistanis policy makers are discussing what would any of the three leading candidates, if elected, mean to the interest of the country in Afghanistan and in the region.
Given the tenuous Pak-Afghan relations and the Pakistani interference in Afghanistan, no presidential candidates gauging the mood of Afghans risk voter’s support by showing a soft corner towards Pakistan in their campaign, regardless of how they would deal with Pakistan after elected as president.
The candidates tough talks against Pakistan, makes it harder for Pakistani establishment too to endorse the suitable candidate in the election. The disputed Durand Line border between the two countries remains top of the Pakistani agenda when devising any sort of bilateral relations. Florida based Political analyst of Pakistani origin, Dr Mohammad Taqi feels the difficulty of choice for Pakistanis. He believes Pakistan best bet to influence the elections would be its manipulation of the North/South ethnic divide. “I don't think Pakistan has any favourite’s much they despise Dr. Abdullah Abdullah his ascent might suit them to play on the Pashtun/North divide”.
Afghan political experts and officials are of the view that Pakistan’s attempts to make a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban so TTP or Afghanistan Taliban can channelize its energy towards the disruption of polls in Afghanistan. Taliban have vowed that they will disrupt the election. The recent attack on Serena hotel, and series of bombing near election offices just weeks before the election, which killed nine local and foreign guests has sent shock waves throughout the country. Afghan intelligence is indicating the attack was planned by the intelligence of a ‘neighbouring’ country- a common reference to Pakistan in the official statements of the agency.
The lack of ‘favourite’ among the candidates leaves Pakistan with the option of increasing its political influence through its Afghan proxies – the Taliban. The addition of Pakistani Taliban to the political and war turf might make it difficult for Afghan security forces to provide a safe and secure environment to voters on April 5 – adversely impacting the convention of free and fair elections.
The long term benefits of this strategy are questioned by many Pakistani analysts for the future of the country itself. Pakistani esblaihsment believe in sustaining war intensity in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and by trying to achieve its objective of friendly and issueless Afghanistan (strategic depth and Durand line) has serious questions over it.
With more than 60000 thousand people hanged on the altar of strategic depth policy in KP and FATA, with its economic fallout, IDPS and, along with loss of human lives have not changed much the hawkish policies we are pursuing as a paranoid security state.
The past policy of Afghanistan regarding Durand line and pukhtunistan are still haunting our policy makers. But the question arises” Can Afghanistan as a landlocked war ravaged state afford to create trouble for its neighbour, and are the dynamic of pukhtunistan or pukhtun nationalism still strong enough to fan the fire of separatism in Pakistan, or our fears not tangible anymore but rather is Pakistan military establishment obsession with its eastern borders and the weight of our policy towards India . How we see the world from the prism of India fixation.
Our policy makers predominately from Punjab forgo the interest of smaller provinces, particularly KP and FATA which still continues to suffer with this myopic policy of Pakistan establishment safeguarding eastern border at the expensive of Pukhtun in Pakistan.
Pakistan should realise that its policy of dividing or playing up the ethnicity card in Afghanistan will have serious repercussion if Afghanistan fell into the chaos as predicated with the possible compromised elections, resulting not only in influx of refugees from Afghanistan which with our own internally displaced will create a situation beyond the state capacity, and the possible merger of TTP and Afghan Taliban challenging the sovereignty of not only our western borders but even further creating the chaos beyond the peripheral areas.
By having a weak chaotic neighbour in Afghanistan and its continuous fall out in Fata and KP, it won’t be long that we might set out to redraw our borders once again after the 1971 adventure.