Afghanistan has a new president. After several hours of deliberation on how to respond to Abdullah’s pull-out (and after initial statements that Saturday’s second round would go ahead as planned) the IEC announced today that as Karzai had received most votes in the first round and no longer had a competitor in the second, he is now Afghanistan’s elected president.
After two-and-a-half months of twists and turns, of posturing and positioning on the part of the competitors, of interfering and holding back on the part of the international backers, the outcome itself does not really come as a surprise. But it was quite sudden, and it has left much of the debate on legitimacy and how that can be ensured (or even “bestowed” as Clinton would have it) in mid-argument.
So what will happen now? First of all everyone will need to respond. The outcome will be welcomed by the main international actors, who are in dire need of a resolution that is not too messy. The US have already congratulated Karzai with his victory in this “historic election” (which is one way of putting it, Ban Ki Moon on the other hand chose to describe it earlier as “one of the most difficult elections the UN had ever supported”). Abdullah has not yet responded, but he can hardly have been surprised by the outcome. He will probably state his objections for the record – his supporters have already commented that the IEC decision did not have any basis in law and that it will not solve Afghanistan’s problems – but he is unlikely to contest Karzai’s presidency (and there are rumours of still a deal in the making). Karzai himself has also not yet responded (he is expected to do so tomorrow) but he and his supporters are likely to feel a deep sense of vindication, as well as a fair deal of resentment towards those who in their eyes have unnecessarily complicated matters and smeared Karzai’s name over the past few months.
The Afghan people will of course display a wide range of opinions and outlooks on how this process should have been handled and where things went wrong – and those discussions will still be had – but for the moment the overwhelming sense is likely to be one of relief. With every twist and with every turn there was an immense worry and apprehension that things may spin out of control and that this could be the beginning of a violent unraveling. It has happened before.
The international community, in particular the US, can now say it has a partner in Kabul and conclude its discussions on strategies and decisions. The credibility of the new government-in-making will be talked up in formal statements and its willingness to move in new ways in the fields of rule of law and corruption, government appointments, the security sector and the peace process will be assumed. But for Afghans the proof will be in the pudding. Who will be appointed? What will be the priorities? And most importantly, what will those linked to government be allowed to get away with?
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020