Results from Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election remain uncertain. The Independent Election Commission, announced it will once again delay the release of partial results until Saturday at the earliest.
In results made public so far, President Hamid Karzai holds a slight lead - with 44.8 percent of the vote versus 35.1 percent for former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Final certified results are not expected until early September. But, if neither candidate reaches the required 50.1 percent, a run-off election will be needed.
Accusations of Fraud
Both candidates and their supporters have accused one another of widespread fraud. Thus far, Afghanistan's Election Complaints Commission has received 1,500 formal complaints, 10 percent of which are deemed serious enough to merit investigation.
Because of so many reported irregularities, it is a good thing to delay announcing the results, Afghan journalist Nabi Misdaq says. Security was flawed. For example, there were 73 attacks, and 26 people were killed, Misdaq says. “People were selling voting cards in Kabul for $8.”
Misdaq believes both sides tried to rig the vote. If all sides cannot be convinced that the finally tally is credible he predicts there will be problems on the scale that occurred in Iran this summer where thousands of protestors took to the streets following disputed election results. That, Misdaq says, is what election officials are trying to avoid.
Roy Gutman, foreign editor for the McClatchy newspaper chain and author of a recent book on Afghanistan in the 1990s, says it is much too early to draw conclusions from the election commission’s reports on partial vote tallies. Even after the final results are announced, he predicts that speculation about the results will continue.
“Dr. Abdullah had a press conference in Kabul where he showed videos that purported to show policemen and government officials stuffing ballot boxes,” Gutman says.
“Those images, which we know represent part of the reality, are hugely disturbing and will be seriously called into question if President Karzai claims a major victory.”
Impact on the Region
American University professor Akbar Ahmed, former ambassador to Britain, a journalist and anthropologist, says his country has a huge stake in the election outcome in Afghanistan. Ahmed, who was former high commissioner of Pakistan’s Baluchistan and also in charge of the northwest tribal region of Waziristan, says the whole region will be affected. “In this particular election, whoever emerges – and the chances are that President Karzai will continue – there will be some major unresolved issues between Kabul and Islamabad.”
Ahmed notes that the Afghan president has blamed Pakistan for the resurgence of the Taliban. At the same time, he says, “Taliban elements spilling over from Afghanistan have now come into Pakistan. They have come out of the tribal areas, and they have destabilized large parts of Pakistan.”
On the other hand, if Abdullah Abdullah were to become president, Ahmed says, it would be perceived as a negative development by many people in Islamabad. “He would be seen as someone who represents the Northern Alliance – the non-Pashtun tribes that are traditionally seen in Pakistan as more inclined to be swayed by India.”
Meanwhile, complications are developing on the American front. There are indications the Obama administration may be putting greater pressure on the Afghan president to take a harder line on corruption and to minimize ties with warlords and others who are accused of drug trafficking and human rights abuses. A senior State Department official said Thursday that Washington has concerns about the reported drug connections of one of President Karzai's vice presidential running mates, former Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
Recent polls suggest public support for the war in Afghanistan is eroding. At the same time, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is expected to request about 25,000 additional troops in a report to the president that is due next week.
Deserting Afghanistan at this stage would be a terrible strategic error, says Gutman. He says the international community should learn from the events that took place in Afghanistan following the Soviet-Afghan war. “You have to learn the lessons of the 1990s. You can’t walk away from a war where you played a major role in its outcome,” says Gutman. “The chaos and the continued war is what led to bin Laden. That’s really the long-term lesson, I think.”
Ahmed says the possibility of America’s packing up and leaving Afghanistan in the near future is something that causes a lot of concern in Pakistan, too. But attitudes are often ambivalent. “It’s a contradictory emotion in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis would like to see the backs of Americans in the region,” he says. “They blame America for supporting the Afghan mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s and then leaving Afghanistan at the end of the decade. They feel Americans were just using them.”
All three analysts agree that whoever emerges as the victor in the Afghan presidential elections and no matter how serious his flaws may be the Afghan government will need U.S. support in defeating the Taliban insurgency and in bringing stability and security to the people of Afghanistan.
Ahmed, Gutman, and Misdaq were interviewed on the VOA English radio program International Press Club, hosted by Judith Latham. International Press Club broadcasts Thursdays on many VOA frequencies.