Pro-American former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah won 44.9% of the vote in Afghanistan’s April 5th presidential election and will face former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who received 31.5% of the vote, in a run-off expected to be held on May 29th, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
Both top vote-getters are opponents of current President Hamid Karzai and would be strong supporters of signing a security agreement allowing American forces to remain in the country past 2014.
Mr. Abdullah, a northerner of mixed Tajik and Pashtun ethnicity, would be one of the few northerners to lead a country historically dominated by southern Pashtuns. Abdullah lost to Karzai, who has been the country’s leader since the United States toppled the Taliban regime in 2009, a few months after the 9/11 attacks. If Abdullah wins the run-off, it would be the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan history.
The last effort at such a power transfer in Afghanistan took place after the overthrow of the Marxist regime in 1992. The anti-communist Islamist insurgent groups’ inability to share power in the transitional government led to the rise of the Taliban movement.
If the current process succeeds, the next president will take office sometime after June.
Given the Afghanistan fighting season runs from about April 1st to September 30th, the new president will take office at the annual height of Taliban insurgency. According to Stratfor Global Intelligence, “The drawdown of NATO forces represents a unique opportunity for Afghan jihadists to exploit the opening in the system and try to undermine it. The Taliban are trying to pull together the biggest offensive since the insurgency began 12 years ago.”
The Obama administration and Pakistan had supported a negotiated power-sharing agreement with the Taliban last year. The Karzai government closed their negotiating office in Qatar in June due to aversion to any jihadist style of governance by various Afghan tribes. Stratfor writes that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had tried to “adjust the movement’s rhetoric and behavior to accommodate public opinion,” but rank-and-file jihadis gave no indication of willingness to submit to a democratic process.
Stratfor believes that the Taliban will make an all-out push to demonstrate that “once NATO forces are out and Karzai is no longer in office, the new leadership will be unable to provide security. People want stability, though they are still wary of Taliban rule. So the Taliban are resorting to attacks to show that life will still be miserable if the government does not meet their demands.”
The Taliban goal has been to reshape the political system so they can have a dominant role. President Karzai’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement killed Taliban negotiations as he sought to “shed perceptions that he was a U.S. puppet – something he would need to do if he wants to wield influence after leaving the presidency.”
The next Afghan president will have to ensure the ethnic, tribal, and political factions within the country can be balanced off with relations between neighboring Shiite Muslim Iran and Sunni Muslim Pakistan. The expected big Taliban offensive this year will seek to make the transition to a new Afghan administration as difficult as possible.
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