Bloomberg News

Afghan Vote Fight to Ease as Business Tops Politics

June 24, 2014

Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, center, looks on during a press conference at his residence in Kabul on June 23, 2014. Abdullah’s campaign on June 22 released an audio tape to reporters that it said proved election officials rigged the vote in favor of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Photographer: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

For the second straight Afghan presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah finds himself disputing the outcome. Analysts are betting that, like last time, he’ll accept the result if he loses.

Abdullah said yesterday he was open to talks to end his boycott of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan’s vote count after a senior official accused of fraud resigned. Demonstrations by Abdullah’s supporters last weekend drew only several hundred people after he demanded a halt to the process even before results have been announced.

“All of the players in this political game own property and businesses in Kabul,” Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said by phone from the city. “It is in their financial interest to keep stability in the capital. It is hard for me to imagine them wanting to tip the apple cart.”

A disputed outcome threatens to trigger violence in Asia’s poorest country and delay the signing of a security pact that would keep U.S. troops in the country and secure billions of dollars in aid money. In 2009, Abdullah urged supporters not to protest when he withdrew from a runoff.

“The recent protests have been managed by Abdullah’s team in order to prevent any violent actions,” said Jawid Kohistani, a former intelligence agency official and now a Kabul-based political and security analyst. “Abdullah understands that violent protests might not let him win, but instead may lead to the eruption of a crisis.”

Fraud Claim

Abdullah’s campaign on June 22 released an audio tape to reporters that it said proved election officials rigged the vote in favor of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. One of the officials involved, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, resigned yesterday while denying any wrongdoing and saying the audio was faked.

“The only reason for my resignation is for the national interest of my country,” Amarkhil told reporters. “So now Dr. Abdullah should end his boycott of the election commission and respect the code of conduct which he signed with the commission on the first day.”

While Abdullah welcomed the resignation, he said several conditions remained unmet. They included an investigation into claims that the number of voters in some areas exceeded the population, and a demand for voting to occur in places where it didn’t take place, even though there weren’t security issues on election day.

“If all of our conditions aren’t met, we won’t acknowledge the election process,” Abdullah told reporters.

Ghani Response

Abdullah won 45 percent of votes in the first round of the election on April 5, while falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff with Ghani, who took 32 percent. The constitution bars President Hamid Karzai from running for a third consecutive five-year term.

Ghani’s camp regards the audio recordings released by Abdullah as fake and has called on him to accept the election results and serve in the opposition if he loses, according to Sulaiman Khpelwak, a spokesman for Ghani.

“Dr. Abdullah must respect Afghan votes now and return back to the election as his major condition was met,” Khpelwak said by phone.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan yesterday said the elections “were better managed and more advanced than those previously” and called on Abdullah to cooperate in the vote-counting process.

In a separate statement, Jan Kubis, who heads the body, warned parties to avoid posting remarks on social media that increase tensions and “promote divisive ethnic mobilization.”

Ethnic Divide

“This includes rhetoric that brings back memories of tragic, fratricidal, factional conflicts in the 1990s that cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians,” Kubis said.

Abdullah, 53, is half Pashtun and half Tajik. As foreign minister under Karzai, he was a close aide to Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, an ethnic Tajik seen by many Afghans as a national hero for fighting against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.

Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun who served as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002-2004 and finished fourth in the 2009 election. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in New York.

Pashtuns account for 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 32 million people, while Tajiks make up 27 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew, factional fighting killed thousands of people and led ultimately to the Taliban regime, which was ousted by the U.S. after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

U.S. Troops

Obama said last month that U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be reduced to 9,800 by the end of this year, with only a small force at the embassy by the end of 2016, when he will be preparing to leave office. About two years after U.S. troops left Iraq, that country is embroiled in a fight with an al-Qaeda breakaway group that is seizing territory in the North.

While power is set to be transferred to a new president on Aug. 2, it could be pushed back if the election body needs more time to investigate fraud, according to Abdullah Ahmadzai, deputy country representative in Kabul for the Asia Foundation and former chief of Afghanistan’s election commission.

Preliminary election results were scheduled to be released from July 2, though now are likely to be delayed. Final results are supposed to be published July 22.

“The closer we get to the end of December, the more challenging the signing of the BSA will become,” Ahmadzai said.

Both Abdullah and Ghani have pledged to sign the U.S. troop pact if they take power. Without the funds that come along with the agreement, Afghanistan will struggle to pay the salaries of soldiers fighting Taliban insurgents.

“What is likely to happen is that these powerful men will understand that they are on the same side of the war,” said Smith of Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy research organization, noting that violence is the highest since 2011. “Despite their profound differences, these Kabul elites may decide that they have more in common than they think.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at enajafizada1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net Dick Schumacher


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