Afghans want legitimacy

As Afghanistan awaits the result of the second round of elections, countless allegations of fraud have arisen between candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, bringing the legitimacy of this first peaceful transfer of power into question. On Wednesday, the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) discussed “Afghanistan’s Future: Politics, Prosperity, and Security Under New Leadership” with keynote speaker Ambassador James Dobbins, Ambassador Omar Samad, Clare Lockhart, and Hassan Abbas.

While some argue that US efforts in Afghanistan have been futile, Ambassador Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the US Department of State, said this is inaccurate. Political and economic investments have yielded substantial changes over the past decade.  The economy has expanded by more than 400%, the literacy rate has doubled, and longevity has increased by 20 years. UN Development Programme studies have shown that Afghanistan has made more progress than any other country over the past decade. Afghan society has experienced remarkable changes, specifically in its evolution into an urbanized, informed and technological nation.

These social and economic changes are largely a result of the significant US commitment to Afghanistan, which will decline in the near future. According to Dobbins, the success of the transition ultimately depends on three factors. First is the shift to an Afghan-led and managed security force. This process is largely complete. Second, declining US and international financial support will affect the national economy. Third is the behavior of neighboring states. The instability surrounding Afghanistan and the possible influx of militants could have a significant impact on how the country will transition to self-reliance.

While this will be a challenging process in the future, the most potent issue that Afghanistan currently faces is its electoral dilemma. Ambassador Samad, Senior Central Asia Fellow at New America Foundation, discussed the complex political process surrounding the presidential election. A corrupt system has taken hold. The fraud allegations in the recent presidential election are very real. President Karzai has used patronage to create a political mafia. It is vital for the country to restore trust in the system and legitimately elect a new leader. Afghans view this election as a reflection of their newfound political voice and free will. Afghans have had enough—they are committed to a credible election.

Clare Lockhart, Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness, emphasized the preservation of constitutional law in the Afghan political system. It is vital to maintain the legitimacy of the constitutional order as a means of counteracting political and economic deterioration. However, this should be addressed not from a political dialogue standpoint, but rather from a conflict resolution approach. Afghan leaders must consider what inclusivity truly means and learn from the mistakes of the Bonn Agreement of 2001.

“People will not accept fraud. They want a mechanism that is credible,” concluded Abbas. It must be clear who won and exactly how Karzai’s successor will move forward. According to Abbas, the US needs to provide the confidence that justice will be done and that the rightful winner of the election will take office.

Afghans are more than ready for a legitimate election. They have waited ten long years to gain their political voice. They will not stand for candidates stuffing the ballot box.

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