Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Afghan Presidential Elections From Chief Strategist to Formidable Challenger

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The Afghan Presidential Elections  From Chief Strategist to Formidable Challenger

President Ghani and his former National Security Advisor Mr. Hanif Atmar were synonymous in many strategic moves made by the presidential palace post 2014, the year the National Unity Government was formed. The story of the Afghan presidential elections in 2014 is both fascinating and unique in regards to internationally accepted standards. Rampant electoral fraud and foreign meddling have been the key ingredients. The former NSC advisor was often allegedly portrayed as the mastermind in orchestrating president Ghani’s bold and controversial moves against political allies and rivals on different occasions. He was widely referred to as the chief strategist behind the many infamous moves made by the prevailing president. He is an ethnic Pashtoon who carries a reasonable resume when it comes to his political career. He purportedly lost a limb when fighting the Mujahedeen in Jalalabad battle in 1987 on behalf of the Soviet backed then Afghan regime. Hanif Atmar has obtained formal education in public policy from York University, U.K. As the former Rural Rehabilitation and interior minister under former President Karzai, he initiated the National Solidarity Program (NSP) which often received high praises from donor agencies. His subordinates in his both former capacities have praised his uncorrupted individuality and managerial skills. He is the leading member of the Justice and Truth party founded in 2011 under his auspices.
The chemistry between the two began when his party endorsed president Ghani then the presidential nominee in 2014. The moment the NUG agreement was brokered by the former U.S. Secretary of State, he was immediately appointed as the National Security Advisor replacing his precedent Dr. Spanta. He was labeled as a close aide and confidante of president Ghani for four years. Nevertheless the relationship turned sour when the latter expressed his plans to contest in the upcoming presidential elections against the president. He later resigned citing growing differences with president Ghani on policy matters, and a bulk of his recommendations falling on deaf ears. Similarly president Ghani was swift to find a replacement for the vacancy and gradually removed any of his former appointees and loyalists within and outside the NSC Council.
Here in the United States President Trump and his former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon enjoyed a similar relationship. During the campaign trails, the then candidate Trump and Steve Bannon enjoyed a very asymmetric equation as President Ghani and his ex-chief security advisor Hanif Atmar.
Hanif Atmar has always been a controversial figure in Afghan politics, in his recent former capacity as president’s top security advisor, political analysts and influential opposition leaders had accused him of conspiring in marginalizing their role in the National Unity Government and adhering to mischievous schemes to physically eliminate them. When the setting first vice-president’s convoy was ambushed by the militants on his way back from frontline in Jowzjan, he vehemently wasted no time to point finger to certain elements with the National Security Council headed by Mr. Hanif Atmar at that particular time. Besides that, coordinated triple suicidal attacks on a funeral held for a Jihadi figure son’s burial in Badambagh Kabul was also blamed on NSC with an alleged aim to wipe out the top leadership of Jamiat e Islami a soviet era Jihadi faction in an elaborately orchestrated scheme, but none of these allegations were backed with solid evidence and faded away.
No doubt as the NSC advisor he had managed to revive the very intrinsic functionality of the National Security Council, spreading both its authority and auspices on the efficacy of security establishments, while simultaneously pursuing a consolidated regional cooperation for Afghan security, during his tenure as NSC advisor the U.S. accelerated efforts in providing the much needed aerial enhancement to the Afghan air force as well as engaging Chinese and Russians to follow suit. However, the increasing footprints of ISIS, growing Taliban offenses and alarmingly high Afghan armed forces’ casualties did indeed overshadow all the above mentioned achievements to a great extent.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, subsequent Afghan elections have always been marred with fraudulent voting irregularities and both alleged and explicit ballot tampering. It is yet for a credible democracy to find a tangible footprint in a society ravaged by decades of internal conflicts and nonstop foreign occupation. Regretfully Afghanistan is always victimized to the very malicious intentions of its infamous political figures. They have turned democracy into anarchy and elections into mockery. The fall of the Taliban regime and the flow of billions of dollars in international aid provided them an unprecedented opportunity to enrich themselves and subsequently buy out government officials and even form personal militias. They have stakes in the government, while using the influence to carry out business deals and illicit economic activities all over the country.
The Afghan presidential elections that was previously scheduled in mid April this year, is likely to happen with a three months delay in mid July 2019. The election commission cites technical shortcomings and tangible changes in managerial flaws that was strongly criticized and has created humongous outburst equally from the voters and candidates in the recently held parliamentary elections.
Unfortunately the international community supporting Afghanistan in its pursuit of strengthening democratic values with a large sum of their tax payers’ hard-earned bucks failed to mark red lines for subsequent Afghan administrations. They willingly bankrolled a socially repulsive trend that only a Pashtoon could take the charge while Tajiks, Hazaras acting as his wingmen, with this precedent in place, all other resident ethnicities have had no viable participation in public service and are marginalized and deprived of their very basic constitutional rights. In retrospect the Afghan election commission has lacked the autonomy and jurisdiction to oversee its operations with utter impartiality and attain the very foundational trust of the Afghan public on its independence and effectiveness. Both the structural formation of the given commission and its weary process of electing commissioners need a principled change. The proposed amended law shall keep the executive branch out the election process, especially when the incumbent president is a potential stakeholder in the process. He should be stripped out of hand picking individuals who will be later compelled to serve his prospective campaign interests. An alternative to close this loophole is to conduct a televised selection process among qualified candidates with all stakeholders involved in the process. It shall exclude political, family and ethnic ties, based solely on merit and qualification.
Last but not least, the fate of the Afghan presidential elections still hangs in limbo with an apparent effort by the U.S. to facilitate a meaningful dialogue and direct peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul government. President Trump’s special envoy for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zamai Khalilzad has already conducted rounds of discreet meetings with Taliban’s senior leadership in Doha, Qatar, discussing mutual concerns and probable ceasefire with the Afghan government. The United States certainly aims to reach an applicable agreement with the Taliban before any elections take place, and bring an acceptable end to the longest American war abroad. I do personally believe that the fate of the upcoming elections will largely depend on an alternative formidable campaign, capable of giving a tough challenge to the incumbent president; this in turn will require measures to contain ballot fraud and transparent procedural voting counting system in place.

Naser Koshanis a Freelancer based in Washington, U.S. He can be reached at naserkoshan@yahoo.com.

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