Afghanistan faces ever deepening security and political crises. As American troops withdraw, Taliban military advances are threatening entire districts, and government coffers are dwindling.
NATO leaders are scheduled to hold a summit meeting next week that is supposed to reaffirm the alliance’s commitment to keep supporting Afghanistan’s security forces, which, like the rest of the government, are heavily dependent on international aid. It will be very hard to justify continued assistance if Afghan politicians are unable to form a government with a new president in Kabul.
Yet, Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are putting the country’s stability at risk in refusing to agree on a winner two months after the disputed election to replace President Hamid Karzai. And the emboldened Taliban is taking advantage of the political chaos.
Although Karzai’s successor was supposed to have been sworn in on Monday, the country’s Independent Election Commission still has not completed a United Nations-supervised audit of 8.1 million disputed ballots. Abdullah won the first-round voting in April, but Ghani came out ahead in a preliminary count after the final round in June, prompting Abdullah to accuse Ghani and Karzai of colluding to rig the vote.
While Ghani and Karzai have denied the charges, few doubt there was substantial fraud. On Sunday, The Times’s Carlotta Gall reported that interviews with Afghan and international officials support some of Abdullah’s most serious claims, including ballot-box stuffing and a campaign by government officials to manipulate the outcome.
The Americans gave the candidates a way to ease the sting of defeat by brokering a deal that would have the rival camps create a national unity government. Under this plan, which both candidates accepted, the winner would become president and the loser, or his designee, would fill a new post of chief executive. But the powers and duties of that new job are also still in dispute.
A new, stable government is also important to the United States.
The best available solution is for Abdullah and Ghani to cooperate fully with the ballot audit, accept the results (which were never going to be fraud-free, given the immaturity of the democratic system) and quickly form a functioning government that reflects the country’s diversity. If they manage to do that, there might be some hope that they could, in time, restore voter trust and put Afghanistan on the path to a real democracy.