The Questionable Response of the Transatlantic Community to the 2014 Presidential Election in Afghanistan

by: Bonnie Bethea

Enrolling in the Brandt School’s Summer School entitled, ‘Afghanistan after 2014: From Resolute Support to Sustainable Development’, allowed me the rare opportunity to understand the obstacles facing Afghanistan after 2014 from the perspectives of scholars and practitioners. There were various perspectives on the particular obstacle of determining what the involvement of the international community in Afghanistan should look like post 2014. Some of the practitioners and scholars provided that further military assistance from the international community was needed, others argued for international aid, some for direct foreign investment, and others thought the international community should have limited to no involvement in Afghanistan post 2014. One theme, in regards to the international community, which circulated quite a bit was the argument that the actors in the international community should have had more joined operations in Afghanistan with the considerations of the Afghan people, instead of pursuing their own interests. Taking this argument into consideration and in conjunction with the recent presidential election results, this entree will provide brief insight into the recent responses of the Transatlantic community in Afghanistan. Future political stability and transparency in Afghanistan looks unstable because of the recent questionable responses of the transatlantic community following the 2014 presidential election.

The response of the transatlantic community to Afghanistan’s recent election is important because it demonstrated that there is still not a collaborative transatlantic effort in bringing political stability and transparency to the country. According to Foreign Policy an election analysis conducted by the EU, which has yet to be released, concluded that the Presidential election in Afghanistan was massively rigged. After the polls were closed, on the night of 14 June 2014, the EU estimated that no more than 6 million Afghans voted in the Presidential election, with approximately 2.7 million Afghans voting for Ashraf Ghani. Virtually all of the votes for Ghani came from Afghanistan’s Pashtun population (Pashtuns’ make up approximately 42 percent of Afghanistan’s population). In the few hours following the closing of the poles, former President Karzai’s selected Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials increased the number of votes from under 6 million to 8 million (the extra over 2 million votes for Ghani). Thus, the Karzai government administered massive election fraud- threatening future political stability and transparency. Prior to the election, a study conducted by the US Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) concluded that it was mathematically impossible for Ghani to win the presidential election, given the demographics in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, when the election fraud became obvious Ghani did not step down in the best interests of Afghanistan. Consequently, the international community responded.1

In response, the UN conducted an election audit. However, a statement issued by the US State Department provided that,
Strong efforts were made to conduct a thorough audit, and the audit process was able to identify fraud that was significant in both scope and sophistication. However, there were limitations to the technical audit process in revealing the full extent of the fraud. The candidates and many observers have raised legitimate concerns about irregularities in the electoral process. Despite best efforts, not all of these grievances were – or could be – resolved by the audit. Nonetheless, the final outcome of the election process is legitimate and the results will be transparent.”2
Following the audit the US created a
bizarre CEO position for Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s opposing candidate, and thus made Afghanistan the first country to be run by a President and a CEO. According to the New York Times, in a phone conversation between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Abdullah Abdullah Kerry said,
“I really need to emphasize to you that if you do not have an agreement, if you do not move to a unity government, the United States will not be able to support Afghanistan.”
The agreement to form a national unity government in Afghanistan was completed on 21 September 2014; however, Abdullah signed the agreement only after an agreement was made for the results of the election audit not to be released.3 As it stands, the EU still has not published their report on Afghanistan’s 2014 election fraud. Rather, on 21 September 2014 the EU’s External Action Service also issued a statement in support of Afghanistan’s new unity government.4

The responses of the transatlantic community to Afghanistan’s recent presidential election are at a minimal questionable because the actions of the US and the EU did not demonstrate a commitment to democracy in Afghanistan. Simply put, the US opted for an easy solution to the election fraud. Instead of taking a righteous stance by announcing their support to the rightful winner, Abdullah Abdullah, the US created an extra-constitutional Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position- setting the stage for an unworkable unity government. When US Secretary of State John Kerry, who initiated this unity government, lost his presidential election to George W. Bush in 2004 he was not appointed to Bush’s Executive Cabinet. This idea of an opponent working for their successor would be considered extremely bizarre in the US, the exception being if they are both from the same political party, so the fact that it has been deemed an appropriate solution in a transition country such as Afghanistan is questionable. Nevertheless, the US is not alone in this burden, by withholding their report from publication and issuing a statement in support of the unity government the EU has also not shown a commitment to legitimate democracy in Afghanistan. The success of this unity government in bringing forth political stability and transparency to Afghanistan is not likely because their recent history is filled with many unity governments that didn’t work- involving some individuals who are still in the political spotlight today. For example, the Islamabad and Peshawar Accords, which were attended by Ghani’s Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik leader Mohammed Atta. Thus, this unity government in Afghanistan is arguably the worse possible outcome.

The conclusion of “Afghanistan after 2014: From Resolute Support to Sustainable Development” left many questions unanswered. Many of the projections for Afghanistan post 2014 came down to the simple notion of “time will tell.” The conclusion of Afghanistan’s Presidential Election followed by the creation of a unity government and transatlantic support for it very much echo this notion of “time will tell.” Time will tell whether or not a unity government, rejecting some of the basic principles of democracy, can work in Afghanistan and can thus ensure their political stability and transparency for generations to come.