Afghanistan’s crucial election

The Afghan elections scheduled for April this year could prove a watershed moment for the region. After 13 years of occupation by the US and NATO, the economic indicators for Afghanistan remain shaky at best. Recent figures show that 47 percent of the country's people remain below the poverty line, while a further 37 percent are only just above it, meaning 84 percent of the country remains mired in the daily grind of getting enough food and other amenities to stay alive. In this situation, politics is far away from people’s minds but the welfare of ordinary Afghans is also deeply tied to political developments in Kabul, meaning that Afghans have to be politically aware if they hope to be economically stable. The most recent development in the electoral race is the withdrawal of President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayyum Karzai, and his tacit support for former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul. Mr Rassoul is a medical doctor who was part of Hamid Karzai's advisory team in 2002 and foreign minister from 2010 until he resigned this year to contest elections. An ethnic Pashtun, like Mr Karzai, he now has the chance to unify the Pashtuns that might otherwise have split had Qayyum Karzai continued his campaign.
Nevertheless, the dangers of an inter-Pashtun civil war are still very real. Afghanistan is already fractured along ethnic lines. Ever since the Taliban introduced their Pashtun chauvinism into the country’s body politic, some sections of the Pashtun population, particularly in rural areas, still support them. Mr Karzai and his family have never managed to escape accusations of nepotism, corruption, and particularly of caving in to US interests, though it is believed that Mr Rassoul is not tainted by the same brush. The only other Pashtun candidate, Ashraf Ghani, was the finance minister from 2002 to 2004 and a chancellor of Kabul University; a man who might do wonders in government but who might struggle for the support needed for an electoral victory. Abdullah Abdullah, the other main presidential contender with broad based support, is an ethnic Tajik and vociferous opponent of the Taliban from his days with Ahmad Shah Massoud. Other factions might go whichever way the wind blows. This means that support for the Kabul regime is not without significant opposition, and if the Pashtuns split between support for the militants and the regime in Kabul, they will pull the rest of Afghanistan's ethnic groups down with them. One thing that may make a difference is continuing aid from Washington to prop up the Kabul regime, which is dependent on both countries agreeing to a bilateral security agreement to keep some NATO troops in the country after 2014. Whoever is President Karzai's successor is going to have to negotiate that deal with Washington, with the result crucial for Afghanistan and the region.  *

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Aaj Kal