Targeting Afghan elections

The attack in Kabul on Thursday that targeted the Serena Hotel and left nine people dead, including five foreign election observers, has thrown the prospects of the presidential elections in Afghanistan into doubt. The attack in the late evening was carried out by four young men who entered the hotel after passing security checks, then opened fire in the lobby. Among the dead: a leading Afghan journalist along with his wife and two of his children. More telling are the deaths of the foreign nationals there to monitor the process and outcome of the elections scheduled for April 5. The Serena Hotel is heavily guarded and one of the few places deemed safe for visitors from abroad, meaning that foreign observer missions are understandably wary of staying on for fear of more violence. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) said it had pulled its observers from the country, while a senior European diplomat said observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been withdrawn to Turkey. The OSCE said it had yet to make a final call on whether it would cancel its election support mission. The European Union (EU) observatory mission said it was committed to staying on. This makes the purpose of the attack quite clear, as the Taliban have threatened to derail the elections process. A flawed election with little international oversight goes in their favour, since it dents the legitimacy of the incoming hopeful for president. In this atmosphere, insinuations by Afghan authorities that Pakistan may have had a hand in planning the attack are illogical and counterproductive.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have often been frosty, but just last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met at a trilateral summit in Turkey, pledging to fight terrorism together, while the Pakistan army, which President Karzai habitually accuses of aiding the Taliban, is committed to following the political leadership’s directives, its recent stance on negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban being a case in point. Given its internal problems with terrorism, a shaky government in Afghanistan is the last thing that Islamabad, or for that matter Rawalpindi, wants. Rather Thursday’s attack makes clear where the threat to Afghanistan’s democratic government lies. The 2009 elections were marred by charges of rigging and lent weight to Taliban claims that President Karzai was a ‘puppet’ president. Since the chances of the Taliban taking Kabul are slim, even after US troops withdraw later this year, undermining the legitimacy of the government is their main purpose and is at odds with Pakistan’s interests. Afghan authorities should note this in the run up to the elections.  *

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Aaj Kal