Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Oct 1, 2014

Afghan transition In a historic first, Afghanistan witnessed a democratic handover of power on September 29, swearing in former technocrat Ashraf Ghani as its new president after a decade of outgoing president Hamid Karzai’s rule. However, the peculiarity in this transition has been the problems flowing out of a disputed presidential election, particularly its second runoff round, which reversed the outcome of the first round in which Ashraf Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah got more votes. Since no candidate got the required more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round, the runoff became necessary. The announced results of the runoff round declared Ashraf Ghani the winner, leading Abdullah Abdullah to cry fraud and throwing the whole transition into doubt. US Secretary of State John Kerry then, in a deft display of trouble shooting diplomacy, mediated a power sharing agreement between the two rivals whereby Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in as president and Abdullah Abdullah in a newly created post of chief executive, equivalent to a prime minister. The arrangement is of necessity a compromise to ensure the experiment in a peaceful transition through the ballot box is not derailed. However, there are still questions about how the power sharing arrangement will work in practice. Given the enormous challenges faced by the country, not the least of which is the impending withdrawal of foreign troops, the hope is that the two rivals can now put aside their acrimonious past through the last six months of the election process and come together to give Afghanistan a stable, functioning government. The biggest challenge of course remains the resurgent Taliban, underlining the threat from them by carrying on attacks against the Afghan army and security forces, keeping things on the boil and raising old and new concerns about the ability of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to hold the line if the Taliban decide to go for a big push after the overwhelming majority of foreign forces leave by December this year. The relative leap in the dark that the transition and the ensuing power sharing arrangement reflect will at least put at rest the vexed issue of the agreement to be signed today that will allow about 25,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan in a training mission. Outgoing president Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the agreement, but one of Ashraf Ghani’s first acts after being sworn in was to announce the agreement would be signed. In his inaugural address, President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the Taliban and affiliated insurgent groups to join peace talks for a political settlement of the 13 year old current phase of the Afghan war that by now has exhausted the Afghan people after more than four decades of warfare and worn thin the political will and ability of foreign backers and donors to keep the Afghan enterprise afloat. What, if any, the Taliban’s response will be is uncertain, although judging by Afghan history and the ground situation, it is unlikely to be very positive. On the other hand, if the Taliban do decide to go for a big push after the foreign forces leave, the critical question will be if the ANA will be the bulwark it was meant to be to hold the line. Western military and economic aid will be critical to the outcome of the post-withdrawal possible conflict. As it is, the compromise between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah may never have come to fruition but for the threat of an aid cutoff from Afghanistan’s western backers. Already, the US has invested some $ 109 billion in aiding and helping Afghanistan since its invasion and occupation of the country in 2001 following 9/11, more than the post-Second World War Marshall Plan that reconstructed a Europe devastated by the war and laid the foundations of the post-war world. While Pakistan was represented at the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani by President Mamnoon Hussain and prominent Pakistani Pashtun political leaders, Pakistan still has a critical role to play in translating its oft repeated formula of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process into reality. For the sake of the long suffering Afghan people, their neighbouring Pakistanis also threatened by terrorism, the region and the world, we hope the political transition in Kabul marks the beginning of Afghanistan’s turning the page from devastating decades of war and destruction to peace, development and friendship with its neighbours.

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