Free elections in Afghanistan mark the beginning of an arduous road to peace.
Watching TV on April 6 as Afghanistan got ready to vote for its next president, I agreed with three analysts who said the vote this time will be ethnic-based again, proving that the country was not on the same page regarding “one future together”: former foreign secretary of Pakistan Najmuddin Shaikh, former ambassador and consul in Afghanistan Ayaz Wazir, and Afghanistan-watcher and senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai. This meant that civil war would be an option post-2014 and that external interference was certain.
I was wrong. The Afghans went and voted, not along ethnic lines, but as a nation opposed to the Taliban (read: Pakistan) and ready to make sacrifices for peace under a political order bequeathed to them by a UN-sanctioned international force. The political order that the Taliban hoped to roll back was a liberal programme which freed the brutalised Afghan woman and forced warring ethnicities to live together. Voters came out of polling booths saying they had voted against the Taliban.
There were eight candidates wanting to become the next president but three turned out to be the frontrunners, two of whom will face off in the next round in May: foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. And their voters were a mix of the country’s Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek. This is how they first diagnosed the mood of the people and then decided to trim their pitch accordingly. The latest election news is that Abdullah Abdullah is right in front with Ghani behind him. This was unheard-of news last month!
Abdullah Abdullah is from the Tajik hinterland of Panjshir, north of Kabul, and may symbolise in his person the future of Afghanistan: his father was a Pashtun married to a Tajik woman, which allowed him to visit the Pashtun south and southeast in their own language instead of his mother’s Darri (Persian). Sensing the changed mood, Pakistan-based but non-Taliban warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar supported Abdullah and nominated his lieutenant Engineer Ahmad Khan as vice-president under him. Abdullah’s second vice president, who is drawn from the Shia Hazara supporters, is Ustad Mohaqiq. Consequently, he sits atop the second largest vote-bank of the Tajik population as supplemented by the third largest, the Hazara.
The multi-ethnic vote too is split — which is welcome in a democracy — when it comes to Karzai-supported Zalmai Rassoul. He is a Pashtun, but has the support of a faction from the Bamiyan Hazaras in the person of Habiba Sarabi who would be the lady vice-president under him. He has also enlisted the support of Panjshir Tajiks by taking on board the brother of the al-Qaeda-killed leader of the Tajik resistance Ahmad Shah Massoud: Ahmad Zia Massoud. This means that a Pashtun will continued…