x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Afghans vote for stability over terror

Afghan elections proved showed that ordinary citizens reject the Taliban ideology and want to decide their own destiny

Despite violence and intimidation from Taliban insurgents determined to disrupt Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the millions of voters who took part showed that ordinary ­Afghans reject the militant group’s ideology and want to decide their own destiny. The turnout was so high that some polling stations ran out of ballots.

Regardless of the winners and losers who will emerge in the next few days, the vote is a validation of the peace and stability that has been brought to large parts of the country through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Nato-led security mission in Afghanistan. While ISAF has undoubtedly made mistakes along the way, the overall direction – of stability, moderate social programmes and economic progress – is one which the great majority of Afghans clearly support.

Just the peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box is a victory on its own. It has never happened before in the country’s history.

Despite widespread allegations of fraud in favour of incumbent Hamid Karzai at the last presidential poll in 2009, this vote has been largely seen as free and fair in major cities, as well as attracting an extra 50 per cent of voters. While some areas of the countryside with a Taliban presence witnessed intimidation and fraud, the generally legitimate nature of the vote will aid the continuation of essential international aid that will help Afghanistan to confront some of the issues it faces. As one leading independent election observer, Nader Nadery, told the BBC, the election process “is not finished with this poll – it has just begun”.

With the US and allied forces preparing to leave the country at the end of this year, there is the prospect that the Taliban will once again seek to take power, as they did in 1996, ruling until the US-led invasion after the events of September 11, 2001. Some Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban’s arrival, not so much for their ideological basis but because they brought stability after anarchic years following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union.

Afghans have shown the same desires as citizens throughout the Arab Spring countries: ideological preferences come a distant second to the desire for political and economic stability that allows people willing to work hard to get ahead and provide for their families.

The turnout on Saturday showed that as Afghanistan contemplates greater independence, voters value the chance to get ahead.