x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Karzai and Abdullah rule out sharing power

With a runoff election in Afghanistan scheduled to take place in less than two weeks in spite of logistical obstacles, President Hamid Karzai and his rival and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, have each ruled out power-sharing either following the election or as an alternative to a second round of voting. Irrespective of how the election plays out, the US president, Barack Obama, is expected to be sending thousands more American troops to war.

With a runoff election in Afghanistan scheduled to take place in less than two weeks in spite of logistical obstacles, President Hamid Karzai and his rival and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, have each ruled out power-sharing either following the election or as an alternative to a second round of voting. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported: "Karzai's team shifted aggressively into campaign mode Saturday and ruled out any possibility of a power-sharing deal with challenger Abdullah Abdullah ahead of a runoff election in two weeks. " 'In our view there is no alternative to a second round. This is the only constitutional way to establish a new government' and 'put an end to the current crisis,' said Karzai's campaign spokesman, Wahid Omar, at a news conference. 'All our energy is now focused on preparations for the second round.' "Abdullah, however, has renewed concerns about the credibility of the Independent Election Commission and wants its leadership replaced before the November 7 vote, according to officials in his campaign. He does not want a repeat of the rampant electoral fraud found in the August first round - much of it favouring Karzai. Abdullah fears nothing will change unless officials he considers loyal to Karzai are removed, the sources said." Agence France-Presse said: "Afghan presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah ruled out Friday joining Hamid Karzai's government should the incumbent beat him in the November 7 run-off election. " 'I think I left Mr Karzai's government some three and a half years ago, and since then I've not been tempted to be part of that government... part of the same deteriorating situation,' the former foreign minister told CNN. " 'So, (I have) absolutely no interest in such a scenario, while at the same time, for the interest of my country, if Mr Karzai is elected through a transparent and credible process, I will be the first person to congratulate him.'" Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported: "The Taliban called on Afghans to boycott the upcoming presidential elections runoff and threatened to attack polling sites, sparking fears that thousands of voters will stay home on election day. " 'The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan urges the people of Afghanistan to not participate in the elections, and once again prove that they are true believers,' the group said in a statement emailed to the Wall Street Journal, using a name referring to the Taliban and allied groups. " 'All mujahedeen are ordered to do their best to disrupt the elections and carry out attacks on enemy outposts and prevent people from going to the polling centres,' the statement continued. The group hinted that they would target election workers and voters. 'If anyone, including the participants and the workers, gets harmed they have only themselves to blame, since the Islamic Emirate warned them in advance.' "Similar threats kept most Afghans in the south and east, where the insurgency is the strongest, away from the polls during the first round. The turnout for the first round was roughly 37 per cent, a far cry from the 70 per cent recorded during the 2004 presidential balloting." The National noted: "Across the country there is a deep disenchantment with the thought of a new election. 'If there is a second round we will not participate,' Sadruddin Khan, a tribal elder in Kandahar, said. 'It is not worth it to us to once again face the possibility of having our fingers and heads chopped off, and our police and soldiers die. Neither Karzai nor Abdullah are worth the lives of our children.' "This is the rub. Although Nato is now putting a contingency plan drawn up weeks ago into practice, Afghan forces are mobilising and the UN has launched a vast logistics operation distributing millions of fresh ballot papers, boxes and indelible ink across the country, there is no saying that two of the largest problems with the first round - low turnout and widespread fraud - will not blight a repeat." In a commentary for The National, Tony Karon pointed out that: "US commanders on the ground are not setting nearly as much store by the election saga as are their political overlords in Washington. Gen McChrystal is making clear that Mr Obama can no longer afford to delay the issue of reinforcements, stressing that simply stopping the Taliban from extending its control over much of the countryside in the south and east will require 40,000 more troops - and he would prefer 80,000. Moreover, logistical constraints mean they can be introduced only at a rate of around 4,000 a month. "The war may look unwinnable to any student of history, but Americans often imagine themselves immune to history's rules, and Mr Obama doesn't want to go into the next election being pilloried for 'losing' Afghanistan (not that the Taliban will necessarily sweep back into Kabul, but they could do a pretty good job of surrounding the cities and choking Nato supply lines). "So it's a safe bet that Mr Obama will escalate US military involvement, even as he promises increasingly sceptical Democrats that the Afghan security forces are being 'trained' to take over security in the near future. This, too, is something of a fiction: when 4,000 US Marines deployed in Helmand shortly before the election, they took with them 400 Afghan troops who showed little appetite for getting out among the people. Close to 100,000 Afghan troops have been trained, but how effective they are in fighting the Taliban is anybody's guess." Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat who having traversed the country by foot in 2002 has been dubbed the T E Lawrence of Afghanistan, suggests that rather than a major troop build-up, a significant draw down would be in order, as the US and its Nato allies adopt objectives that are congruent with their capabilities. "Stewart also believes that things in Afghanistan aren't as precarious as some fear. 'There's a certain kind of worst-case scenario view that Afghanistan is like this horrendous nightmare and, if we don't get in there and sort it out, we'll have global jihad, we'll have a completely destabilised region, terrorists will have their hands on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, American credibility will be finished forever,' Stewart says. 'And these are not really, I think, fully developed positions.' "Under a 'muddling through' plan, Stewart concedes that the Taliban might take some provincial capitals in Southern Afghanistan, but he believes that the Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek populations are stronger than they were in 1996 and, thus, would be able to keep the Taliban out of their areas. He also thinks it would take a minimal foreign military presence to prevent the Taliban from marching into Kabul. With the Taliban confined to certain parts of Afghanistan and its ability to exploit the ideology of religious resistance lessened due to the absence of a substantial foreign military presence, the rest of the country would, with substantial foreign assistance, be able to develop. Although his walk across Afghanistan led Stewart to believe that the country is, in some respects, ungovernable, it also gave him great faith in individual Afghans, on whom he depended for food, lodging, and frequently directions. (He didn't carry a detailed map on his trek, since it might have made people think he was a British spy.) 'We do consistently overestimate our own capacity and underestimate the capacity of others,' he says. 'In every case, Afghans are more competent, more canny, more capable than we acknowledge, and we are less so.'"

pwoodward@thenational.ae