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In the contemporary political and governmental regime, and in the twists and turns of the Afghan social fabric after the decade of mutiny and lawlessness and post-2001 events, Afghans have misused every positive development, which has become a routine now. For example, while the advent of the telecommunications industry strengthened communication and commerce, many young people still misuse it to harass people, especially women. Freedom of expression is another offering on the menu that many have taken advantage of by casting slander and libel in the mass media.
Restoring women’s rights was crucial to restoring Afghanistan’s prestige as a humane country. Unfortunately, the NGO-lords, including women, have embezzled and wasted millions of dollars under the banner of women empowerment. The free market is another gift that the national businesspeople, entrepreneurs and investors misuse to carry out illegal activities such as dumping, hoarding, importing low-quality items and commercial goods, including medication, and so on. Democracy, or the of, by and from the people government may be the zenith of the achievements of the current leaders claim to be the torchbearers of. However, Afghans have seen how time and again democracy has been desecrated in Afghanistan.
The 2014 and 2019 elections were the last nail in the coffin of democracy the funeral proceedings of which will be put on live display in the next five years. That is if the expedient government can survive the two political alliances that are as different as chalk and cheese. In this funeral ceremony, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah will bury democracy, especially the sacred right to vote together with the COVID 19 deaths in the cemeteries of uncertainty, weak determination and unfulfilled aspirations of political power.
A Good Beginning Makes a Good Ending
(Literal Translation: If the first brick of a building is laid crooked, the whole wall will be crooked regardless of how high it is built)
Democracy or the of, by and for the people government in Afghanistan was hurriedly imposed on Afghans with little regard to setting an appropriate platform. In the so-called Post-Taliban Afghanistan, Afghans had a ruinous and dilapidated country; were recently freed from captivity, slavery, and house and country arrest; unemployment and poverty had peaked; public utilities were disintegrated or miserably maintained; governance and the government establishments were taken back to the medieval times; the economy was minimal, crippled, in tatters and was run in a tribal manner; the police and the ANA were fundamentally disjoined; and foreign relations and diplomacy were almost nonexistent. In addition, the opposing warring party, who considered themselves triumphant over the Taliban, stormed to the capital and other provinces with an arrogance that was fiercer than the hills of Hindu Kush, armed to the teeth and a barrage of grudge gunpowder. They were busy collecting booty and seizing government facilities and properties. The group beard shaving, the activation of one of the cinemas, and the drinking alcoholic beverages on the first day of the fall of the Taliban regime were three acts that showcased the immaturity and unpreparedness of Afghans for democracy.
In the new chapter, people needed life and property safety, improvement of the family economy, the establishment and maintenance of law and order, restoration of basic human rights such as living without harassment, resumption of rehabilitation and reconstruction, and most importantly, hope for the future. Afghans were below zero in the negatives in every sphere of life. Because Afghanistan was the focus of the world’s attention, especially the United States, Afghans had the lifetime opportunity to change their social and national landscape altogether provided that they had the following six key points:
1. Having a wise, strong and decisive leader;
2. Equal application of law and public order on all citizens, from the topmost to the lowest, from the powerful to the powerless, and from the warlord to the technocrat;
3. Re-establishment of government, social, academic and educational facilities and other facilities according to international standards, but with regard to the Afghan culture and custom;
4. Employing qualified individuals, which requires upholding criteria over nepotism, assignment of cabinet seats on the basis of ethnic and partisan division;
5. The deployment of combat forces in the key areas of Afghanistan to prevent any kind of uprising
6. Readiness to transition to democracy
These six points required the establishment of a strong and stable administration for 5 to 10 years. Instead of elections, elected councils and a president, Afghans would have ahead of the transitional administration and cabinet, who, with a national consensus, would pave the way for Afghanistan’s new journey to democracy. However, that wasn’t the case. Afghanistan took a leap of faith and jumped to democracy overlooking the fact that transition to a new type of administrative and governance system requires strong and democratic infrastructure and foundation. With empty hands, destruction, hunger, a world of ignorance, unawareness, myths and misconceptions, and without doing homework, introducing democracy is like giving a precious but fragile gift to a child. Because s/he cannot fathom the values and benefits, s/he finally breaks the gift. Another example can be providing heating to a house with an open fire in the house: it will eventually set the house on fire. It would be very difficult for the Afghan urban dwellers to digest and accept the claim that democracy did not cure the initial pains and problems of Afghanistan, but when Afghanistan is the focus of discussion, it should be analyzed with 34 provinces in mind, not just Kabul, Herat. Nangarhar, Balkh and Kandahar. Even today, many villages and towns in Afghanistan do not have proper potable water, roads, electricity, schools and transportation. Unfortunately, people are still selling their children due to unemployment and poverty. In some provinces, there is no sign of civilization at all. How can they be expected to embrace democracy and benefit from it? Afghans have been Muslim for centuries, but most do not know the meaning and delineation of the Qur’an. They are Muslims, but in most social interactions, they often follow superstitiously, disliked and undesirable customs and traditions instead of the Qur’anic and Islamic teachings. They vacillate to implement the Qur’an’s ruling on women’s inclusion in the heritage but have no qualms in attacking, killing and burning of a woman accused of setting the very Qur’an on fire like demonic demons. During the holy month of Ramadan, many Afghans are circumspect that they do not drink ablution water while washing their mouths inadvertently, but they do not even think once about usurping the government or their neighbors’ land, if possible. Even now, the humorous justification among Afghans is that “Afghans accept half of the Qur’an”. So, if after hundreds of years, the martyrdom and disability of millions of Afghans under the name of Islam, Afghans have yet to accept the most vital value that correctly outlines the framework of life, governance, justice and even life after death wholeheartedly, can they accept a new and unfamiliar system without proper awareness?
The results of premature democracy in Afghanistan is well known to the average public. For the first 14 years, Afghans had an expedient president who wanted to lead the country as a tribal chieftain and be the leader of a “friendly” government. To maintain his survival, he would appoint a thief to be a guard, a murderer to be a physician, arsonist to be a firefighter, embezzler to be the head of the treasury and the highwayman to supervise cargos. Later, Afghans were given two presidents as one was apparently not enough. The two-headed government did last for five years but failed miserably, yet this month their tenure was renewed for another five years.
Afghans do have “elected” provincial councils, national assembly and senate, but unfortunately, these elected officials are notorious for working as commission workers, bullying, usurpation of land, text messaging and sleeping while the council, assembly or senate is in session, sightseeing oversees, or absenteeism. Representation of the constituents has never been amongst their priorities. The representatives have been so corrupt that one of the national assembly members called it a barn. The freedom of expression has resulted in the high ratio of slander and libel and no institution can stop it. The media became so liberal that a vulgar Turkish-language series “Forbidden Love” ran in Afghanistan for a long time.
Elections in Afghanistan:
All these failures and catastrophes cannot reach the heights of the catastrophe called “elections” because elections in Afghanistan are without a doubt one of the most costly, infamous, lengthy, irreparable and ridiculous democratic processes. If exaggeration can be taken with a grain of salt or even ignored for a while, perhaps half of Afghanistan’s population has served in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and half of these employees have been reported to the general attorney’s office for misconduct. Because the number of violators and cases of violations is high, we will skip the investigation of separation and resignation cases. The commission is touted to be rich in money, human and non-human resources, both domestic and foreign, weak in administration, but strong in the determination of the outcome of the election. This means that those in charge of this process have never been able to run the process for a transparent and inclusive election, but are accused of orchestrating the election results. The IEC has damaged the sanctity, value and credibility of the vote for a long time, or perhaps forever.
The presidential elections exhibit the following bitter truths:
1. The best way to achieve fame is to run for the office of the president. In the developed countries, people earn or gain (a good) reputation and later run for office. Unfortunately, the reverse is true in Afghanistan. In all presidential elections, the number of candidates has never been less than eleven or twelve. Some candidates are not even known by their neighbors properly but anonymity does not diminish their chances of candidacy, which becomes clear that they are candidates for fame and power. It is very funny that they are nominating themselves for the country’s leading office but later settle down with governorship, mayoral and police chief of a precinct position.
2. Some candidates are not known beyond the capital, nor do they have a political presence out of Kabul, which not only undermines and discredits elections but also wastes the time and resources of the election commissions and the media. One of the prerequisites for candidacy is to provide a “list of names and certificates of registration of one hundred thousand voters with their fingerprints, at least two percent out of twenty provinces;” However, in the final and even preliminary results of the election, most candidates get less than 100,000 votes, and some get less than 10,000 votes, indicating that the candidate has rigged the election. In the 2019 presidential election, 11 candidates received less than 100,000 votes and 5 candidates received less than 10,000 votes. One of the candidates who has always pursued divisive social and political issues to keep his political life afloat was not been able to secure a seat in the House of Representatives from his province but did run for the office of the president. The preliminary and final results indicate that he received a little over 10% of the total votes registered to vote for him, which is inherently questionable. Since the candidates are not accountable to either the commission or the government, the election process is disrupted, which has become a routine.
3. Most candidates, like the chorus singers, complain about the fraud in the election commission first and then register. Because they are confident of their failure, they do not miss any opportunities to disturb public opinion. Because the IEC lacks credibility, even the general public is reluctant to participate in this democratic process. According to the IEC, less than 2 million eligible voters exercised their right to vote – a very low turnout. If the situation in Afghanistan was normal, this low rate would have never laid the foundation for a legitimate government.
4. The election is a process of wasting money donated by the international community and has no losers, provided that the loser does not accept the election results at all, threatens to not-so-civil disobedience and violence, and have the extras to back the claims.
Political Agreement or High Bargain in the 2019 Elections:
On May 17, 2020, President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah signed a political agreement to move past the election impasse or crisis created by Dr. Abdullah and his team. On paper, the agreement put an end to eight months of political stalemate, but in reality, it ridiculed the entire election process and was a slap on the faces of the military and civilian martyrs, who lost their lives to facilitate, secure and participate in the elections; the young people who worked diligently and honestly to change the political climate in the teams of these two leading candidates; the global community that donated hundreds of millions of dollars in this process; and the general public who were fed up “by the two heads of state”.
The new development, which once again divided the government into two parts or 50 percent between Ghani and Abdullah, has no winners at all as everyone has lost. The only difference is the ratio of loss. First and foremost, the biggest loser of this process is Ghani, because he was declared the winner of the election by IEC, won the public vote, was popular among the youth, and most importantly, actively ruled the country. Ghani’s victory only required the approval of the United States, and it would have been a secured deal. Just as Ghani has been able to gradually push Hamdullah Mohib into the good books of the United States, I think he would be able to get his approval stamp from the United States over time and free himself from Abdullah’s “chelaks” or interference.
Losing 50 percent of the government for a stamp of approval makes Ghani, undoubtedly, the biggest loser in the process. He could have told Trump and Pompeo that if they did not acknowledge his victory, he would be willing to step down. With seven hundred thousand votes and no full support, Abdullah could not rule Afghanistan for a single day. The United States was aware of the ground realities of Afghanistan and would have either convinced or forced Abdullah to step down. However, such a scenario was never envisioned by Ghani’s government-building team. The most troubling thing is the agreement is giving Abdullah the status of the second person in command, which is an outrageous violation of the constitution and puts the position of first vice president in a questionable state. When Ghani travels abroad, who will lead the country? Amrullah Saleh or Abdullah? If Ghani is unable to carry out the affairs of government for any reason, is his successor Saleh or Abdullah? What guarantees, if any, are there that Abdullah will not claim to be a successor to Ghani at that time? Will Abdullah be answerable and accountable to Saleh by then?
The second-biggest loser of this agreement is Abdullah because he claimed to have won the leading office in the country, yet he settled to lead the peace efforts only. The Taliban have already opposed almost all of Abdullah’s proposed “reforms” and suggestions, undermining Abdullah’s achievements. All of Abdullah’s efforts to stay afloat in power lack political vision and ethics. Right from the inception of the national unity government until one day before the agreement was signed, Abdullah opposed almost everything Ghani proposed, so what changed so dramatically that Abdullah agreed to conscript himself and his allies in Ghani’s army and give up the “presidency” altogether? Despite the signing of the agreement, it is crystal-clear that Abdullah is not fully certain whether or not Ghani will comply with the terms of the agreement or refuse to abide by the agreement clauses once Abdullah falls in disfavor as Abdullah claimed in the past five years. Abdullah’s remarks at the signing ceremony indicated that he was once bitten, twice shy. Addressing Karzai and Sayyaf, Abdullah maintained “My hope is that, God willing, with all your efforts, we will make this agreement [work] in a way that will not [require us to] bother you anymore. Of course, this requires everyone’s determination.”
Because Ghani and Abdullah are two people with different natures, policies, academic backgrounds, talents and abilities, governance perspectives, allies and past, and have a bitter history, it is safe to say that both have nothing in common. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will not lock horns again and will not spend half of their work energy creating and solving problems and humiliating each other in public as they did in the last five years.
The third biggest losers are all the campaign workers who worked hard for these two teams with the intention of seeing a better future. Mawlawi Shahzada Shahed is the person who will suffer the most from such a historical loss and torment of conscience by Abdullah’s relinquishment, because Shahed elevated himself to the status of the supreme court chief justice and gave the illegal and extrajudicial swearing ceremony of Dr Abdullah a “legal” basis.
The fourth biggest losers are the people of Afghanistan and the international community because their time was wasted, the economy saw its lows and while the people participated in the elections at the cost of their lives, only two people, not the votes, decided the outcome of the elections. The taxpayers’ money of the international community was once again wasted and the hope to see the triumph of a democratic process in Afghanistan was shattered.
Afghanistan is a country where even small achievements were as a result of the bloodshed of thousands of martyrs in this country. Afghans and history will never be kind to those who mocked this national process. The stigma will even inflict the survivors of the perpetrators. What hope is left for the 2024 election? Will these two individuals sign another political agreement and remain in power, or will their children and allies make this agreement a national document or guarantee to remain in power? Will the agreement be trilateral after the Taliban join the peace process to quench their thirst for power or will they enter Afghanistan “heroically” and demand absolute power? These are all questions that only time can answer.
Afghans can remain silent like the citizens of the Republic of Silence, and let their political waves drag them in any direction they flow or put pressure on their political leaders to abide by the law and refrain from extrajudicial and illegal acts. Although it will not be practical to look up to Ghani for a better tomorrow, the current government can take some steps to restore the credibility of elections.
The election problems in Afghanistan that cause fraud and damaged the credibility of the elections are as follows:
1. Nomination: Too many candidates for all the elected bodies or institutions
2. Voter Identification: Voting cards and paper IDs
3. Lack of Polling Stations: Use of schools, homes, mosques and other religious places as polling stations
4. Voting Cards: Use of ballot papers or paper
5. Transfer of Ballots: Transfer of ballots from the provinces to the capital
6. Vote Counting: Manual counting of votes
7. Announcement of the results: It takes 6 to 8 months to recount and inspect the votes, in the capital and announce the results.
Nomination and inclusion in elected institutions are a right, but the conditions for nomination are extremely easy for a country where illiteracy and low-literacy are rampant. The office of the presidency has 3 seats (2 deputies), the House of Representatives has 250 seats, the Senate has 102 seats and the Provincial Council has 420 seats, which means that the country needs to fill 775 seats through elections. These seats must be filled by the best Afghans. It is not difficult to find 775 eligible people in a country of approximately 30 to 35 million. Therefore, the IEC should raise the standard of nomination and increase the criteria so that the list of candidates can be differentiated from the guest list of a wedding party.
2. Accurate Voter Recognition:
As long as Afghans do not have a single electronic ID card and do not use it as the most credible source of identification, they will never be able to prevent fraud and multiple voting. The electronic ID card should contain special personal information and a unique barcode. If credible cybersecurity and anti-hacking software is used to store and safeguard information and proper high-quality advanced material is used to print the ID card, this problem will be permanently put to rest.
3. Lack of Polling Stations:
Just as a mosque is needed for congregational prayers and a school is needed for lessons, the establishment of polling stations is an urgent need.
4. Voting Cards:
The use of ballot papers lay the foundation for fraud. It is high time for the Afghan election to be conducted electronically and for the era of the ballot papers to end. Instead of throwing the ballots into the ballot box, people should vote electronically using a machine.
5. Transfer of Ballot Papers:
When the election is conducted electronically, all votes are transferred from the provinces and the capital to a central system automatically and there is no need for a physical transfer.
6. Vote Counting
If conducted electronically, counting votes manually is not required because the system automatically counts all the votes.
7. Announcement of results:
In the electronic voting system, the results will be displayed automatically and people can see the results in real-time.
It will take time and effort to bring about these seven electoral reforms, but it is not impossible. Five years is enough time for all the reforms to restore the lost credibility of the elections.
Intellectual Class or Intelligentsia:
Afghanistan needs to establish an intellectual class under one umbrella in 34 provinces. One of the responsibilities of this class should be to screen candidates, especially the presidential candidate, in order to reduce the number of candidates to 2 or 3 and to simplify the administrative and operational process of the election. Thus, candidates who cannot even get 100,000 votes will never be included in the list of presidential candidates.