Despite valiant and violent efforts by the Taliban to disrupt the march of democracy in Afghanistan, ordinary Afghans are reposing their faith in it. Their increasing faith can be considered one of the significant achievements of the Western intervention in the country and Hamid Karzai’s prolonged rule. It’s true that the democracy currently practised in the country is flawed and democratic institutions are still in an infancy stage, but what gives hope is a willingness by the people to embrace this form of governance and find in it a solution to the problems afflicting the country. With just six days to go for the elections, all over the country, crowds are queuing up outside voter registration centres to register themselves and presidential candidates are locked in virulent and powerful campaigns to win the confidence of voters. Afghans want change and they believe this change can be brought only through the ballot.
According to the latest IEC figures, nearly 3.7 million new voters have registered for Saturday’s presidential and provincial council elections. Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and Karzai loyalist Zalmai Rassoul held rallies in the northwestern province of Herat on Sunday, while Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in the 2009 vote, campaigned in the southern province of Kandahar.
As the US forces are expediting their pullout after an expensive 13-year intervention in the country, pessimism is pervasive in the country about the ability of the post-withdrawal government to stand up against the Taliban. The insurgents have already consolidated their positions in several parts of the country and have been striking against government institutions with more deadliness and frequency. On Saturday, the Kabul headquarters of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) was attacked when five Taliban militants occupied a nearby building and unleashed rockets and gunfire towards the fortified compound. All five attackers were killed by Afghan security forces six hours after the attack began. One Romanian soldier was killed on Sunday by an improvised explosive device (IED) in the southern province of Zabul, taking the US-led coalition death toll to 3,429 since operations began in 2001.
Amid all this chaos, the election is the only hope. The vote will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai whose last days in power will be noted for a serious rupture in relations with the US. The new president will have tougher challenges than the ones faced by Karzai. He will be ruling the country all alone, without help from the US forces, and will have to chalk out a strategy against the Taliban. Repairing strained relations with the US should be one of his priorities. Afghanistan is entering a crucial phase in its violent history. Everything will depend on the ability of the new president to overcome the Himalayan challenges before him.