As Afghans exercised their much-vaunted but fraught right to franchise in pouring rain yesterday, the world watched with baited breath. The Taliban, as is the militants’ wont, had threatened anyone voting with dire consequences. The militant group had launched attacks on government facilities in the run-up to the vote. The Interior Ministry’s headquarters in Kabul were attacked by a suicide bomber on Wednesday, killing six policemen.
Despite the reign of terror unleashed by the Taliban, there were no signs yesterday that Afghans were intimidated by the militia’s boycott call. The wave of enthusiasm to cast the ballot was so strong that many polling centres ran out of ballots. The general mood in the country was convivial.
The vote is the first democratic transfer of power in the country, which was a staging ground for the Cold War and has in the past three decades seen the pulls of tribal clashes and overriding warlordship.
There are eight candidates in the running to replace President Hamid Karzai who is barred by the constitution from contesting for a third straight term. Karzai has thrown his weight behind confidant and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, a nephew of former King Amanullah Khan who liberated the country from British yoke.
The other two key contenders are Ashraf Ghani, a technocrat educated in the US who previously served at the World Bank, and Abdullah Abdullah, the leading opposition candidate. His father is Pashtun, but Abdullah Abdullah primarily represents the majority Tajik powers of the former Northern Alliance, the group which joined the Americans in toppling the Taliban government in 2001.
Two days before the vote, a police commander shot two journalists covering the election campaign. The German photographer was killed but the reporter escaped with injuries. The attack was a reminder that festering rage among the security services can be a game spoiler.
Whoever comes to power after Karzai will have the formidable task of fighting the Taliban without US troops to back Afghan forces. That the 13.5 million electorate turned out in large numbers to vote without a major incidence of violence is an indicator of the authorities’ efficiency in managing the exercise.
Though the polling exercise has been largely successful, challenges remain. The Taliban might come out with renewed force to disrupt the new government.
Moreover, there is the fear of militants or militant sympathisers entering the ranks of the government. Afghanistan is looking with hope at the future, but not completely without despair.