Finally, the long wait is over. Millions of Afghans turned out for a second time yesterday defying Taliban threats to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai. The run-off pitted former anti-Taliban fighter Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah and Ghani had emerged as the leaders out of eight candidates in an April election, triggering the run-off as neither reached the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory.
There were fears of deadly attacks from Taliban but the polls passed off without major incidents. Several world leaders praised Afghans who defied the threats and went to the ballot box because of their dedication to a more inclusive, prosperous and stable future.
According to some poll pundits, Abdullah is likely to succeed Karzai, but whoever gets elected will inherit a troubled country plagued by an assertive Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by corruption and the weak rule of law. Abdulla had garnered 45 percent of the vote in the first election compared with 33 percent for Ghani.
The future of Afghanistan depends on the new president. Taliban is waiting for the full exit of US troops to unleash an all-out attack, and there are doubts about the preparedness of Afghan troops to take on a newly energized insurgent group. In such a scenario, the new president will have to offer firm leadership and take resolute measures to vanquish the enemy. Any dithering or indecision will be immediately seized by the enemies to capture Taliban. At the same time, if the new president is able to make a strong beginning and consolidate on those gains, Afghanistan will start its journey towards a new dawn from which there will be no turning back.
The international community will be willing to help in the rebuilding of the economy, but the new president will have to curb the scourge of corruption. That’s no easy task, but nothing is easy in Afghanistan, and the new ruler will have to be as tough as Taliban in implementation of policies.
The election also marks the end of Karzai’s rule, who is standing down after 12 years in power marked by increasingly sour relations with the West. With his long experience, he is certain to retain a hand in politics but has been tight-lipped about his plans.
Counting the ballot will take weeks. The preliminary result is due on July 2 and a final result on July 22. It’s also likely that there will be allegations of fraud in the coming days, but reports yesterday said the election was generally fair.
There is genuine concern about the future of Afghanistan after the US exit, especially due to the developments in Iraq where Sunnis and Shias are fighting after the US departure•