TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections Headed for a Runoff

Frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, received 45% of the vote, missing the majority marker necessary for an outright win. He'll face Ashraf Ghani on June 14.

Afghanistan’s election commission announced Friday the long-awaited results of last month’s presidential vote, slightly tweaking the final numbers but still sending the vote to a two-candidate runoff.

Frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, received 45% of the vote, missing the majority marker necessary for an outright win, the Independent Election Commission said. He’ll face Ashraf Ghani, who received 31.6% of the vote, in a June 14 decision.

More than seven million Afghans went to the polls last month in the country’s election to replace President Hamid Karzai, who has been in power since 2001. Election day was mostly peaceful despite Taliban threats to disrupt the vote. It’s unclear, however, if the runoff elections will draw the same turnout. The runoff will take place during the height of the country’s so-called “fighting season,” during which insurgent attacks typically spike.

Both candidates have said they will sign a security deal with the U.S. to allow some American troops to stay beyond 2014, which Karzai has refused to do. They have also both said they are open to a peace deal with the Taliban.

The results of the runoff are expected to be announced July 22.

[New York Times]

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan Presidential Election Set For Run-Off

Abdullah Abdullah
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah talks during an interview with the Associated Press at his residence in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2014. Massoud Hossaini—AP

None of the candidates received the necessary 50% of vote to win outright in the April 5 election, according to preliminary results. The two leading candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, are expected to face off again in late May

Afghanistan’s former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah won the most votes in the country’s election of a new president, but not enough to avoid a run-off election with second place rival Ashraf Ghani.

None of the candidates in the April 5 election received the necessary 50% of the votes to win outright, according to preliminary results. The winner will replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally forbidden from running for a third term.

Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in the previous presidential election in 2009, won the most votes with 44.9 percent, the BBC reports. Former finance minister and World Bank official Ghani received 31.5 percent. The two could plausibly form a coalition government together, but are expected to compete in a run-off.

Final results will be confirmed on May 14 to allow time to process complaints. Reports of fraud have been increasing amid accusations from all sides that votes were purposefully miscounted and ballot boxes were stuffed. A run-off vote is expected to take place on May 28.

[BBC]

TIME

Abdullah Ahead in Latest Afghanistan Election Results

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Kabul
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Kabul on April 5, 2014 Ahmad Masood—Reuters

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has pulled ahead with 44 percent of the votes tallied so far, followed by former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai with 33.2 percent, though final results won't be announced until May 14

Updated: April 21, 6:40 a.m.

Partial results from Afghanistan’s presidential election released Sunday reveal candidate Abdullah Abdullah as the front runner, though a runoff election still appears likely.

Abdullah, a former Foreign Minister who ran against outgoing President Hamid Karzai in the last election, has 44 percent of the votes that have been tallied so far, the Associated Press reports. Abdullah’s closest competitor, former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has received 33.2 percent of the vote. Either candidate will need to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced the results, which represent close to half of the approximately 7 million votes cast in the April 5 election. Final election results are expected on May 14.

The victor will oversee Afghanistan through a period of transition as the U.S. and other NATO countries are expected to withdraw troops from the nation. Both candidates have called for a new start with Western countries and have promised to sign a U.S. security pact with which Karzai has refused to agree.

[AP]

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan Goes To The Polls

An estimated 7 million people turned out to participate in Afghanistan's presidential election, despite bad weather and threats of violence from Taliban militants

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan Defies Taliban Threats To Vote in Historic Polls

Afghan women wait to cast their ballots at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif
Afghan women wait to cast their ballots at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif April 5, 2014. Zohra Bensemraz—Reuters

Despite warnings of violence by the Taliban, Afghans turned out in large numbers to vote in Saturday's presidential election. Afghan forces were dispatched in a massive operation across the nation to protect voters

Updated 4:00 p.m. ET

Seven million Afghans braved security threats and inclement weather on Saturday to vote for their next president. Despite persistent intimidation and attacks by the Taliban in the weeks ahead of the April 5 polls, voter turnout was high in what many hope will be the war-torn nation’s first peaceful and democratic transition of power since 2001.

President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since 2001 and is constitutionally barred from running again, cast his vote for his successor in the morning. Eight candidates are vying to take his place; the three frontrunners are Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, and Zalmai Rassoul. In such a wide field, the likelihood that one candidate will get the votes needed to win outright is slim. A runoff vote between the top candidates is widely expected, meaning that Afghanistan may not get its next government in place until the summer.

Officials and citizens’ central concerns as the presidential and provincial elections got underway were security and fraud. The Taliban had vowed to disrupt the vote, and ran a campaign of high-profile attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country in recent weeks. The day before voting started, two female foreign journalists traveling with election workers were attacked by an Afghan police officer in eastern Khost province. Anja Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer working for the Associated Press, was shot and killed.

Afghan forces were dispatched in a massive operation across the nation to protect voters. Much of Kabul was reportedly blocked off to traffic, and in less stable parts of the country, the election commission closed hundreds of polling centers before the vote, in no small part to prevent ballot stuffing in places where voters and observers would be largely absent. After the 2009 presidential election, some 1.5 million votes were disqualified, according to the election commission. Karzai remained in power, but such widespread fraud this time around could lead to a protracted power struggle in a larger field of candidates.

Over the course of the day, a sense of euphoria built on social media as photos poured in of long lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots and proudly showing off their ink-stained fingers after their turn. A total of seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or 58 percent showed up to vote, despite the Taliban’s threats, Al Jazeera reports. There were scattered bombings and attacks throughout the country and several deaths were reported, but the violence was less intense than expected.

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the millions of Afghans who enthusiastically participated in today’s historic elections,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “These elections are critical to securing Afghanistan’s democratic future.”

There were reports Saturday that some polling centers had run out of ballots — a better problem to have than widespread violence, but also one that underscores the work still ahead in this historic transition for Afghanistan. Today’s enthusiastic and inspiring vote was a good start.

TIME Asia

10 Dead in Coordinated Attacks in Eastern Afghanistan

Afghan policemen remove the dead body of a Taliban insurgent from the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Jalalabad province, March 20, 2014.
Afghan policemen remove the dead body of a Taliban insurgent from the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Jalalabad province, March 20, 2014. Parwiz—Reuters

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated, deadly attacks on a police compound in Jalalabad, just weeks before the presidential elections. The provincial governor said the attacks "will not weaken our morale"

Militants in eastern Afghanistan launched a brazen series of pre-dawn attacks on Thursday at a police facility in Jalalabad, leaving 10 officers dead.

The attack, which killed the district police chief and wounded 14 officers, began at about 5 a.m. when a car laden with explosives breached the gate of the police headquarters, the New York Times reports. After the initial blast, six bombers stormed the facility. Government officials said two were killed before they could detonate their explosives, but the others managed to ignite their devices. That kicked off a three-hour gun battle inside the compound.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that comes weeks before the presidential elections on April 5, which it has vowed to disrupt. Militants have carried out attacks against civilians in recent weeks, but government officials publicly insist they won’t be intimidated as candidates travel the country before the ballot. “Such attacks on our security forces will not weaken our morale,” Attullah Lodin, Nangarhar Province’s governor, told the Times. “I assure you that we continue to fight the enemies.”

Thursday’s attack underscores critical security issues ahead of the planned withdrawal of foreign forces at the end of the year. The United States has discussed keeping thousands of troops in Afghanistan, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement and will leave it to his successor.

[NYT]

TIME Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s President is Furious at the Way the U.S. Has Conducted the War

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014. Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Hamid Karzai says he's in two minds over whether the war was worth it

In an emotional interview with the Washington Post, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has opened up about his disappointment with the way the U.S. has fought the war in his country, saying the high number of civilian casualties made him question whether the war had been worth it.

Karzai has been known for his at times vocal and adversarial stance towards the U.S. military, saying that noncombatant deaths had eroded what “common cause” Kabul and Washington had.

“I had no other weapon to resort to, no other means to resort to, but to speak publicly and get attention that way,” he told the Post. “In other words, I was forced to yell.”

The U.S. military’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties have not mollified Karzai, who said “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours” and added that his emotions would not subside until “two, three or five years from now.”

Leading the reporters out of his office, Karzai told them to give the American people “my best wishes and my gratitude” but to send “my anger, my extreme anger” to the U.S. government.

[Washington Post]

TIME Afghanistan

Obama Warns Afghanistan Leader of U.S. Withdrawal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014. Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Unless a so-called Bilateral Security Agreement is reached soon

President Barack Obama told President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Tuesday that the United States is making preparations to remove all troops from the country after 2014 in the absence of an acceptable longer-term security agreement, the White House said.

“President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the [Bilateral Security Agreement], the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning,” the White House said in a statement describing a phone call between the two leaders.

Obama’s message amounts to the latest round of brinksmanship between the two countries. Karzai has increasingly bucked and publicly criticized his American backers, and has refused to sign a security agreement that was endorsed by a powerful council of tribal elders. While leaving open the possibility that a so-called BSA governing the status of American forces in Afghanistan could be agreed upon at a later date, and that the U.S. could still stay in Afghanistan after 2014, the White House said Obama emphasized that “the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed Obama’s position.

“The Department of Defense will move ahead with additional contingency planning to ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal,” Hagel said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a prudent step given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would provide DoD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014.

TIME Afghanistan

Intelligence Chief Says Afghanistan Leader Unlikely to Sign Security Pact

US Army soldier from 3rd Platoon Chaos C
A U.S. Army soldier from 3rd Platoon Chaos Company 1-75 Cavalry 2nd Brigade 101st Airborne Devision points his gun during a patrol in Siah Choy village in Zari district of Kandahar province, south of Afghanistan on Oct. 24, 2010. Massoud Hossaini—AFP/Getty Images

James Clapper says Hamid Karzai probably won't strike a deal for U.S. troops to stay

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is unlikely to sign a security agreement allowing American troops to stay in the country through the end of this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, asked Clapper if it might be best to concede now that the U.S. will need to wait until the Karzai’s successor takes office to finalize the security agreement.

“Well, obviously it takes two to sign this. And it’s my own view, not necessarily company policy,” Clapper said, making a distinction between the official position and his personal assessment, “I don’t believe President Karzai is going to sign it.”

The Obama administration has been pushing for the security pact to give it breathing room as it works to decide whether to leave a contingent of U.S. troops in the country or pull out altogether. Karzai has turned cold on the agreement in recent weeks, even though the loya jirga—a powerful committee of 2,500 elders from around Afghanistan—gave its approval to the pact.

TIME Hamid Karzai

Karzai’s Not-So-Crazy Endgame

Hassan Rouhani, Hamid Karzai
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, right, stands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. On Karzai’s watch, the Afghan economy has grown rapidly, at an average rate of 9.2% from 2003 to 2012. But only 27% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, and 5% to adequate sanitation. Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

The Afghan President's bizarre behavior has rational roots in a bloody history

Is Hamid Karzai crazy? on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things. Over the past year, he has criticized the U.S., wondered whether its presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghanistan-U.S. security pact and called members of the Taliban his brothers. This week the New York Times revealed that he has been conducting secret negotiations with the Taliban. What can he be thinking?

Maybe Karzai is looking at what happened to one of his predecessors. In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. The President it had backed, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed in power, but within months a civil war broke out, forcing him to seek refuge in a U.N. compound. In 1996 the Taliban rode into Kabul, captured Najibullah, denounced him as a foreign puppet, castrated him, dragged his body through the streets and then hung him from a traffic barricade. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.

That year was a gruesome replay of an earlier piece of Afghan history that Karzai also knows well. During their 19th century invasion of Afghanistan, the British put in place a local puppet, Shah Shuja, who was assassinated after their withdrawal. In fact, as the historian William Dalrymple has pointed out, Karzai comes from the same tribe as Shah Shuja–and the Taliban come from the tribe that brought down Shah Shuja in 1842.

There are many important differences between the past and present. But Karzai is probably looking at the evolving geopolitical landscape. The U.S. has tired of its longest war, debating only the size of the small force it will leave behind, mostly for training. The Taliban continue to have many strongholds in significant parts of the country. Pakistan continues to support the Taliban–and that is likely to expand as America withdraws and Islamabad seeks to fill that power vacuum.

Karzai might be playing an erratic game of brinkmanship in his negotiations with Washington, but he might also be trying to navigate a post-American Afghanistan. While U.S. troops might well remain and some American aid will continue, Afghanistan is going to look very different in 2015 than it does today.

Consider these facts from a highly intelligent forthcoming book, War Front to Store Front, by Paul Brinkley: In 2009, Afghanistan had a nominal GDP of $10 billion. Of that number, 60% was foreign aid. The cultivation of poppy and the production and export of raw heroin–all of which is informal and underground–accounted for 30%. That leaves 10%, or $1 billion, of self-sustaining, legitimate economic activity. During the same year, the U.S. military spent $4 billion per month to protect a country with a real annual economic output of $1 billion.

“Kabul is a metaphor for the country,” Brinkley said to me. “It is a city sized for 500,000 people. It has grown to 8 million, who have been drawn to the city by the massive influx of foreign money, military and nonmilitary. But that money is going to slow down very significantly soon. What happens then?”

Brinkley worked for the Pentagon to build companies in Iraq and Afghanistan–fascinating experiences he recounts in the book–and came to the conclusion that the single most important task in both countries was to create a self-sustaining economy, to which the U.S. paid little attention. “Our focus in Iraq and Afghanistan was to get the politics right–have elections–and somehow economics will flow naturally. But that’s not actually how it works. We need to get the economics right first, create a self-sustaining market economy, and then the politics will get much better,” he explained to me. In the West, he points out, trade and markets led to individual liberty and political freedom, not the other way around.

He is pessimistic about Afghanistan’s prospects, even though one of his projects was to map the country’s mineral wealth, which he estimates at a staggering $1 trillion. “Without proper structures and management, it will become Congo,” Brinkley says, arguing that the country needs three to four more years of political stability to build an economy. Meanwhile, the national mood is worsening.

“Imagine living in a nation in which your national government was totally dependent on charitable donations,” Brinkley writes. “Would you respect that government? … Would you not assume they were puppets of the international donors who were propping up the government?” Hamid Karzai might be pondering just these questions as he plans his next crazy outburst.

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