Some Credit Where It’s Due in Afghanistan

How It Works
May 28 2014 10:55 AM

Some Credit Where It’s Due in Afghanistan

492563197-afghan-election-commission-workers-unload-ballot-boxes
Afghan election commission workers unload ballot boxes and election material to be distributed ahead of polling at a warehouse in Ghazni on May 21, 2014.

Photo by Rahmatullah Alizadah/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama announced yesterday that the U.S. will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan until 2016. Combat operations will technically end at the end of this year. The plan depends on the Afghan government being willing to sign a joint security agreement with the United States. Current President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the deal, but both the contenders in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections say they will.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The news highlights a number of rather remarkable facts: that Karzai, a dominant force in Afghan and international politics for more than a decade, is about to leave office, that we’re not entirely sure who’s going to replace him, and that while both of the potential replacements have cordial relations with him, neither appears to be a total puppet and in fact they have very different views on one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

Advertisement

It may sound like I’m damning with faint praise, but a transition like this has never happened before in Afghanistan.

Afghans voted in the first round of the election on April 5 and will vote again in a runoff on June 14. The runoff pits former foreign minister-turned-opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. Abdullah led the first round of voting by 14 points, but Ghani is expected to pick up some Pashtun votes. Abdullah, though half-Pashtun, is generally thought of as Tajik.

It would be an exaggeration to say the election has gone smoothly. The election commission has fired 3,000 people over allegations of fraud, there were dozens of reports of bombings and Taliban attacks on election day, ugly ethnic rhetoric and threats of violence have been heard, and amid security concerns following attacks in Kabul, the number of foreign observers was way down this year.

It’s also clear that president or not, Karzai is not planning to go quietly into the night and will retain some influence through ministers loyal to him, though Zalmai Rassoul, the candidate who was widely seen as enjoying Karzai’s backing, did not make it to the second round.

But the election is still a marked improvement over the last election in 2009, when fraud was so widespread and blatant, with turnout over 100 percent in some regions, that it drastically undermined the credibility of Karzai’s government and handed a major propaganda victory to the Taliban.   

Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment says the notion that this election will be a transformative event is “delusional,” and she’s likely right. Whoever’s in power, Afghanistan faces steep challenges to maintain any semblance of stability after U.S. troops leave. No thanks to the U.S., corruption remains rampant. And the country's experience with electoral democracy could still turn out to be a very short one. 

But all the same, if Afghanistan's first ever peaceful transfer of power continues to go smoothly, it will be a pretty remarkable development. And the fact that we all seem to be taking it for granted is also worthy of note.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.