As the world continues to catch fire during the Obama administration’s abdication of leadership, the alarming rise of ISIS and the accelerating Ukraine/Russia conflict have smoked an equally important development right off the front pages: Afghanistan, and the still-undetermined outcome of its recent presidential election.
Economist Ashraf Ghani won the presidential election quite handily back in early June, but his opponent and runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, contested those results. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew in to Kabul and brokered a deal to have the United Nations monitor an audit of the election results, with both camps observing the process. At the end of the audit, the two sides were to share power – notably without specifying a “winner” or a “loser,” and without regard to whether such an agreement was acceptable to the Afghan people, or even consistent with the Afghan Constitution.
Americans may not much care what the Afghan Constitution says (even if we did help write it). But they should care about a hastily brokered deal that only kicks the can down the road (sound familiar?) in an attempt to avoid an immediate crisis, while planting the seeds for many more.
Imagine for a moment that our own presidential election in 2012 had been closer, and neither side had been willing to concede defeat. But then, after a prolonged and paralyzing delay, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had settled the dispute by agreeing to share power and make joint decisions … about whom to appoint to the cabinet, whom to promote to head the Joint Chiefs, what monetary and taxation policies we should pursue, what federal laws would be upheld, when and where we should exercise U.S. military power, and so on. It would be an unmitigated disaster (or, some might argue, at least as feckless as the current administration’s foreign policy).
While American voter participation rates, which peak during presidential contests (still, less than 58 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last presidential election), betray a consistent nationwide strain of political apathy, there is no equivalent disengagement in Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. Afghans take their pre-adolescent democracy seriously, and participate fully and enthusiastically. Many have suffered bodily injury or death just to exercise their recent rights to representative government, which is why they expect a definitive outcome to their elections.
So it is no wonder that Abdullah Abdullah, in classic hardball brinksmanship, has pulled out of the audit process. He publicly cites his disaffection with the United Nations’ stewardship of it – hard to quarrel with that sentiment – but the reality is, too, that he probably realizes he isn’t likely to win a recount. He certainly is not interested in sharing power with his rival.
Imam Mohammad Warymach, an official with the Independent Election Commission, confirmed this theory, saying Abdullah’s decision to pull out was “a political decision,” because he wasn’t going to beat Ghani. So, Warymach has said, “they decided to walk away.”
Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal provides powerful impetus for honest assessment, namely, the acknowledgement that Secretary Kerry’s brokered deal is a failure, and that it was unsustainable from the beginning.
A unity government may have theoretical appeal – especially from 6,900 miles away and across unfathomable cultural divides – but it won’t work in Afghanistan. Afghans demand muscularity from their leaders. The elected president of Afghanistan must have sufficient power to govern, especially if he is to unify tribal factions, retard the growth of the Taliban, and repudiate the increasingly anti-Western posture and sentiment that has flourished, unchecked, under Hamid Karzai the last few years.
Secretary Kerry’s power-sharing arrangement ensures only that the Afghan president would be hamstrung and impotent at every turn, which would only guarantee that the country would lurch from crisis to crisis. Decisive action would be elusive, Afghanistan would descend into even greater instability, and U.S. security would be further at risk.
Is it any wonder news reports herald a Taliban resurgence? An unworkable, naively-brokered election deal coupled with the imminent withdrawal of American troops provides a foundation for Islamist growth.
Of course, Afghanistan faces a host of challenges beyond the Taliban – meddling from its neighbors, dwindling reserves, a corrupt and fragile banking system, and diminished foreign direct investment among them.
America and our allies have made tremendous sacrifices in Afghanistan – as have ordinary Afghans. And real progress has been achieved as a result. The quality of life for Afghans has risen, while the Taliban and Al Qaeda have suffered setbacks.
But if America fails to find a solution that creates stability and eliminates uncertainty, we risk squandering the many lives and much treasure we’ve invested to render Afghanistan an inhospitable breeding ground for extremism.
Secretary Kerry’s solution is untenable. It’s time for the Obama Administration to exercise leadership and to work with the elected leader of Afghanistan to avoid catastrophe.