02.10.2014 Author: Natalya Zamarayeva

Pakistan and the New President of Afghanistan

9080809On September 21, 2014 in Kabul, Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission announced the results of the presidential elections held in the country on June 14, 2014, and, accordingly, the completion of the electoral process. According to the results of the election, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was declared the winner.

For more than two months, the country has been tensely awaiting the outcome of counting the eight million ballots.  All the while, both presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have been accusing each other of fraud. The “electoral crisis” has intensified the destabilization of Afghanistan: the activities of the Afghan Taliban have increased, especially in the east; the southern provinces have been flooded with militants who had fled from Pakistan as a result of the military operations of federal troops; the USA and NATO have pressured Kabul during the withdrawal of foreign troops and in light of the uncertain fate of the Security Agreement with the US.

Given the set of all internal and external components of Afghanistan, the modern ethno-political struggle in the country dictates the need to be “under the rule” of both presidential candidates simultaneously (regardless of the officially registered ballots cast for one candidate or another).  They both agreed to an alternative Agreement on establishment of a government of national unity.

Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, is backed by Pashtun tribes in the south and east of the country. Accordingly, the Tajiks and other ethnic groups living in the northern parts of the country support Dr Abdullah Abdullah. He is the former Afghan foreign minister, and a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter. According to the results of the election process in Afghanistan in 2014, the immutable historical tradition prevailed – the head of the country continues to be a Pashtun, this time Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

It took more than two months to normalize relations between the opposing candidates, each of which claims the greater number of votes cast. Thus:

– The formula of coexistence between the former rivals became mutual consent for the joint establishment of a government of national unity.    Both presidential candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the recount;

– The distribution of powers between the two recent political rivals is as follows: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah takes over as “Chief Executive Officer”. The Afghan media report that his powers are comparable with the duties of the head of the Cabinet of Ministers, i.e., Prime Minister. The role of the President in governing Afghanistan after September 21, 2014 is balanced by the enhanced powers of the CEO. According to the constitution, the president has all governmental powers. But in light of the recent agreements, he gave some of them to the CEO. Thus, in the central government of Afghanistan there are two centers of power, which already makes it difficult to work together.  In addition to the challenges ahead, the cabinet is already facing serious challenges, both in terms of security and the deterioration of the economic situation in the country.

2014 was a landmark in the recent history of Afghanistan. The new president will have to adjust the relationship with the environment in the country stemming from the unfriendly Tajik-Uzbek provinces in the north and the Afghan Taliban in the south; at the regional level – with its closest neighbours, especially Pakistan; at the international level – he must solve the problem of the withdrawal of USA/NATO coalition troops.  Washington has said that it expects the new head of state to sign a Bilateral security pact (ex-president Hamid Karzai refused to sign it). The main intrigue is how many foreign troops, particularly American troops, will remain in Afghanistan under the Agreement, under what conditions, for how long, and will they remain? Secretary of State John Kerry made ​​several visits to Afghanistan in recent months to mediate the power-sharing deal between the political rivals.

Pakistan, being a next-door neighbour, was one of the first to send congratulations to Kabul (on behalf of Mamnoon Hussain, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan). “The Government and the people of Pakistan,” according to a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “welcome the agreement signed by the two Presidential candidates in Afghanistan regarding the establishment of a government of national unity. Consistent with our support for a peaceful democratic transition, we regard the signing of this agreement as a positive development.”

But behind the facade of official courtesy and decency lie numerous questions and concerns on the part of its southern neighbour, Pakistan. Until the last day before the announcement of the election results, Islamabad sent official letters to Kabul to protest against border crossings and the terrorist attacks committed by Afghan militants in the areas of North Waziristan controlled by Pakistan. It borders the Afghan provinces of Khost and Paktika.  Islamabad has repeatedly pointed out to Kabul newly created spaces to shelter militants in Afghan territory and, accordingly, threats originating from these shelters.

It should be noted that since the middle of June 2014 the federal Pakistani army has been conducting the Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan. Its purpose is to eliminate foreign fighters and their shelters. It can be assumed to be a large-scale operation, given that the Afghan mujahideen have been creating their own infrastructure of Pashtun tribal agencies in the border areas with Afghanistan for several decades. Since September 2001 the Afghan Taliban have further strengthened this infrastructure. The authorities of Pakistan (both the military and civil administration) have put up with this state of affairs for various reasons.

The stumbling blocks in relations between Islamabad and Kabul in recent years have been security issues and coordination along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Given that a large part of the foreign fighters based in Pakistan in recent weeks fled to Khost and Paktika as a result of military operations (according to the statement of the Army Staff of Pakistan, at the end of September 2014 as much as 90 percent of the territory of North Waziristan has been liberated), they will bring a subsequent wave of aggression in Afghanistan.  Another challenge for Kabul were the recent declarations by the Punjabi faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) regarding its declaration of war in Afghanistan.

Kabul did not hesitate to answer.  Afghanistan’s National Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Islamabad of “… involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in terrorist activities.”

The official dual division of power in Kabul (which already conceals the potential for a domestic political explosion), as well as the draft of the Afghanistan-US agreement to replace the effective Bilateral security pact will immediately invoke the resistance of the Afghan Taliban.  It seems that Islamabad will proactively choose a waiting stance, and later will use the internal political situation in Kabul in the national interest.

The leaving Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his departing speech stated “Today, I tell you again that the war in Afghanistan is not our war, but imposed on us and we are the victims. No peace will arrive unless the US or Pakistan want it.”

Natalia Zamarayeva, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Pakistan at the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.