Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi
IWPR Afghanistan staff reporter
With more than three weeks to go before Afghanistan’s presidential election on August 20, competition is already warming up between the 41 candidates.
The street campaigns, live television debates, colourful posters and a slogan war that mark the campaign, common in the West, are not yet taken for granted here.
While they play a role, the key factor likely to determine the outcome is tribal allegiances and candidates’ efforts from the start to attract tribal and ethnic support.
They have shown this in their choice of running mates.
President Hamed Karzai, a Pashtun seeking re-election following his win in the first post-Taleban election five years ago, has named Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik, and Karim Khalili, a Hazara, as his two vice-presidential running mates.
Other leading contenders, Abdullah Abdullah, Ramazan Bashardost, Shahla Atta and Mirwais Yasini, have been following suit in this kind of three-way alliance but it does not look like pluralism, more an attempt to create divisions among the tribes.
Karzai has extended his allegiance-building to other, smaller tribes too, seeking backing from General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, and Sheik Asef Mohsini, a prominent Shia leader.
Karzai is the only leader Afghans have known since the ousting of the Taleban. He first headed an interim administration in late 2001 and was elected president in the first elections in 2004. He is favoured to win this year’s poll, thanks in part to what critics say is blanket coverage of his campaign in state-controlled media.
With more than seven years of experience in post-Taleban leadership, Karzai has learned that tribal tie-ups are vital.
It is unclear, however, to what extent those involved in such arrangements can actually help their tribes.
The alliances extend to the ratio of people from different tribes in the campaign teams that will have an important role when the government is formed after the election.
Jihadi leaders and warlords head many of the tribal groups, so the deal-making means these figures will gain a presence in the next administration, repeating the previous experience of Karzai’s transitional, then elected, governments after the fall of the Taleban in 2001.
It is a prospect that worries some Afghans because it has brought about a crooked system that does not respond to the demands of the people and which looks set to go one for another five years.
The people of Afghanistan, weary of insecurity on one hand and what they see as a corrupt government on the other, have been looking forward to the election in the hope of bringing about change through the ballot box.
But the tribal deal-making skews their voting.
This is compounded by the very general nature of the candidates’ manifestoes, which voters find hard to understand and which mean many will fall back on their ethnic allegiances.
A limited number of voters, particularly in the big cities, will cast their votes irrespective of their tribal backgrounds. However, their numbers are likely too small to have an impact on the largely tribal-based voting.
So it is the absence of modern political parties, which concentrate on policies rather than tribal loyalty, in the political structure of Afghanistan that is distorting politics in favour of tribal and ethnic groups.
The conclusion has to be that traditional and tribal values are much more powerful than democratic ones in Afghanistan and that the democratic process has been hijacked by those who cling to traditional values.
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter based in Kabul.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.
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