Despite a multitude of forecasts predicting the victory of Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former foreign minister, in that country’s presidential election, preliminary results indicate that another contender, Ashraf Ghani, the former Finance Minister, might indeed be the winner. This result makes sense given the traditional domination of the Pashtuns in the central government of Afghanistan.
The fact that Rashid Dustum, an influential Uzbek from the north of the country, will be Ghani’s vice-president, also gives this probable president-elect additional weight. After a furious response from Abdullah’s camp and the accusations of fraud, Ghani agreed to review ballot papers at a number of polling stations. This will not likely change the final outcome of the election. But more importantly, is it likely to bring peace to the country as a step towards resolving its many problems?
One school of Russian analysts believes that tension over the election results will inevitably lead to dramatic exacerbation of interethnic strife. This might be mitigated by the presence of the NATO troops before most of them withdraw (by the end of 2014, followed by the final withdrawal at the end of 2016). After 2016, the Afghan National Army and Security Forces will be most likely not capable of preventing the return of the old bloody feuds. In the end, according to this line of thinking, the country might even split into several entities along ethno-confessional lines.
Another school of analysts predicts that the situation after the election will remain stable because all ethno-confessional groups share a certain set of preferences: They are accustomed to rivalries, they favor strong local rule and they want to resist excessively powerful central government while preserving the unity of state. These common traits could enable the state and its agencies to successfully prevent the spread of ethnic strife and sectarian violence.
Yet Afghanistan, of course, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The country can hardly secure itself from the virus of ethno-confessional particularism that is spreading through many parts of the world. The possibility of the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan based on a referendum announced in Erbil will have its impact on the Pashtuns who are ethnically akin to the Kurds and speak languages of the same Iranian group.
Some Afghan intellectuals are already discussing the possibility of revising the Durand line, which was drawn by the British in 1893 between Afghanistan and British India and was the basis for the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They want to call for a referendum in the Pakistani territories inhabited by Pashtuns dreaming about the reunification of “Pushtunistan.”
They are also inspired by the case of Crimea. This partially explains the support of a substantial part of the Afghan political elite towards the Russian policy in Ukraine, as well as the fact that Afghanistan abstained from voting for the anti-Russian resolution on Crimea at the UN General Assembly on March 27, 2014. The idea of reunification can rally supporters around the central government.
Another factor has also contributed to the formation of this position: The high degree of anti-Americanism in the country, and resentment towards the foreign military presence employing indiscriminate bombings, night raids and unjustified detentions. This is why President Hamid Karzai could not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. despite enormous pressure from Washington. He clearly preferred to leave it to the next President. But for Ashraf Ghani to begin his term by signing such an agreement would also be quite difficult.
Another complicating factor is the growing activity of the Taliban, encouraged by the military successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and their declaration of the creation of Islamic Caliphate. They still hope to establish a Great Durrani Kandahar region in the south and an autonomous Gilzai region in the east. The Afghans, despite their fatigue from foreign military presence, need American support and are afraid that their country’s place on the scale of U.S. priorities will be significantly reduced in the future.
Yet the election of Ashraf Ghani, who has a reputation as a strong advocate for modernization and a high professional educated in the U.S., will be welcomed by Washington. He also appears to also be capable of cooperating effectively with Moscow, which in turn appears to be willing to expand its ties with Kabul.