Afghanistan braces for key presidential elections

A campaign poster of the parliamentary election is displayed over the shops in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this Oct. 9, 2018 file photo. (AP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Afghanistan braces for key presidential elections

  • The process is shrouded with further uncertainty over US and Taliban negotiations to bring to a close the longstanding conflict between the group and government-backed forces

KABUL: Amid mounting security threats, ethnic and political tension and uncertainty over timing, Afghanistan is preparing for a controversial and crucial presidential election, with candidates set to begin the campaigning process from Sunday.
“Insecurity will be the main challenge, apart from fraud,” Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a spokesman for the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) told Arab News.
Some 2,000 out of the nearly 7,400 polling centers cannot be secured because of security threats, he added, saying nearly 9.5 million people had registered to vote.
Already twice delayed because of the government’s mismanagement and bickering among leaders regarding electoral law and who should oversee it, the election is slated for Sept. 28 2019.
It follows the October 2018 parliamentary vote, which was hugely delayed and raised questions over transparency and alleged government interference.
Many say they have lost trust in the democratic process, with these issues added to past failures by candidates to deliver on campaign promises.
But others say the poll is the only way to fix Afghanistan, despite some candidates expressing concern that the incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, is using state resources to his advantage.
The process is shrouded with further uncertainty over US and Taliban negotiations to bring to a close the longstanding conflict between the group and government-backed forces.
Some express concern that even if the elections are held, under the current circumstances, the vote may further deepen the crisis in the country should Washington pursue a withdrawal of US troops.
Taliban opposition to the government in Kabul has seen violent attacks on polling stations in the past. There are fears that the prospect of a US military pullout will only encourage future attacks.
Violence is on the increase in the country anyway, after last week’s wave of strikes in the capital where both the Taliban and the militant group Daesh conducted five deadly assaults that killed multiple civilians.
The contenders for the presidency are all men.
Ghani, 70, is a former World Bank official who took office under a US-brokered deal following the elections of 2014, and who currently shares power with Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and former communist Mohammad Haneef Atmar, who served as Ghani’s national security advisor until last year, are the president’s main rivals.
The most controversial candidate is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 70-year-old Mujahideen leader who was on the run from 1975 until he signed a peace deal with Ghani in 2016.
Rahmatullah Nabil, meanwhile, a former spy chief and one of the youngest contenders, is the only candidate who has chosen a woman as one of his two deputies.
The campaign period will last for two months and initial poll results will become clear by October 19 under the current timeline. Final results are set for Nov. 7, with a run-off expected.
Sughra Saadat, a manager at election watchdog Transparency Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said the elections lacked “proper preparedness.”
Taj Mohammad Ahmadaza, a political analyst, told Arab News: “On the surface of things, the government shows that things are on the right track for holding the polls, but they are not.
“There is talk of even cancelling the elections so US and Taliban talks can go ahead and leaving Ghani as head of a transitional government. But in that case, he should not stand for election.”
Fazl Rahman Orya, another analyst, added: “People have become disappointed with elections here as past rounds have been full of fraud and people now ask why they have to risk their lives to vote for someone who cannot then deliver.
“If the elections take place under the current conditions, any stability will be badly damaged and we will see a very deep crisis in Afghanistan, as people and politicians will not accept the result.”

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 28 January 2020

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.