Afghan elections an important step on road to peace
Saturday’s International Day of Peace plays out as a backdrop to the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan. I can only hope for a peaceful outcome in what will be the fourth election since the fall of the Taliban.
While some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy peaceful lives, others live in conflict zones, where the thought of democracy and stability seems an unobtainable goal. Many argue that peace aids democracy, but I hope that I will be able to convince you that peace can only be achieved from a fair and equal approach to democracy.
This is not the first democratic election in Afghanistan since 2001, but it seems to be the first where amity feels achievable. I remember when the first government was elected in 2004; I was a little girl but I could see how happy it made my family, knowing that democracy was beginning to take shape.
Having lived in the UK for most of my life, I have witnessed first-hand how democracy shapes and sustains a culture of accountability, creating a stronger opportunity for political stability and peace. This is what Afghanistan needs, but the political landscape and threat of extremism has affected this.
Major improvements have been made to people’s living conditions, infrastructure and human rights but, despite these achievements, the people of Afghanistan have voiced minimal enthusiasm for the Sept. 28 elections.
Talks with the Taliban undermine what should be an empowering time for the people of Afghanistan, with the hope of a peaceful future after years of turmoil. Nevertheless, as the 2018 parliamentary elections showed us, the Taliban have sought to undermine democracy. They called on people to boycott the elections and threatened violence during polling. And, just two days before the vote, they killed the police chief of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city. We would already know the fate of Afghanistan’s future by now if it were not for these lethal attacks abruptly halting progress. While the future of US-Taliban talks and the hope of direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are now uncertain, the urgency to find a way to reduce the violence and achieve a political settlement remains.
The Taliban declared the election a ‘sham’ and warned everyone to stay away from campaign events and polls.
The Taliban declared the election a “sham” and warned everyone to stay away from campaign events and polls, threatening that such gatherings could be targeted. This clearly suggests that they are opposed to democracy. On Tuesday, the Taliban claimed the lives of 48 people in two deadly attacks. The first was leading to a rally where President Ashraf Ghani was speaking to supporters, while the other took place not long after in central Kabul. The Taliban sent a statement to the Afghan media claiming that people were warned to not attend election rallies and that they would suffer the consequences of doing so. It is these barbaric actions that create frustration and distrust with the Taliban’s idea of “peace.” The reconciliation that Afghanistan has long hoped for now seems further away.
It is at times like these that you are reminded of the vast opportunities and rights that we have in the UK. I can vote peacefully, I have freedom of speech and, while the UK has its own political challenges to navigate, I know I will not have war and the risk of death at my doorstep. But, for those in Afghanistan, this seems alien. More than 60 percent of citizens are under 25 years old, so for many this is the first ever opportunity to vote, and they do so defying deadly attacks. This is so admirable from someone of a similar age, and something I hope I will never have to contend with.
Accountability is a vital part of democracy. Ghani came into office five years ago under what I think were pressured and difficult circumstances. He had to negotiate the end of NATO’s combat mission, US troops remained across the country and, at the same time, the Taliban continued to present a serious challenge. On Monday, a debate between Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who are rivals in the presidential election, was due to take place. Most Afghans tuned into this, despite electricity outages, including me here in London. However, Ghani did not turn up for the occasion. I am frustrated for the people of Afghanistan as discourse is a key part of democracy, allowing voices to be heard and societal issues to be debated. His decision to not attend is unfortunate and undermines his advocacy for the importance of open democracy. It has created even more uncertainty just days before the election.
I also find it disappointing that there are no female candidates in this year’s election, something many people had hoped would change from the last election. As I have previously discussed and championed, I believe that women are key actors in achieving peace and play an integral role for the future of Afghanistan.
Emotions run high as the country is in a state of flux, but I am confident that we will see a step toward a constructive resolution after this election. I hope it represents what the people of Afghanistan want and they can continue on their journey to find peace.
A lesson to take away from this poignant time in Afghanistan’s history is that you should never take peace for granted and should cherish it through adversity. We all have a role to play in promoting peace and this is only realized through a concerted resolve and open dialogue for democracy.
- Rabia Nasimi is Strategic Development Manager at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) and a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge.