The election committee of the Afghan government announced that the presidential election is set to take place on April 20, 2019, meanwhile the Taliban is participating in talks with the U.S. and other peace-seeking countries. Candidates have yet to be announced, but current President Ashraf Ghani has announced his plans to run again, as well as Mohammad Haneef Atmar, who recently left his position as national security advisor because of disagreements with Ghani. Despite the announcement of the election date and claims that preparations have begun, there remains controversy as to whether the election should take place or if the government needs to wait until peace talks with the Taliban begin making gains. Some are worried that the elections will cause divisions along ethnic lines, enforcing the need to come to some sort of peace agreement with the Taliban before moving along with potentially tense elections, which would elongate struggles within the conflict-ridden country. Meanwhile the Taliban, whose presence is known all over Afghanistan, participated in peace talks in the U.A.E. with the U.S., Pakistan, and other Asian countries, and agreed to meet again with the U.S., U.A.E., Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to continue the conversation, but have continuously refused to meet with the Afghan government itself.
The U.S. and other allies working toward peace talks with the Taliban have been attempting to get the Taliban to agree to talks with the Afghan government itself, but they have backed down citing attacks on Taliban group members. According to the Washington Post, a U.S. Department of State spokesperson said the recent meetings with the Taliban have been focusing on promoting an “intra-Afghan dialogue that could end the conflict in the country.” The need for communication between the Taliban and Afghan government to work toward peace within the country has become evident for the peace process to be effective, as the spokesperson claimed that “the war in Afghanistan will only end when Afghans sit together with mutual respect and acceptance to discuss a political roadmap for their future.”
While it is agreed that communication between the two sides is necessary, whether or not it needs to happen before the election is a debate between the importance of democratic processes and maintaining unity. With Afghanistan just beginning to develop its democracy, it is important to uphold the values it promises to Afghan citizens. The first successful democratic change of power took place with the presidential elections in 2014, creating the unity government currently in power. Only being rated 26/100 on the Freedom House’s freedom rating (100 being most free, 0 being least free) and a ¼ on the fairness of the 2014 election, it is evidently important to uphold and improve Afghanistan’s democratic practices.
Though the election may seem like a beacon of hope for the voice of Afghans most directly affected by the conflict in the country, it could be the source of increased violence and divisions. The country’s recent parliamentary elections in October 2018 were wrought with technical and logistical problems, incomplete and missing voter rolls, allegations of fraud, and accompanied by deadly violence, highlighting the need for election reforms to ensure safety of voters and validate the results. The results of the October parliamentary election still have not been announced, with preliminary results for only 10 of 33 voting provinces released yet, furthering the need for reforms for the election process itself. With already high levels of violence and conflict in Afghanistan, it may be wise to push back the elections to allow for reforms and peace talks with the Taliban to gain momentum in order to ensure the safety of voters and validity of results. Despite the logic of pushing back the elections, Afghanistan’s constitution requires the elections take place by April 22, 2019 at the latest and disregarding this requirement could invalidate the value of the constitution in the eyes of the Afghan people. Wadir Safi of Kabul University explains that “the constitution is not as important as peace. If peace can be restored, then the elections will have to be delayed for it.” Regardless of the chosen course of action, refraining from increased use of military pressure on the part of the other countries participating in the peace process is essential, as Michael Semple of Queen’s University Belfast explains that military pressure will not suffice to force the Taliban into talks with the Afghan government, nor will it encourage peace in the country.
On the tails of a seventeen-year war, amongst the first successful transfers of power and elections, and loads of international influence, the elections set for April could cause even more division within Afghanistan. The results of the parliamentary elections have yet to be announced and demonstrated the problems with the election process that need to be rectified before the elections take place to ensure safety and accuracy. In valuing the voice of the Afghan people, the government could consider a referendum to move the election back while working toward peace with the Taliban and regulating the election process to demonstrate their commitment to both peace and democracy. An interim government could also be used to serve Afghanistan’s goals and work toward peace while waiting for the next election to take place if it is pushed back. International actors should consider other methods of getting the Taliban into talks with Afghanistan to avoid military action and violence, continuing to work with neighbouring Pakistan and the U.A.E. to host the discourse.