The current state of Afghanistan is general chaos, as the Taliban continues to wreak havoc in the poor, war-torn country. Last October, the country held parliamentary elections, and on 20 July 2019, Afghanistan will hold elections to select a president to serve Afghanistan for a five-year term. Although the nation’s adherence to the democratic process is admirable, many fear that this election may be marred with fraud, like the last presidential election. The current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, was elected in 2014 in a runoff between himself and Abdullah Abdullah. Both sides accused each other of electoral fraud, but the situation was amicably resolved in a power-sharing deal, in which Abdullah became Afghanistan’s chief executive. Fifteen candidates have announced their bids for Afghanistan’s highest office, from which a few stand out.
Ghani, the current president of Afghanistan, announced his bid for reelection in 2019. Although Ghani is a strong candidate, many believe his election last year was fraudulent and believe he is backed by Americans because of his Western education, a potential liability. Since his election in 2014, the Taliban has gained more land in Afghanistan escalating violence. Ghani’s reelection on the one hand might lead to increased instability – given his failure to address the current war in his country – but on the other hand offer a potential respite, as he continues to reach out and work with the Taliban, his country’s enemy.
The election of 2019 is shaping up to be the mirror image of 2014. Running opposite Ghani is Abdullah, his current chief executive, and the duo are again the two frontrunners in the presidential election. Abdullah has criticized Ghani’s monopolization of power and has promised to handle the country’s issues differently. Abdullah is Ghani’s greatest rival, contributed in part to deep divisions in Ghani’s administration, and created an extremely polarized atmosphere last election that many thought was going to lead to violence. Will the election of 2019 bring the same conflict and hostility?
Former warlord and anti-Soviet militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is running in the upcoming election under the banner of his party Hezb-e-Islami, the Islamic Party. Hekmatyar fled Taliban control of Afghanistan in 1997 and returned in 2017. Seen as a terrorist by the United States and the United Nations, Hekmatyar was offered a peace deal by Ghani and allowed to return to Afghanistan. He has promised to bring peace and prosperity to the country and wants to end the war with the Taliban, but as a warlord in Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, his forces were responsible for conducting brutal warfare that led Afghans to welcome Taliban rule in the first place. Hekmatyar is a very divisive and polarising figure and will be an interesting candidate to watch in the upcoming election.
Mohammad Hanif Atmar
Ghani’s former national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar resigned from his position in October 2018, blaming Ghani for his obsessive control of power and a poor job managing the country’s crises. Atmar is a respected official and has been endorsed by many powerful and influential political figures who many believe has the experience necessary to forge a peace deal with the Taliban. Although Atmar is not a front runner, his capacity for negotiation is a skill that many Afghans will want in a leader charged with ending one of the world’s longest modern conflicts.
Although Afghanistan’s presidential election is a half year away and the country faces economic and political issues, by far its most salient and immediate threat comes from the Taliban. The Taliban controls about half of Afghanistan and continues to gain territory. Ghani and Abdullah may be the frontrunners, but Ghani has lost many of his supporters from 2014, perhaps giving Abdullah a slight edge. On the other hand, Atmar’s experience makes him a compelling candidate for the people. If the election results are close, talk of electoral fraud is sure to crop up – along with the possibility of violence. Whether the election is irregular or not, the fate of Afghanistan lies heavily in its hands.