Nearly thirteen years since the United States and its allies undertook one of the largest efforts at nation building in recent history, prospects for Afghanistan’s future peace and prosperity are facing critical threats. The Taliban and affiliated insurgent groups continue to destabilize much of the countryside. Uncertainty as to prospects of a negotiated peace deters capital investment and propels the flight of the country’s best and brightest. Following the second round of presidential elections in June, the equitable and constitutional transfer of executive power from President Hamid Karzai to his successor is in a state of jeopardy. In May this year, President Barak Obama announced a near total drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016. At the moment, the fate of the Afghan people is most uncertain. Yet as dispiriting as this state of affairs is, Afghanistan is not yet lost. While its insurgency is persistent, the Taliban lack the means and popular support to retake control of the state. Warlords-cum-politicians recognize that they have more to lose by taking guns to the hills than by brokering negotiated deals. Its increasingly educated and globally aware youth comprise nearly two-thirds of its population. And given its mineral resources and position as a geographic bridge for regional trade and energy transit, Afghanistan is not without economic opportunities.
For its potential to be realized, however, Afghanistan will need continued support from the international community with America in the lead, especially at this crucial juncture with changing of the guard at the presidential palace. Over the past century, Afghanistan’s chief executives have only left office in coffins or into exile. This year’s presidential election still has a chance to break this tragic historical trend – but this positive outcome is highly unlikely without continued and committed US engagement in the current electoral crisis and beyond.
As brinkmanship between Afghanistan’s two remaining presidential candidates approached irreconcilability, Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kabul on July 10 to rescue prospects for a pacific transfer of executive power in that country. Presidential candidate and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah (of mixed Tajik and Pashtun heritage) had sternly threatened to form a parallel government in reaction to strong indicators of significant electoral fraud compounded by Independent Election Commission (IEC) actions that appeared strongly partial to his opponent. Abdullah’s fundamental distrust of the process and his subsequent boycott of it was on the verge of sparking a violent confrontation between the two rival camps.