The posters are printed. The rallies are organized. A televised debate is planned. Campaign season for Afghanistan’s presidential election kicks off Sunday, and the stakes are high for the 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai and oversee the final chapter in a NATO-led combat mission. The April 5 vote is a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history, its outcome seen as make-or-break for the country’s future and key to the level of foreign involvement here after nearly 13 years of war. Billions of dollars in funds are tied to the government’s holding a free and fair election — the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance. Amid a surge in violence from the Taliban ahead of the NATO combat troop withdrawal at the end of the year, the poll also will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable transition. And the West will be watching the vote as means of gauging the success of its efforts to foster democracy and bolster security over the past 12 years.
“If the result is so contested that the new government lacks all legitimacy and authority, if the election is so manifestly rigged and corrupt that it destroys the willingness of the U.S. even more than is happening already to go on funding Afghanistan, then indeed you can see the setup that we have created going to pieces,” said Anatol Lieven, a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College in Britain.
A withdrawal of U.S. funding and support would put the future president in a compromised position, struggling to hold together the armed forces while staving off an emboldened Taliban.
Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, chief electoral officer for the Independent Election Commission, noted the “huge difference” between the coming vote and the previous two presidential elections, in 2009 and 2004: Only Afghans will oversee this one. “This is a very important election, very crucial election because this is the first time from an elected president we are going to go to another elected president,” he told The Associated Press. “We are fully ready — logistically, operationally as well as from the capacity side, the budget side, the timing side.”
Full Article: Afghanistan’s presidential campaign to begin | Boston Herald.