Afghan election: Aftermath of presidential vote could be long, drawn-out affair in search for successor to Hamid Karzai

Getting Afghans to vote for a new president will not be a problem, but after ballots have been cast – with no clear successor to Hamid Karzai likely – the new leader may not be found until the autumn, writes Kim Sengupta

The run-up to the presidential election in Afghanistan was dominated by bombings and shootings, some in the heart of Kabul: the Taliban has vowed to stop the voting taking place and the rise in murderous attacks was aimed at fulfilling that threat.

The latest shootings, of two highly respected journalists, Kathy Gannon and Anja Niedringhaus, at Khost, near the Pakistani border, by a man in police uniform, has once again focused international attention on the violence. Ms Niedringhaus, a photographer with the Associated Press, died in the attack, Ms Gannon, an AP correspondent, was injured.

Enough people, however, will turn up at the polls: the real problem lies in what happens afterwards.

The failure to get a clear-cut winner, as is likely to be the case, will necessitate a second round of voting, with results not becoming known for several months.

This will also mean that the signing of a treaty to keep a limited number of Western troops beyond the end of the year and, with them, continuing aid from abroad, will also be delayed at a time when the country can ill afford a leadership vacuum.

The election this time is likely to be better organised and more honestly conducted than the preceding one in 2009. On that day I was in the town of Nad-e-Ali, in Helmand, which came under persistent rocket and mortar fire from the insurgents. In the lulls in between, we saw ballot stuffing on behalf of the President, Hamid Karzai, on a heroic scale, a scenario replicated across swathes of the country.

On that occasion the vast majority of the votes from the ethnic Pashtun majority went to Mr Karzai, albeit  with the help of fraudulent counting. His main opponent, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, was left to rely on the minority northern Tajik, Uzbek and  Hazara constituency. Now the Pashtun vote is likely to be split between two of the frontrunners, Zalmay Rassoul, the former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani, a former Finance Minister.

Dr Abdullah, of mixed Tajik and Pashtun parentage, has limited appeal among Pashtuns because of his history in the Northern Alliance during the civil wars and closeness to its commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. A run-off scheduled after the last election was eventually cancelled when Dr Abdullah, declaring he had no faith in the system, pulled out. If no candidate wins over 50 per cent this time, a second round will be held by 28 May, with the results, and a new president, not unveiled until the autumn.


President Karzai, who could not stand for a third term under the constitution, refused to sign the bilateral agreement with Washington to allow the presence of around 11,000, mainly American, troops from Nato.

All three leading candidates have stated that they will be signatories; but, with the Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) mission finishing at the end of the year, military commanders have repeatedly pointed out they are in a state of limbo on planning.

Failure to ratify a treaty will have dire consequences.  The total number of Afghan military and police is expected to reach 352,000 in the next few months, but this has been done, partly, through reducing training time; the force lacks heavy weaponry and an effective air force.

Both Afghan and Western commanders point out that they will find it difficult to cope, without help, when Isaf operations end – with indications that the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Pakistan are preparing to send hundreds across the border for a jihadist offensive.

The $10bn a year Afghanistan is due to get in civilian and military aid will also depend, donor states stress, on the treaty being ratified and the existence of a mechanism to control fraud. Without this injection of funds, the country’s economy is likely to collapse. President Karzai’s failure to sign the treaty had puzzled many in the West. It remains unclear just how much influence he will continue to wield after the election. It is widely believed that he forced his brother Qayum to drop out the race and arranged for General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord, to become Dr Ghani’s running mate. At the same time, he remains close to Dr Rassoul, a long-term ally.

Read more: News photographer killed by Afghan police officer

Both Dr Rassoul and Dr Ghani are said to have received funding from Mr Karzai for their campaign. Dr Ghani has already stated that if he wins, the former President would be given an advisory role in “national affairs, regional affairs and international affairs”. Dr Rassoul has stated that Mr Karzai will have an “important and practical” part to play in “bridging divisions” and taking a unified country forward.

The divisions between the men who want to take over from Mr Karzai do not show any signs of being bridged. Both the camps of Dr Ghani and Dr Abdullah are preparing the groundwork for lodging complaints if Dr Rassoul is declared to have topped the first-round polls or placed second.

Either place, say his opponents, will then leave Dr Rassoul in a position to use the Karzai apparatus to get the Pashtun vote behind him for the second round. There is enough ammunition present to raise doubts: 21 million voter cards have been issued for an electorate of between 10 and 12 million: ballot papers have been delivered to areas where election monitors are not likely to get access because of security reasons: the ballot papers will be ferried back for counting from many places by nothing more secure than donkey trains. The aftermath of the election is likely to be a long, drawn-out and acrimonious affair.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum