Washington, D.C. – Today, as Afghans prepare to go to the polls in less than one month, the Center for American Progress released a report at an event featuring Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) on the political, economic, and security transitions under way in Afghanistan as Afghans adapt to the international community assuming a reduced role.
“The importance of the upcoming presidential elections and the accompanying political transition from President Hamid Karzai to a newly elected Afghan leader cannot be overstated,” said Caroline Wadhams, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “The elections will largely determine, at least in the short term, Afghanistan’s stability and the fate of the U.S. and NATO mission.”
A successful election process has the potential to create a more legitimate Afghan government and enable foreign funding, which the Afghan government so desperately needs to continue flowing post-2014. A failed electoral process, in which the outcome is seriously disputed, has the potential to trigger violence, to undermine the cohesion of Afghan security forces, and to threaten financial assistance from abroad. This could destabilize Afghanistan and the region, reversing many of the gains made by the United States and its Afghan and NATO allies over more than a decade of conflict.
As Afghanistan changes leadership and adapts to reduced international assistance and a scaled-back military presence, Afghans themselves will be responsible for consolidating the gains, improving their government, and building a more sustainable economy. The international community should aim to play an important—but secondary—role by: filling in the significant financial gaps; providing training and technical assistance in a variety of security and governmental sectors; and deterring spoiler behavior from groups within Afghanistan and actors in the region.
Supporting a transparent, inclusive, and credible election in April, in which President Karzai transfers power to an elected Afghan successor, should be the top priority for U.S. and international policymakers. This means that the policymakers outside of Afghanistan should:
Support sound technical processes related to transparency, fairness, and inclusivity, as well as an on-time election, on April 5, 2014.
Not interfere with the candidates, coalitions, or processes, such as by backing one candidate or insisting on a certain platform for candidates. At the same time, they should support dialogue and a level playing field for the election process.
Monitor and encourage strong and impartial assistance by the Afghan security forces for election security.
Urge Pakistani military and civilian leaders to cooperate on election security through border closures and other strategies.
Encourage transparent political dialogue among political candidates—without becoming involved in those discussions—throughout the electoral process, including in first and second rounds to support an inclusive government, not a winner-take-all situation.
In the lead-up to the election, the United States, the European Union, and other international actors should send strong signals to Afghans regarding their willingness to remain engaged in security and development past 2014. Policymakers should:
Make the case for why continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is important for U.S. and European security interests.
Acknowledge that international engagement and assistance will depend on a legitimate election process and a Bilateral Strategic Agreement, or BSA, between the United States and Afghanistan.
Express the intent to maintain a small military presence in Afghanistan to support the Afghan National Security Forces and U.S. counterterrorism imperatives once the BSA is signed.
Suspend negotiations with President Karzai and attempt to conclude this agreement with President Karzai’s successor. All of the leading Afghan presidential candidates have expressed support for the BSA.
Beyond the elections in April, policymakers will need to demonstrate additional support of Afghanistan actors by:
Supporting Afghans as they strengthen their economy and build economic bridges with their neighbors and beyond.
Urging and supporting an inclusive reconciliation process among Afghans that includes insurgent elements and representatives of Afghanistan’s diverse communities.
Providing training, enablers, and advice to Afghanistan’s security forces if the BSA is signed.