The Afghan people voted several days ago on whom they wished to succeed the oleaginous Hamid Karzai as their president. As the count comes in, two of the 11 candidates are emerging as contenders for a spot in the run-off, as neither will breach the 50% threshold needed to avoid one. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Arshaf Ghani have several differences, but both are likely to back a Status of Forces Agreement that would permit US troops to stay in the country past the end of this year.
Th first thing to note is that the count in Afghanistan is going to be painfully slow. So far only 10% of the vote has been counted. Mr. Abdullah’s 42% of the vote and Dr. Ghani’s 38% of the vote are really 4.2% and 3.8% of the total cast. Much can change in the next several days, and during the count is the time for elections to be stolen.
“The results will change,” Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the election commission chairman, told reporters in Kabul yesterday. “It is possible that one candidate is the front-runner in today’s press conference, and there will be another front-runner in the next press conference.” In Afghanistan, as in many other places, it is not how one votes that counts but rather how one counts the votes that matters.
Reuters reports, “The Electoral Complaints Commission said it received 1,892 complaints, of which ‘870 might affect the final results,’ Mohammad Nadir Muhseni, a spokesman, told reporters in Kabul. Complaints included fake voting cards, lack of access to voting sites and pressure from politicians to vote for certain candidates, he said.” An electoral commission with 870 complaints that could affect the final result is an electoral commission that can pick the president it wants.
While the outcome will matter greatly to the Afghan people, the US doesn’t care about any issue beyond the SOFA deal. With it, America can keep its troops in Afghanistan, and without it, Johnny comes marching home. This journal opposes any SOFA as the US has no strategic interest in the country now that bin Laden is dead. If US troops remain, they will effectively be there to prop up a president whose election is going to be doubtful (870 chances for doubt, in fact).
However, the US will probably get to keep troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Abdullah has said that he would back a SOFA. Dr. Ghani is a former US citizen, and therefore, one can expect that he is in touch with State Department, Pentagon and CIA people who are all telling him the same thing — both countries would benefit from a SOFA.
Beyond that, however, the President of Afghanistan, no matter who he is, will benefit from having US forces in his country. It’s very hard to oust someone who has the USA to call in air strikes, provide logistical support and bribe officials.
President Obama got the troops out of Iraq, but Afghanistan is a different case. One may expect a SOFA after the run off, no later than September.