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nESA Center for Strategic Studies

 

Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington DC, 07/24/08

 

Towards a Successful 2009 Afghan Presidential Election

 

Thank you for the kind introduction.


General Barno, Minister Jalali, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I would like to thank General David Barno, Professor Robert Sharp, Mr. Peter Maher, and many other friends and colleagues at the NESA Center for organizing this timely conference to discuss our presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

 

As I look around, I see many good and dedicated friends of Afghanistan, who helped facilitate the implementation of our two last successful presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2005. I look forward to your informed views on the challenges and opportunities before us. Thank you for your continued support.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 2004 and 2005 elections were major victories for Afghans and our international partners.  It showed the resilience and optimism of the Afghan people. Despite insecurity and terrorist threats, they have turned out in large numbers and voted to elect our President and members of the National Assembly.

 

The Afghan people expect the continuation of the democratic process and free and fair elections. The people expect the international community to help them through this complex exercise to hold another round of free and fair elections in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.

 

This election is more challenging due to the deterioration of security. Security has deteriorated because of the limited resources to develop a comprehensive, well-thought out and properly implement state-building strategy, the continued operation of terrorists sanctuaries across the border, the under-investment by the international community and the excessively cautious consensus-building approach by the Afghan government.

 

The government and people of Afghanistan are aware of the challenges and hard realities hampering the upcoming elections. The issues of funding and logistics stand out; and the debate about the adequate effectiveness of the single non-transferable vote (“SNTV”) still continues. Without security in the South and East, we will be unable to man the polling stations and ensure the security of Afghan and international monitors and observers, as we did last time.


Furthermore, there may be less enthusiasm on the part of the people to take the risk of participating in the election due to their experience with our new parliament and the government’s lack of significant progress in delivering services, especially in the areas of rule of law, housing and food security.

 

However, none of these obstacles and challenges should allow Afghans and the international community to look for alternatives, shortcuts or compromises. The elections will be costly and difficult, but not having a free and fair election is fatal to the political process that we jointly started. The price of the election will be high, but the cost of not doing it will be much higher. Failure to hold the elections will be viewed by the enemies of Afghanistan, the Taliban terrorists, as a victory.

 

We know that addressing the security challenge is not easy. But it is not impossible to manage either. As we did last time, we will need a temporary surge of international troops for the elections. Our National Army and National Police Force will be in a better position by then. The sincere cooperation of the newly-elected civilian government of Pakistan in containing and cracking down on cross-border terrorist operations would help us provide an enabling environment for the upcoming elections.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While addressing the problem of security, we should also focus on providing the financial resources—as recently requested by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—to enable UNAMA to enhance its mandated role in implementing and coordinating the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.

 

I believe in neither “Afghanization” nor “internationalization” of major undertaking in Afghanistan, such as the elections. We need a genuine partnership between Afghanistan and our international partners to complement our strengths and weaknesses with respective rights and responsibilities on both sides.

 

Progress has been made. For instance,  the issues of voter’s registration is resolved, whereby only those that have reached the age of 18 after the last election and those who have lost their voter’s registration cards will be registered.

 

We know that some experts recommend a change in the electoral system and prefer the Party List system. I agree with colleagues that argue that SNTV has led to a fragmented parliament and discouraged political movement. A new electoral system must be centered on a shared vision, instead of influential personalities. However, if we take a closer look at the 107 political parties that have registered so far in Afghanistan, it is not hard to notice that majority of such political parties are a few men with a briefcase full of documents and manifestos drafted in English to impress foreign donors. All of them emphasize gender equality and national unity. However, when you participate in their meetings and assemblies, you can easily count the number of women present and the last names of most members are surprisingly similar.

 

In the next elections, political affiliations will be reflected on the ballots. However, independent candidates may also run provided that they present signatures of 1500 supporters to get into the ballots. A de-registration and re-registration of political parties will also take place, requiring each political party to provide signatures of at least 10,000 supporters.

 

The total cost of the two elections in Afghanistan has been estimated to $470 million. We are grateful to the United States government for generously pledging at the Paris Conference $200 million for the elections. We look forward to our international partners to deliver on their pledges and call on other allies to make further contributions.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to reiterate my early point that holding elections in Afghanistan will be challenging. However, it is crucial to our democratic state-building process. The process should not be halted by terrorists, spoilers or political stakeholders. Our most important assets in this difficult exercise are the resiliency, pragmatism and moderation of the Afghan people.

 

If security is challenging, we need to work together to improve it. If logistical preparations are not on time, we need to mobilize all our resources. We have no option but to have free and fair elections. I would like the UN to maintain their leading coordination and oversight role. In the long term, a pluralistic and domestic Afghanistan will be a stable Afghanistan. Stabilization in Afghanistan is directly linked with stability in the region and security in the world.

 

We would like our partners to provide clear support for the Afghan government’s reform efforts and provide institutional support for professionally capable, moderate Afghan officials and institutions. We need a surge of resources and competency in Afghanistan to overcome challenges of the elections and other obstacles.

I am confident that with determination and closer cooperation, we can meet the expectations of the Afghan people for a pluralistic, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, through free and fair elections.

Thank you.