Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul prepare to leave after an election rally in Mazari Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The Afghan presidential election will be held on April 5. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)
In a nation more associated with calamity than consensus, the initial results of Saturday’s Afghan presidential election are startling.
Despite Taliban threats to attack polling stations nationwide, the same percentage of Afghans turned out to vote—roughly 58 percent, or 7 million out of 12 million eligible voters—as did Americans in the 2012 U.S. presidential race. Instead of collapsing, Afghan security forces effectively secured the vote. And a leading candidate to replace Hamid Karzai is Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat who has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Columbia University, a Lebanese Christian wife, and an acclaimed book and TED talk entitled “Fixing Failed States.”
“Relative to what we were expecting, it’s very hard to not conclude that this was a real defeat for the Taliban,” Andrew Wilder, an American expert on Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview from Kabul on Monday. “And a very good day for the Afghan people.”
Two forces that have long destabilized the country—its political elite and its neighbors—could easily squander the initial success. Evidence of large-scale fraud could undermine the legitimacy of the election and exacerbate long-running ethnic divides. And outside powers could continue to fund and arm the Taliban and disgruntled Afghan warlords, as they have for decades.
An Afghan beggar sits in front of a spray painted slogan in Herat on March 29, 2014. Presidential candidates have been holding election rallies across the country for the the April 5 presidential elections, to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who was barred constitutionally from seeking a third term. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
As Afghans begin to vote for their new president, the country’s women are looking to the election with a combination of excitement and anxiety, cautious optimism, and the awareness that the gains they made over the last decade are still fragile.
Atiqullah, 47, is a mobile phone card seller from Kabul.
“Real changes will only come when the new president makes peace with the Taliban and brings them in to join the government. The big problem we have is Pakistan. Pakistan and the CIA don’t want peace in Afghanistan. I ask the president of Pakistan not to send rockets, not to send suicide bombers here.” On Saturday, millions of Afghans will head to the polls, attempting the first democratic transfer of power the nation has ever seen. Voters will choose the successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has run the country since 2001 but is constitutionally banned from seeking a third term.
AFGHANISTAN, Herat : Afghan women queue outside a school to vote in presidential elections in the northwestern city of Herat on April 5, 2014. Afghan voters went to the polls to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, braving Taliban threats in a landmark election held as US-led forces wind down their long intervention in the country. AFP PHOTO/AREF KARIMI
As South Sudan, the world’s newest country, veers dangerously close to ethnic civil war, we’re already getting a glimpse of the international crises that could greet us in the new year. Now the Center for Preventive Action, an affiliate of the Council on Foreign Relations, has presented a more comprehensive view, releasing its annual forecast of the conflicts that could pose the greatest threat to the United States in 2014.
The survey, which asked more than 1,200 U.S. government officials, academics, and experts to assess the impact and likelihood of 30 scenarios, divides the results into three tiers of risk. And some of the findings are alarming. Beyond the familiar flashpoints—military intervention in Syria’s civil war, strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities—the report raises concerns about overlooked threats ranging from turmoil in Jordan to civil war in Iraq to a border clash between China and India. The study is also notable for the risks it downplays, including armed confrontation between China and its neighbors over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas.
The most threatening and most likely conflicts (in red) include some you might expect: limited military intervention in Syria’s deteriorating civil war; a cyberattack on critical infrastructure in the U.S.; military strikes against Iran if nuclear talks fail or Tehran advances its nuclear program; a North Korean crisis sparked by military provocation or internal political instability; a major terrorist attack on the U.S. or an ally; and greater turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan as U.S. troops withdraw from the region and Afghanistan holds elections.
Read more.[Image: Center For Preventive Action/Council on Foreign Relations]