US secretary of state John Kerry made a hastily arranged visit to Afghanistan on Friday to help resolve the election crisis, which is sowing chaos in a nation where the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost more than 2,000 lives trying to stabilise. The preliminary results of the presidential election runoff suggested a massive turnaround in favour of former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who lagged significantly behind former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in first-round voting. The latter claims the runoff was a fraud and his loyalists have spoken of forming a parallel government.
Afghanistan’s electoral crisis should be a cause of worry for India as the real gainers from instability will be the Taliban and Pakistan. As recent events have shown, the much-heralded Arab Spring hasn’t quite led to the flowering of democracy because of dissatisfaction with election results and the army’s intervention. This is something which Abdullah Abdullah should have remembered before challenging the election commission, especially because the final results are yet to be declared. Even if he loses, he should follow the legal path to vent his grievances since an agitational method, fraught with the likelihood of violence, is fatal for a nascent democracy like Afghanistan.
The concept of the masses choosing their governments does not have too many admirers in the region. Among the enemies of democracy are the armies, the secret services and religious extremists. More often than not, they act in tandem to frustrate any progress towards democratic rule since they are aware that once popular consent provides the legal and moral foundation of the power structure, the men in uniform and fundamentalists will no longer be able to exercise their extra-constitutional authority. Three of India’s neighbours—Afghanistan, Nepal and Myanmar—are still in the early stages of democracy. It will take careful nurturing of the fragile plant of popular rule to enable its roots to sink deep. Since elections are its lifeblood, no attempt should made to bring the process into disrepute for personal reasons.