It was not a cakewalk, but the brisk efficiency with which the presidential and provincial council elections in Afghanistan were conducted must have surprised the country itself. No matter what the outcome and the eventual turn of events, these elections will have gone a long way to boost Afghanistan’s confidence in its own capability. Given the complete uncertainty that stares the nation in the face, nothing could have been more important than this surge of self-confidence among a people ravaged by decades of war. This the Afghans have understood, hence the unparalleled enthusiasm to take charge of the future. In spite of the fear of militant attack and other unforeseen reprisals, voters in Afghanistan have overwhelmingly participated in the democratic exercise and expressed pride in the national security forces that provided them security cover. This happy picture is a contradiction to one of the 2009 elections, when the people of Afghanistan went to the hustings under the overbearing presence of the international forces. Their apprehension that the show would be stage-managed by the United States of America was proved when the US-backed Hamid Karzai won the controversial run-off after his rival withdrew from the contest. Afghanistan, however, could see a re-run of this picture if the same worrying questions surface about the validity of the winner. The 2014 elections are not free of fraud allegations, but these have been unable to derail the process so far. But it is the veracity of the run-off that will ultimately determine if the elections have been truly successful.
The emergence of a clean winner is still a tenuous step towards solving the intractable problems that confront Afghanistan. Among the three contenders for power — Abdullah Abdullah, Zalmay Rassoul, Ashraf Ghani — none is free from the taint of association with the West-backed earlier regime. Mr Rassoul, in fact, is powerfully backed by Mr Karzai, who, by building his residence within the presidential palace grounds, has just proved that his influence would not be easily shaken off. Apart from the troubling question of ethnicity, the future president will also have to take the call on the bilateral security agreement with the US that Mr Karzai has so conveniently left hanging. If the BSA is accepted, as is likely, given Afghanistan’s dependence on aid, there will be little to deter the Taliban from doing what they are waiting so patiently for — taking Afghanistan back to hell.