If Abdullah persists in throwing his toys round the nursery, how long before his playmates find new friends?
Ashraf Ghani won the second round runoff of the 2014 Afghan elections by a comfortable margin, largely because of ethnic demographics and alliances, partly because of policies but mostly because he has pledged to unite the country in a government of national unity. Rival Abdullah Abdullah won the first round but not conclusively, forcing a run off. His majority was overturned in round 2. The tide turned in Ghani's direction when the comet's tail of minority candidate votes migrated to Ghani/Dostum (thus passim).
Faced with defeat, Abdullah claimed widespread ballot rigging. He did the same in 2009 (with justification, since his side did quite a lot of the rigging). There are merits in his claims this time, but after a rigorous audit of 7 million votes has purged 1 million dodgy ballots from both sides, it is highly likely that Ghani will still achieve a substantial working majority. Unsurprisingly and disappointingly, Abdullah has threatened to dishonour this result and form a rival government – again, a reprise of 2009. With a week to go before the end of the audit, he has declared that he has 'won' both rounds of the election. Talks about forming a government of national unity with Ghani have stalled, according to Abdullah, and though he has ruled out violence 'in the national interest,' he has declared that would never honour the result of a 'corrupt' ballot. It is fair to say that the niceties of 'democratic' political process are still in their infancy in Afghanistan. In Abdullah's terms, the only uncorrupted ballot would be one which gave him outright victory. The contradiction implicit in this definition seem to escape his supporters.
Though neither candidate will ostensibly tolerate serving 'under' the other, perhaps it is time for Abdullah to accept that he has been offered high office in a Ghani administration and his supporters and the Tajik and other minorities will find their interests better served by a government of unity than by a return to mayhem, which favours the Taliban. Ghani has pledged the Vice Presidency to 'General' Abdul Rashid Dostum, the colourful Uzbek former Northern Alliance warlord who has a habit of backing winners and who stands the best chance of keeping the Taliban in check. Sarwar Danish, Second Senior Vice President elect, a Hazara and Justice Minister under Karzai, underlines the 'national unity credentials. With respect to Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance medic with a couple of tasty warlord supporters of his own, such as Mohammad Mohaqiq, Dostum and his coterie would win a 'who's hardest' contest, and there is a strong likelihood that some, if not all, of his more rambunctious supporters will form alliances with Ghani/Dostum/Danish, especially if it promises concerted Taliban-bashing with a real chance of glory and treasure.
While Ghani and Dostum might welcome the constructive input of an engaged Abdullah in the interests of national unity, there are limits to tolerance of a sulky loser. Washington has urged both parties to 'set aside aside their differences,' as has President Karzai and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Afghanistan was not represented by a President at the NATO Wales Summit last week (no big deal, cynics might argue) as a result of the impasse, but prolonged uncertainty can only add to the country's deep crisis. Abdullah may still believe he has friends and supporters in high places i.e. Washington's gnarly old guard, but he has played his hand to the limit and there are huge risks in prolonged discord. Even his staunchest allies are unlikely to stick with him if he persists in throwing his toys round the nursery, especially when the resurgent General Dostum and dignified President in waiting Ashraf Ghani are starting to look like charismatic totems who might give Afghanistan the combination of statesmanship and tough love which the country desperately needs.