By Arthur I. Cyr
Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election provides limited but promising evidence of political progress, as United States military combat forces prepare to depart later this year. Turnout of approximately 60 percent of eligible voters was high, despite Taliban intimidation and violence. The national election commission has testified that corruption has been much reduced from the 2009 presidential election
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is prevented by law from running again, and early returns favor opposition political leader Abdullah Abdullah and World Bank veteran Ashraf Ghani, among a field of eight candidates.
Both vow to continue security cooperation with the U.S. after the current agreement ends in December. In recent months, unpredictable Karzai has vocally refused to continue the cooperation. Once a clear winner is identified, Afghanistan will have completed a peaceful democratic transition in leadership. This is a historic first. The Taliban continues to cause limited disruption. Insurgents mounted hundreds of attacks in disparate locations, but no major government installations were struck. By contrast, last June Afghanistan rebels detonated a car bomb and battled security forces in front of the presidential palace, the most heavily guarded installation in the country. Penetrating that security apparatus was a major success for them. The Taliban claimed responsibility, but the attackers may actually have been from the Haqqani network, an affiliated group close to al-Qaida. Simultaneously, in southern Afghanistan a minibus detonated an explosive device, killing eleven members of a single family. Beyond such spectacular raids, the Taliban have failed to capture and hold any significant territory. Despite the policy disagreements and insurgent attacks, institutional ties between Afghanistan and the U.S. have actually strengthened. In a July 2012 visit to Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Afghanistan and the U.S have become formal allies. This relationship goes beyond the long-term but limited multilateral effort to stabilize the nation, under United Nations and NATO authority.