The first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election was held Saturday and, based on most reports, so far so good.
That is particularly true in light of the threat of violence posed by the Taliban and, potentially, other heavily armed elements in and outside the country. Turnout among the 12 million eligible voters was about 60 percent, twice the level of the last presidential election in 2009; about 35 percent of the voters in this majority Muslim nation were women. This was Afghanistan’s fifth election since the Taliban were driven out in 2001.
The election was run entirely by the Afghans for the first time, which is important for the sovereignty and credibility of the person who is elected. The country had 6,000 polling stations and 200,000 election observers. Eight candidates ran for president, each with an ethnically mixed slate and some experience relevant to governing. Campaigning was vigorous and the event received coverage from Afghanistan’s 75 television stations.
The election’s results so far made Saturday a good day for Afghanistan as well as for the United States, based on what it has sought to achieve since its post-9/11 intervention. The likely pair of runoff candidates for the second round in May — former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second in 2009 — are both reasonably acceptable to the United States.
They have agreed that a modest U.S. troop presence may stay after the withdrawal date of the end of this year. The Obama administration wants to leave behind up to 12,000 NATO troops, of which the United States would furnish about two-thirds, to train Afghan troops, provide security and maintain a base for drones.
If the runoff proceeds well and produces a credible successor to President Hamid Karzai, it will make it easier for the United States to leave Afghanistan with a clear conscience. Trained security forces and a democratically elected president will make the prospects of Afghanistan’s government much brighter than they would be otherwise, regardless of what the Taliban and Pakistan have in mind.