The threats of the Taliban have failed to prevent Afghans from voting in the presidential election. Politicians should respect their courage and must not let them down, says Florian Weigand.
Voters in Afghanistan who were consumed by fear on the eve of the election must have rubbed their eyes in astonishment on Saturday. Despite the Taliban's warlike threats in the run-up that they would prevent the election with attacks and bombings, their promised firestorm — to everyone's surprise — did not take place.
It's true, there were several attacks, including some in the big cities. However, the majority of them failed, and on balance, as far as we know at present — with five dead, a few dozen wounded — things were actually much quieter than on the many other days when no such important event is taking place. Such comparisons may seem cynical, but there are often many more victims to mourn.
Two clear winners
And so, long before all the votes are counted — a process that, judging by previous experience, will take weeks — it seems there are already two winners in this election: Afghan voters, who literally defied death in going to the polls, and the Afghan security services, who made it possible for this election to be held at all. Often berated for lacking training, being poorly equipped and having lax morals, the security services have clearly succeeded in maintaining calm, generally speaking, especially in the metropolitan centers like Kabul, or Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.
So has the Taliban's fighting power actually been overestimated? If the army and the police act with sufficient unity and coordination, are they in fact a match for the Islamic insurgents? This would be a game changer in the peace negotiations with the United States that will have to be resumed sooner or later. Until now, the Taliban have always acted as if their supremacy over the whole of Afghanistan were merely a matter of time.
Victory for civil courage
A success, then, for the security forces — albeit with some limitations. There were, of course, no polling stations at all in Taliban-controlled regions. But where it was possible to vote, Afghans did so — in spite of all the threats, and all the frustration of rigged elections in the past.
News feeds and social media were full of pictures, of young people in particular. Videos showed them standing in line outside the polling stations. Their principal complaints were about administrative shortcomings; for them, the Taliban weren't really an issue.
In any case, those who were afraid stayed home — and there were certainly considerably more of these than in previous elections. But, let's face it: How high would voter turnout be in well-established European democracies if voting booths were threatened by attacks like these?
Taking the will of the electorate seriously
Regardless of how high the turnout actually was this time, Afghan politicians should take their responsibilities especially seriously, given the civil courage displayed by the people who voted for them.
What an insult it would be if the coming weeks were to be dominated once again — as in previous elections — by presidential candidates squabbling about real or alleged fraud. And if, once again, it takes months to form a government, a period in which the Taliban would have free rein to extend their power base. Politicians would be playing a reckless game with the future of the country. Unfortunately, previous elections have shown that, until now, the rival parties have cared little about this.
This has to change. Because this election must make one thing clear, to politicians in Afghanistan and around the world: There is a will for democratic self-determination in Afghanistan, even with the threat of the Taliban.