It will still take some time until all the votes are counted, but the winner of the presidential elections is already clear: the Afghan voters. Despite threats of violence from the Taliban, Afghans formed long queues outside the polling stations to cast their ballots. Countless pictures posted on Facebook and Twitter show men and women of all ethnicities proudly presenting their snapshots of the vote. Turnout was so high that voting was extended for at least an hour.
There will undoubtedly be electoral fraud, and its extent will be determined in the coming days. Nevertheless, it is important to note that democracy is possible in the war-torn country and that, with it, one of the goals set by the international community twelve years ago has been achieved - at least in principle. This development should not be underestimated in a country that has never experienced a democratic transition of power.
And it's also clear who the losers of the election are - the Taliban. Despite their rhetoric of terror and occasional attacks in the provinces, they didn't succeed in disrupting the election. Although there is no solution to the conflict in Afghanistan without the Taliban, their reputation as a movement that can rely on the support from many Afghans is gone.
More aid needed
The West, whose interest in the conflict-ridden country is in decline, should now focus on the millions of people who have waited patiently to exercise their right to vote. They deserve our help even after the NATO-led ISAF troops leave the country by the end of 2014. If Western nations have a genuine interest in stabilizing the country in the long-term, they must now take advantage of the impetus of the Afghans and quickly make binding commitments in terms of development assistance.
Karzai's successor will be up against enormous challenges, as he is expected to tackle the issues of corruption, poverty, security, women's rights and economic development.
But there are also positive signals. While former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai - one of the three most promising candidates - has pledged to introduce a program to fight poverty, Abdullah Abdullah - another front-runner - has been campaigning for more rule of law. Zalmai Rassoul, the third top candidate, decided to choose a woman as running mate.
Provincial governor Habiba Sarabi is currently the only female politician with practical experience in governance. Sarabi is also the reason why so many people have rushed to cast their votes this time round, including many women from conservative regions such as Kandahar Province and the territories along the Pakistani border.
In a tight spot
But disillusionment could easily follow as there is a high probability that none of the candidates will emerge as the winner in the first round, setting the scene for a runoff. Furthermore, alliances have to be forged to integrate all the political forces in the country. The warlords, including notorious war criminals, are still strong and will make demands.
Moreover, all the presidential front-runners have already declared their intention to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, which outgoing President Hamid Karzai had put on the back burner. The BSA would allow Washington to leave behind a small residual force after the NATO drawdown.
At the same time, the candidates also want to engage in peace talks with the Taliban. Against this backdrop, the future president will find himself in a tight spot having to balance the conflicting interests of warlords, the US and the Taliban.