North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Monday, April 7, 2014

Afghanistan holds first election transferring presidential power via the ballot box

While it often seems as though Afghanistan is a never ending stream of horrific news events - violence, corruption, spats, mistaken bombing raids, drone strikes - there was a rare burst of action over the weekend that refocused attention on Afghans themselves in a positive light.

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Afghanistan - toiling after nearly 40 years of uninterrupted conflict, internal, religious, and yet also as a pawn of geopolitical maneuvering. Graphic from

In the middle of a civil war - Taliban with 10th century Sharia law as its governing vision vs a heavily propped up central government with 21st century (ok, perhaps 20 century) aspirations - an election was held that for the first time transfers presidential power via the ballot box.

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Despite threats and acts of violence from the Taliban that called the elections a Western sham, Afghanis turned out heavily to vote. Here, a line snakes along at a mosque/polling station in Herat, Afganistan. Photo from the NY Daily News

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In rural, mountainous locations, donkeys are a key element in voting. Here, local election officials are transporting ballots to the voting stations in anticipation of the election day. Photo from

Biggest election day decision has international implications

The current Afghan President, Harmid Karzai, is not running again, but has frustrated his NATO allies by refusing to sign a new security pact ensuring continued military support from Western countries. That decision, says Karzai (not unreasonably) should be left to the new President. And all 8 candidates running for the office have declared they are ready to sign.

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Current Afghan President Harmid Karzai, has become a familiar face to Western powers, an increasingly fierce critic of tactics used by Western military allies, and no doubt after 13 years of governing, ready to step down. Photo from WSJ

The issue is whether the new President will be officially installed - some say this will be months away yet due to the likelihood of runnoff balloting and other procedures - in time to prevent allies from beginning massive withdrawals in the fall. (And to Teatree, this all smacks rather heavily to the internal goals of armed forces and politics, rather than supporting the average Afghan ...)

Oh, and who are the candidates for the office of Afghanistan President?

In a recent BBC article we read, "There are eight candidates for president, but three are considered frontrunners - former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Dr Abdullah has fought a polished campaign, Mr Ghani has strong support among the new urban youth vote and Dr Rassoul is believed to favoured by Hamid Karzai, our correspondent says. However, no candidate is expected to secure more than the 50% of the vote needed to be the outright winner, which means there is likely to be a second round run-off on 28 May."

So for faces and brief biographies courtesy of the AP, here are the top three:

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ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Having gained 31 percent of the vote as runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections, Abdullah has an advantage in name recognition and political organization. He was a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander famed for his resistance to Soviet occupation and the Taliban. Abdullah has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan's north, but his perceived weak support among Pashtuns — Afghanistan's largest ethnic group at 42 percent — could keep him from gaining a majority of votes, even though he is half-Pashtun.

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Photo from Gulf Times
ZALMAI RASSOUL: A former foreign minister, Rassoul has been national security adviser to the government and is seen as close to Karzai. He could end up being a consensus candidate among many political factions. A Pashtun like Karzai, he has a medical degree and is fluent in five languages, including French, English and Italian. He lived in Italy for many years with Afghanistan's deposed King Zahir Shah, who died in Kabul in 2007.

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Photo from
ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI: Ghani is a former finance minister who ran in the 2009 presidential elections but received just 3 percent of the vote. A well-known academic with a reputation as a somewhat temperamental technocrat, Ghani chairs a commission in charge of transitioning responsibility for security from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan forces. Ghani also worked at the World Bank.

By the way, at least these three candidates, and Teatree assumes most of the other five, are equally comfortable wearing either Western or traditional Afghan attire. No implications are meant with the choice of photos.

So, on we go into the next few months of power transfer and serious crossroads for Afghanistan's future ...

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Always in the background are the fortunes of Afghani women - much is at stake for them personally as to rights and status. Photo from

1 comment:

Teatree said...

A follow up to the Afghan future:

A new book out, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall, asserts that the evidence is strong to look at the safe havens in Pakistan as to where funds, ideologues, and fighters are coming from as this war enters its 14th year. Yes, Afghans are certainly Taliban, but much of the support come from Pakistani tribes and who knows who else in that country.