The Afghan presidential elections in April 2014 must be open to all Afghans who respect the constitution. A long-term, successful future for the country has to be inclusive of all strands of society. Even then, it is shocking to hear the Independent Election Commission state that members of the Taliban will be allowed to stand for president, since a large part of the ongoing Afghan insurgency is being fought by the Taliban.
However, despite this shock, the Commission is saying no more than what the constitution requires and even President Hamid Karzai has said it several times. Former combatants should be able to stand for public office and some former Taliban members already hold office in provincial and district governments. What is essential is that everyone involved in formal Afghan politics must recognise the primacy of the rule of law as defined by the Afghan constitution.
The most difficult relationship to manage will be that between those Taliban who stand for office — and therefore reject the armed struggle and accept the constitution — and their former comrades-in-arms who reject that peaceful option and continue the armed struggle. There will be plenty of allegations that candidates have not truly broken from their violent past and the Independent Election Commission will be sorely tested to enforce the law.
However, it is very important that the Commission has given a firm date and announced the campaign period, which will allow politicians from all sides to prepare properly. A firm date and election timetable make it much easier for all concerned to monitor its fairness and transparency.
It would be a disaster if Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy was to be derailed at this stage by an attempt by Karzai to fabricate laws to seek a third term or to alter the electoral system in some way to favour his supporters. The last election in 2009 was marred by serious allegations of fraud and the country was only saved from serious violence by the challenger stepping down from the second round run-off.