Mention 2014 and Afghanistan, and most people’s attention jumps to the pullout of NATO troops. But in a recent lecture attended by Via Meadia staffers, Thomas Barfield, one of the United States’ leading experts on Afghanistan, noted that 2014 is also the year of presidential elections in Afghanistan – a potentially explosive event given that current president Hamid Karzai is term-limited by the 2004 Afghan Constitution and that there are no obvious successors to the corrupt Karzai.Elections in Afghanistan are messy affairs. A nationwide presidential poll in the midst of the withdrawal of international troops will only create new headaches for NATO, regional powers, and our Afghan allies. Pulling out of Afghanistan according to President Obama’s timetable is hard enough; doing so in a way that promotes long-term stability for the country while national elites are engaged in a struggle for political influence will make it harder still.Karzai has no clear successor. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was an influential — and some say, criminal — leader of Kandahar’s Provincial Council. AWK was shot and killed last year.Hamid Karzai could ignore the Constitution and run again. But his legitimacy relies in part on obeisance to Western political rules (constitutions, elections), even in a society where such formal procedures are largely irrelevant to Afghans themselves. Karzai isn’t a stranger to bending constitutional rules: he was heavily criticized both at home and abroad for what appeared to be rigged elections in 2009.Via Meadia has argued for the prudence of hunkering down in Afghanistan to manage as smooth a transition as possible and protect US regional interests. The election in 2014 is another reason why that’s a good idea. American policy-makers need to begin discussing how to manage a constitutional transition that is legitimate by both international and Afghan standards now, in order to minimize the number of moving parts in the region for 2014. Artificial and self-imposed troop withdrawal deadlines don’t help.
2014 Afghan Deadline Headed For Trouble