Contrary to fears about disruption of Afghan elections by the Taliban, election day passed without any major incidents of violence and people came out in great numbers to cast their votes. Reportedly, out of the 12 million registered voters nearly 7 million used their right of franchise which in terms of turn out works out to be 58.3 per; a substantial improvement over 30% turn out in the previous elections and much better than most of the countries where voting is not obligatory, including Pakistan and India. This unprecedented and overwhelming participation of the Afghan people in the elections signifies many things. It reflects their desire to see peace returning to Afghanistan after four-decades of turbulence and turmoil; it confirms their faith in democracy to winch the country out of the present quagmire; it indicates the waning popularity of the Taliban and endorsement of the fact that the people of Afghanistan have a burning desire to work with the international community, particularly the US to ensure reconstruction and rebuilding of the country in a safe and secure environment. Another significant feature of these elections is that the people rejected the traditional pattern of voting on ethnic lines and the presidential candidates also chose their running mates from other tribes and communities, showing political maturity and foresight.

Needless to emphasize that peace in Afghanistan is vital for the reconstruction of the devastated infrastructure in that country, strengthening prospects of peace and security in Pakistan and the region as well as ushering in an era of shared regional prosperity through the completion of trans-regional projects like TAPI and CASA-1000. Whoever wins the presidential race from amongst the contestants and forms the government in Afghanistan, will in all probability sign the Basic Security Agreement (BSA) with the US to pave the way for the retention of around 12000 US soldiers for the training of Afghan security forces, ensuring peace in the country and continued assistance from US and its allies well into the next decade. It is an irrefutable fact that the Afghan security forces are not yet in a position to fully take over the role of establishing law and order throughout the length and breadth of the country and strengthening the security environment. The country also needs massive economic assistance to rebuild the economy. Signing the BSA would provide the necessary security and economic cover to the country.

With regards to relations with Pakistan it is my considered view that notwithstanding any ill will that the winning President might be harbouring against Pakistan on the basis of past experiences, no one would be able change geographical realities. The destinies of the two people are inextricably linked through cultural, religious and historical bonds. Pakistan needs Afghanistan as much as Afghanistan needs Pakistan to promote peace and tranquility in both the countries and beyond their frontiers. A strong and redeeming factor in this regard is that the present government has abandoned the policy of playing favourites in Afghanistan in the quest for strategic depth. It has been, since its inception, feverishly engaged in removing misgivings about Pakistan in the minds of the Afghan leaders, building a relationship of trust with them and promoting intra-Afghan rapprochement and reconciliation. It even released some of the Taliban prisoners to assist the process of reconciliation notwithstanding the fact that the Afghan leaders for their own political reasons, have been pointing an accusing fingers towards Pakistan for jeopardizing peace in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai even blamed Pakistan for the attacks on the election commission office in Kabul recently. However at the trilateral summit in Ankara he did acknowledge the paradigm shift in Pak Afghan policy and even promised not to allow the Pakistani Taliban to use Afghan soil to launch attacks against Pakistan. The persistent efforts of the government to mend fences and build bonhomie with the Afghan leaders would bear fruit if pursued with perseverance and honesty of purpose. The emerging ground realities also dictate and underscore the need for better relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulating Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people over the successful holding of the elections, again reiterated Pakistan’s desire to work with the new government for promoting peace in that country and the region. It is a timely and well thought out overture to the existing and future leadership of Afghanistan.

Now the question is whether all these developments are enough to guarantee peace in Afghanistan? Unfortunately the answer cannot be in the affirmative. Taliban have rejected the elections and are continuing with their struggle against the government and the US presence in the country. They are still a potent force in some areas of the country, particularly the northern region. Peace in Afghanistan will now depend on the ability of the new Afghan government to seal factional harmony and bring the Taliban into the mainstream of national politics. It is indeed an arduous and convoluted undertaking. The new Afghan government will need the help of some regional countries, who have a big stake in peace in Afghanistan and regional security, more so from Pakistan which has played a very positive role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the US at Doha, and has been helping in smoothing out differences amongst different Afghan factions and still remains an extremely relevant and potent player in this regard.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.