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By Global Public Square staff
As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghans are preparing to usher in their own new era. Soon, the nation could witness its first ever democratic handover of power. So, what if we told you that Afghanistan seems poised to effectively navigate this transition? In other words, what if we told you that Afghanistan could actually work out?
Almost two months ago, Afghans headed to the polls in record numbers. The election went remarkably well. Afghan security forces performed better than anyone expected. There were few reports of ballot stuffing or corruption that had marred the 2009 election of Hamid Karzai.
Since no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off in June. And two front-runners have emerged. Guess what? They're both great – highly qualified, modern, reformist and articulate.
Compare them to the hardline Shiite thugs running Iraq and you will see a world of difference. Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a trained ophthalmologist, secured 45 percent of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, garnered nearly 32 percent of the vote. Honestly, either would mark a significant improvement for the future of Afghanistan and for Afghan-U.S. relations.
Fareed interviewed both men and was struck by how much they agreed on and how different they were from Karzai.
First, let's consider the Bilateral Security Agreement. The BSA would allow American forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Karzai first negotiated it, but ever since he's refused to sign it.
Here's the frontrunner Abdullah on the BSA:
And here is Ghani:
As for whether the leading candidates would bring the Taliban into the political process to help broker some sort of a peace deal, listen again to what they have to say.
And here's Ghani:
Both candidates are also less anti-American – decidedly so – than their predecessor.
Abdullah refutes Karzai's claim that American forces have wantonly and deliberately destroyed Afghan villages and killed its civilians:
Ghani, a U.S. citizen until he gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009, largely agrees:
Also, Abdullah talked about U.S. troop levels:
And here is what Ghani said:
In addition, Abdullah talked about relations with Pakistan, and whether the country's intelligence services are supporting the Taliban:
While Ghani had this to say about why he believes there is a new way of thinking about extremism in Pakistan:
And finally, Abdullah explained why corruption is such a threat to the well-being of Afghans:
While Ghani explains the link between property rights and corruption in Afghanistan:
Of course, it remains to be seen what the eventual victor actually does when he gets into office. But it all sounds promising – and very different from Iraq.
So, Obama's announcement and the candidates' willingness to sign the agreement to keep American troops there means that Afghanistan has a two year head start – Afghanistan has two years to start developing a viable plan, to engage in diplomacy with its neighbors and to start putting the institutions and mechanisms in place to create a sustainable, independent future.
Barnett Rubin, the director of studies at NYU's Center on International Cooperation and a great Afghan scholar, points out that if the Taliban is fighting to get U.S. troops to leave, they will now no longer have a reason to fight – and they should start living peacefully with their fellow Afghans. If it is only an excuse for another agenda, then they will now be exposed. And the fact that the U.S. will not have a military base in the heart of Afghanistan in perpetuity should make regional powers like Russia and China more willing to support the new Afghan state.
Our optimism is mixed with caution, of course, but after 30 years of civil war in Afghanistan, it's a pleasure to be able to even have a qualified sense of hope for the country and for its people.