On April 5 the world will watch the Afghan people, for the third time in recent history, go to the polls and democratically elect a new leader.
The presidential elections should be a time of celebration and reflection – a time to recognize how far the Afghan people have come in 13 short years and to reflect deeply upon the enduring political, economic, and social challenges that will impact the population for years to come.
In the lead up to the elections, however, the Taliban have escalated their attacks in provinces such as Kabul, Kunduz, Jalalabad, Kandarhar, and Faryab. Just this week, Women for Afghan Women was forced to evacuate over 60 clients – all women and children – from its Kunduz shelter and Children’s Support Centre due to the increasing attacks and Taliban gains in the province.
Across Afghanistan there is fear that the increase in rocket attacks, gunfire, and suicide bombings are just the beginning and that things will only get worse.
The Taliban have been forthcoming in their mission to stop elections. In a public statement issued on March 11, the group vowed to cease elections by ordering all Mujahedeen to disrupt the process by targeting “all its workers, activists, callers, security apparatus and offices.”
The Taliban have also made blatant proclamations against the democratic process, labeling the elections a “theatrical charade” and claiming that the elections have already taken place in the offices of the CIA and Pentagon.
As President Karzai remains resolute on not signing the critical Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S., his actions continue to point to a strong desire to pursue peace negotiations with his Taliban “brothers,” as he’s referred to them.
Many wonder if Karzai himself will disrupt the democratic process. Should Karzai declare a “state of emergency” in the country, he could derail the impending transition of power in the name of pursing “peace” with the Taliban.
The future of Afghanistan as a country and as a democracy depends on the success of the April 5 elections. Progress has been made in Afghanistan and will continue to be made if the basic principles of democracy and human rights are upheld.
But the Afghan people desperately need our support to ensure that their future is not once again stolen by tyrannical extremists who abhor peace and human rights. Negotiating with the Taliban might led to a halt in immediate fatalities, but would ultimately come at a price simply too high for the Afghan people and the world to bear.
Should elections not take place, the future of millions of Afghans, whose lives have dramatically improved since 2001, will be in jeopardy. While elections will not transform Afghanistan and its problems overnight, they are an important step in the right direction.
Ensuring that the elections are held sends a critical message to the Afghan people, the Taliban, and the world: we will protect the tremendous investments made by the international community and the Afghan people and progress in Afghanistan will continue to take place despite the challenges ahead.
This week, we have seen courageous Afghans risking their lives to line up at voter registration sites, determined to vote in spite of the unconscionable violence. As brave and resilient as the Afghan people are, we still need the support of the international community.
We call on all nations, particularly America, to use your influence to pressure the Karzai government to fulfill its obligation to carry out elections and peacefully transfer power, as well as to put pressure on Pakistan to stop Taliban forces from crossing the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
This will help to ensure that on April 5, 2014, all Afghans – particularly women – can take part in the rebuilding of their country.
During this critical time of transition, with so much incredible progress at stake, it is imperative that the world, and the U.S. in particular, take steps to ensure that the democratic process is upheld in Afghanistan. Lasting peace, democracy, and full respect for human rights will only be possible when Afghan people are empowered and able to decide the future of their country themselves.
Manizha Nader is executive director of Women for Afghan Women (WAW). The organisation has opened nine Family Guidance Centres (FGCs), eight women’s shelters, four halfway houses and four Children’s Support Centres in Afghanistan. WAWs goal is to have FGCs and shelters in every province in Afghanistan.