The first round of Afghanistan’s presidential elections official wrapped up on over a week ago on May 15, with results showing that Abdullah Abdullah, the former Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs, prevailed with nearly 15% more of the vote than Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan Minister of Finance and World Bank official, his closest competitor. Despite Abdullah’s victory in the first round of elections, the fact that under Afghan law a presidential candidate must secure 50% of the vote has kept him from winning the elections, and has necessitated a run-off between the two candidates.
The run-off, which began yesterday, is scheduled three weeks. Both candidates will be allowed to resume campaign efforts in an effort to maintain popularity and, more so in the case of Ghani, win over voters that had voted against him in the first round of elections. As in most matters of politics within Afghanistan, ethnicity is bound to play a role in the outcome of the elections. Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, is expected to rely heavily upon his running mate, Mohammed Khan, a Pashtun with ties to the influential group that currently makes up 40% of Afghanistan’s population, to secure a greater percentage of the Pashtun vote. Ghani, on the other hand, is a Pashtun, though his ties are closest with groups loyal to Afghanistan’s now-defunct monarchy. Ghani’s running mate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is a well-known Uzbek warlord, and is perceived to have been chosen chiefly due to his ability to guarantee the vote of ethnic Uzbeks, a group that currently counts for nearly three million of the estimated 28 million inhabitants of Afghanistan.
Even as the run-off begins, influential Afghans have already started to endorse the candidates that they support. Jamil Karzai, the brother of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has placed himself in Abdullah’s corner, and has promised to campaign for him. Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, an historically significant guerrilla commander and victim of al-Qaeda assassination in September of 2001, has voiced his support for Ghani. With the playing field now narrowed down to two candidates, the results of the run-off, set to be hold on June 14th, are far from guaranteed. Afghan officials have already taken measures to ensure that the run-off’s legitimacy is not compromised, and have preemptively sacked thousands of state employees over alleged voter fraud committed during the April elections.
Thus far, 31 have been confirmed dead in an explosion in Uqumqi, Xinjiang province that took place yesterday morning. The incident happened in an outdoor market when two vehicles loaded with explosives rushed into the crowd, killing those 31 and injuring a further 94. The Xinjiang provincial government reported on Tianshan that “it was a serious violent terrorist attack.” The US embassy in China stopped short of calling it terrorism in their own brief statement. The death toll has now been raised to its highest point in 5 years since the Urumqi 2009 riots. Thursday’s bombing was deadlier than the knife attacks in Kunming that claimed the lives of 29 passengers.
Relations with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors have become more strained this week. Around 100 Kyrgyz citizens blocked a highway in Osh to demand that local authorities provide them natural gas and electricity supplies. The situation was only resolved when Osh Mayor Akim Aitmamt Kadyrbaev met with them and promised to deliver electricity to the city. The electricity shortage, while not uncommon, became even worse when Uzbekistan cut its natural gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan after the April 14 sale of KyrgyzGazProm to the Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom. Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev stated at a Parliamentary session a week ago that Uzbekistan has ignored Kyrgyz demands to resume deliveries. It was suggested by an MP to use Kyrgyzstan’s water resources as leverage for negotiations with Uzbekistan.
Indian Defense Minister Bikram Singh has deferred his planned visits to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Tentatively scheduled for May 26-28, Army Sources in New Delhi said the visits would be moved to more convenient dates. As Manmohan Singh’s term as Prime Minister ends and Narendra Modi begins to take control, priorities will be re-examined by government. Apparently Modi is preparing a list of issues and problems which will be prioritized in the coming term. Modi got elected through an alliance with the BJP, thus forcing his hand in dealing with Muslim nations.
Turkmenistan is launching a new effort to court investment and curry diplomatic favor from the United States, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said. The president met with the US ambassador, Robert Patterson, who is leaving the diplomatic mission on May 22. The president emphasized the role of the US has a strategic partner, and political consultations have followed new business ventures, including the purchase of several older Boeing aircraft models, and Exxon, Chevron, GE, and Case opening offices in Ashgabat. The White House has also been highly supportive of the TAPI pipeline project, which aims to transport Turkmen sourced gas down to end-markets in Pakistan and India.