Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs, released the following statement on the hearing “The Prospects for Afghanistan’s 2014 Elections.” Today Senator Casey introduced a resolution expressing support for a transparent, credible and inclusive election process in Afghanistan in April 2014. He introduced this resolution with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which can be found here.
“Today the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs meets to discuss Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial elections, scheduled to take place on April 5, 2014. While these elections are almost a year away, preparations must begin now, given that their outcome will determine the success or failure of the international effort in Afghanistan. Simply put, the stakes could not be higher.
These elections come at a pivotal time. A full-fledged security transition from international forces to Afghan forces is underway. The United States is deliberating troop levels post-2014 and negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement with the Afghan government. The success of the security transition depends in large part on political stability and whether a majority of the Afghan people see their next government as legitimate and acceptable. If not, we can expect ongoing political strife and possibly a return to civil war.
This is why preparing for successful and credible elections must be one of our top priorities in Afghanistan. The American people and the Congress will be watching this election process closely as we determine future investments in this important relationship.
As we begin this conversation about the 2014 Afghan presidential and provincial elections, I want to make one thing clear at the outset. The U.S., nor others in the international community, should not be seen to interfere in these upcoming elections. This is an Afghan exercise whose outcome should solely be determined by the Afghan people. The U.S. role is to support an open and transparent, credible and inclusive election process, but should in no way seek to determine the actual outcome.
The United States does however have a stake in the election process, and the equation is quite simple. If these elections are seen as transparent, credible and inclusive, the U.S. and Afghanistan’s allies will continue supporting Afghanistan’s development and commitments made in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. If not, we can expect to see many countries, including the United States, dramatically reduce funding and support for Afghanistan. After so many years of sacrifice from our servicemembers, U.S. taxpayers will have no patience for a flawed election. U.S. support for independent electoral administration mechanisms, and respect for the Afghan constitution, reflect a respect for Afghan sovereignty and a desire to ensure that hard fought gains for Afghanistan’s democratic system are not lost.
Furthermore, a transparent, credible and inclusive election process will be a important determinant of stability in the country. If key blocs in Afghanistan do not believe that the elections are an inclusive and credible exercise, we could face a scenario similar to the 1990s, when disaffected factions expressed their political views through violence. It goes without saying that the U.S. and regional actors are deeply interested in ensuring that Afghanistan does not devolve into civil war like it did in the 1990s.
Today, Senator McCain and I introduced a Senate resolution, which emphasizes our concern that a flawed election process could have a significantly negative impact on the stability of the country. We hope that this resolution will send a clear message to Afghan authorities that the U.S. commitment to investing in Afghanistan’s future is largely contingent on the quality of this election process.
Thus far, the election preparations have been hampered by the lack of a legal framework governing electoral bodies, their composition and conduct. Last June, I sent a letter to Secretary Clinton expressing my concerns about the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). Since then, there has been little progress made by Afghan authorities. President Karzai recently vetoed a law passed by Parliament, which would set the terms for the IEC and ECC. The independence of these bodies is critical because it speaks to the ultimate impartiality of the elections and help to build confidence in the electoral process.
Moving forward, I would recommend that the U.S. administration consider the following measures to improve the prospects for Afghanistan’s 2014 elections:
- First, the U.S. should send a clear message to the Afghan people that we consider the integrity of this process to be a top priority and have dedicated key personnel to the task. The election does not appear to be the sole purview of any one of our five Ambassadors on the ground in Kabul. Like we did for the 2009 elections, the U.S. should designate a senior level position in Embassy Kabul to focus solely on coordinating policy and programs for the 2014 elections. Former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta have also made this important recommendation to the administration, and I hope that it is considered seriously.
- Second, the U.S. should continue to reiterate the importance of holding the election on April 5th, 2014. Allowing the election date to slip would diminish public confidence in the process and could have security implications if ISAF draws down troops throughout the course of the year.
- Third, the U.S. should continue to call for the adoption of an election law that establishes a transparent and inclusive IEC and ECC.
- Finally, the U.S. should express its support for the appointment of Supreme Court justices to replace those whose terms have expired. In past elections, disputes have been ultimately determined by the Supreme Court. If this indeed happens again in 2014, the impartiality of court members as well as their legitimacy as members of the court will be of upmost importance.
In conclusion, during President Karzai’s visit to Washington in January, he reiterated his intention to step down at the end of his term. The president told me that he wanted to be the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan to transfer power to the second democratically president. This is a powerful and inspiring sentiment. President Karzai has a golden opportunity to cement a positive and long-lasting legacy with these elections, one which I hope he will seize.
The U.S. has sacrificed greatly in support of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan free from extremism. Based on these sacrifices and any future investments in the country, the U.S. should clearly and unequivocally continue to express support in word and deed for a democratic culture based on a transparent, credible and inclusive election process that protects the rights of all Afghans.
Today, we are fortunate to have with us today two witnesses who can speak to U.S. policy in Afghanistan: the State Department’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador David Pearce, and Mr. David Sedney, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
On our second panel, we are joined by: Dr. Andrew Wilder, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Ms. Sarah Chayes, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Mr. Max Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Thank you very much for being here with us today.”