The South Asia Channel

Will Violence Upset the Afghan Elections?

If elections were not considered by most Afghans to be an acceptable form of transition from one government to another, they would not be worth attacking.

This does not make the recent surge of pre-election attacks in Afghanistan any less worrying; they are still a legitimate attempt to derail the elections scheduled for April 5.   From Saturday's attack on the Independent Electoral Commission to the attack on the luxury hotel that housed most of the international monitors  to the particularly egregious attack on a nursery school used by the Christian community in Kabul, these attacks have rattled Afghans and internationals in Afghanistan alike.  While there were also upticks in violence before the 2009 and 2010 votes, these recent attacks are aimed at the machinery of the electoral and monitoring process, as opposed to targeting individual candidates and polling stations through smaller attacks (though there have been a series of these as well).

Ironically, this is also indicative of the way that elections have taken root in the Afghan political landscape and the role that Afghans assume that will take going forward. 

The success of the upcoming elections will be shaped by the way in which Afghans and the international community respond to these attacks.  The New York Times reported Sunday on the large number of international monitors who have decided to leave the country.  Other NGOs are sending their employees out of the country on strategically-timed vacations. Afghans working for international organizations are particularly worried about workplace security.  Yet,  many of the Afghans we have been interviewing are still determined to vote.  As late as Monday, Tolo reported long lines of Afghans still wanting to register to vote. 

As in previous rounds of voting, many have cited to us their desire to take part in the democratic processes, though there have been others who have openly admitted to wanting to simply sell their votes for economic gain.  Others, however, are more defiant.  One voter explained to us that he viewed any legitimate vote as a vote that would cancel out a corrupt one and that he and his friends were voting in order to combat corruption.

The next few weeks are likely to be rocky ones in Afghanistan, but if determined voters like the one mentioned above still feel like their votes are being counted, these weeks could also be a vital step in Afghanistan's continued democratization.  In a way, these attacks make every vote on election day that much more crucial.

Anna Larson is independent researcher on fragile states with a doctorate from the University of York.  Noah Coburn is a political anthropologist at Bennington College. Their book Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan analyzes the 2009 and 2010 Afghan elections.  Follow their analysis of the 2014 elections on their blog: