When Afghanistan's Independent Election Committee (IEC) announced on Monday the preliminary results of the presidential election runoff, we Afghan people saw our worst fear materialize before our eyes. Since then the situation here in Kabul has only grown worse and sharpened our fear.
The IEC had held off announcing the preliminary results for five days while it investigated candidate Abdullah Abdullah's charges of widespread, systematic fraud. But that was not good enough for Dr. Abdullah. He had called for a full investigation and a delay in announcing the election results for as long as it might take to separate the clean votes from the dirty ones and produce a fair recount.
That process of weeding out fraudulent votes is happening. Already, few days ago, the IEC started going over the complaints it had received and announced that it would separate clean from unclean votes and recount them in some 7,000 polling stations across the country, mainly in the areas where Abdullah's group had reported fraud.
According to the rules of the election, however, that process is supposed to take place only after the announcement of the preliminary results. Or in other words, only before the dirty votes have been thrown out. Why or how the election rules came to be written this way is hard to say; Afghans often have so little say in writing Afghan rules.
But following those election rules, the IEC announced preliminary results on Monday that reversed the voting trends of the first round election, which Abdullah won, and showed rival candidate Ashraf Ghani now the decisive winner with 56 percent of the votes. Ghani appeared to have overrun Abdullah's first round advantage of almost a million votes and added another million as well, while Abdullah's tally changed very little. Unlike the presidential contest of 2009, when Hamid Karzai apparently defeated Abdullah with the old fashioned technique of stuffing ballot boxes by hand, this surprising reversal suggested more sophisticated systems.
The morning after the announcement, the bewildered, exhausted, and fed up people of Afghanistan witnessed something new and frightening: a total rejection of the announced preliminary results and an acceptance of only one possible outcome -- the one being shouted at the top of their lungs by the followers of Abdullah, assembled in the Loya Jirga tent to support the claims of the candidate who calls himself the only legitimate president of Afghanistan. From that moment on, control of the situation was out of the hands of the government and the law and the people who had lined up so patiently and bravely to cast their votes for a democratic and peaceful future.
The situation was in the hands of the mob. That night Kabul University closed down after terrible clashes between the supporters of both candidates. About 30 students were badly injured and hospitalized. At the Loya Jirga tent, the huge gathering of excited supporters pressed Abdullah to declare right there, without delay, his presidency of the country, or of an alternative government. From the provinces came word of other powerful leaders who vowed to follow him. Abdullah himself begged his followers to give him a few days time. Afghanistan has been in this place before. It is the beginning of the country's most feared political scenario.
What will be next? No one can say anything with any certainty at this time because now the wider world is concerned, and we know very well what happens when the United States gets involved in a situation, especially in this region. It creates chaos and more chaos. Reportedly Abdullah has been talking to President Obama, and an Under Secretary of State is to be dispatched to Kabul in the next few days. There is mention of "political dialogues" and "reconciliation" to head off ethnic separation, conflict, civil war.
This is the beginning of the realization of the second worst fear of the Afghan people: a presidency achieved not by their votes, though voting has cost some Afghans their fingers or their lives, but by appointment and by the sacrificial death of Afghanistan's very primitive and fragile democracy, stomped on one more time.
We are way beyond voting now, but the people are still watching. We still hope and pray.