Many conversations here start with 2014. The Dari for that year is one of the first phrases I learnt to understand, because I’ve heard it so often.
And as Afghans know, nothing will be more important in 2014 than the Presidential elections, announced for 5 April. I’m often asked by Afghans what I think about them.
The first thing I say is that, like elections in my country and anywhere else, they need to be credible and inclusive. Credible means that whether or not you voted for the person chosen, you accept that he (or she) was chosen fairly. Inclusive means that people are able to vote in large numbers in every region of Afghanistan, and the outcome should reflect the views of the majority.
Those things are easy to say but harder to do. That’s particularly true in a country such as Afghanistan whose democracy is still young, and where geography and security make organising elections a challenging undertaking. But preparations here are under way, whether on the arrangements for registering voters, the laws that will set the framework for the election, or the provision of security.
The other things I’m always asked are, who will be a candidate, and will the UK support a particular outcome? I reply that those questions are not for foreign diplomats to answer but for Afghans themselves. It would be strange if it were otherwise – try turning the tables and imagining Afghan diplomats in the UK telling me whom I should vote for.
What we will support – and I think the same is true of Afghanistan’s friends across the international community – is a framework for the elections which is seen by the Afghan people as (those words again) credible and inclusive. Indeed the UK is the largest donor to the ELECT programme, administered through the UN, which is helping to build the capacity of the Independent Electoral Commission, the organisation that will deliver the elections.
No-one expects Afghanistan’s 2014 elections to be perfect. Few elections are anywhere, as a quick glance at some controversies in even the most developed democracies over the past decades will show.
But we can all agree that their success will be vitally important. Whether you are interested in the prospects for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, in the future strength of the country’s economy, in security, or just in a generally better future for all Afghans – and we are interested in all of these, as I believe are the Afghan people – then these elections matter. We’ll do all we can to support the Afghan authorities as they prepare for them.