In the not too distant past, a foreign minister from an African nation came to Lahore. Not to Islamabad, the federal capital of the country, but to Lahore. And he held some meetings here and there, gave a few interviews and soon headed back to Lagos. But the night before his flight, he sat down with a few journalists, and chatted. It was more of a reminiscing session, for the ambassador had been coming to Pakistan off and on for the last 35 years.

“You know, I've seen this place over such a long period of time. I've seen its ups and down, its tilts to and fro, but honestly, I've never seen it in the state it's currently in – it's so bad now, it feels like home!”

And now that ‘that’ is out in the open, let's look elsewhere. Things are bad here in Pakistan, that's for sure, but across in Kabul, they're just so much worse. After two terms of Karzai rule, both of which were marred by massive corruption, backdoor deals with tribal chiefs and war lords, and a government which had absolutely no control outside the gates of Kabul, the country is now beautifully poised to self destruct.

What Afghanistan needed was that wonderful phrase, coined in the west but tailor-made for backward Islamic countries: ‘a peaceful transition of democratic power’. This was going to be the Americans’ saving grace, something which would somehow mask the utter failure of the invasion and the goals that kept on being added as the years went by and the body count rose.

But no. That's not how it has panned out now has it?

First the math. In the first round of the presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah was the leading candidate, polling 46 percent of the votes cast. Trailing just behind was Dr Ashraf Ghani, with 31.6 percent votes. But as per the Afghan constitution, an outright winner cannot be declared unless a candidate has garnered more than 50 percent of the total votes. So we headed to round two.

Lo and behold, when the dust settled, and the independent election commission released 'preliminary results', it was the good Dr Ghani who had jumped to 56 percent with Abdullah left sputtering about at 44 percent. There was another surprise in the total number of votes cast, with the number jumping to 8.1 million from the 6.6 million turn out in the first instance. Not surprisingly, this massive surge predominantly occurred in areas where Ghani's support is strongest, giving more fodder to the Abdullah camp about ‘industrial scale fraud’.

President Hamid Karzai is also in the thick of it, as initially he had initially supported Abdullah's candidacy but later switched to the opposite camp. Analysts feel that this level of fraud, if indeed it happened, could only have been carried out by the state machinery.

Now, amongst Abdullah's supporters, there is talk of forming a parallel government based in his northern Tajik dominated strongholds and, while this can be put away as mere posturing, it has the Americans mighty scared. It was all going so well, and now unravelling so quickly. Senator John Kerry has now arrived in Kabul to meet with the two candidates and somehow broker a solution. The Americans have also said that ‘there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional means, which would result in the end of US assistance to Afghanistan’.

Ghani and Abdullah are dancing to a rather dangerous tune.

There are four possible outcomes from the current impasse: a) Abdullah accepts defeat and Ghani becomes president; b) Ghani accepts massive voter fraud and Abdullah is declared the victor; c) Ghani is declared president, Abdullah doesn't accept and launches a parallel government; and d) the entire election is discredited, and the process restarted, with Karzai continuing to rule through emergency powers. (There are some who believe that the entire problem is Karzai's doing, his last-ditch effort to stay in power, as the Afghan constitution does not allow him a third term in office.)

Options (a) and (b) are the most pragmatic – but unlikely. On the other hand, options (c) and (d) carry dire consequences. US aid to the country may be suspended or cancelled, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington would fall by the wayside, and perhaps the US withdrawal may be further accelerated. And the country’s ethnic divisions, already a major problem in the country’s stability, would be further widened.

Funnily enough, nobody’s talking about the Taliban. For a while now, the group’s leadership has been divided on the best way forward. The peace lobby wants the group to become part of the political process and all the happenings in Qatar went down through them, with the help of the Americans. On the other hand, the hardliners still want to defeat the government, conquer Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan. And they (the hardliners) must now be beaming with pleasure watching the entire process go to boot.

Had the electoral process played out the way it was intended to, their stance of re-conquering Kabul would have lost credence. Now, they could very easily shoot down the peace doves within the group, step up their attacks on the Afghan National Army (ANA) and possibly increase their areas of influence and control. Any such surge by the Taliban may lead to a mobilisation by the Northern Alliance, and a three way battle between the Taliban, the NA and the ANA could ensue.

None of this can end well. Whatever government forms in Kabul will already have its hands full with problems within and challenges without. But, at least it will be a government. At least the electoral process and the slide towards some form of democracy will continue. And so will the aid. And, most importantly, a message to the Taliban will get through that the future is through talks and negotiations, not IED bombs and suicide attacks.

The final results of the elections are due on July 22. It could be the beginning of a new era for the country – or the beginning of the end.