People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 13, 2009

 Afghanistan: Sham Elections


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE August 20 presidential election in Afghanistan has turned out to be a bigger farce than the first one held five years ago. In that election, at least more Afghans turned out to vote at the urging of the various warlords and assorted power brokers.  This time around, even the country�s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has said that there was massive rigging of the polls. With all the votes counted, the incumbent president now has 56 per cent of the votes, which makes him the outright winner. But the IEC seems to be on the verge of ordering a recount.


Under pressure from Washington and the UN, the IEC in all likelihood is going to annul the results from 447 polling booths. 6600 polling booths were opened for the elections. In many of the booths, Karzai got all the votes polled. In the six polling booths in the war ravaged Kandahar province, 100 per cent of the votes went to Karzai, the president�s main rival, the former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who came second with 28 per cent of the votes, has described the elections as a �state sponsored fraud�.  Western officials have said that it could now take months for the official results to be announced.


The Taliban which is said to control around one-third of the country including most of the Pashtun dominated areas, had urged for a boycott of the polls. In the run-up to the elections, the Taliban leadership had threatened to cut off the fingers of those who dared to cast their votes. On Election Day, the Taliban had carried out numerous attacks in many parts of the country to dissuade people from voting. The Afghan government had ordered the local media to not report on the attacks on the grounds that it would be detrimental to the polling process. Before the elections, an Afghan judge in Uruzgan province told an American news agency that only 10-20 per cent of the people will be able to vote.


Richard Holbrooke, president Barak Obama�s Af-Pak envoy, who was in Afghanistan in the last week of August, is reported to have told the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, that the scale of ballot stuffing on his behalf was unacceptable. According to the media reports, Holbrooke told Karzai that the only way to give the elections some credibility was to go in for a second round. President Karzai�s senior aides had predicted a massive victory for their boss immediately after the polling stations had closed, adding to the discomfiture of his American backers.


Following Holbrooke�s meeting with Karzai, president Obama�s National Security Council spokesman said that the administration would encourage Afghan authorities �to follow the comprehensive anti-fraud measures established in order to protect the integrity of the election process�. US officials have told the media that the Obama administration has issued a blunt warning to Karzai that American patience is running out.  




The UN along with the US and the European Union (EU) had initially rushed to judgement and hailed the elections as a success.  There were words of praise for the Afghan Election Commission from the chief UN�s special representative in Afghanistan. President Obama himself earlier hailed the election as �an important step forward in the Afghan people�s efforts to take control of their future�. The international community was aware even at the time that the elections were far from being fair and free. A report in the London Times said that ballot boxes were stuffed even in the capital, Kabul.


The western governments that have sent troops to Afghanistan seem to be nursing the fond hope that holding of a �successful election� in Afghanistan would persuade their domestic public opinion to go on supporting an un-winnable war. The Afghan people on the other hand have not been impressed by the charade of democracy. �We are Muslims and tribal people, the Taliban are Muslims and from the same tribes, the foreign troops are non-Muslims and there was no referendum from the people to ask them to come here. God told us to fight the occupation, so the people are against the occupation�, a Pashtun poet told a reporter from the Guardian newspaper.


Two US financed polls released before the elections showed support for Karzai fell well below the 50 per cent vote required to avoid a run-off. The opinion poll conducted by Glevum Associates showed Karzai at 36 per cent. Another one by the International Republican Institute showed him getting 44 per cent of the vote. In May this year, Afghanistan�s independent election monitoring organisation----The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan had documented large scale irregularities in voter registration practices. 20 per cent of the voters registered were found to be underage, some as young as 12.


Independent election monitors discovered that multiple voting cards were being distributed to individuals. In the run-up to the elections, the Karzai campaign had registered 3 million �new� voters, increasing the size of the electorate by 17 per cent. The UN backed Electoral Complaints Commission has said that the number of major fraud allegations that could impact on the outcome of the elections has risen to 270. Because of the complaints, the official announcement of the election results could be delayed further.


In the run-up to the elections, the US had tried to distance itself somewhat from Karzai. Senior Obama administration officials had earlier criticised his reliance on a coterie of powerbrokers, most of them notorious warlords. The White House had issued a statement criticising the return of Ahmed Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord from exile in Turkey, a few days before the elections. Dostum, who is being investigated for war crimes was living in Turkey and had returned at Karzai�s request. Immediately after his return, he called on his supporters to vote for Karzai. To win the Hazara votes, Karzai passed the Shia Personal Status Law. The Law allows a husband to �starve� his wife if she refuses sex. The new law will also require the wife to get her husband�s permission to work.


The Obama administration was particularly angry with Karzai�s choice of the former Defence Minister and Tajik warlord, Mohammed Qasim Fahim as his running mate. Karzai was no doubt aware that the US authorities were carrying out an investigation about his narcotics trafficking activities. A recent report in the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had ordered American officials to cut all official contacts with him even when he held the post of Defence minister. Fahim as the head of the Northern Alliance was a crucial ally of the US during the invasion of Afghanistan. According to the NYT, the Bush administration had compensated him with millions of dollars at the time for services rendered. 




There are also indications that the Obama administration has for some time been planning to clip Karzai�s decision making powers. Initially, some senior US officials in the Obama administration were openly talking about sidelining Karzai altogether. The stench of corruption around his presidency was getting too much for his mentors in Washington. Karzai had also started openly criticising some of the heavy handed tactics being used by the occupation forces, especially the targeting of civilians from the air. The president�s younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who worked in a convenience store in the US before the ouster of the Taliban, is now a multi-millionaire. He is said to have profited immensely from the opium trade in his native Kandahar province.


With the Americans unable to find a candidate of the requisite stature to replace Karzai, efforts seem to be underway to ensure a second round of elections in the presidential poll. Karzai so far has strongly opposed the idea saying that this would open up ethnic fissures to even more dangerous levels. The Obama administration hopes that a run-off will help foster the illusion among the Afghan populace and the international community that democratic principles have been adhered to.


It is a given that president Karzai will win handsomely again in the run-off. But Karzai, if the Obama administration has its way, is going to be saddled with a CEO, who will be making all the important decisions in his next four year term. The former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, said recently that the US government�s disappointment with president Karzai is well known. Neumann who served in Kabul from 2005-2007, said that the US will �have to work out a reasonable number of things� with Karzai while at the same time ensuring that he is not perceived as �an American puppet�.


It is obvious that the conduct of the elections has further complicated the situation for the Obama administration. The military�s surge the American president ordered has not been able to stem the tide of the Taliban resurgence. In fact, the month of August has been the deadliest for the US military since 2001. 45 US army personnel were killed in August. In July, the number of US soldiers killed was 44. 60 per cent of the 732 American soldiers killed so far were after the Taliban insurgency gained momentum in 2007.