People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 47

November 22, 2009

Afghanistan: Tainted Elections

 

 Yohannan Chemarapally

 

AFGHANISTAN’S President Hamid Karzai is all set to be sworn in for another four year term but the manner in which he was elected has left him and his western backers with very little credibility. Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) had to finally concede that more than a million votes that were cast in presidential election were fraudulent. Besides, the month of October has been among the most violent since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The US army suffered its highest casualty toll in a single month. Then there were the audacious attacks launched by the Taliban in the heart of Kabul.

 

The suicide attack on an UN compound came soon after the announcement that there would be a second round of elections. The attack on the UN personnel has had serious political ramifications. With the morale of the UN shattered, the UN secretary general announced the withdrawal of two thirds of its personnel from the war torn country. The UN’s active involvement in the sham election process had made its personnel a target for the Taliban.

 

The second round was belatedly called off after the refusal of Karzai’s main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah to run. He said that the second round would be as fraudulent as the first. The US and the international community represented by the UN wasted no time in recognising Karzai as the legitimate winner. A second round would have been a bigger charade than the first round.

 

According to international observers, very few Afghans had voted in the first round in August anyway. Karzai would have emerged as the eventual winner if the run-off had gone ahead. The incumbent president had stitched up a wide ranging coalition of warlords and power brokers which had delivered him the vote in bulk in the first round. The Taliban had dramatically stepped up its violence after the election commission had initially announced a run-off. Even more Afghans would have stayed at home if the voting would have gone ahead.

 

DEMANDS FOR

TROOP SURGE

 

 Meanwhile the Obama administration is still debating whether to accede to the demands of the US military establishment for another troop surge in Afghanistan. The US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal has been publicly lobbying for an additional 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. McChrystal in a report submitted to the White House had argued that the only way to avoid defeat in the Afghanistan war is to increase American boots on the ground.

 

There is no longer much talk emanating from Washington about the “good war” in Afghanistan. Now more emphasis is being devoted to engaging the “good” Taliban and buying off insurgent fighters, as was done with some success in Iraq. The US military has now been authorised to pay Taliban fighters who renounce violence. A clause in the annual US Defence Appropriation Bill authorises the American army in Afghanistan to financially help those Afghans who want to “reintegrate into society”. Around $1.3 billion has been earmarked for this purpose.

 

The election fiasco which played out for more than two months has left the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai more isolated and his foreign backers in a state of confusion. Key western leaders no longer even accord him the respect due for a head of state. President Barak Obama while congratulating Karzai on his re-election publicly upbraided him on the corruption which characterised his earlier stint in office. Obama told reporters in Washington that he warned Karzai that there should be “a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption” and that “the proof is not going to be in words, it should be in deeds”.

 

Stories about Karzai’s younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai being on the CIA’s payroll and profiting from the drug trade, that were leaked by the US administration, figured prominently in the America media. The Obama administration wants Karzai to take action against prominent warlords like Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Fahim. The Uzbek and Tajik warlords are close political allies of the Afghan president. Both these personalities are expecting to inherit lucrative ministries not jail terms, in Karzai’s second term in office.

 

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said that president Karzai must “actually arrest and prosecute” those who are corrupt. The British prime minster, Gordon Brown, told president Karzai as he began his second term, that British soldiers would no longer be asked to lay down their lives for a government steeped in corruption. Brown told the British media that the Karzai government had become a “byword for corruption”.

 

The Afghan government in the first week of November belatedly issued a statement rejecting the foreign criticism of Karzai saying that the criticisms “violated national sovereignty”.

 

SUDDEN CONCERN

REEKS OF HYPOCRISY

The sudden concern of western leaders about the Karzai government’s corruption and deals with warlords reeks of hypocrisy. The US and NATO forces operating in Pashtun areas have been depending on the help of warlords for some time now. Militias controlled by Afghan warlords have been providing protection for NATO convoys and forward US bases. Gen McChrystal had himself acknowledged that American and NATO ties with warlords were one of the reasons for the alienation of the populace from the occupation forces.

 

A Report published by the Centre of International Cooperation at the New York University (NYU) revealed that Gen Nazri Mahmed, a warlord in Badakshan province said to control “a significant portion of the province’s lucrative opium trade” is on the payroll of the German military contingent. The NYU report has claimed that the western governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on contracts with security providers, most of them warlords and human rights violators. The UN estimates that there are 120,000 armed men employed by around 5000 private militias. During the Bush presidency, the CIA had armed and financed many of the warlords like Fahim and Dostum, who had helped them during the 2001 invasion.

 

The Obama administration’s main goal is to train an effective Afghan fighting force that would eventually do most of the fighting. Given the current state of the Afghan army, this goal will be difficult to achieve. An internal US report, details of which emerged in early November, describes the Afghan security force as badly trained, largely illiterate and highly corrupt. Recent events have also shown that they are infiltrated by the Taliban. Many western soldiers have been killed in recent months by defecting Afghan soldiers and policemen. One out of every five Afghan soldier recruited leaves within a year. The current strength of the Afghan army stands at 90,000. Gen McChrystal had recommended to Washington in September that the strength of the Afghan security force be doubled within a year. If this target has to be achieved it would entail the deployment of 15,000 US and NATO trainers. Leading NATO countries like France and Germany are loath to send any more personnel to Afghanistan.

 

President Obama is delaying his decision to despatch the additional troops urgently requested by the US military brass. His defence secretary, Robert Gates, has been maintaining that the US is in Afghanistan for the long haul. Obama in a major speech in August described the war in Afghanistan as “a war of necessity” against those plotting to attack the US. This view is now being increasingly questioned in Washington. Public opinion in the West is increasingly turning against the war in Afghanistan. Mathew Hoh, a senior US state department official posted in Afghanistan recently resigned to protest against the war in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, he said that if the US administration’s goal was to thwart the Al Qaida from regrouping, then the US might as well occupy Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, all countries where the Al Qaida is known to have a presence.

 

Peter Galbraith, the UN’s deputy Head of Mission in Afghanistan who had resigned in September to protest against the UN’s failure to supervise a fair and free election, has said that Karzai “cannot be an effective partner in Obama’s enhanced counter-insurgency strategy” as the Afghan leader is viewed at home and abroad as “ineffective” and “tolerating corruption”.  A former British minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, Kim Howells, recently called for the withdrawal of the bulk of the British forces fighting in Afghanistan. “It would be better to bring home the great majority of our fighting men and women and concentrate instead on using the money saved to secure our own borders”, he wrote in the Guardian newspaper.

 

American commentators and scholars opposed to the war have urged president Obama to stand up against the pressure being mounted by the military, the right wing and the media in the US to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Their refrain has been that history has shown that Afghanistan has “been the graveyard of empires”.