The article below was published the day before Afghanstan's presidential election by Malalai Joya, who was the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament elected in the 2005 elections. Joya was subsequently suspended from parliament for labelling it full of warlords. Joya's memoir, A Woman Among Warlords (Scribner), will be released in October. This article is abridged from ZNet.
Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of the August 20 election. In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban insurgency, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote.
Among the people on the street, a common sentiment is: "Everything has already been decided by the US and NATO, and the real winner has already been picked."
The vast majority of the 41 candidates for president are well known faces responsible for the current disastrous situation in Afghanistan.
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai has cemented alliances with brutal warlords and fundamentalists in order to maintain his position. Although our constitution forbids war criminals from running for office, he has named two notorious militia commanders as his vice-presidential running mates — Muhammad Fahim, who headed up the Northern Alliance, and Karim Khalili.
The election commission did not reject them or a number of others accused of many crimes.
Karzai has also continued to betray the women of Afghanistan. Even after massive international outcry and brave protesters taking to the streets of Kabul, Karzai has implemented the infamous law targeting Shia women.
He had initially promised to review the worst clauses, but in the end it was passed with few amendments, leaving the barbaric anti-women statements untouched. Human Rights Watch recently said: "Karzai has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election."
Deals have been made with countless fundamentalists in Karzai's attempts to stay in power. For example, pro-Iranian extremist Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, who has been accused of war crimes, has been promised five cabinet positions for his party, and so he has told the media he's backing Karzai.
A deal has even been done with the dreaded warlord Rashid Dostum — who has returned from exile to campaign for Karzai — and many other terrorists. Rather than democracy, we have back room deals among discredited warlords.
The two main contenders to Karzai's continued rule, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, do not offer any change. Both are former cabinet ministers in this discredited regime.
Abdullah has run a high profile campaign, in part due to the backing and financial support he receives from Iran's fundamentalist regime. Abdullah and some of the Northern Alliance commanders supporting him have threatened unrest if he loses the vote, raising fears of a return to the rampant violence and killing that marked the civil war years of 1992-1996.
All of the major candidates' speeches and policies are very similar. They make the same sweet-sounding promises, but we are not fooled. Afghans remember how Karzai abandoned his campaign pledges after winning the 2004 vote.
We know this election will change nothing and it is only part of a show of democracy put on by and for the West to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan. It seems we are condemned to this failed, mafia-like corrupt government for another term.
The people of Afghanistan are fed up with the rampant corruption of Karzai's "narco-state" government — his own brother is linked to drug trafficking — and the escalating war waged by the US and NATO. In May, US air strikes killed about 150 civilians in my native province, Farah.
More than ever, Afghans are faced with powerful internal enemies — fundamentalist warlords and their Taliban brothers-in-creed — and the external enemies occupying the country.
Democracy will never come to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun, or from cluster bombs dropped by foreign forces. The struggle will be long and difficult, but the values of real democracy, human rights and women's rights will only be won by the Afghan people themselves.
Do not be fooled by this facade of democracy. Your governments in the West that claim to be bringing democracy to Afghanistan ignore public opinion in their own countries, where growing numbers are against the war.
US President Barack Obama needs to understand that the change Afghans believe in does not include more troops and a ramped up war.
If the populations of Afghanistan and the NATO countries were able to vote on this military occupation, it would not continue indefinitely and peace would finally be within reach.