Afghanistan: Empire in quandary over vote rigging

October 10, 2009

What the Taliban failed to achieve in relation to the Afghan presidential elections held on August 20, incumbent President Hamid Karzai managed to accomplish.

"President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan needs a legitimate and credible outcome from this election in order to build support for what is now America's longest war both at home and abroad", Bruce Riedel wrote in the August 29 Daily Times.

Riedel, a senior fellow in the Saban Centre for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution, chaired a strategic review of US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan last winter at Obama's request.

The "legitimate and credible outcome" has been delegitimised by Karzai's vote rigging to such an extent that the September 18 New York Times complained: "Afghan vote uncertainty sparks dilemma for U.S."

To legitimise the election in the way the occupation forces need, a run-off is a must. If a run-off is organised, it can not be held until spring next year as snow will make many parts of the country inaccessible.

Most importantly, a run-off may not necessarily lead to a win for Karzai.

Afghanistan's ethnic divide proved useful for Karzai, representing country's largest ethnic group (Pashtuns), in the first voting round since other major ethnic groups like Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks generally voted for their respective candidates. In run-off stage, all non-Pashtun may join hands to ensure that Afghanistan gets a non-Pashtun president for the first time in country's history.

"There is an exquisite dilemma here", Riedel told the NYT. "The strategy requires an Afghan government that is credible and legitimate, both to get Afghans to support it and to get Americans and their allies to help.

"The strategy can't work around a South Vietnamese-style government."

Riedel sais a run-off would be preferable to a discredited first-round Karzai victory.

The September 15 NYT reported on the split among Western officials managing Afghan affairs: "That split was thrust into public view this week when Ambassador Peter W Galbraith, an American who is the No. 2 official at the United Nations Mission here, abruptly returned to the United States after a disagreement with the top United Nations officer in Kabul, Kai Eide, about how aggressively to push the Afghan government.

"Mr. Galbraith favored a more assertive posture. 'This election', Mr. Galbraith added, 'should be decided mathematically by an honest count of votes, cast by voters, and not politically'."

Obama was quick on the evening of August 20 to announce the "victory" for "democracy" in Afghanistan. Yet a day after his statement, US special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke is said to have held an "explosive" meeting with Karzai at which he raised concerns about ballot-stuffing.

Holbrooke is believed to have pushed for a run-off during the tense and short-lived meeting with Karzai. The meeting ended in a shouting match and Holbrooke stormed out, media reports said.

No official election result has yet been announced but preliminary results have given Karzai 54.6% of the vote, enough to avoid a second round against his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, who has 27.7%.

But election observers from the European Union said up to 1.5 million ballots could be fraudulent, leaving open the possibility for a dramatic turn if the ballots are annulled after investigations.

The October 6 Washington Post article said: "Voter turnout data kept confidential by the chief United Nations envoy during Afghanistan's disputed August elections shows that in some provinces the official vote count exceeded the estimated number of voters by 100,000 or more, providing further indication that the contest was marred by fraud."

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has ordered recounts at more than 2500 polling stations, about 10% of the total, after it found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud".

However, a bitter Karzai told a news conference: "I believe firmly, firmly in the integrity of the election and the integrity of the Afghan people, and the integrity of the government in that process."

Perhaps with former US president and personal friend George Bush's infamous 2000 election "victory" in mind, he added: "Media has reported major fraud. It wasn't that big. If there was fraud, it was small. It happens all over the world."

On this, Holbrooke agreed, telling CNN: "That's politics, Afghan-style. That happens in Western democracies as well. We have charges repeatedly in American elections by candidates that the other side is not allowing [would-be voters] to register.

"We should not be surprised that democracy is imperfect even in Western countries."

Such "imperfections" are creating a crisis of legitimacy for the occupation forces. Opposition to the eight-year long war inside countries taking part in the occupation is rising — as is the death toll of Afghan civilians and occupying troops in war justified by claims of "liberation".

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