Afghanistan: the kind of “free” elections endorsed by American-style democracy

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Ramadan 11, 1430 2009-09-01

News & Analysis

by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 7, Ramadan, 1430)

Afghanistan’s presidential elections held on August 20 may be over but the uncertainty continues; indeed it has deepened with no clear winner. The two front-runners represent opposite sides in Afghanistan’s ethnic divide — the incumbent Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun while his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah represents the Tajik-Uzbek bloc. The ethnic divide with the Tajiks and Uzbeks wielding far too much power than is warranted by their numbers, together with the presence of foreign occupation troops are the main reasons for the growing resistance. Even Western analysts agree that more than 72 percent of the country is out of government control. In the 28 to 30 percent where the government, or more accurately foreign occupation troops hold sway, this is only partially true and valid only during the day. At night the resistance takes over. On August 23, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted on NBC’s Meet the Press program that resistance was intensifying and that more troops might be needed to face the situation.

Notwithstanding the sighs of relief heaved in Western capitals, the main problem in Afghanistan has never been about holding elections. After all, Karzai was elected president in 2004. In the five years since, the security situation has spiraled downward while the plight of ordinary Afghans has worsened. Five years ago, Karzai had no major rivals, nor was the ethnic divide as sharp then as it has become now. Even the most optimistic Western media reports have not dared to claim a voter turnout of higher than 50 percent. In some areas, especially the crucial south, the turnout was as low as 5 to 10 percent. Helene Cooper and Carlotta Gall, writing in the New York Times (August 22, 2009) admitted as much: “In a broad southern region — provinces like Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul — turnout was as low as 5–10%, the official said, effectively disenfranchising the region viewed as the most crucial in the American-led military campaign.”

So what exactly was the purpose of the elections and why the chest thumping? Is it enough to say that the Taliban ‘failed’ in their threat to disrupt the process? What criterion is used to measure success when in the most crucial part of the country — the south — the turnout was as low as 5–10%? Regardless of the ‘winner’, what legitimacy can such a process have especially when there are widespread allegations of fraud? Very few Afghans believe the election will make any change in their lives. Besides, elections held under occupation can have no legitimacy regardless of the turnout.

The fundamental problem in Afgha-nistan is not about elections, corruption, drugs or even lack of education facilities for boys and girls. The real reason for the continued mayhem is the presence of 100,000 foreign occupation troops. They are not there to improve the condition of the Afghans. This is a lie peddled to sooth the rising tide of public anger in Western countries that have troops operating in Afghanistan. Eight years after foreign troops invaded and occupied Afghanistan, the country has become more lawless and poverty has increased. There is no security for people; kidnappings have escalated, as have bombings and attacks. The only thing Western, especially American forces are good at doing is killing civilians. This they have done with great success. At least 100,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, many of them women and children blown to bits in their mud huts in remote villages. This is Western technology operating at its best: dropping 1,000-pound bombs from 40,000 feet in the air. If this is how one measures success, then the Americans have been remarkably successful in Afghanistan.

US President Barack Obama has adopted Afghanistan as his own war, calling it a “war of necessity”. He has repeated this mantra on numerous occasions the latest of which was his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (when were Americans involved in a defensive war at home?) at their convention in Phoenix on August 17. He told them: “This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.”

It is depressing to hear American officials at the highest level tell such blatant lies. Whatever their faults — and there are many — the Taliban are not Al-Qaeda. To conflate the two is a gross distortion. Besides, the resistance in Afghanistan is not confined to the Taliban; entire tribes are involved in resistance activity of which the Taliban are but one facet. The presence of foreign troops itself is the most important trigger for the resistance. No Afghan has ever attacked America; instead Ameri-can soldiers are torturing and killing Afghans. It is unrealistic to expect that victims of US aggression will accept this as natural and will not resist those occupying their country or killing their women and children.

While sending more troops to Afghanistan, Obama realizes he faces a serious “problem” in Afghanistan as confirmed by Peter Baker in the New York Times on August 23. Writing about a private dinner Obama arranged for several academics at the White House at the end of June, Baker quoted one person who attended the dinner as saying: “This is not just something he can turn his back on and walk away from. But it’s an issue he understands could be a danger to his administration.” If he does, he is not showing the kind of maturity needed to address it in earnest. Even the most die-hard American commanders now admit that there is no military solution to the resistance in Afghanistan. This has even been repeated by a number of other Western officials. So why persist with a foolish policy, especially one that is now questioned by a majority of Americans?

The percentage of Americans that believe the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting slipped below 50 percent in a survey released in mid-August by The Washington Post and ABC News. A similar poll in July by the New York Times and CBS News showed that 57 percent of Americans think things were going badly for US troops in Afghanistan, compared with 33 percent who thought they were going well. Even some leadings hawks in Washington now think the situation has deteriorated. One such person is Richard N. Haass, a former Bush administration official who supported the war when it was launched. He now believes that what he once considered a “war of necessity” has become a “war of choice”. While he still supports it, he argues that there are other alternatives to a large-scale troop presence, like drone attacks on suspected terrorists, more development aid and expanded training of Afghan police and soldiers.

The drone attacks have become a favorite tool of the Obama presidency. These have been expanded into Pakistan with a vengeance. While privately admitting that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, official thinking in Washington goes that if they have to negotiate with the Taliban, they must do so from a position of strength. Thus, the escalation of troop presence in Afghanistan while increasing drone attacks in Pakistan so that once the Taliban are sufficiently pacified — or they cry ‘Uncle’, in the words of another notorious American president, Ronald Reagan — the Americans would be willing to show magnanimity.

Such belligerence has only intensified the resistance in Afghanistan and hatred for the Americans in Pakistan. The Americans may think they could exit from Afghanistan by bombing their way through Pakistan, as they did in Vietnam by bombing Cambodia in the 70s, but it is more likely that Afghanistan would become Obama’s own Vietnam. While he is aware of this possibility, he is a prisoner of the vested interests that do not allow him to make a clean break with such disastrous policies.

The people of Afghanistan and Pakistan must pay the price for American arrogance and hubris. Then they wonder why America is so hated globally. Can one think of a better definition for educated idiots in the world?

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