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Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

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Abdullah Abdullah withdraws from Afghan runoff

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Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah: Living on a prayer? (AFP photo SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Most certainly not a surprise, but here we go: Hamid Karzai’s contender for the presidential election run-off in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, has withdrawn from the race, citing (yes, no surprise there either) the lack of transparency in the election process:

““I will not participate in the Nov. 7 election,” Abdullah said, because a “transparent election is not possible.””

Now while that leads Hamid Karzai home free to rule over Afghanistan again, there are several questions that arise. Firstly, should the run-off even happen if it isn’t going to prove anything? The Karzai camp says yes, that the “process has to complete itself.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a rather baffling statement yesterday, comparing the Afghanistan elections to the American one.

We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward.  I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election. It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.

Alright then.

Have just been watching a BBC report. Their corr espondent said that the UN et al are going to try and close ranks and avoid a run off. The Afghan Election Commission is expected to deliver a statement soon and the issue will most likely be referred to the Supreme Court, which will then try and create some measures to halt the election process and declare Karzai president.

The second problem – and this is a much more deeply rooted, yet another problem in the series of issues with the administration of Afghanistan – that eight years onwards from the US invasion, there is still no system in the country that would deliver an effective form of government. This election has been marred with massive fraud, a row in the UN the candidates bickering, et al. It seems like a futile exercise to wish for the governments that invaded the country in the first place to step up and fix the problems they created, stop supporting those involved in creating those problems (like Karzai’s erstwhile brother, ahem), but there needs to be an end to the madness.

Thirdly, how much legitimacy will the Karzai government have? Little to none. Support? The same. So how does the US plan to deal with this – other than doing what they usually do, i.e. put on a forced smile and pretend that it’s all in the name of democracy? We’ll just have to see.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm

The Run-Off in Afghanistan: Likely Outcomes

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I have purposely included this picture to rant about how much I hate it. Look at the women! In burkas! See how they vote! OMG. Such progress! The savages can haz vote! I loves the leader Obama & his Nobel deeds. Image credit: Turkish paper HurriyetDailyNews

I have purposely included this picture to rant about how much I hate it. Look at the women! In burkas! See how they vote! OMG. Such progress! The savages can haz vote! I loves the leader Obama & his Nobel deeds. Image credit: Turkish paper HurriyetDailyNews

Reportedly Afghanistan “might be” heading for a run off, between Abdullah Abdullah and Hamid Karzai, after the first round of its elections were considered pretty bloody fraudulent and reduced Mr. Karzai’s share of the ballots to 47%. The outcome of this run-off is not yet certain. Apart from the two obvious outcomes, ie. Abdullah winning or Karzai winning, there is also the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement. Afghan and American officials have said that the earliest that a runoff vote could be held is late this month or early next month, with results expected about two weeks later.

J. Alexander Thier of the US Institute of Peace says to WashPo:

“On the one hand, holding the runoff could clear away some of the problems and allegations of the first round that have tainted the process and rightly made the administration, if this is truly a work of partnership, want to hold off until they knew who the government was going to be.””But at the same time,” Thier said, “there is obviously no guarantee” that a legitimate election could be organized in a few weeks or could avoid another cascade of allegations of abuse.

“There are costs to it, no question,” he added, including the possibility that the Obama administration “would have to go ahead with a [strategy] decision without knowing” who the winner is.

If we consider the internal politics then we have to consider a few factors. It’s one of those chess-game-theory type things really where both candidates probably want to maximise their gains. Even with the considerable amount of fraud recorded, it’s unlikely that Abdullah can actually amass more votes than Karzai. This means, if the run-off does occur, vote-rigging and all to be considered, it’s unlikely that Abdullah has any chance. Karzai may offer him something meaty in his cabinet, Abdullah could accept this on the basis of cutting his losses, or he could continue to push the Karzai-cheated envelope and hope for a power-‘sharing’ deal which would give him a meatier chunk. I would bet on the latter. There has been enough bellowing about fraud to ensure that round 1 was sufficiently tainted, making it easier to similarly taint round 2, casting doubt on the process and destabilising things to the point where Karzai could be in real trouble.

The Majlis also points out that given enough ‘dithering’, if the run-off is not held in the fall, winter will be far too harsh and it’ll have to wait until spring next year, a damn long time and plenty more time for either internal negotiations, more campaigning, more finger-pointing, or a combination of all three.

I’m going to take an outside bet on this and ask you to consider the possibility of the US stepping in more assertively. While Karzai has grumbled about foreign interference, if things get bad enough and his credibility erodes further, he may continue to grumble but reluctantly upset something Western-brokered, as it will allow him to save sufficient face. This is possible because Obama’s team is getting edgy, they’ve had lots of closed-door meetings and no new policy forthcoming yet, probably because it’s hard to have a coherent strategy on a country when you don’t know who’s going to be running the bloody place.

So while we watch the machinations and wait, check out this scathing piece by Allison Kilkenny for True/Slant, and I quote:

When a child tries to mash a play square peg into a round hole, adults chuckle and think the behavior is adorable, but Obama’s Afghanistan “road to victory” is essentially a grown-up version of the square peg-round hole model.

Are we prepared to ring a death-knell on the square peg-round hole model? Or can King Obama and the Sultan of Kabul somehow cobble things together?

Written by alexlobov

October 16, 2009 at 10:40 pm

New Evidence of Fraud emerges in Afghanistan… and musings on Democracy

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Oh we are so thankful for democracy. Photo Credit: littlemissattila.mu.nu

Oh we are so thankful for 'democracy'. Photo Credit: littlemissattila.mu.nu

The Guardian’s got a corker today, those guys are evidently good journalists.

They’ve got a video of ‘fresh’ ballots with nice shiny big blue ticks next to the name of Uncle Hamid, fresh indeed!

Moreover they’ve gone and spoken to a whole bunch of eyewitnesses that had less than optimistic things say about the “free & fair” nature of Afghanistan’s recent election. Ah, teething problems…

He showed me a series of photographs taken inside a brown cardboard voting booth in a village in Paktiya province of Afghanistan. One shows a man marking a big pile of ballot papers in the name of Hamid Karzai. Another shows a pile of election ID cards spread in front of an unidentified man wearing black shoes. “This man brought 120 cards and he used each of them to vote three times,” said the official.

“Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over.”

In a nearby hamlet I met a fresh-faced election monitor who said he was 25 but looked younger. We squatted on the edge of a dusty field while he described how the fraud had worked in his village.

“It was all cheating on election day,” he said. “Each candidate had his men cheating for him in the polling station and they all knew the others were cheating. Even I cheated,” he said. “I didn’t want to, but when I saw everyone cheating, I put 20 ballots in for Ashraf Ghani [a former finance minister], and then I called all my friends in other villages and we collected more ballots for him.

“In the beginning I thought of selling my 20 cards to Karzai or Abdullah, but then I said no, they have enough votes.” He showed me three identical voting cards with his name and picture. “It was so easy to get those,” he said.

Chris Blathman has an amusing take on his blog, claiming to be “mortified” at the election mess but seeking solace in the fact that not-so-long-ago the perfect democracy that is the USA had similar sorts of issues. I for one think of Florida which really was not so long ago at all (umm… 9 years ago? 21st century?). So it seems the whole ‘democracy is not the perfect system but it’s the best we have’ thing is what people are saying nowadays about countries like Afghanistan. Then they say a whole bunch of different things about places like Palestine where people vote for entities, like Hamas, that the rest of the world doesn’t really like much. Teething problems indeed.

I often wonder what the point of this democratic adventure really is and why countries can’t be left to their own devices to figure out the best form of governance. Democracy (in the system that it is currently sold by the US), much like the system of nation-states itself that dominates International Relations, is entirely a western concept. Ironically then, when we do see dictatorships that abuse their people and misuse their power, these dictatorships have mostly sprung up in the context of the nation-state system, ie. dictators ruling their countries like personal fiefs. One can’t help but wonder how things would’ve been were it not for the Treaty of Westphalia and the scourge of colonialism leaving their seemingly indelible imprint on the world…

Written by alexlobov

September 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Afghan Elections Update – Irregularities & Taliban Interference

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Well the elections (and my birthday) came and went without any major upheaval. Though voter turnout was low due to fear of increased violence, the Taliban failed to derail the elections all together and they were carried out. Whether they were carried out “freely and fairly” is another question. Several allegations have been made that there were considerable irregularities. According to Jon Boone for the Guardian, a UN official claims that fraud may have affected one in five ballots, that’s 20%:

Concerns were mounting that electoral fraud in the south and east of the country, where few election monitors dared to tread, could help push the number of votes cast for the president, Hamid Karzai, over 50%, handing him victory without the need for a second-round contest. Partial results are expected to be announced later.One UN official predicted that anywhere between 10% and 20% of the votes cast were illegal, and that negotiations would have to be made to “massage down” Karzai’s victory margin. Independent election monitors said almost 700 complaints had been received, around 50 of which were earmarked for immediate investigation because of the risk they could change the outcome.

This seems to be roughly consistent with Abdullah Abdullah’s claims of “thousands of violations around the country”, however, as The Majlis points out, this shouldn’t necessarily matter much:

And here’s the kicker: even if this U.N. official is right, even if 20% of the ballots are illegal, it won’t matter. Karzai has about 3 million votes right now, according to the New York Times, out of 4.5 million that have been counted (90% of the total). He would still lead the field after a 20% “massage” — his nearest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has 1.5 million votes.

He would be perilously close to the 50 percent threshold for a runoff vote, but with 500,000 ballots left to count, he would probably pick up enough votes to propel him over that mark.

Al Jazeera also seems to have some interesting footage of voter abductions in the wake of the elections. Supposedly a Taliban checkpoint sprang up along Afghanistan’s main highway (the fact that they were able to do this belies the ongoing state of insecurity in Afghanistan) manned by the Taliban. At this checkpoint, people passing through were having their fingers checked for ink, to see if they’ve voted, and then accused of “standing in line with the Jews” and marched off blindfolded to some location. I must say though, good job by the cameraman to capture this footage, see it below:

All in all, unless more information comes in to change things, it appears Karzai has this in the bag. It’s unlikely that any irregularities will cause protests of the calibre that occurred in the far more politically charged Iran after the June 12th election.

Written by alexlobov

August 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Elections in Afghanistan 2009

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There is a significant event occurring on the 20th of August, and that is my 24th birthday. The other significant event, of course, is the Presidential Election in Afghanistan, the second since the ‘removal’ of the Taliban by the US-led invasion in 2001. As the election draws nears, more interesting things appear as pundits clamour to have their 2 cents. Unfortunately, their 2 cents have all been pretty much unified this time around. Everyone expects Hamid Karzai to win the majority of the vote, but not a big enough majority (51%) to form a government, calling for a potential runoff. Two names that have been touted as major opponents, the main one being former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and considered a likely 3rd in the race, former Finance Minister (and World Bank executive) Ashraf Ghani. As for the rest of the field, according to Al Jazeera:

Analysts in Kabul have divided the remaining candidates into three broad categories: those who actually aim at winning; those who are in the race only to gain a post in the new administration or financial compensations by making deals with the top contenders at the 11th hour; and finally, the totally unknown candidates who simply use the forum to introduce themselves in the Afghan political arena.

Some of the major allegations against the Karzai government have included a lack of focus on outside-of-Kabul Afghanistan (especially in terms of economic development), a lack of real strategy for improving the security situation, support for contentious pieces of legislation (like the Shi’a Personal Status Law), allegations of corruption and allowing foreign meddling in Afghanistan. On the latter, Helena Malikyar, an expert in Afghan state building, says the following to al Jazeera, related to election campaigning specifically:

“There are stories about ‘wuluswals‘ (district chiefs) and governors handing out money to village chiefs and mullahs, even gold bangles for their wives on behalf of some candidates. Where is all this money coming from?” she says.

“The lack of capacity or political will to implement regulation over campaign financing is one of the main reasons why elections in Afghanistan are not being free and fair. This also paves the way for foreign intervention.”

In the same article, al Jazeera suggests that most people consider Abdullah Abdullah to be the candidate backed by Iran & Russia, whereas Karzai is backed by Saudi Arabia & Turkey, whereas Pakistan also has preferred candidates in the election but don’t have as much money to throw around as the heavyweights (though they could act as a spoiler).

Slate, in a typically cerebral Slate-esque article, question the accuracy of Afghan polling… for those that were ever going to take real stock in the polling that is:

The problem is that Afghanistan hasn’t completed a census in 30 years, so no one really understands the demographics of the country. Pollsters are left trying to piece together fragmentary data from unreliable sources. Many refuse to weight their data at all. Others simply qualify their reports with a warning about potential bias, which may or may not make it into media coverage.

Always passionate and engaging, Robert Fisk, for The Independent, takes a different tack two days before the election and points out the illegitimacy of the foreign occupation, from a British perspective, and the human cost of it up to this point:

Needless to say, few of those who gather at Brize Norton spare a lot of time remembering the Afghan and the Iraqi civilian dead. How many months would it take for their hundreds of thousands of bodies to be driven in solemn cortege through British towns? Their fate is, after all, no less “deeply tragic” – the Ministry of Defence’s words for our latest casualties – as the loss of British soldiers.

While the continued occupation of Afghanistan, one that the Obama administration has committed to time and time again, continues to be contentious, the Afghan people will go to the polls on Thursday amidst a great deal of uncertainty, both in terms of the election results and the general situation in the country. We hope and pray that the election will be conducted fairly and peacefully.

Written by alexlobov

August 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

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