The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

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

2 Responses

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  1. I read the Kilkenny article, and one thing about it that confuses me is that she seems to be suggesting that the withdrawal of US/NATO should be seriously considered but then later on she criticizes the post-Soviet/Afghan civil war period as a time when the US abandoned Afghanistan. Wouldn’t withdrawing from Afghanistan now result in a situation as bad or worse than the early 90s?

    I don’t know what the US should do either, but I do find the idea of it abandoning the Afghan war at this point to be alarming, purely from a Pakistani perspective. I will admit that this is something I’ve changed my mind on significantly over the last year or so, having seen a) Pakistan’s complete inability to handle the Taliban insurgency and b) its unwillingness to abandon supporting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

    Anyway, I really like this blog, keep up the good work.


    October 16, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    • Yeah the article isn’t particularly succinct in its point but I think what she’s trying to say in amongst all the sarcasm is that it’s become a matter of cutting one’s losses. I think the key is when she says that “It seems the longer we stay, the worse things get”. Pulling out of Afghanistan may well be disastrous but the question is, can this war be “won” at all given the present circumstances? And by won, do we mean the country will be left secure, stable and for the long-term? If the answer is no, which is how it seems to me and many others, then perhaps it’s better to cut losses and leave now rather than do even more damage and leave an even bigger disaster after more years and more death.

      Thanks for the encouragement too. 🙂


      October 16, 2009 at 11:20 pm

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