The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Hamid Karzai

Afghanistan: The Burden of Democracy

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This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.

The run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, held this Saturday 18th of September, has been reported internationally and has highlighted widespread inadequacies in the country’s government and its electoral system. When compared to the media frenzy that surrounded the country’s presidential elections last August, reporting this year has been diminished and focused on the many problems facing the ballot. Last year’s coverage of the elections, their importance to the reconstruction of the country, the significance of the act of voting to the population (especially women) and all such niceties were replaced by reporting of fraud allegations and corruption charges – systemic failures at every level – much the same as last year.

So why have the parliamentary elections not received the same level and type of attention? Is it a case of what FP’s Haring-Smith calls Afghanistan’s groundhog day or an overwhelming sense and realisation that maybe Afghanistan is a lost cause? And in the face of this systemic corruption can the international community be forgiven for perhaps not caring as much?

Firstly, A recent report by The Centre for American Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the governance issues facing Afghanistan. The report concluded, that above all else, the country’s extremely centralised governing structure is in need of the most urgent reform. Karzai’s legal and constitutional powers make Afghanistan, “in theory, fiscally and administratively one of the most centralised countries in the world.” This amount of power has created a patronage system where Karzai flexes his influence through appointment of more than 1000 government officials at all levels of government with little public input. The paper reports, “Karzai appoints all national line ministry heads, the attorney general, Supreme Court members, the National Security Directorate Intelligence Head, provincial police chiefs and the national Bank chief.” Alongside this, Karzai appoints all members of the Upper House of parliament. In this system, all roads lead to Karzai, personal loyalties and patronage dictate electoral results and policy reform. This has set the tone for the corrupt system not only to be born but also to evolve, ensuring that those in power stay in power.

While the CAP report calls for more public input, some observers think that might just be the problem. Afghanistan’s constitution calls for several separate rounds of elections. Presidential elections (held last August), parliamentary elections to elect 249 members to the Lower House of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) as well as provincial and council level elections. However, in the case of Afghanistan the elections are out of sync. As Haring-Smith writes, “there is an election nominally scheduled every year between now and 2027, except 2012.” In this cycle Afghans will be going to the polls every year for more than a decade. The Economist reported last year that over the next 17 years there will be 11 elections held in Afghanistan. And this is without the district-council elections being held on a separate cycle, as is proposed. In a country where the concept of democracy and voting are new to most people, this system can very quickly create voter fatigue. Reports from the ground already reflect this sentiment. The financial and security burden that these elections create is yet another concern with an estimated cost of $150 million for each election to take place. Afghans, officials and candidates face harsh conditions, in some cases risk their lives to cast their vote. They might not think it worthwhile the 12th year in a row.

These aspects are but a few that form part of a deeply flawed  system which has helped create the corrupt environment in which these elections will be held. A retrospective report on the extent of the fraud and poll manipulation of the 2009 presidential elections warns that although fraud will still be as rampant as last time, it will be less blatant. The report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) states that those responsible for the electoral fraud in 2009 have learnt from their experiences and will be more sophisticated in manipulating results. The report points out key systemic flaws which allow such rampant fraud to take place. In particular, the absence of a coherent voter registration list means that people register multiple times. Provinces such as Khost and Paktika recorded registration equalling 140% of the population last time. The report further adds that the problem of multiple registrations is well-known yet little has been done to create an alternative system.  Perhaps more disheartening is policy reforms which further engrain and enforce corrupt and centralised processes. Since the last elections, new laws have brought the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN’s election watchdog, under Karzai’s control. The new laws enable Karzai to appoint all five commission members while the UN can select two representatives. The new measures will curtail the role that the ECC plays in monitoring and investigating fraud allegations.

Under these circumstances the international community’s disinterest with the elections is understandable and not just restricted to the media. The international agencies and organisations involved in Afghanistan have scaled down their election monitoring activities considerably. According to reports by The Guardian, the UN has evacuated one third of its international workforce in Afghanistan out of fear of violence and attacks by the Taliban. The EU has cut its previous 120-strong observation team down to just seven and the Asian Network for Fair Elections down from 74 to 30. Although the results of the elections won’t be announced for a while, fraud allegations have already started pouring out. In these circumstances international observers can be of little relevance where they cannot effectively prevent or monitor fraud. If the forecasts are anything to go by these elections will not only be a further blow to the country’s aspirations for reconstructing a functioning democratic state but will also further affirm international sentiment that little has been achieved in Afghanistan.

Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.


Written by alexlobov

September 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Can Afghanistan have both Peace and Women’s Rights?

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This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Reconciliation and Women’s Rights: Easier Said Than Done”.

recent report by Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Afghanistan to “ensure that all those who agree to the reconciliation process have made explicit their acceptance of the constitutional guarantees of equality for men and women.”

This is in reference to the planned dual processes of reconciliation, negotiations with high-level insurgent commanders, and reintegration, encouragement of lower level fighters to give up their arms.

However, how the government of Afghanistan is expected to achieve this is unclear. The weaknesses of the Karzai government and its many failures to adhere to the constitution in the past are mentioned several times in the report (specifically, pages 6, 34, and 43), as are the inherent contradictions in pursuing reconciliation with insurgent groups that are clearly ideologically opposed to any law that contradicts their version of Islamic law.

As activist Wazhma Frogh tells HRW, “President Karzai himself has done many things against the Afghan constitution. There have been hundreds of things — including illegal things — that were against the constitution. What was the result? Nothing happened.” If the government itself does not have a strong record of upholding the constitution, how can it be expected to do so after bringing the Taliban into the fold?

The HRW report is important because it brings attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Afghanistan, particularly the disproportionate targeting of women by the Taliban and other insurgent organizations. A vivid and terrifying picture is painted of the fear these women must go through in just trying to live a normal life. A number of recommendations are made for what the major players in Afghanistan should do (on pages 59 to 64). Apart from the unwavering adherence to the constitution mentioned above, there are also recommendations for greater female representation in decision-making processes and a repealing of the Amnesty Law, which grants amnesty to individuals who committed war crimes before the war began in 2001.

However, it is difficult to read this report without coming to the conclusion that HRW’s recommendations are near impossible to implement. Great pains are taken to highlight the Taliban’s commitment to the brutal oppression of women and disdain for the constitution, and presumably they wouldn’t be so hot on a repeal of the Amnesty Law either. This is further coupled with a widely held belief that the main insurgent groups are not that interested in reconciliation in the first place.

Concerning women’s involvement in decision-making, the report argues that there is a prevailing culture of indifference among male Afghan decision makers, when it comes to upholding women’s rights, thus requiring adequate representation for women in the process itself. However, this is also a clear barrier to that representation, in the face of reconciliation efforts with insurgent groups even more violently misogynistic than any member of the government, it is unlikely that women’s representation in decision-making will be treated as a priority.

I applaud HRW’s work in drawing attention to the plight of Afghanistan’s women but when its recommendations for improving the situation are compared with the reality the NGO itself presents, it’s hard to envisage a situation where reconciliation is achieved and women’s rights, as well as general respect for the constitution, are upheld simultaneously.

Thus, we are left with another very important takeaway from this report. The reality is that these much needed recommendations may well be deal-breakers when it comes to reconciliation. Sadly, the emerging scenario is that something will have to give, and HRW is right to fear that it will probably be women who will suffer once again.

Written by alexlobov

July 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Jalaluddin Haqqani rails against the US and Bush-era “fires”

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Have just finished reading the Jalaluddin Haqqani interview that was linked to on Jihadica. (Urdu readers can find the whole interview here. ) While it doesn’t offer anything new – there’s lots of railing and ranting against the US’ highhandedness and dominance over the world, and praise of mujahideen – there are some interesting questions that were posed to him.

My translation is rather rough so please excuse any errors. Also, these are Haqqani’s terms – these would not be the terms I would use.

On the comparison b/w the Soviet and US invasions, Haqqani says that during the Soviet war the credit was mostly given to American Stinger missiles and weapons, but in the US invasion its been the fighters who have managed to do it on their own.

On the US plans to send more troops to Afghanistan: “I have said this before and am saying it again, that in the Afghanistan problem the US rulers are comparable to a gambler, who at the gambling table ends up losing everything after getting all warmed up.”

On the plan to negotiate with the Taliban: “Yes! After eight years Americans have realized that their current policy for Afghanistan is not favourable, and it needs to be changed. There will be different stages to this:

  1. An increase in troops
  2. Spreading discord between different tribes/groups
  3. Talking to the mujahideen in Afghanistan

Haqqani says the first two have already been acted on and that the US will use the talks as a cover for the following

  • Spreading distrust among the mujahideen. By distrust he says that the talks will be a propaganda tool that will be given extensive media coverage and every element of the discussions will be disclosed to give a feeling that talks are happening
  • Starting talks would give Karzai’s puppet government a legal standing.
  • If the talks fail, the US would hold the Taliban responsible and say they want to continue the war.
  • The Taliban wanted to talk to the US eight years ago, but they didn’t want to and chose to invade instead. Now after a war that has killed thousands, destroyed villages, and further destroyed an already destroyed Afghanistan, and spending billions of dollars, they still don’t understand that military force is not the solution to everything.

On AfPak

Q: South Afghanistan borders Pakistan. The Karzai government spreads propoganda that the planning for jihad activities in this area is actually done in Pakistan and that you are in control of foreign fighters?

A: The Karzai government’s basis is of 27 occupying countries. They baselessly propagandize, in response to which I only say this that if in reality the planning of activities in southern Afghanistan are being done in a neighbouring country, then where is the planning of activities in the northern and main regions being done? In the central zone of the country there have been country-level military operations. That is where the most occupiers are killed, but those are not affiliated to a certain country. In the same way in the country’s northern zone Qunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Badakshan and Jozjan are very far away from the country’s south, so where are the activities on foreign occupiers and their allies being planned on there?

In reality, if support from neighbouring country to Afghanistan can be called a victory, then the Karzai government – which has the military and political support of 37 countries, including neighbouring ones – would rule over Afghanistan. Yes! In the bordering areas, some religious youngsters have a spirit for jihad, whose fathers and grandfathers fought side by side with their Afghan brothers to fight against British and Russian occupiers. Some were martyred here while others were victors. That same spirit is still prevalent today against American occupation amongst brave people. We appreciate their support in the jihad and expect them to fulfill their jihad duties.

On Obama

Q: In America, the Democrats have come to power under Obama. What effect will this have on the war in Afghanistan?

A: “….The American public trusted Obama, and voted him into power. Hence Obama should save his country from the fire that Bush had shoved it in.”

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 21, 2009 at 6:50 am

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

Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghanistan’s possible Chief Executive?

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Al Jazeera’s James Bays blogs that Zalmay Khalilzad could be back in the power game:

..Some media reports suggest Karzai talked to the former ambassador about the proposed role of Chief Executive. This post is a suggestion by western governments, concerned about the way the country is being run on a day-to-day basis.

Karzai is not believed to favour the idea, but if he is forced to have a Chief Executive, he may prefer someone he has worked well with in the past.

The next few days are likely be crucial, and – guess what – Zalmay Khalilzad, the man they used to call “the Kingmaker” has just arrived back in Kabul “on a personal visit”.

Ahmed Rashid on Zalmay Khalilzad, in his book Descent into Chaos:

…Tall and imposing, with a jutting jawline, he looked every bit the Afghan warrior, albeit one with a penchant for sharp Italian suits. Zal, as everyone called him, became the most powerful man in Afghanistan and made no attempt to hide it. He was not in the least embarrassed when reporters described how Karzai did not make a move without first consulting him.  Khalilzad was a complicated personality: a Westernized scholar and neoconservative but an Afghan Muslim who had the taste for intrigue that is the hallmark of political culture in both Washington and Kabul. He was disliked by traditional diplomats but appreciated by the CIA and the U.S. military because of his can-do attitude.

Yet another attempt to give a legitimate face to a flawed democratic process?

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 18, 2009 at 5:32 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:

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

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