Afghanistan: The Election Where Everyone Lost

Afghanistan: The Election Where Everyone Lost

Abdullah Abdullah's move yesterday to pull out of the second round of the Afghan election was the only real option left for the main opposition candidate. Had it been contested, the runoff would have been just as corrupt as the first round, with stuffed ballots, ghost polling stations, and supporters who voted early and often. The fraud would have been overseen by the same network of cronies who had tried to push President Hamid Karzai through the first round, which was why the incumbent rejected Dr Abdullah's demand to replace the chair of the so-called Independent Election Commission (IEC). This time, however, Washington wants a quick coronation, so a blind eye would have been turned to fraud. Thus Dr Abdullah had no choice but to pull out "“ and he did so with some dignity, and with his credibility intact.

Which is more than can be said for the US and British governments. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton jettisoned the respect earned on a tough diplomatic mission to Pakistan by claiming Dr Abdullah's decision was a personal one that had nothing to do with the legitimacy of the election "“ even comparing it to her own withdrawal from the Democratic primaries. Unless Mrs Clinton is retrospectively taking a jab at the man who is now her president, she must know that any such comparison is absurd. In the same vein, western diplomats in Kabul began briefing that the 48.2% Mr Karzai achieved in the first round provided a good enough mandate to govern. But in truth the fraud reached well beyond that uncovered by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission; Mr Karzai's vote share would have been lower if the commission's terms of reference were wider. Besides, the constitution calls for an outright majority and Mr Karzai has patently failed to achieve this.

Not only has the president emerged from this election with less legitimacy than he entered it. By abandoning the search for the greatest number of honest votes, western countries ensnared in a bloody intervention have battered their own reputation as honest brokers among non-Pashtun Afghan voters. The international community has overseen an election which failed its own rules, and then rubber-stamped a second term of the man responsible for that failure. The Taliban did not need to murder UN staff to frighten voters away. They have been turned away by Mr Karzai himself. In appearing to condone an unconstitutional outcome, the UN has undermined its already wilting standing on the Afghan street.

The international community now places all its faith in the hope that Mr Karzai, once reanointed president, will appoint a technocratic cabinet of ministers. Perhaps he will even prove amenable to western demands for a chief executive. But the odds on him truly fulfilling promises to behave like a good boy must now be low indeed. Remember, this was the man who sent western diplomats packing for attempting to bring Taliban leaders in from the cold. He thwarted Lord Paddy Ashdown's appointment as UN representative to co-ordinate the international aid effort, and he got away with it. The idea that he might now accept anything other than token oversight into the corrupt working of his government is fanciful in the extreme.

It is high time that Washington realised that Mr Karzai's interests are not its own and that yesterday's political outcome is the worst possible one on which to base a decision to send more troops. It is not just a question of a corrupt president. The problem lies in the system of government itself. Only constitutional reform, undertaken by a loya jirga (grand assembly) can reconstitute the legitimacy that Mr Karzai has abandoned. Real reform will only be achieved from the bottom up, with the participation of district and provincial councils. With Mr Karzai back in power this will never happen, and British and US troops will be dragged even deeper into a mission that has lost its way.

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2 Nov 2009, 12:14AM

I watched our PM Mr Brown on the TV with a growing sense of incredulity for he asserts that Mr Abdulla has quit the race in the " interest of national unity". Even by Mr Browns standards of spin ans splutter, this is a master stroke because earlier when Mr Abdulla announced his withdrawal he said that he did so because he had no confidence that a free and fair election would take place..

So US ans UK have not to find a yet another reason for risking young lives in a far away land and the actual turmoil that is inflicted on the civilians by their presence. Bringing democracy to Afghanistan has become the latest reason that has had its day. Or, on second thoughts, they have the sort of democracy George Bush could be proud of!

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