London ~~ Thursday, 20 August 2009
Don't be fooled by this democratic façade – the people are betrayedBy Malalai Joya
In hiding and in fear of her life, the Afghan MP and women's rights campaigner says the warlords have already won
Scroll down to also read "Karzai's fraud scheme could backfire"
Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of today's election. In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban terrorists, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote. Even international observers have been speaking about widespread fraud and intimidation and, among the people on the street, there is a common refrain: the real winner has already been picked by the White House.
President Hamid Karzai has cemented alliances with brutal warlords and fundamentalists in order to maintain his position. Although our constitution forbids war criminals from running for office, the incumbent has named two notorious militia commanders as his vice-presidential running mates – Karim Khalili and Mohammad Qasim Fahim, both of whom stand accused of brutalities against our people.
Deals have also been made with countless fundamentalists. This week saw the return from exile of the dreaded warlord Rashid Dostum. And the pro-Iranian extremist Mohammad Mohaqiq, who has been accused of war crimes, has been promised five cabinet positions for his party in exchange for supporting Mr Karzai.
Rather than democracy, what we have in Afghanistan are back-room deals among discredited warlords who are sworn enemies of democracy and justice.
The President has also continued to absolutely betray the women of Afghanistan.
Even after massive international outcry – and brave protesters taking to the streets of Kabul – Mr Karzai implemented the infamous rape law, targeting Shia women, to gain support of the fundamentalist elements in the election. He had initially promised to review the most egregious clauses, but in the end it was passed with few amendments and the barbaric anti-women statements not removed. As Human Rights Watch recently stated: "Karzai has made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in return for the support of fundamentalists."
And the two main challengers to a continuation of the Karzai rule do not offer any change. Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are both former cabinet ministers in this discredited regime and neither has a real, broad footing among the people.
Mr Abdullah, as the main candidate of fundamentalist warlords, has run a wide campaign with money he is receiving from the Iranian regime. He and some of the Northern Alliance commanders supporting him have threatened unrest if he loses the vote, raising fears of a return to the rampant violence and killing that marked the civil war years of the 1990s.
All of the major candidates' speeches and policies are very similar. They make the same sweet-sounding promises, but we are not fooled. Afghans remember how Mr Karzai abandoned his campaign pledges after winning the 2005 vote.
We Afghans know that this election will change nothing and it is only part of a show of democracy put on by, and for, the West, to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan. It seems we are doomed to see the continuation of this failed, mafia-like, corrupt government for another term.
The people of Afghanistan are fed up with the rampant corruption of Karzai's "narco-state" (his own brother, Wali Karzai, has been linked to drug trafficking in Kandahar province) and the escalating war waged by Nato. In May of this year, US air strikes killed approximately 150 civilians in my native province, Farah.
More than ever, Afghans are faced with powerful internal enemies – fundamentalist warlords and their Taliban brothers-in-creed – and the external enemies occupying the country.
Democracy will never come to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun, or from the cluster bombs dropped by foreign forces. The struggle will be long and difficult, but the values of real democracy, human rights and women's rights will only be won by the Afghan people themselves.
So do not be fooled by this façade of democracy. The British and other Western governments that claim to be bringing democracy to Afghanistan ignore public opinion in their own countries, where growing numbers are against the war.
In my tours to countries that have troops in Afghanistan, I've met many bereaved parents who have lost their loved ones in the war in my home. I am very sorry to see governments putting the lives of their soldiers in danger in Afghanistan in the name of bringing democracy. In fact the soldiers are serving the strategic and regional interests of the White House and the consequences of their occupation so far have been devastating for my people.
I believe that if the ordinary folk of Afghanistan and the Nato countries were able to vote, and express their wishes, this indefinite military occupation would come to an end and there would be a real chance for peace in Afghanistan. But today's election does nothing for that.
The writer is an Afghan politician. In 2005, she became the youngest person to be elected to the new parliament, representing Farah province. Her new book Raising My Voice is out now
Hong Kong ~~ Friday 21 August 2009
Karzai's fraud scheme could backfire
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - Afghanistan's presidential election on Thursday has long been viewed by United States officials as a key to conferring legitimacy on the Afghan government, but evidence that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his powerful warlord allies have planned to commit large-scale electoral fraud could have the opposite effect.
Two US-financed polls published during the past week showed support for Karzai was well short of the 51% of the total vote necessary to avoid a runoff election. A poll by Glevum Associates showed Karzai at 36%, and a survey by the International Republican Institute had him at 44% of the vote.
Those polls suggest that Karzai might have to pad his legitimate vote total by a significant amount to be certain of being elected in the first round. Preliminary results were expected to be announced in Kabul on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
But Karzai has been laying the groundwork for just such a contingency for many months. He has forged political alliances with leading Afghan warlords who control informal militias and tribal networks in the provinces to carry out a vote fraud scheme accounting for a very large proportion of the votes.
Karzai chose Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the ethnic Tajik warlord who was vice president and defense minister in Karzai's Afghan Transitional Administration until the 2004 elections, as his running mate. In return for their support, he promised Hazara warlords Haji Muhammad Moheqiq and Karim Khalili that new provinces would be carved out from largely Hazara districts in Ghazni and Wardak provinces, as reported by Richard Oppel of the New York Times.
The socio-political structure of Afghanistan remains so hierarchical that warlords can deliver very large blocs of votes to Karzai by telling their followers to vote for him, and in some provinces - especially in the Pashtun south - by forcing local tribal elders to cooperate in voter fraud schemes.
The system in which warlords pressure tribal elders to deliver the vote for Karzai was illustrated by a village elder in western Herat province who said he had been threatened by a local commander with "very unpleasant consequences" if the residents of his village did not vote for Karzai, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
As early as last May, the country's independent election monitoring organization, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), had documented a variety of voter registration practices that laid the groundwork for massive voter fraud.
FEFA observers, who witnessed voter registration in 194 of 400 voting registration centers in four provinces during one stage of the process, found that nearly 20% of the voters registered, on average, were underage - in many cases as young as 12 years old.
It is now estimated that 17 million voter registration cards have been issued, which means that nearly 3.5 million cards may have been issued to children.
FEFA observers also found rampant distribution of multiple voting cards. During the third phase of registration, they observed at least four incidents of such abuses in 85% of the centers. The voter registration staff was seen handing out cards even before applicants had been registered.
In one case, the FEFA observers saw about 500 voting cards being given to a single individual.
Another element in the fraud scheme involves the registration of women without their actually being physically present, often on the basis of lists of names given to the registration officials. The list system for registering women was found in 99% of registration stations in Paktika province and 90% of those in Zabul and Khost provinces.
During the final phase of the registration, many centers were found to be allowing males to take the registration books home, where they supposedly obtained the fingerprints of the women.
In some of the most insecure and traditional provinces, such as Logar and Nuristan, more than twice as many cards were issued to women as to men in 2009; and in Paktika, Paktia and Khost, 30% more women were registered than were men.
In Kandahar, women represent 44% of those with voting cards. Fawzia Koofi, a young female member of parliament, told The Australian newspaper that such levels of women registered could not be genuine.
The result has been to create a vast pool of voting cards, very few of which will be used by women to vote.
Reports by journalists about the acquisition of voting cards by the local strongmen indicate that this distribution of voting cards to people who would not vote was part of a plan to stuff the ballot boxes to increase the vote for Karzai.
The Times of London quoted a tribal elder in Marja district of Helmand province last week as saying that the warlord and former governor Sher Mohammad Akhudzada was organizing the vote for Karzai in the province, and that he and other tribal elders were responsible for buying voting cards from voters who had registered.
Independent analyst Alex Strick van Linschoten, who is based in Kandahar, has reported schemes using police to purchase voter registration cards in several districts in the province.
Writing in the New York Times magazine on August 9, Elizabeth Rubin reported that an unnamed political figure in Kandahar told her in June he had manufactured 8,000 voter "fake" registration cards that had sold for US$20 each.
Some observers believe that various factors may constrain Karzai's effort to use warlords to swing the election. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E Neumann told Inter Press Service (IPS) he was counting on the use of indelible ink on the voters' fingers to make it impossible for people to vote more than once.
He recalls, however, that the "indelible" ink used in the 2005 election turned out to be washable after all.
Neumann also hopes the existence of the Election Complaints Commission, an independent body with three international members nominated by the United Nations, will be a check on massive vote fraud.
That body investigates complaints of voter fraud and has the right under Afghan election law to order the invalidation or recounting of votes or even the conducting of new polling where it finds evidence of fraud. But it has no sub-national presence and will be heavily dependent on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which handles all the documentary evidence pertaining to such complaints.
More problematic is the fact that the IEC is not "independent" of the Karzai regime at all. Its seven members were all appointed by Karzai, and its chairman has made no secret of his partisan support for the president.
The IEC will likely seek to cover up complaints of major fraud, and the complaints body may not be able to do much about it.
Neumann put the odds of an election that would be "good enough" in the eyes of the Afghans at "50-50".
But counter-insurgency specialists are more pessimistic. Larry Goodson of the US Army College, who was on the US Central Command team that worked on a detailed plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year, told IPS, "The reality is there is going to be a lot of cheating and fraud."
Goodson said the danger for the United States in the Karzai election plan is that it "could be perceived by Afghans as promoting the legitimization of someone who is widely perceived as illegitimate".
Australian counter-insurgency specialist David Kilcullen, who will shortly become a senior adviser to General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, declared at the US Institute of Peace on August 6, "The biggest fear is Karzai ends up as an incredibly illegitimate figure, and we end up owning Afghanistan and propping up an illegitimate government."
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.
(Inter Press Service)