US Downbeat on Afghanistan Elections

US Downbeat on Afghanistan Elections

  • 20 August 2009

It is surprising that after almost eight years of US intervention in Afghanistan, the security situation in the country has worsened both for the Afghan populace and for the occupation forces deployed there. It is even more surprising that the US is itself downbeat on the August 20 presidential elections and is clearly distancing itself from its main ally in the country, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

Many US and Western observers fear that this election will be characterized by vote-rigging, bribing or intimidation of voters in the areas under US/NATO control. In fact, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama’s administration’s special envoy to the region, admitted while in Afghanistan in late July: “We are worried about voter registration fraud, and we are worried about voters who will be unable to reach polling places because of insecurity, and we are worried about the accuracy of the vote count, and we are worried about the ability of women to vote.”

Similarly, the head of the Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, Abdul Qader Nurzai, told the New York Times earlier this month that he expects a turnout of less than 30 percent in the south. An August 18 BBC report (‘Afghan election fraud is unearthed’) claims: “Thousands of voting cards have been offered for sale and thousands of dollars have been offered in bribes to buy votes.” The Afghan government has also come under criticism for threatening to expel foreign journalists, who report violence on polling day, and for vowing to close any local media outlet that does not follow the order. Indeed, Taliban recently threatened on one of its websites that the movement has already sent its suicide bombers to Kabul to disrupt the elections. 

Most foreign observers believe that President Karzai would win the elections; however, it is clear that Obama administration is getting increasingly unhappy with the performance of the Afghan President, which in turn has raised hopes among Karzai’s political rivals. It is clear that Karzai’s repeated criticism of US air strikes in the country did not go down well with America. For its part, the US administration has also increased its criticism of Karzai administration’s alleged corruption and dwindling public support. Recently, the White House indirectly attacked the Afghan President by openly condemning the return to Afghanistan of ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, who it said faced “questions of culpability for massive human rights violations.” Last year, Dostum was pressured to go into voluntary exile in Turkey after he was charged with assassinating a political opponent. However, Dostum recently returned to Afghanistan on Karzai’s invitation, and on his return immediately called for a vote in favor of the incumbent President.

According to an August 19 report in the noted newspaper Guardian, the Obama administration is seeking for the “appointment of a Western-style chief executive in an attempt to curb the worst of the country's endemic corruption and expand the influence of the Kabul government in the face of Taliban advances.” According to the newspaper, the third main presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani, is favorite for the chief executive slot. Thus, irrespective of the result of elections in Afghanistan, the new president may have to share his powers with a ‘CEO’ appointed by the Obama administration.

Such speculation has risen following growing US concerns over the rising threat of Taliban in the country, with some sections in the Pentagon reportedly calling for a major new offensive within a year to avoid a major setback for coalition forces. Since 2005, each year has seen a rise in the number of casualties among coalition forces, with 2008 setting a record of 294 coalition deaths. It is feared the current year would surpass that total, with 271 deaths having already taken place.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Taliban Now Winning,” General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, raised the alarm by saying that the conflict was at a “critical and decisive moment.” The Taliban, he said, was “a very aggressive enemy right now” and the occupation forces had effectively 12 months to stop their “momentum” and “initiative.”

However, as there seems to be little support for a major military offensive in Afghanistan among US masses and politicians, some observers believe it is unlikely that the Obama administration would be able to announce an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan. Instead, there may be renewed emphasis on training the Afghan army and police as quickly as possible and speeding up economic development. It is also important to note here that the US president had already ordered 17,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, earlier this year.

Still, US President Barack Obama warned on August 17, 2009 that the war in Afghanistan would be long and bloody, predicting “more difficult days ahead.” Clearly, the security situation in Afghanistan is likely to become worse before it shows any signs of improvement in the near future.

Thus, there is little optimism that these presidential elections would usher in peace and prosperity to the war-torn country, which is reportedly the fifth poorest nation in the world, with 42 percent of the population living on less than $14 a month. On the contrary, it is feared the war-ravaged populace may have to face more uncertain and harrowing times ahead, with even the US and NATO forces not fully in control of the political and security situation.