West’s former blue-eyed boy set to win Afghan election?

July 19, 2009 - 0:0

Mark Twain once said that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. However, some events certainly reoccur.

There was a time when so many different groups in Afghanistan were fighting to gain power, especially competing to dominate Kabul. They would not sit on negotiating table but talk through guns.
In this high-tech era back then in the 1990s doors and walls of Kabul were riddled with bullet-holes from the guns given by so-called civilized countries of the West in order to ward off the Soviet invasion.
Then one could easily count at least 10 bullet holes in every Kabul wall. First the fight against the Red Army and then the barbarians-like power-struggle among the plethora of armed groups left the Kabul as a ghost town.
Anyhow these days Kabul presents a very different picture. The capital and many other Afghan cities are relatively calm, although insurgency is still raging against the U.S.-led NATO forces in many far-flung areas especially in Helmand province.
Afghan city-walls are now decorated by colorful posters introducing different presidential candidates. The current scenario is very hopeful. It presents a glimmer of hope that finally perhaps a form of democracy is emerging in a country with strong tribal traditions and warlord culture.
The presidential election is set to be held on August 20, 2009. It is the second election in Afghan history -- the first was in 2004.
41 candidates, including two women, are running for Afghan presidency, but it seems that the actual competition will be among four men: current Afghan president Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former candidate for UN secretary general and former official of World Bank, also a Pashtun, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister, who is from a mixed-ethnicity, Pashtun and Tajik combination, and Ramadan Bashardost, who is a former finance minister and belongs to Hazara community.
Some analysts believe that the election process is not that practicable in a country that has very low literacy rate, a tribal society, high-level insecurity, and a violent Taliban insurgency.
The election process is mainly financed by international organizations, and it seems that the election authorities are satisfied with just a pretense of election since the groundwork for a real election has not been prepared and essential requirements for a genuine democratic exercise has not been met.
However, following is the description of four main men bidding for the Afghan presidency:
Hamid Karzai, who has been in office since the Bonn conference in 2001, experienced three periods of interim, transitional, and elected administrations.
These eight-years have been a very eventful period in Afghanistan. Karzai, who has been supported strongly by the U.S. and many other countries, has lost a good measure of credibility as president over past some years. Neither international organizations nor his foreign supporters are content with his performance.
Furthermore, for his mismanagement, he is no more popular at home. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused him of corruption charges and inefficient management. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer termed him a president of mafia and a head of a drug government.
U.S. president Barack Obama, who has criticized Bush administration policies in Afghanistan, announced that his administration will pursue new strategies to solve Afghan crisis.
Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as special American envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. His frequent meetings with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, current American commander in Middle East and Central Asia David Petraeus, led to the ousting of General David McKiernan and appointing Stanley McChrystal as the new commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
McChrystal immediately called for the “cultural change” among the foreign military forces in Afghanistan in order to support ordinary people and differentiate between people and Taliban militants.
In order to materialize Obama’s new strategies, he also asked for a halt of air strikes to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Obama had many meetings with experts and assistants such as his vice president Joe Biden who had visited the region and also met Afghan and Pakistani presidents. Biden’s meeting with Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari convinced the U.S. administration to pledge $7.5 billion financial support to fight militancy in the north-west Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
On the other hand Karzai couldn’t win Obama’s support. There is some evidence supporting this claim. Karzai’s recent political maneuvers such as appointing deputies have been heavily criticized by the UN, Western countries, and human rights organizations. Some appointees are also accused of committing war crimes in the past.
Another example is Afghan government spokesman Humayun Hamidzada’s severe objection to willful and uncoordinated act by U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan General Karl Eikenberry’s holding meetings with presidential candidates especially Karzai’s main rivals.
In recent days, the Karzai rhetoric has been clearly changed. His stance against the U.S. and Western powers is now very critical and aggressive. Karzai is now turning towards Russia and China for support.
Considering the current state of affairs and taking into account the deficiencies in the coming election process, U.S. is very edgy to know who will come out as winner in the election.
There are rumors that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is backed by the U.S. and considered as an alternative to Karzai by Obama team due to his experience in World Bank and UN. He also has been finance minister in Afghanistan’s transitional government.
According to U.S. officials’ view, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has been among the close associates of Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, does not stand a chance of winning this election.
Ramadan Bashardost is supported by just a small number of Tajiks and no foreign organization or country has so far endorsed his candidacy.
The election has highlighted two dominant viewpoints prevailing in Afghanistan.
The first view is that since all affairs in Afghanistan are controlled and managed by the U.S., the candidate who is favored by the U.S. will be elected as president. This view is because of presuppositions that somehow the U.S. will fix the final result.
There is also another view popular among Afghans that U.S. is pursuing a trial and error policy in Afghanistan to find out the suitable democratic system for the country.
Seemingly Obama is going to try a democratic process in Afghanistan but only partially and in a primitive form. If it is so then the candidate whom people vote will be the president.
It is predicted that there will not be a high turnout in the election for two reasons. The first for lack of security especially in the southern areas, and second because not all people are eligible to take part in the election, as special voting cards have been issued for the election.
The chairperson of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Dr. Sima Samar has slammed the election mechanism and pointed out that this procedure facilitates the buying and selling of votes.
She added, in the Logar Province, 60km in south of Kabul, 72% of cards had been issued to women. Considering the fact that in this area people maintain traditional culture and men even do not allow their female relatives to leave home alone makes the election process fraud-prone.
Anyhow, if the election process went transparent and U.S. didn’t interfere heavily, Karzai is likely to win it. There are two reasons in support of this prediction.
First, Karzai has drawn on his usual techniques of courting votes of five major ethnic groups in Afghanistan -- Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Turkmen.
Karzai has recently invited powerful warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum (who has been falling from the grace due to his barbarian behavior and for handing out a beating to Akbar Bay, one of the chiefs of Afghan Turks and current presidential candidate) to gain the support of Tajiks and Hazaras in addition to Pashtuns.
More over Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai's running mate in the upcoming presidential election and his first vice president, and Abdul Karim Khalili the current second vice president, are also from Hazaras.
If just fifty percent of major ethnic-group voters cast their ballots for Karzai, he will be easily re-elected.
Second, because of Karzai’s influence in the current government, he can use state power and exchequers to buy voting cards.
So, let us wait and see if Karzai can pull it through despite losing the West’s blue-eyed boy status or U.S.-backed Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will turn the tables on him