Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Whither Afghanistan’s election?

October 20, 2009

a1The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), made up mainly of Westerners, has published its findings into Afghanistan’s disputed, fraud-beset presidential poll.

Now Afghans must determine their political future using the bureaucratic legacy of lists and numbers the ECC has left behind. 

It’s been exactly two months since Afghans went to the poll to choose their leader. They are none the wiser today about who they can expect to be running their country.

Neither are we. Teasing out information about the elections has been a difficult process. We have relied on diplomats who cannot be named, faceless officials close to the proceedings and campaign representatives to try and make sense of an extremely vague, closed process.

Right now, officials at Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission — a much criticised office, because its panel was appointed by Karzai and is therefore seen by his main rival Abdullah Abdullah as working in his favour — are pouring over the sheets of figures published by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission on Monday.

A run-off, we have been told by numerous diplomats in Kabul, looks likely and some resourceful think tanks in Washington have done the math themselves and drawn the same conclusion from the ECC’s pages of numbers and percentages.

Perhaps there will be light later on Tuesday and Karzai, locked away in his forbidding presidential palace,  will step forward to speak to his people.


Afghani opposition presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah is known as a smart and educated man with excellent diplomatic credentials. The Pushtun former medical doctor – turned diplomat and politician has all the makings of a great leader and perhaps President, he certainly has worked and risked his life on countless occasions for his beloved Afghanistan.

Having said all the above, Dr Abdullah has probably just made the biggest mistake of his life and missed the best opportunity for giving Afghanistan a chance of real peace and stability. His choice not to run in the second round of elections set for 7 November 2009 on ground that it may not be fair was certainly a statement to support his own candidacy and influence. It may seem like the words of a person pointing out unfairness and corruption and thus a protest, but will it help the desperate situation that Afghanistan faces? Was it the right thing to do?

This decision to not participate has only given ammunition to every disruptive player in the conflict that is the reality of Afghanistan. The Taliban will give the classic “I told you so” and in reality they have been given a propaganda gift they could not have dreamed of. Elements of the armed forces and police whom have swinging or unsure loyalties will have less reason for supporting the government and those that wish to try and influence through corruption will argue that – it is the norm after all!

It could be argued that Dr Abdullah chose for his own self-interest to look like the moral victim and to prepare his case for being the next President if and when the current administration fails or is toppled. In doing so he may have ensured the continuation of the very bad situation and even further collapse of an already flawed system – that may bring his own chances of leadership as an ever-more-so less likely event.

Had Dr Abdullah ran in the election and failed with either obvious corruption or some question of it, he would have looked the victim but at least showed supported for the system and the unity of Afghanistan.

Such a show of unity would have boosted confidence in the public’s perception, the political establishment and foreign governments that Afghanistan has some form of workign system and thus stability. The arguments given by the Taliban and other interest groups within the country that are the real and present problem argue that there is no working system, it is corrupt and that they have the solution. The best form of attack against radicalism remains – workable normality. Additionally, the self-destructiveness of the Afghani political and social system is a major reason why some military and aide contributing countries are pulling out, they simply are beginning to wonder if it all is worth the effort or “why bother if they are not willing to help themselves first?”.

No, Dr Abdullah Abdullah has made a very, very big mistake indeed and Afghanistan will suffer for it.


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