Tales from the Trail

Victory for Karzai, minefield for Obama?

Former President George W. Bush used to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” He was talking about education in the United States.

But these days, that phrase could easily refer to the U.S. government’s attitudes towards Afghanistan. Just look at the following phrases from American officials this year.

“We never promised Afghans a perfect democracy,” “Afghans have lower expectations in terms of security,” “we have to recognise Afghanistan will always remain a poor, conservative land with a low-level insurgency,” “our goal in Afghanistan is simply to prevent al Qaeda using its territory to attack us.” AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/KARZAI

All perfectly reasonable in many ways, but hardly a compelling manifesto to win Afghan hearts and minds.

The concern is that there has been such a concerted effort to lower the bar in Afghanistan this year, and to downplay what is achievable, that failure sometimes seems almost inevitable.

Time to get tough on Afghan fraud, start with the message

What message does it send when the U.N. representative to Afghanistan says it will be impossible to eliminate fraud in the run-off election? AFGHANISTAN-ELECTION/

That’s what Kai Eide admitted last week, adding, “what we will try to do, is to reduce the level of fraud.”

Is that really what Afghans should be hearing on the eve of this crucial vote — steal a few less votes this time around please?

from Global News Journal:

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.

Behind the scenes the whispers are that hesitation and delay are because the outcome is excruciatingly close, too close to call. President Hamid Karzai, once set clear for victory, may find first round success ripped from his grasp by the disqualification of votes stuffed into ballot boxes by his supporters. He'll likely win a second round, if it happens, against his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah; but there will have been a loss of dignity, of self-confidence and of an opportunity to stabilise Afghanistan and get on with fighting the Taliban.