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Afghanistan. Presidential election 2009. Will it make any difference?

President Hamid Karzai is likely to emerge victorious from1 the controversial and violence-ridden Afghani presidential elections held on 20 August. The elections were marred by allegations of fraud, violence and irregularities. The Taliban struck at 73 locations all over Afghanistan, demonstrating their increased reach and influence. It is not yet clear if Karzai will be able to get more than 50% of votes and avoid a second ballot.

The Afghan ‘independent election commission’ has, so far, released the results from 60% of polling stations, which show President Karzai in the lead. Out of 3.69 million valid votes counted so far, Karzai got 1.74 million and his close rival, former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, 1.2 million. Karzai got 47.3% and Abdullah got 32.6%. Ramzan Bashardost is trailing behind with 9% and former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, is on 3%. The final official result will be announced on 17 September and if Karzai fails to get more than 50% votes, than a second round will be held in October.

The electoral complaints commission has received more than 2,600 complaints of fraud, intimidation and rigging, including 790 on Election Day, many lodged by Abdullah’s office. According to the complaints commission, there are 650 complaints of a serious nature which can potentially affect the final result. The electoral complaints commission will decide on these complaints before the official announcement of the results. Dr Abdullah has repeatedly alleged that Karzai’s camp is guilty of organising state-engineered fraud. Dr Abdullah has also said that he will not accept the results of the fraudulent poll if he loses. International election observers have also raised concerns about riggings and irregularities. Long distances, weak institutions, poor infrastructure and security created hurdles in the election process. Donkeys were once again used to transport ballot boxes and ballot papers to the different areas! One thing is clear: that these elections were conducted along the familiar neo-colonial pattern, in which governments use any means possible to win elections. Everything – from money, to the use of state machinery, to violence and intimidation, to registering phantom voters and keep the opponent voters away from the polling stations – has been employed to rig elections.

Karzai outmanoeuvres US plan
Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani were the main hopes for the US, seeking to topple Karzai and install an Abdullah-led government in Kabul. The US plan was to take the election battle to the second round run off, in which an alliance of Abdullah and Ghani would defeat Karzai. US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, and other officials were of the view that Ashraf Ghani would reduce Karzai’s vote in Pashtun areas and that this would lead to a run-off between Karzai and Abdullah. Holbrooke and co also overestimated the standing of Dr Abdullah among the Tajik and Uzbik populations.

Contrary to the prognosis by US experts that the presidential elections would sharpen the Afghan ethnic divide and that a Karzai election would provoke a “backlash” in the Pashtun majority areas, nothing of the sort is happening. The Pashtuns have rejected Asharf Ghani, former World Bank official and American capitalism’s favoured candidate. Despite being a blue-blooded Ahmadzai, one of the biggest tribes in eastern Afghanistan, the returns from Nangarhar province show Pashtuns disfavour Ghani, though there probably exists an anti-Karzai Pashtun sentiment waiting to be tapped into. In other words, the US played the ethnic Pashtun card and it did not work. The US now will have to insert Ghani literally into the power structure. What complicated the US plan was that Karzai fared better than Washington estimated in the non-Pashtun regions, where Abdullah was thought to have an edge by virtue of being half-Tajik. Karzai literally caught Washington unawares by getting notorious Uzbek warlord, Rashid Dostum, to return from Turkey in the nick of time to garner his 10% of Uzbek votes. This vote could prove decisive in Karzai’s victory. Rashid Dostum has since returned to Turkey after playing his role so that the US can not make an issue of his presence, to vilify Karzai. Again, Karzai manoeuvred when he drafted the most feared Tajik leader, general Muhammad Qasim Fahim, and Hazara Shia leader, Karim Khalili, as his vice presidential nominees. Results from northern and central provinces (Takhar, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Jowzjan, Sar-epol, Balkh, Bamyan and Kabul) indicate Abdullah trailing Karzai by 10%. Abdullah scored well in his native Panjsher province, where he secured 87% vote, and in nearby Parwan province, where he got 63% of votes cast. It is obvious that Fahim mobilised huge Tajik support for Karzai, while Khalili and Mohaqiq won Hazara support for Karzai. Rasheed Dostum won him the much needed Uzbek vote (Dostum got 11% in the 2004 presidential elections).

Thus, all in all, Karzai’s spider-like web of alliances with warlords, religious leaders and tribal chiefs in the northern, north-western and central provinces outdid Abdullah. Evidently, what toppled the US apple cart was Washington’s over estimation of the Pashtun base of Ghani and the Tajik base of Abdullah. The results from Western and southern Afghanistan have not yet been released. Abdullah will fare poorly in these regions and Karzai will get big chunk of the votes. Ismail Khan, the big warlord known as Amir (the leader) of western Afghanistan, backs Karzai to the hilt. The southern provinces, are Karzai’s home turf.

The reality is that these elections were not fought between different candidates with opposing ideologies but instead were a struggle between different warlords. The seven years of so-called “democratic rule” have failed miserably to weaken the warlords, religious hard line groups and tribal chiefs. They still run the show. In this battle of warlords, Karzai has done well because he got the support of the most feared and notorious warlords, which won him the elections.

Karzai’s relationship with Western allies has become bitter over last year. The US has given Karzai the cold shoulder and wants to replace him. The tensions between the once blue eyed boy of Washington and the Obama administration mounted prior to the elections. They reached their peak in the post-election meeting between Karzai and Holbrooke. Apparently, Karzai gave a dressing down to Holbrooke and the latter walked out of last week’s presidential lunch in Kabul. The two sides floated different versions of events – with presidential sources maintaining Karzai put Holbrooke on the mat and Washington claiming, “no one shouted, no one walked out”.

What emerges is that the Obama-Karzai alliance is all but over. Helene cooper of the New York times wrote, “ Whatever the case [regarding the lunch], the atmosphere may now have become so poisoned between United States and Mr Karzai that the Obama administration will be hampered no matter what course it takes”. The Sunday Times wrote, “fiery lunch meeting appears to have plunged American- Afghan relations to a post-Taliban low”. The newspaper further reported that “Holbrooke wanted a run off in order to chasten Karzai and show him his power was limited”. But Karzai wanted to avoid the run off and was seeking a clear victory in the first round.

A flashpoint could arise within the coming fortnight should the Independent Election Commission (IEC), an Afghan body, might declare Karzai the outright winner. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC), which is dominated by the US, may annul the result on account of Abdullah’s allegations. The US hopes to supersede the IEC and conduct the runoff under the supervision of the “international community” and UN – that is, return to the 2004 modus operandi and proceed to declare “democracy” the winner in Afghanistan. If the stand off continues, then the situation is likely to become more unstable and messier.

Low turn out
The turn out was quite low at around 35. Only 5.4 million voters out of 17 million registered voters turned up at the polling stations. Widespread disillusionment in the masses about the elections and Taliban threats to attack the polling stations were the main reasons for this low turn out. After seven years of ‘democracy’, many Afghans now view presidential elections with indifference. Cynicism and apathy marked these elections and there was hardly any enthusiasm towards them. The turnout was very low in southern Afghanistan, as only 10% voters dared to go the polling stations. Southern Afghanistan is the epicentre of the Taliban movement. The Taliban – with a strong grip over Helmend, Ghazni, Kandhar, Zabul, Paktika, Logar, Oruzgan and other provinces – heavily influenced voting, their main modus operandi being harassment of voters as well as bombing and rocket launcher attacks. They cut fingers and noses off people who dared to cast votes in an “un-Islamic election”. The turn out in Taliban stronghold Helmend province was only 6%. The low turnout in their Pashtun heartland badly damaged Karzai’s prospects for a clear victory in the first round to avoid the run off.

The turn out was also low in the Capital Kabul and some central provinces as people decided not to vote because of dismal performance of the Karzai government. The turnout was highest in northern Afghanistan Where Tajiks, Uzbiks and Hazara population came out in big numbers to cast their votes.

Disillusioned masses
The majority of the Afghan masses strongly believe that the present elections and so-called democratic process will not solve their problems. They think that this election will change nothing and is just a show put on by the West to legitimise its future puppet regime in Afghanistan. There were big hopes and illusions in the last presidential election in 2004. Many people were hoping that the Karzai government and its Western backers would bring stability, peace and prosperity for them. But Karzai failed miserably to deliver and imperialist occupying forces failed to bring security and peace. This failure led to widespread disillusionment developing among the masses. Poverty, unemployment and hunger are on the rise. Basic civic facilities like running water, power, sanitation, schools, hospitals and transport are still a distant dream for millions of Afghani people. The present corrupt political system and government have lost credibility among the masses. In the name of democracy, the country is still being ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban militias, drug mafias and guns. The workers, peasants, poor people and youth are experiencing the brutality and repression of the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups on the one hand and naked military aggression and failed, mafia-like, corrupt government on the other hand. The people have lost trust in this democratic facade. The tribal elders, clan chiefs, warlords, religious leaders and influential drug barons are still the real power brokers.

No real choice
There was no real choice for the masses in the elections. The four main candidates’ stood on the same slogans and programme. The major candidates’ speeches and policies are very similar. They make the same sweet-sounding promises just to gain support from the masses. All the main candidates support the presence of foreign occupation forces in the country. They have no economic programme to solve the basic problems faced by the masses. They all advocate the free market economy and neo liberalism as the way forward. They are all puppets of the western forces and ready to serve the interests of foreign forces instead of defending the rights of their own people. They all represent different sections of the corrupt ruling elite and warlords. The four main contenders have all served in the western-installed government.

Hamid Karzai is very well known puppet of the American Imperialism and Western powers. Dr Abdullah is a former foreign minister who served in the Karzai cabinet. Ramzan Bashardost also served in the Karzai government as a minister. Ashraf Ghani is a former finance minister in the Karzai government. He also served in the World Bank. There was no candidate representing the interests of the working masses. This left the masses with hardly any choice to elect a candidate who can fight for their rights and interests.

What is immediately needed is national multi-ethnic organisation of the working masses which can organise a struggle against foreign occupation and the Taliban insurgency. Workers, peasants and the rural and urban poor should organise their own multi-ethnic defense committees to defend themselves against warlord militias and Islamic militant groups.

These elections, like the previous elections, will not solve any basic problems faced by the Afghan people. The poverty, unemployment, hunger, Ethnic and Nationalist tensions, increased violence, continued American occupation and other problems are not only still present but have been aggravated in last 7 years. Afghanistan is still as fractured and divided as it was before the American invasion in October 2001. All the dreams of prosperity, peace and a better life have become a nightmare for the Afghan masses. There will be no stability, peace, prosperity or democracy as long as western imperialist occupation continues. Foreign occupation forces are fuelling the Taliban insurgency and religious extremism, not only in Afghanistan but also throughout the region. NATO forces on Afghan soil are no solution, but part of the problem. Capitalism and fuedalism can’t solve any fundamental problem faced by the Afghan masses. Capitalism and landlordism means wars, destruction, lies and exploitation. Afghanistan is a clear example of how capitalism and feudalism can destroy the lives of millions of people in the interest of the rich few. Socialism is the only way forward. Socialism can provide a better future for millions of Afghan people.

Our demands
> End the occupation — Withdraw foreign troops
> No to Imperialist war and occupation
> No to Taliban terror and religious extremism
> Let the Afghan people decide their own future
> For democratic, multi-ethnic defense forces
> For a workers’ and peasants’ government on a revolutionary socialist programme
> Struggle for a socialist federation of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the South Asian region as a whole

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