How naive and pitiable the Muslims are; not that they follow what their enemies tell them but also go an extra mile to get their pat on the back too. Raja Mujtaba

By Air Commodore (Retd) KhaIid Iqbal

Is Karzai really the President?

Afghanistan’s fourth elections, since the presence of foreign forces, could not radiate a refreshing effect due to low turnout and allegations of fraud. Merely 3.6 million votes were cast against over 17 million registered voters. It was the lowest tally of the elections held since 2001. This indicates incremental resurgence of Taliban’s political influence. Law and order situation caused only 15-17% polling stations to remain non-functional.

Around 2500 candidates, including 338 women, contested for 249 seats. This ten to one ratio between candidates and seats, coupled with low turn out of voters would mean that the winner would represent only 1-2% of the voters of his constituency.

The independent ‘Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan’, had deployed about 7,000 personnel to monitor the elections. Foundation has voiced “serious concerns” about the quality of the elections. Observations by the Foundation indicate that the voting process was marred by ballot-stuffing, proxy voting, underage voting, use of fake voter identification cards and repeated voting. Major concerns were “more than 300 instances of intimidation and coercion of voters” by local warlords and powerbrokers; some of these had close ties to Karzai government. “We had more than 280 cases of direct attacks by the insurgents and we also had 157 cases of warlord interference in the process and the committed acts of violence.” The Foundation reported.

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Election observers have urged President Karzai to allow an independent investigation into reports of widespread fraud, intimidation of voters and interference by powerful warlords.  Observers are of the view that a cover up of pervasive fraud, like the one during presidential elections, would further erode the standing of President Karzai at home and abroad and curtail its bargaining power with Taliban.

However, the state electoral commission has criticized the observer groups and the media for being “quick to imply

You follow what we tell you!

[that] the electoral process was unsuccessful based on allegations of fraud and misconduct.” The commission acknowledged “that cases of fraud and misconduct are inevitable in the current security climate” and it “is fully committed to working with ‘Electoral Complaints Commission’ to eliminate the effect from the final results as far as possible.” This panel of five people is the final arbiter on fraud allegations, and it was the body that invalidated nearly a third of Karzai’s votes last year. Now, this panel is significantly weaker than it was during the presidential election, when it was dominated by UN appointees. Now the entire panel has been appointed by the government.

Taliban can rightfully claim the low turnout as a political victory, as they had called for a boycott of the polls. Nevertheless, the Western states and media are posed to proclaim success and embrace these elections as they did in case of fraudulent presidential polls.

Afghans are dismayed at the behaviour of their political elite, this estrangement could very well be the underlying reason why majority of Afghans chose to turn cold shoulder hpw towards elections. Acts of violence and intimidations were not strong enough to account for such a low turn out.

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These elections could create as many problems as were envisaged to be solved. These loose cannon parliamentarians could very well create serious problems for Karzai administration. So far, Karzai has been able to keep the constitutionally strong parliament in check by dealing with various key regional figures in an attempt to prevent a united opposition. However, current parliamentary elections would restrict his powers. That could undermine his policymaking capacity.

Major stakeholders in Afghanistan are aware that the contest amongst the category of politicians who participated in the electoral process is of trivial implication. It is the process of political reconciliation with main stream Taliban leaders that would determine the upcoming political landscape of Afghanistan.

Pursuit of this objective is at a fairly advanced stage.  Simultaneously, Taliban’s politico-military momentum is on the rise which supports their harder bargaining position. Power sharing in Afghanistan is also hinged at the outcome of a settlement amongst the powers that be.

Northern Alliance has been fighting Taliban for decades; due to this politico-military baggage, Alliance sternly opposes any viable power sharing arrangement with Taliban. Therefore, any such settlement would be far less than a ‘carte blanche’ for the Taliban.  Nevertheless, Taliban are poised to emerge as dominant political authority in Afghanistan.

Americans are trying to achieve a quick end to a costly war. Foreign troops’ presence has touched its peak, and as per Vice President Biden, a rapid drawdown should commence next summer. COIN is not going well; General Petraeus is of the opinion that overcoming the Taliban resistance could take another nine or ten years. Many in Washington also believe that the Taliban phenomenon is an indigenous political movement, that can’t be defeated militarily, at least in the next few years.

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Afghanistan’s rugged topography and complex demography make it difficult for a central government to project power into many parts of the country. As such, an Afghan central government can only maintain viability through regional autonomy. The current system of government features a strong central government. It is hard to imagine that Afghan central government would continue to exist in its current form after the withdrawal of foreign forces.

These elections are for a system of government that is being artificially maintained; its major tenets are likely to be bartered away during the process of negotiation with Taliban. Whatever is the outcome of these elections, it is likely to be detrimental to the efforts aimed at achieving politically stable conditions, conducive to a military drawdown. Hence, the parliamentary elections may amount to reverse paddling the effort for the future political arrangement.

Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air WarCourse, Fellow of Air War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visitng faculty at:

  • PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
  • School of Army Air Defence.
  • Naval War College, Lahore.

Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department).