Boy, it was nice to see the Afghans postpone their parliamentary elections. Here’s my outsider perspective on elections in Afghanistan: A few brave Afghans head to the polls. An insane amount of fraud makes it almost impossible to tell who wins. Our return on investment, after spending TONS of effort and money (personally, rolling out a BUNCH more comm capability, to help the ANA and ANP protect voters and respond to incidents), is near-zero.
Here’s a few others:
Insurgent perspective: Targets line up to vote, making them easy to shoot. Or explode. Good thing there’s lots of press around watching!
Afghan perspective: All politics is local, but here it’s REALLY local. And I can make my voice heard just fine in a local shura. So tell me again, why should put my life at risk to make my voice heard in a blatantly fraudulent process?
The Presidential elections undermined confidence in Afghanistan’s leadership and affected international support for the engagement in Afghanistan, but it is also important to clarify what did work. Fraud was widespread, but it was detected and addressed by the institutions created under Afghan law to do so. President Karzai accepted a second round; and Dr Abdullah accepted a result from a process that had evident flaws and which gave him legitimate grounds to contest. [The elections] ultimately yielded a result that was acceptable to Afghans and respected Afghanistan’s laws and institutions.
Interestingly, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with President Karzai’s main challenger, Dr Abdullah, before the Presidential elections. One of our major network contractors hosts a lunch once a month for all their regional directors, and they’ll often invite people from my Directorate as well. Well, Dr Abdullah was using some of their office space as his campaign headquarters here in Kabul. So we’re just sitting down when in walks – at the time – The Candidate. Next thing you know I’m sitting directly across the table from him. Sitting to my immediate right was one of Abdullah’s running mates (the Afghans have two Vice Presidents). And to my 1 o’clock was Ambassador Ahmad Wali Massoud. Ahmad Shah Massoud was a Mujaheddin leader during the Soviet occupation…essentially, the George Washington of Afghanistan. Ambassador Massoud is his younger brother and Dr Abdullah was a close adviser.
I was kind off worried about the conversation, because for Coalition members, politics and religion are pretty much off-limits as topics. Which makes small-talk with the Presidential Candidate for the Govt of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a little tricky. It turned out to be easy though; we spent the whole time talking about what it was like growing up with and then fighting with Massoud!
Bottom line: Elections are tough in the best of circumstances, and I’m not sure Afghanistan has EVER experienced the best of circumstances…
* Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski, USN