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Afghan women line up to vote under Afghan National Police protection*

Workers take ballot boxes to a remote polling station in Panjshir Province **

Within hours, the polls will open for the 2010 Afghan Parliamentary elections

I supported the Afghan National Army and Police forces during the 2009 Afghan Presidential election and was relieved when the parliamentary elections (originally scheduled for May) were postponed.

So with apologies to Clint Eastwood, here’s my take on the upcoming elections…

The good:  People will vote.  It’s obvious, but we tend to forget that an election in a country like Afghanistan is a Big Deal.  Are Afghans racked by war?   Duh.  Illiterate?  Almost entirely.  Discriminatory?  Mostly…especially against women.   But despite all that, Afghans will turn out to vote tomorrow, choosing their representatives on a ballot (like this) with candidate icons and pictures.   And 405 of the 2,577 candidates will be women.

The bad:  There will be fraud.  With fake voter registration cards going for only 23 cents apiece, it might be more accurate to say there will be LOTS of fraud.  But there is some silver lining:  It shouldn’t be as bad as the 2009 Presidential elections, and both Afghans and the International Community are watching closely, so it should get better over time.

The ugly:  As Joshua Faust points out, there will be blood.  According to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghanistan has deployed 52,000 Afghan National Police and 63,000 Afghan National Army personnel across the country to provide election security.  Additionally, NATO forces stand ready to provide emergency security, medical and logistical support.  But voters are a VERY lucrative target for the insurgents, and the Taliban is both ruthless and effective…

Bottom line: For good, bad, or ugly, Afghans will choose their representatives tomorrow.  Like Rat, in Stephan Pastis’ comic Pearls Before Swine, I expect the best…

* Photo by Tyler Hicks, of the New York Times

** Photo by Shah Marai, of Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

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Dr Abdullah

Dr Abdullah and Ahmad Wali Massoud discuss security challenges*

Posters

The crumbling remains of old Afghan presidential election posters

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?

On a more optimistic note though, here’s the perspective of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon:

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

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