May the Best Cheater Win Part II: The Farce Must Go On

by Julia Mahlejd on 11/1/2009 · 20 comments

Just when you thought the Afghan elections saga couldn’t get any more farcical, it does. The second-biggest fraudster of the August 20 polls has pulled out of the November 7 run-off for ‘lack of transparency’. Meanwhile another presidential wannabe, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, had the gall to say

“We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward…I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election”

Clinton’s statement is disingenuous. How can the international community, which is responsible for (prematurely and idealistically) forcing ‘democracy’ onto Afghanistan, now condone a series of behaviours that blatantly undermine it? Regardless of how much fraud there was, a run-off between the top two presidential candidates is mandated by the Afghan constitution. So it had some legitimacy. Now, there’s not even that flimsy pretext. Whatever happens next, it ain’t gonna be legal. Not that the Afghans have ever cared much about legalities. But it all seriously undermines what little credibility the government had left – and that has serious implications for pretty much everything else going on in Afghanistan (suddenly those shady shadow governors are beginning to look squeaky-clean in comparison).

The best of the worst solutions would be a Loya Jirga – but it would have been even better several weeks ago before all those ballot papers got printed and before the song and dance started about how great the run-off really is for the country.

Anyone out there got any bright ideas on how we convince the Afghan people now that democracy is a good and just system worth striving for?

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– author of 10 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Julia has lived and worked in Afghanistan since 2008.

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anan November 1, 2009 at 10:14 pm

How do you know that “Abdullah” is a fraudster? Could he have been unaware of the actions of some of his supporters?

Abdullah strikes me as less corrupt and more competent than Karzai.

Joe Harlan November 2, 2009 at 4:06 am

Anyone out there got any bright ideas

Phone voting, like on Afghan Star?

In all seriousness, this is just going to take time. Each of their neighbors has a pseudo-democracy with a certain level of farce in the political process. With this in mind, I think you actually identified the main problem: we have “prematurely and idealistically forc[ed] ‘democracy’ on Afghanistan”. Representative government comes with a responsibility to participate, to become morally invested in the state, and to respect democratic processes. None of that is evident here.

Few modern states have transitioned from feudalism to democracy in a short period of time. This is a project that will take at the very least decades, and that is an optimistic timeline.

Again referring to my own obnoxiously American experience, the very first actual contested presidential election (1796) resulted in a president and vice president from opposing sides. I realize this is not a possible outcome here and Abdullah has rejected a power sharing deal anyway. However, I can barely imagine an outcome where some concession isn’t made to the Abdullah camp. Indeed, I think you’ll appreciate my prediction: that an adolescent mimicry of the democratic process will be carried out that will allow everyone to save face — meanwhile, back room deals over chai will be cut to actually get Karzai’s way, and he’ll be “re-elected”.

BTW, I love it when you spell ‘behaviour’ with a ‘u’. Such a turn on.

Bender November 2, 2009 at 10:25 am

Anyone out there got any bright ideas

Judging from my admittedly “armchair quarterback” position Afghanis believe they always had democracy, not in the shape how we exercise it but still a democratic process. The tribe convenes in a jirga and selects their representative, who then leads the tribe and represents it in a more national jirga. Why can we not contribute and present the text of our Constitution as a gift and allow them to create a Afghani Federation of Tribes.
The AF Federal Government being responsible for global representation, maybe a national army ( if they choose so), mediation of inter tribal grievances etc. and leave pretty much the rest under tribal control.

$.02 out

Julia Mahlejd November 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Yup, Afghanistan does indeed have an organic, consensus-based system of leadership and decision making. But shuras and jirgas are not just tribally based – they can be composed of all sorts of people at all sorts of levels to make all sorts of decisions (social, political, and religious). One example of how such a traditional system can and does intersect successfully with centralised government is through the Community Development Councils (CDCs) of the National Solidarity Program (NSP).

Oh, and ‘Afghanis’ are what you slip a policeman at a chekpoint he won’t let you through otherwise. I think you mean ‘Afghans’ when refering to the people of Afghanistan 😉

Bender November 2, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Thanks for the correction. More things to learn. I apologize if I offended someone and thank for the tolerance.
I think there is much to learn about the cultural differences and much to understand in and by both cultures. If you get caught slipping anything of value to any official in this country you have the FBI breathing down your neck, very uncommon practice here .. but this is distracting from the thread.
I was suggesting tribal based organization because that seems to be what everyone has a primary alliance with. The other common is the religion but it seems to have attachments that can have advantages and disadvantages.
Not sure how recognized the CDCs and NSPs are. Sure people should be able to organize in any form they please but I would value a blood-relation stronger.
How much of the tribal structure is left, seems it has been systematically destroyed since the Soviets marched in. Can it be rebuilt or is it accepted that this is a piece of the past? I hope not, it might not be flavor of the day for most US citizens but it seemed to have worked for a couple of hundred, if not a thousand years.
Is the shura and/or jirga system you mention still functional on a national level or is it currently limited only to the local levels? Why are we running a US style democratic election when the system is nationally functional. It seems to be very irrational to try to convince an individual Afghan to hike to the next polling station to personally vote for someone when a local council could have sent a representative with a collective decision (or radioed it in).

David M November 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/02/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

anan November 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm

“Each of their neighbors has a pseudo-democracy with a certain level of farce in the political process.” Do you mean every country on earth in all of human recorded history? I would argue that India is about as free, plural and democratic as they come.

I think the Afghans have an ancient democratized tradition and are suited to democracy; especially elected district and provincial councils. I would note that Afghanistan was part of Iran until 1747, and part of India/Bangladesh/Pakistan until 1700. Afghanistan included Pakistan and much of Iran, former USSR and North India before the Brits and the Sikhs cut it down to size. Afghanistan has traditionally been part of a large federal international empire, where each region can have significant autonomy and influence within the broader federal empire.

Farhad November 2, 2009 at 3:19 pm

The problem is that the foundation established in 2001 in the Bonn conference was flawed. The US and the West picked the same people that orchestrated the bloody civil of 1992 – 1996 (raped, killed and destroyed all forms of security and civil society) to lead a government based on democracy.

It is as silly as asking Genghis Khan to rebuild everything that he ravaged.

This is a rather dishonest statement “Not that the Afghans have ever cared much about legalities.”

Do you mean those Afghans in power or all Afghans?

The majority of Afghans are looking for truth and a basic system that can deliver laws and justice– they have been waiting for over 8 years and nothing has arrived except broken promised.

They are sick of the thugs that the US and West that were first placed and continue to hold power at any cost.

But there is at least one good outcome.

Ramazan Bashardost ran a campaign from a tent, with $5,000 USD and a busted car and received over 10% of the vote coming in 3rd place. And he is perhaps the only candidate with no blood on his hands. Why aren’t we talking about him?

Joe Harlan November 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm

anan, it would appear you’re getting a bit defensive over nothing. When I say each of their neighbors, I mean those countries that currently touch it; when I say pseudo-democracy, I mean while an electoral process exists, it is sufficiently subverted that it is not at the same level of OSCE joy and happiness that, say, Norway might have. I don’t think I was being particularly opaque here.

Furthermore, while those representative structures — jirgas, and what not — do exist, what is sorely lacking are what we usually term democratic principles, like equality under the law, freedom from political intimidation, general lack of outright fraud in voting, etc. When we try to correct for such behavior without realizing that it’s sort of part of how things work ’round these parts, we are in fact forcing democracy upon them.

Schmedlap November 2, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I am amazed at how pessimistically people are viewing this. I think this is great. Abdullah has rightfully struck at the legitimacy of the Karzai regime (not the whole construct of governance). If Abdullah had opted to run, then he surely would have lost and that would have given Karzai a little legitimacy. Now, by bowing out due to the inherent corruption, that puts a stain on Karzai’s victory. Am I way off base here?
Also, I see this as a good thing because people will not die braving the risks of traveling to the polls for a second time.
“Regardless of how much fraud there was, a run-off between the top two presidential candidates is mandated by the Afghan constitution. So it had some legitimacy. Now, there’s not even that flimsy pretext. Whatever happens next, it ain’t gonna be legal.”
Why not? A candidate cannot forfeit? It’s not exactly what is envisioned, but it doesn’t sound illegal to me. Can anyone clarify whether this actually is “illegal”?
“But it all seriously undermines what little credibility the government had left – and that has serious implications for pretty much everything else going on in Afghanistan (suddenly those shady shadow governors are beginning to look squeaky-clean in comparison).”
That’s one way to look at it. The way I see it, it further undermines the legitimacy of Karzai, which could be a very good thing depending on how we leverage it.

Farhad November 2, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Why is this such a surprise with one?

After 9/11 the US sent CIA agents with cars and bags full of money to buy off all the warlords and Taliban.

There is the foundation of democracy for Afghanistan:
US Dollars + killers and thieves = new Afghan government

And 8 years later, the s**t hits the fan in this fraudulent election and everyone is wondering how we got here?

Wake up and take a look at a few years back– it isn’t ancient history.

And please don’t blame the ordinary Afghans that have suffer and continue to suffer with the cards they were dealt by the US and the rest of the West.

Farhad November 2, 2009 at 4:52 pm

This sums up the current Afghan “government” and Karzai family:

Wali Karzai thanks his brother

anan November 2, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Farhad, Iran, Pakistan, the Stans, Russia, China and India, Japan, UN, and the “West” all played important roles in Bonn. The international community faced a fait accomplice on the ground and dealt with it as best as it could. Remember that when the Taliban surrendered there were only 326 US special forces and 147 CIA agents inside Afghanistan. Afghanistan was liberated by the Afghans and the Northern Alliance/Eastern Alliance/Pashtun Tribal elders.

If you want to blame someone for Karzai, then why don’t you blame Iran which initially pushed for Karzai at Bonn, or Pakistan which agreed to Karzai?

The Afghan people bear considerable responsibility for the post 2001 Loya Girgas, and how they voted in 2004 and 2005. I thought the Afghans should have voted for Yunus Qanuni in 2004 instead of Karzai.

Joe Harlan November 2, 2009 at 10:53 pm

or Karzai, who initially pushed for Karzai?

The blame is not all external.

Farhad November 3, 2009 at 2:17 am


And don’t forget the US Air force with its payload of bombs that chased off the Taliban.

Karzai is not the only one at fault– everyone that came with him is part of the current problem. The entire group that took power in 2001 included warlords that fought and ravaged Afghanistan after the fall of Najibullah’s government. Karzai was just a figure for these warlords. Yonus Qauni and Abdullah are part of that group as well. Just because Abdullah wears nice suits with a trimmed beard doesn’t make him a nice guy. He is part of the system that raped and destroyed Afghanistan from 1992-96.

Yes, it was very convenient for the West to support these thugs because they were the lesser of the evil, the other evil would be the Taliban. And Afghanistan didn’t matter too much for the US, Iraq did. So Afghanistan was done on the cheap under Bush, who’s goal was to “get Afghanistan to be a little better than it was under the Taliban”.

The Loya Girga was also made up of mostly of these warlords and criminals.

Who did the normal Afghans have to fight for their rights? Those that spoke up were threatened (remember Malalai Joya’s speech at the Loya Girga?).

Afghans aren’t stupid, they voted for Karzai in 2004 because they saw him in a different light, a person that was an alternative to the Taliban and one that the West was supporting. But five years later, it has gone for the worst. Why? Because the foundation is flawed, a foundation that was but together in the Bonn conference.

All in all, it is going to be tough road ahead. And the Afghans are the losers– again!

Farhad November 3, 2009 at 2:24 am

It is rather derogatory to call those countries as “Stans”.

Toryalay Shirzay November 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm

The West cares about Afghanistan to a certain extent which is when the West allowed Iran ,its enemy,to help not only write the constitution of Afghanistan but also push for who should be leading the country.What should we call this ? trickle down benevolence?!

Alex Visotzky November 3, 2009 at 1:08 am

I think at the heart of the matter is that concentrating on the Afghan elections is kind of a waste of time. Obviously Afghanistan isn’t going to have elections that can be judged free, fair, and fraudless if portions of the country are still unstable.
The news shouldn’t be worrying about whether elections are free, but whether roads are being built, towns are getting electricity and water, and whether people have access to basic health care.
I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t be worrying about corruption in the Karzai administration and elections–I just want to point out that free and fair elections would not necessarily be a very useful indicator of the situation in Afghanistan.

Sailani November 3, 2009 at 1:42 pm

@Julia – Interesting points. How do you see such a Jirga working and what outcomes do you see out of such a process, and how do you reconcile it with being completely at odds with the Afghan constitution? For better or for worse we are not Western Proconsuls in Kabul and have to live by the rulebook we helped write. Not that I’m writing in support of Karzai, but am just struggling to see how one might implement your idea.

The locals in my neck of the woods (Pathans, Bataans, Pashtuns, whatever you call them) were all pissed that “the international community was forcing the second round to try to rob Karzai of his victory” on August 20th. They, at least, are quite pleased that this “Western plot” has now crumbled.

omar November 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm

The bottom line is that its a bad situation and its NOT going to get fixed by some accident. It can only be fixed by a very determined and very GOOD effort (good as in sports, an effort that delivers, not an effort that sounds good to X or Y). That good effort is not coming from the US. In fact, Obama seems totally clueless about this situation. Yes, I too have been thinking that Obiwan is playing some clever jedi mind trick, but if he is, then Jedi master sahib is cutting it mightly close. Everyone and his mother is hedging their bets already and its easier to lose credibility than it is to gain it. My friends in pakistan tell me the security establishment is openly saying “we told you so. The Americans are looking for an exit and we hold the door. We have always been right. Let us manage this and you go take 10% off the social support program and leave the serious business to us professionals”. That may not sound ominous to you guys, but to someone from Pakistan it sounds very very scary.
Unless Black Adder’s “cunning plan” materializes in the next few weeks, we may soon be focusing on what happens AFTER the shit hits the fan….
I would add that I dont mean there will be some sudden Tet offensive at the end of November. The disaster will unfold much more slowly, but it will become increasingly clear that we are headed to a new civil war and renewed proxy war between India and Pakistan and Iran and everyone will adjust accordingly. And I am NOT saying the Pak army and the Pakistani taliban will be all hunky-dory next month either. They will kill each other (mostly foot soldiers) for a while before the next army chief appoints Hakeemullah governor of Waziristan and signs a peace deal with him. The ironic part is, Hakeemullah (or whoever is his replacement) will then shoot some generals just on “general principle”.
Of course, as always, I hope to be proved wrong. But i do have increasing fears that things will not turn out well…

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