|Let's stop fooling ourselves...|
Last week, after two months of struggling to determine a result in the Afghan presidential elections, the international community had no choice left but to give up the ghost.Even heading into the election, it was readily apparent that democracy was already dead in Afghanistan. There were, of course, those who were eager to convince the world that this latest round of voting would be a “landmark achievement” which would deliver a legitimate mandate for the victor, thus enabling further development and progress in the world’s newest democracy.
The fact that the date of the actual election had to be delayed twice, and that thousands of additional foreign troops were deployed due to the worsening security situation, should have been the first clues that things were not going swimmingly.
The fact that the best possible result for the international community would be the return to power of Hamid Karzai – who has held the president’s office for nearly eight years – should also have set off some serious alarm bells. If, after all that time of doling out foreign aid money and being propped up by foreign troops, Karzai had not only failed to unify the country, but succeeded in creating one of the most corrupt and hated regimes in the world in the process, how could his re-election possibly inspire any renewed hope among the Afghans?
When Karzai’s primary rival emerged in the form of Abdullah Abdullah, who is branded as a former foreign minister but still lists ‘warlord’ on his resume, it should have been considered the death knell of the democratic process in Afghanistan. Turning a blind eye to the flatline on democracy’s heart monitor and a deaf ear to the warning beeps, the international cheerleaders insisted their patient was doing just fine.
Applying liberal doses of makeup to the cadaver, the democratic process was indeed displayed in public on August 17. Polling stations were manned; ballots were filled in and stuffed into the collection boxes. The Taliban’s vow of widespread violence on election day failed to materialize – there were some 26 security officers and civilians killed that day in 73 incidents of violence – but in Afghanistan that can be considered a routine daily tally.
When the polling stations closed, the first to claim success was the much-relieved international community. One could almost picture them dancing around their rooms at the plush Serena Hotel, high-fiving and shouting “In your face! In your face!” in denunciation of all their critics.
However, once that initial euphoria had dissipated, it became evident that all was not well with the process. Almost immediately there were allegations of widespread fraud, ballot stuffing, and worse. As the days turned into weeks and no clear cut result could be announced, the rosy cheeked, but rotting corpse of democracy began to emit a powerful stench.
When the UN’s deputy envoy Peter Galbraith stepped down from his post, citing that Karzai’s presidential votes had been heavily inflated, the cloud of flies covering Afghan democracy removed all doubt as to its condition. Nevertheless, when Karzai announced that without a legitimate and verifiable tally he would call for a run-off election against Abdullah Abdullah on the 7th of November, democracy cheerleaders pumped their pompoms with renewed vigor.
Chris Alexander, Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, himself a former UN deputy special representative for the UN secretary general, actually declared on Canada AM that this non-result was a positive development as it proved to the Afghans that the safety checks in the democratic process were working. This would be akin to an airline spokesperson assuring us at a crash site that the deadly loss of life would inspire passenger confidence because the aircraft’s black box had functioned properly.
Alexander also reminded viewers that Karzai was constitutionally bound to call for a run-off vote as he had failed to secure the minimum of 50% of the vote on a first ballot. Also stated in that constitution is the requirement to hold the run-off vote “within two weeks” of the initial election. The fact that it took in excess of two months for the international community to admit that, under the circumstances, legitimate results could not be calculated, would seem to indicate that the constitution as written is meaningless given the reality of the situation on the ground.
The vacuum left in Afghanistan’s leadership in the wake of this failed election process has caused US President Barack Obama to question just who – or what – the international community is propping up in that country. It is a good question, and for the answer we need to step back just a little to examine the circumstance.
Whether it’s Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, or any other candidate named to the presidential post, the fact remains that they will be essentially dependant on foreign aid and foreign troops to run their office. Beggars cannot be choosers, and donor nations are not independent. Spending millions of dollars to stage elections – and run-offs – to exercise a democratic process to appoint a US puppet hasn’t fooled the Afghan people. It’s time we stopped fooling ourselves.