Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

What possibly still could be done…

Thomas Ruttig 5 min

…. after the ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ anti-democratic ‘consensus’

The leaked ‘consensus’ of the ‘Friends of Afghanistan’, i.e. the foreign ministers of the most influential Western governments, that President Karzai has won the 20 August elections, is the final knock-out for the remaining democratic aspirations of Afghans. Although it has not been stated officially yet, there is unfortunately no reason not to believe what the Washington Postand the New York Times reported on Monday

The day of this ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ meeting chaired by Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Friday 25 September 2009, might one day be remembered as the day Afghanistan’s stabilization process crossed the point-of-no-return on its way towards failure. It repeated what the US have done once before, in early March, when their Kabul Embassy in a statement publicly supported an Afghan Supreme Court opinion of 30 March saying that the continuation of the President’s term was in the interest of the country. As Martine wrote in her 11 August report ‘How to Win an Afghan Election’, this was ‘widely seen as a shift in the US position’, again endorsing Hamed Karzai as its candidate for 20 August. Who needs enemies if one has friends like this?

While one could argue that the new US administration was not fully aware about patterns of perception and reaction in Afghanistan when this March statement and possibly tried to balance earlier criticism of Karzai, the aftermath must have made it more than clear how powerful its word is. Nevertheless, it went ahead with letting this new statement leaking out into the media, possibly destroying the last chance to get out of the election quagmire by trying to establish a result of the first election round that would have some credibility. The ECC has been let down and seriously undermined by those who initially had asked them to take up this job in good faith. But it should perservere in its efforts.

After the massive and systematic fraud in the first round and the vain expenses of 300 million US dollar involved, not including security costs, would it have been unwise to stop or at least interrupt the election process before a second round? The least that can be done – an should be done also in regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections – is to change the composition of the Independent Electoral Commission so that it really becomes independent.

Apart from this: Does anyone assume that the Afghan security situation and the transparency of the voting in a second round of elections would be any better than during the first one which barely could even be called ‘acceptable’, not to speak of ‘transparent and secure’ or ‘free and fair’?

But there is no alternative, I often hear. But wasn’t there?

Yes, there was one. Assumed that the ECC would have been given the time and political backing to investigate all complaints and accusations – and not only a sample, based on criteria that were a compromise of a compromise – that would have provided time that could have been used to start an inclusive political process.

This political process needed to be broader than just a second round of elections or a Karzai/Abdullah ‘government of national unity’. The dismal turn-out on 20 August – not only the result of Taleban threats but also of disenchantment from the political process and resignation about overwhelming outside interference (see the ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ statement) – has shown that more is needed than only bringing together two candidates who, optimistically counted, gained the approval of a third of the potential (15.1 million) Afghans voters. Apart from this, Kenya and Zimbabwe show that such type of governments bringing together the winner and the loser are a recipe for paralysis.

The alternative lies in going back to genuinely Afghan mechanisms like a Loya Jirga, the ‘highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan’ as the constitution calls it and, more importantly, most Afghans feel about it – very much in contrast to that kind of elections they just had.

But a Loya Jirga cannot be held immediately. The current constitution gives the acting President the power to appoint a large number of its participants. But there is no legitimate one and there are also no elected district councils which legally should send their delegates into the Loya Jirga, too; for them, we just have an interim solution which is not good enough. Consequently, such a Loya Jirga would also not be legitimate. A better one has to emerge. In the meantime, an interim government of ‘specialists’ – or ahl-e kar, as the Afghans call it – can take over.

Legitimacy of such a process can only be achieved by inclusion and consultation, like before the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga. The process could include the following steps:

1. The major presidential contenders accept that the 20 August elections were not good enough and give way to an interim government of non-partisan ‘specialists’. Its members would be excluded from running in the next elections. This, at the same time, would give the chance to Karzai, Abdullah et al to enter the competition again after a ‘pause of thought’.

2. Jirgas and shuras based on territorial entities and caucuses based on social groups (different groups of professionals, students, also commanders, woman etc) select people who speak for their groups. They would be added to representatives of political ‘parties’, including those of the major presidential candidates. The Taleban and other insurgent groups should be invited to participate in this consultation.

3. These representatives come together in a large round table conference that works out a consensus about in which direction Afghanistan should move and what its future political system should look like. This includes necessary changes of the constitution. It should be monitored by the international community which would provide – finally – a level playing field.

4. In a final step, the consensus reached would be signed and sealed by a Loya Jirga.

5. Afterwards, new elections will be organised. If everything goes very well (which it most probably won’t), these new elections can be held simultaneously with next year’s parliamentary elections scheduled for May (which probably is too early).

This requires that the US government – still discussing what the right strategy would be – persuades itself that instead of increasing troop levels and, by that, levels of violence in Afghanistan, it should hold back and possibly stop offensive operations temporarily in some regions. The international community, with the help of the UN and the Islamic Conference Organisation, tries to persuade the Taleban to do the same in exchange for being included in the consultation process.

There is one obstacle: Would the presidential candidates accept that approach? Possibly not, in the first place. But can they be persuaded as Prof Rabbani was persuaded not to organise demonstrations some days ago? Possibly, because they can join the competition after the interlude again.

Admittedly, the chance to start such a process has shrunken substantially, now that Karzai’s victory appears to have been endorsed by the democratic countries of the West in such an undemocratic way. But maybe it still exists, hidden in the reported resolve to ‘talk toughly’ with the re-elected President.

What about the Afghan voters. No one should assume that just because they do not take to the streets in large numbers like recently their Iranian neighbours to protest that they do not understand or care about what is happening in their country. (There were groups of young people that held up banners ‘Where is my vote” in Kabul, too, recently. And a group of MPs urges criminal investigations into the electoral fraud.)

Apart from the badly organized and arm-twisted opposition in the form of the National Front, this silence is mainly a sign of the cynicism with which Afghans have in the past three years come to view ‘democratic’ exercises the outcome of which they believe has already been pre-determined and a reflection that they are not willing to die now that they have survived 30 years of turmoil. And of the lack of real political alternatives.

If anyone still wants to give it a try, it would require realising how dangerous it is to proceed pretending that not much has happened. In fact, this leads further into the quagmire because it deepens cynicism and ‘fence-sitting’ of the Afghan population.

The Taleban surely will happily watch this mess which makes them look like an alternative to some. Remember 1994?


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