Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog No. 2: On the Campaign Trail

Martine van Bijlert 3 min

A view of the Afghan elections through the eyes of the so-called ‘minor actors’, those without influence and money who try to navigate and position themselves and try to find their place in what is going on. The first campaigner to be introduced is – let’s call him Abdul Mohammad.

The last few times I saw Abdul Mohammad, he had wanted to know who the real candidate was (i.e. who the internationals were supporting), like everybody else. But in the absence of any clear guidance, he had joined the campaign team of one of the minor candidates – as far as I could see, because he knew one of the deputies. When I called him last week, it turned out that he had since then moved on, to an office covered with little Karzai posters. I was curious for the story behind the change. So he told me (his version of the events).
Abdul Mohammad had worked in the other office for about a month, spending money from his own pocket on fuel and phone bills – the fuel alone amounted to 130,000 afghani or USD 2,600 – without ever a thank you or a khasta nabashi (‘may you be not tired’). He had in the end not gotten along with the deputy, who poached all meetings in an attempt to raise his profile. Abdul Mohammad had organised a campaign gathering in a province and one in a university cafeteria and after a month he had had enough.

So he took the thirty-something shuras and parties that had in the meantime introduced themselves to him (another big council made up of many councils looking for a patron) and that had promised to follow him wherever he went, and walked. He contacted the Karzai team through a fellow tribesman and was given money to open an office (and to cover it with little Karzai posters). His friends kept calling, asking when the campaign started, but his plan to organise activities in 34 provinces went nowhere. It was too late, all the money had been spent (or so they said).

So how did that happen? In the beginning a lot was stolen. People were given USD 100,000 to campaign and they spent maybe USD $20,000 on a few minor gatherings and lunches, pocketed the rest. In Kabul alone up to 50 offices were opened, each costing several thousand dollars per month, not counting the furniture, the computers and the staff. And then there was the money paid to prominent people who wanted to change sides, like this commander who was going to join Dr Abdullah and who was given USD 50,000 by the Karzai campaign to persuade him to stay (after which Dr Abdullah’s team reportedly raised the bid and gave him USD 100,000 – or so the story goes). The money was spent aimlessly and carelessly, he sighed.

Not only was there no money. There was also no space for a campaign not linked to the major parties. In his area, the Hazarajat, every factional party had their own separate campaign offices. And if he wanted to campaign too, he needed to link himself to one of them. Now that says something about network preferences.

Bashardust was of course the odd one out. The stories about his campaign sound like urban legends: selling single posters and asking people to copy and distribute them; traveling to Taliban territory and persuading them to vote for him; claiming that he will win at least 16 of the 17 million votes (ok, in that respect he is not so different). Abdul Mohammad believes that Bashardust will get most votes. But he will not win, because he has no power.

It was obvious to him, as it is to many others: if the West does not support you, you will not win. And not in any indirect way, in that people are more likely to vote for you or that you have more opportunities to raise your profile etc. etc. No literally: the West picks the winner. “Ask any shepherd in the mountains who the next king will be and he will say: whoever the West supports. Ask the leaders of the biggest parties, they will say the same. The vote has no value.”

But he will vote. He will vote for Karzai. Not because of the office or the laptop or the new fake leather couches. Because these things don’t really determine how people choose. He will vote for Karzai, because of the opportunities the regime has given to the Hazaras and because he believes that other Pashtun leaders will be worse. Because Karzai has at least given us this “half-alive democracy”: it’s not dead and it’s not alive, but at least it’s there.

That’s what he says today.

His original candidate has, in the meantime, visited Karzai and offered to step down in exchange for a ministry, a province and a seat in the Senate. Karzai apparently answered that even one province (i.e. governorship) was too much. The competition is still on.


Democratization Elections Government


Martine van Bijlert

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