Not the pull-out of Karzai challenger Dr Abdullah brought the Afghan election process into a crisis. It was the irresponsible decision to hold a run-off within two weeks in a country like Afghanistan after the credibility of the first round had drowned in a flood over one million votes rigged in favour of Karzai.
The international community has to carry a significant part of the responsibility for this crisis. It is because the UN – and the governments of its member-states – pretended to communicate that with having a second round everything is fine again.
It cannot be just naivety. Everyone followed the IEC manoeuvres around the polling staff and polling centres for round 2 (see Martine’s blog). Additionally, there would be even less observers then during the first round. The UN will only have essential staff on the ground (was there a lot of non-essential staff in Afghanistan before?) and it seems that who is left will not have a role to observe. The EU already announced a while ago that there will be less observers than the 117 or so during the first round. What Brussels did not announce, though, is that the head of the mission, MEP General Philippe Morrillon, and some of his senior staff who have been outspoken about fraud have been asked not to return to Afghanistan during round 2 apparently after pressure from the Karzai camp.
That all is well now, again, is definitely not the case. Abdullah‘s conditions for participating in round two are a proof for this. Although they represented maximum demands – also his priority are not clean elections but to maintain chances to win – but were nevertheless justified. First of all, the one that aimed at creating a halfway neutral election commission. But Karzai did not heed a single one of Abdullah‘s demands.
If Karzai – as announced – goes ahead with round 2 this will lead to further polarisation. In this case, Karzai would not be the president of all Afghans any more. And who claims that a new Karzai government that emerged without the challenge of an alternative candidate and most likely without too many voters would be credible for a significant majority of Afghans must be from another galaxy. But exactly this, Hillary Clinton said already.
The biggest problem now is that the path towards a broad, inclusive political solution in Afghanistan might be blocked for good. Everyone managed to manoeuvre him- or herself deeper into that cul-de-sac which started with the inflated voter registration, had another bend when Karzai stayed in office with unchanged authorities after 20 May and hit its lowest point with the massively fraudulent first election round on 20 August. Each of these dates represented opportunities to stop the process going into the wrong direction and to rethink. But the UN was busy with its Eide-Galbraith debate instead of recognizing that the sand underneath was already shifting, Western capitals still hoped for a smooth outcome that they would be able to sell as a success to increasingly critical home audiences and Washington in particular was busy debating the purposely leaked McChrystal strategy. What a folly.
The way out of this can only be achieved if someone persuades or forces Karzai and his entourage not to claim full power for itself but to share it. Not only with Abdullah. There are other political and social groups, including civil society, which have been sidelined and ignored so far by the Western focus on one person alone. Don’t rock the boat, was the slogan. But the perfect storm was already raging all around.
But who should do this persuasion or forcing? The UN has undermined its credibility and neutrality in the debate about whether and how to react to round 1 fraud. And Secretary Clinton just threw the US’ neutrality over board.
No wonder that now the Taleban, of all people, scornfully are distributing lectures on democracy in the internet. That’s something our own governments should have thought about long ago.
This is an extended and translated version of a comment Thomas Ruttig wrote for tomorrow’s Berlin daily ‘die tageszeitung’. And which already can be found in its German original on the paper’s website here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020