SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 88 - December-January 2004/05

Democracy in Afghanistan

HAMID KARZAI won the first presidential election in Afghanistan, with American help, money and rigging.

With 98% of the votes counted, Karzai had secured 4.3 million votes, 55%, more than the amount needed to avoid a second round. His closest rival, Younas Qanooni, had got 17%. Abdul Rashid Dostam got 11%, Ustad Muhaqaq, 10.3%, and the lone female candidate, Masuada Jalal, 1%. There were 10.5 million registered voters and 8.3 million cast their votes, a turnout around 80%, which is high under these conditions.

Qanooni conceded defeat in the ‘national interest’. "There were lots of cases of fraud and irregularities", he said. But "we respect the will of the people even though there was fraud. To avoid violence and to respect the national interest, we will accept the results".

The masses had no choice in this election, except to choose a ‘lesser evil’. All the candidates represent one or another section of the elite. All the candidates were or are still part of the American hand-picked interim government. Most of them are warlords and ex-guerrilla leaders who fought against the Stalinist left regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The results really showed the ethnic divide in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Karzai has swept the election in Pashtun areas, winning 21 of the 34 provinces with 80% of the Pashtun vote. He got 90% in the Pashtun-dominated southern and eastern provinces, such as Khost, Paktia, Logar, Kunar, Nangarhar, and his native Kandhar. Qanooni did well in the Tajik-dominated northern provinces. Dostam did well in four central Uzbek-dominated provinces. The warlord, Muhaqaq, won a majority in Herat and other Shia Hazara provinces in central Afghanistan. Among refugees, Karzai got a majority vote in Pakistan, and Muhaqaq and Dostam won majorities in Iran.

The split in the Northern Alliance made it easier for Karzai to secure victory. Karzai and the Afghan-born American ambassador in Afghanistan, Zulmay Khalilzad, were able to exploit the situation. Prior to the vote, Karzai had announced two vice presidents, one Tajik and one Hazara. This move helped him to gain some Tajik and Hazara Shia votes. Of particular importance for Karzai was winning support from the former warlord and president, Burhanudin Rabbani. This was a big blow against Qanooni. This split between Rabbani and Qanooni proved fatal for the Northern Alliance.

Khalilzad played the most important role in Karzai’s victory. In fact, he was in charge of the campaign and holds the real power. According to leading Pakistani newspapers, like Dawn and the Daily Times, the total money that the US regime spent on Karzai was $195m. This money was paid to different warlords and local commanders to secure their support. Rabbani’s party, Jamiat-i-Islami, got $1m. Abdul Rasool Siaf’s party, Ittehad-e-Islami, got $1.3m. One local commander from Jalal Abad said that he got $30,000 to buy votes for Karzai. Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan witnessed the same tactics. In one refugee camp near Peshawar, $10 were given for each vote. Karzai hired 700 people in Pakistan to run his campaign. Each of them was paid $100 per day and 150 luxury jeeps were also given to them. Money was provided to different tribal chiefs and elders. Many of them said that they received $10,000 to $80,000 to buy votes for Karzai.

Khalilzad also used his influence to ensure that some Pashtun candidates withdrew from the contest. He promised to give important positions to many warlords in the future government if they supported Karzai. It was Khalilzad who persuaded all the candidates to accept the results of the election, and end their threatened boycott.

The allegations of rigging, fraud and irregularities were made by all the defeated candidates. The main issue was the use of ‘indelible ink’ on the voters’ thumbs. It could be washed off! That provided the opportunity for many to cast more than one vote. Fake registration was also reported.

There is no doubt that all the main candidates used their force in their strongholds. Almost two million votes were falsely registered. These were used to show a high turnout. Many people confessed that they had cast more than one vote. In Paktia, 100 voters were interviewed by one Pakistani TV reporter. Sixty-five confessed that they cast between two and five votes. This was the case in many areas. A more realistic estimate of the turnout was given at around 58% – among Afghan refugees in Iran, 40%. Only 32% of women registered. And in many areas they were not allowed to vote by local fanatic groups and tribal elders. It is not possible to get a high turnout without fraud, multiple voting and rigging.

The Taliban threatened to sabotage the elections and campaigned for a boycott. They fired rockets on all the main cities one day before the elections, but there was no significant sabotage on election day itself.

The Taliban, however, was split on this question. One faction was not in favour of sabotage, holding the view that it was preferable to elect Karzai. If Karzai was defeated, they reasoned, the Tajik, Qanooni, would win. The Taliban support base is in Pashtun areas, and sabotage in these areas could have undermined Karzai. This faction was led by the notorious warlord and criminal, Mullah Abdul Salam Rockti, and Mullah Razaq. They both cast their votes and forced others to vote. Many other Taliban commanders also encouraged local people to vote for Karzai.

The turnout in the Taliban’s stronghold, Kandahar (which is also Karzai’s native city, as well as that of Mullah Omar, a Taliban leader), clearly shows its strategy. The turnout there was 78%. The Taliban was frightened by their rival Northern Alliance candidate. It would be completely wrong, however, to assume that the Taliban is no longer in a position to strike larger blows against American troops. It still has its forces intact.

The Taliban is not very popular with the masses, but still has the support of some sections of society. One faction is already in talks with Khalilzad. The Taliban wants its share of power. Many Taliban commanders are not very active against US forces. Dollars can win the support of some of these commanders to that end.

‘Black market’ money plays an important role in Afghan politics and involves most of the warlords. The Taliban and other armed Islamist groups finance their activities this way. The main source comes from opium poppies, the major crop in 28 provinces, involving 1.7 million people. More than 1.2 million families are dependent on this crop for their living. Afghanistan currently produces three quarters of the world’s opium – 3,600 tons – with 200,000 acres of land under cultivation. The struggle to get control of different provinces is mainly to get this black market money.

Karzai promised a better life if he was elected. He also warned the people that, if he lost, reconstruction would end, with the so-called ‘international community’ not giving any more money. Many people who voted for him believed that. The reality is quite different. Karzai has failed to solve any of the fundamental problems faced by the Afghan masses. Education, health, employment, electricity, clean drinking water, land irrigation, and a free and secure life are still just a dream, after three years of American rule.

The previous record of Karzai has shown that he is just a puppet of US imperialism. He has no interest in solving the problems of the people. His rule is completely dependent on US and Nato forces. He is a Pashtun warlord and ex-mujaheddin commander who fought against the Russian occupation in Afghanistan. He has two houses in Pakistan – one in Quetta, another in Peshawar. He was living in Pakistan since 1979 and his family still lives there. He lives under tight US security, his bodyguards notorious for their viciousness. Karzai did not appear in public during the election campaign because he was afraid of being killed. He is a right-wing capitalist and has no base of support in Afghanistan.

This election has further increased the ethnic divisions. It is not going to solve any of the problems, but will surely aggravate them. Immediately after the election, 20 US soldiers were killed in separate Taliban attacks. A number of bomb attacks have taken place. These will increase. In the meantime, many Afghan people are still living in 14th century conditions, struggling to live without the necessities of life .

Khalid Bhatti,

Socialist Movement, Pakistan


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