Kerry, UN Fail to Resolve Afghan Election Crisis

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.

No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.

Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:

The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.

But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.

Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.

In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election:

By sunrise they arrived at the polling center, the main schoolhouse. A curtain down the middle of the compound separated the male and female voters. As Heela proceeded to her section, she could see a crowd of men gathering near the gate a good hour before the polls opened. She helped erect the booths and gather the documents, and then the gates opened and people rushed in. Khas Uruzgan’s sunburned farmers flashed toothy smiles and waved to UN photographers as they presented their registration cards and dipped a finger in purple ink to prevent multiple voting.

On Heela’s side, however, the story was starkly different. “I didn’t see a single woman vote,” Heela said. “I was the first and last woman to cast a ballot that day.” At one point, men arrived with sack loads of registration cards. “They told me, ‘The women in our village don’t know anything about politics, so they asked us to vote for them.'”

Keep in mind also that there is virtually no way to verify a registration card since many Afghans have no birth certificate.

Things were hardly improved by the 2009 election. From page 261:

The campaign office was situated on the ground floor of a large house in central Tirin Kot. Photographs of Karzai with various tribal elders adorned the walls, and an American flag hung in one corner. Heela’s days became a blur of appointments with election workers and Karzai boosters and government officials checking on the work. The goal was to ensure that women cast ballots, or, even better, that their husbands did so on their behalf. The men in the office performed the valuable work of liaising with the village elders and maleks, for whom a vote was not an exercise of democracy but a down payment on access, an effort to ensure that the right people were in power when the time came to call in a favor. So votes typically came in blocks, and it wasn’t unusual for a village to report 90 percent support for a single candidate.

The real problem, as Heela and her colleagues quickly realized, was that with so little of the countryside under government control, only a few villages would vote on election day. A Taliban campaign to intimidate potential voters was already in full swing, which meant the campaign staff would need to get creative to avoid the embarrassment of a minuscule turnout. Arrangements were made with the maleks province-wide to return full ballot boxes by whatever means they saw fit.

Just how would one go about auditing these boxes full of ballots?

13 replies
  1. bevin says:

    Either the US Embassy was so naive that it did not understand the most basic facts of Afghan communal life-which is highly unlikely, given that the Ambassador, for much of the time was Afghan- or these elections were simply cynical exercises designed to fool, amongst others, consumers of US media, and, of course, the airheads who run it.

  2. blueba says:

    At this late stage it is difficult how anyone in the press, main stream or not, can talk about “elections”. I really can’t think of a genuinely “free and fair” election anywhere in the world. Each and every election I can recall has been anything but “free and fair”.

    Why not state the obvious elections are no longer (if they ever were) an honest method of choosing representatives.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    Dueling vote-stuffing, eh. And each side carries a threat of military force of some kind. Of course, Kerry will smile at the guy who carries the label of the majority ethnic group and the backing of Karzai. And of course relations will be chilly for a guy who would not do what Kerry did in 2004–go away quietly.

    Abdullah is the US deep state’s guy who aided the 2001 invasion to topple the Taliban government. Ghani is the “legitimate” winner with a million vote lead from the perspective of the conventional USian way of looking at things. The perfect prescription to delay US withdrawal from Afghanistan regardless of the intentions of the White House. A fact on the ground has been created just like the fact on the ground of ISIS’s campaign in Iraq delays rapprochement between the US and Iran.

    One need only ask “Cui bono?”

    • Jim White says:

      Remember that Abdullah tried that going away quietly thing in 2009. It’s looking now like that only encouraged Karzai that he could run roughshod over him again.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, the US requires a reason to maintain a stout presence in Afghanistan and probably here they are laying the groundwork for it.
      The US entry into Afghanistan was based not upon some silly Al Qaeda threat but upon the long-standing US New Silk Road policy, with Afghanistan being the vital entry into Central Asia for US-controlled commerce. This strategy was a particular favorite of H. Clinton. But she never bothered to address (in public) the issue of — how does commerce get from the Arabian Sea to Afghanistan? The logical transit country is Iran, but that country is a threat to the whole world so that wouldn’t work.
      So we must conclude that the CIA presence in Pakistan’s Balochistan was intended to create a favorable entryway there, possibly through secession. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, AKA “Hero of Balochistan,” would go that route. JW has covered it before.
      IOW it ain’t over yet, as you indicate.

  4. orionATL says:

    question to whitehouse/dod:

    what happens when a disliked occupying power supports a leader and government perceived to be corrupt and a puppet?

    see vietnam – u.s. involvement 1965-1975.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    The focus on whoever becomes the next US puppet mayor of Kabul is a distraction from the Taliban’s recent retaking control of the focus of Obama’s surge in the south. Sangin, Helmand province, the bloodiest district in Afghanistan, where 951 coalition troops died including a hundred British, was evacuated by the remaining coalition troops in May-June and according to the Long War Journal the Taliban has now taken control of the Sangin district.

    But hey, the US has a new general taking over in Kabul, John Campbell, and he’s not worried. “Everything I see, sir, is good news,” he said of the developing political situation in Afghanistan, in answer to a question from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “I’m looking forward to getting over there, and I think we’re on a positive path right now.”

    The mediocrity of US general officers knows no bounds, so Campbell will fit right in with the likes of Kerry.

  6. der says:

    For Immediate Release
    Office of the Press Secretary
    November 6, 2003

    President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East [note:take 3 beats for each applause]
    ***”These vital principles are being applied in the nations of Afghanistan and Iraq. With the steady leadership of President Karzai, the people of Afghanistan are building a modern and peaceful government. Next month, 500 delegates will convene a national assembly in Kabul to approve a new Afghan constitution. The proposed draft would establish a bicameral parliament, set national elections next year, and recognize Afghanistan’s Muslim identity, while protecting the rights of all citizens. Afghanistan faces continuing economic and security challenges — it will face those challenges as a free and stable democracy. (Applause.)

    In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy — and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy. The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids, guided by intelligence provided by the Iraqis, themselves. And we’re working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test. (Applause.)

    Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women’s rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves — police and borders guards and local officials — are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.

    This is a massive and difficult undertaking — it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran — that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)”
    ***Team America….led by fools.

  7. Garrett says:

    A small detail, but worth noting, about how close civil war might be.

    “We made clear that the United States and its partners are not in a position to support a divided Afghanistan,” Ambassador James Dobbins said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday. “That any effort to establish a parallel presidency would make it impossible for the United States and its partners to continue their financial, economic and military support, and that the consequences for the country would be potentially quite dire.”

    The possibility of a breakaway Tajik security force, combined with the news of a takeover of some Kabul police stations by people loyal to Abdullah, prompted President Barack Obama to call Abdullah and Ghani, and caution “in particular Dr. Abdullah about moving pre-emptively in an unconstitutional fashion,” Dobbins said in remarks Wednesday.

    Ghani versus Abdullah, brinksmanship in
    , Al Jazeera

    That is declaring him president, then governors in some of the country would declare themselves as loyal to the new parallel president. While this was occurring some of the police stations in Kabul were being taken over by Abdullah supporters, and it looked like this might gain enough traction to present if not outright civil war, a division in the country that would be very difficult to heal.

    James F. Dobbins statement

    I haven’t seen any media coverage about it.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    WASHINGTON, June 14, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel congratulates the Afghan people for today’s successful second round of voting in their presidential election, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
    “Whatever the result, today’s election marks another milestone in Afghanistan’s progress toward democracy and a peaceful transfer of executive leadership,” Kirby said in a statement. “It also highlights the growing competence and capability of Afghan national security forces, who once again took the lead in making safe their fellow citizens’ access to the ballot box.”
    That’s what the Rear Admiral (love it) said. And here’s what bevin said:
    Either the US Embassy was so naive that it did not understand the most basic facts of Afghan communal life-which is highly unlikely, given that the Ambassador, for much of the time was Afghan- or these elections were simply cynical exercises designed to fool, amongst others, consumers of US media, and, of course, the airheads who run it.
    I believe that in Afghanistan the President appoints the governors of each province and district, the mayor of every town, every provincial chief of police, one third of the entire Senate, and even every judge.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    You knew it was coming. The AP is on Kerry’s team.
    KABUL — Afghanistan’s two rival candidates reached a breakthrough agreement Saturday to a complete audit of their contested presidential election and, whoever the victor, a national unity government. The deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offers a path out of what threatened to be a debilitating political crisis for Afghanistan, with both candidates claiming victory and talking of setting up competing governments.
    A path out! Hurrah! Success!! Audit eight million ballots! Karzai’s guys can do it.
    But JW has correctly characterized a “complete audit.”

  10. bevin says:

    Kerry seemed OK with Ohio’s Presidential vote in 2004, that might have been the time to call for an audit.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    Eight million votes out of a population of 30 million, about 26%.
    US, 2012: 129 m / 300 m = 43% (or 62% of electorate)
    I’d say voting was a bit sparse in this new home for democracy in Central Asia.
    But hey, the US is best buddies with Saudi Arabia and females can’t vote there either.
    No big deal. The US should continue to focus its ire upon Iran, which is full of evil including bum elections.

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