With no catastrophic attacks taking place and reports of over 7 million people voting, on first impressions it would appear that Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday was a resounding success. Digging a bit deeper, though, reveals disturbing evidence of hundreds of violent incidents that received little attention and large areas of the country where the electorate was too scared of the Taliban to vote. Another large cautionary note is that the slow rate of vote counting means that it will be a long time before there can be any meaningful analysis of the extent of vote-stuffing. Further, the US goal of a new president clearing the way to a signed Bilateral Security Agreement is likely to be put off further, as any runoff will not happen until late May, which could well be past the point at which the US will have to decide if it will invoke the zero option and withdraw all troops from the country at the end of the year.
The New York Times gives us the rosy version of the voting:
After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.
Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.
Even this report, though, cautions that fraud could still be a problem and will take time to detect:
Afghan election observers backed up the numbers offered by election officials, as did Western diplomats, though the latter struck a more cautious tone. But both said that some votes would invariably be thrown out because of fraud.
The question was how many, and whether Afghanistan would see a repeat of the 2009 election, which was marred by widespread ballot stuffing and other fraud. Turnout that year was about 38 percent, though some estimates put it lower. The memory of what happened that year still hovers here, giving many reason to hesitate before declaring this weekend’s vote an unqualified success.
It took days for the full extent of the problems with the 2009 election to emerge, and the ensuing political crisis lasted months, souring relations between President Karzai and the United States, embittering many Afghans and helping fuel a Taliban insurgency that was gaining momentum.
But the claims of no large attacks overshadowed the news that there were actually hundreds of attacks aimed at the voting:
The anti-government armed militants carried out 690 attacks across the country during the presidential and provincial council elections on Saturday.
Defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi said Saturday that the attacks by militants included direct fire, rocket attacks, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide attacks.
Azimi also added that 164 militants were killed and 82 others were injured during the attacks while Afghan army soldiers seized various types of weapons belonging to the assailant militants.
He said at least 7 Afghan national army soldiers were martyred and 45 others were injured during these attacks.
The background for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the suspect in the mass killing of civilians in Afghanistan last week, became much murkier with the revelation that his career as an investment manager ended in a judgment of $1.4 million against him for fraud. He was accused of “churning” a client’s retirement account, selling off holdings in safer investments to purchase more volatile penny stocks. In the meantime, the fallout from the attack continues, as the US continues its effort to reach a SOFA agreement with Afghanistan ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago scheduled for May. The latest offering appears to be establishment of a system in which Afghan judges would be put into position to approve “warrants” before night raids take place. Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough took to the airwaves on NPR this morning to hold up the US FISA court as the shining example on which the Afghan system should be modeled.
In this morning’s Washington Post, we get quite a few details on the fraud case against Bales. The former client, Gary Liebschner, had employed the firm Bales worked for to manage his retirement account:
That is not the man that Liebschner said he dealt with when Bales was much younger and listed as the “investment executive” on his retirement account. The fund held stock that Liebschner had inherited and earned during his AT&T days, as well as other investments.
A severe reaction to medication left Liebschner hospitalized and in a rehabilitation center from November 1998 until June 1999. At the time, his wife, Janet, who took time off from her nursing job, was pressed for money to cover car and mortgage payments, as well as the cost of renovations to their home to make it wheelchair-accessible, she said.
She hadn’t previously been in charge of the couple’s finances, she said, but after she began to examine account statements, she realized that the fund had been severely depleted.
Her husband’s retirement account had nearly $700,000 in 1998, his statements show. By early 2000, the fund had about $30,000 in it.
That is an appallingly bad job of investment management, and it is easy to see how a finding of fraud was found against Bales and the firm for which he worked. A big caveat here, though, is whether Janet Liebschner withdrew funds to cover the home renovation and other expenses listed, and if so, how much was withdrawn. We don’t have the exact dates of when the account sat at about $700,000 or when it was found to be depleted, but the period of 1998 through 2000 was fairly robust for investments. Below is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from the beginning of 1998 through the end of 2000. There was a dip in mid-1998 that gave up the gains from earlier that year, but then from the fall of 1998 through the end of 2000, the market advanced by roughly 33%, from about 7500 to about 10,000: Continue reading