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Abdullah Supporters Reject Preliminary Results, Urge Parallel Government

A few numbers will serve to highlight both the rage of Abdullah Abdullah’s supporters and the extent of the fraud which they believe to have been perpetrated on behalf of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan’s presidential election. In the first round of the election, there were 7,018,049 votes cast and Abdullah fell just short of winning outright (which would have occurred had he topped 50% of the vote) with 45% of the vote. Ghani finished well behind him, at 31.6%. Yesterday, the preliminary results of the June 14 runoff were announced. This time, there were 8,109,403 votes cast, an increase of just over 15% from the first round. It should also be noted that turnout in the first round represented about a 50% increase from the 2009 election. Ghani somehow surged to 54% of the vote this time, leading Abdullah by 1,024,249 votes.

In yesterday’s announcement, we learned that some votes have been thrown out over suspected fraud:

In Monday’s announcement, Mr. Nuristani said that the Independent Election Commission, while tallying the preliminary results, had already thrown out more than 11,000 votes from 1,930 polling stations. About 60 percent of the disqualified votes had been cast in favor of Mr. Ghani, with the reminder cast for Mr. Abdullah.

While 11,000 fraudulent votes sounds like a lot, note that Abdullah’s camp was already suspicious of the huge increase in turnout for the runoff compared to the first round. While there still is additional review of the voting planned which could eliminate more votes, the 11,000 votes discarded falls far short of the 2009 election and the first round this year:

In contrast to 2009, when more than 1.2 million votes were found to be fraudulent and were discarded, the two commissions threw out only 375,000 votes this time.

In the eyes of Abdullah supporters, it is easy to question how Ghani could have more than doubled the number of votes he received in the runoff (going from about 2.2 million votes to over 4.4 million) while Abdullah, who had been far ahead, only added about three hundred thousand votes (going from 3.2 million to 3.5 millon). Somehow, we are supposed to believe that Abdullah has the support of only 44-45% of the Afghan electorate, no matter how many show up and that Ghani was able to magically obtain the vote of every Afghan who voted for someone other than Ghani or Abdullah in the first round while also getting 56% of those new more than one million voters who turned up for the runoff.

It is little wonder, then, that Adbullah’s supporters completely reject the results announced yesterday:

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s team said it would reject preliminary results from the runoff election unless fraudulent votes were excluded from the count, his running mate Mohammad Mohaqeq said in an interview with TOLOnews on Monday evening.

/snip/

Mohaqeq warned that if their team denounces the results, so to will people in various provinces, and then the government and the election commission will be responsible for the consequences.

“We want to say to the people of Afghanistan that if our conditions aren’t accepted and the assigned commission doesn’t reach an outcome and our condition that invalid votes be distinguished from genuine votes is not accepted, we will not accept the results and consequences will follow and responsibility will be on the government, the rigging commission and rigging team,” Mohaqeq said.

Abdullah has declared himself the victor, but for now is holding off on announcing a parallel government:

Embattled Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah defiantly mobilized thousands of his supporters in the heart of the capital Tuesday, vowing to challenge preliminary election results that show him trailing his rival, amid accusations of massive fraud.

“You are the victorious; you have won the vote — there is no question,” Abdullah shouted to a cheering crowd at a spacious conference hall in western Kabul. “We would rather be torn into pieces than accept this fraud,” he said. “We reject these results . . . and justice will prevail.” The former foreign minister alleges election officials rigged the vote in favor of his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, in a June 14 presidential runoff.

There were fears that Abdullah and his team would use the rally to declare a parallel government, which would have aggravated Afghanistan’s political crisis and raised the risk of bloodshed. But Abdullah stopped short of announcing his own cabinet Tuesday, drawing jeers from the audience, which urged him to declare himself president.

“Long live Abdullah!” his supporters cried. “Announce your government!”

John Kerry is slated to visit Kabul on Friday and is warning that the US will withdraw support for Afghanistan if a parallel government is announced. Given the speed at which events seem to be unfolding, Friday could well be too late for Kerry to have any impact (if that ever had been possible anyway). Does Kerry’s announcement signal that the US will only accept Ghani as the winner?

How is Abdullah Obtaining So Many Tapes of Phone Calls?

It is looking more and more likely that Abdullah Abdullah will continue his boycott of the vote-counting process in Afghanistan. As I noted Friday, thousands of his supporters took to the streets to protest the expected outcome and to call for fraudulent votes to be discarded. Abdullah’s camp released even more evidence Saturday, consisting of two audiotapes of conversations among officials in Paktika province regarding 20 ballot boxes which were found to be already stuffed with ballots on the night before the election. ToloNews informs us that one of the tapes was a conversation between the Paktika provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) head and the executive assistant of Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail (the head of the IEC, who resigned after Abdullah released the first set of tapes). The second tape purports to be yet another recording of Amarkhail himself, this time participating in a discussion (again with the provincial IEC head) of how to deflect blame for the stuffed ballot boxes found in Paktika:

Amarkhail begins by stressing his frustration about the situation with the ANA commander revealing information to the media about the ballot stuffing. The provincial IEC head told Amarkhail that a video was made of the men stuffing 20 ballot boxes with 12,000 votes and in each box exactly 600 votes were stuffed and that the ANA wants to “broadcast this through TOLO TV.”

Concerned and upset about their position, the provincial IEC head suggests to Amarkhail that they hold a press conference defaming the ANA commander by stating that these frauds were conducted by the commander and his men.

After proposing the idea, the Gov. of Paktika, Muhebullah Samim, takes the phone approving the idea of holding a press conference expressing to Amarkhail that this is their only way out is by blaming the commander that he forced the “boys to do this and the boys will admit to it. The boys are willing to say that the ANA commander has forced them to stuff boxes.”

Content with the idea, Amarkhail agrees to the plan and begins to tell the men what needs to be done and how.

In a followup article, ToloNews provides the most incriminating part of the discussion and notes that they had reported the discovery of the stuffed ballot boxes before the election on the day they were found by the army: Read more

Thousands of Abdullah Supporters Rally in Kabul While Ghani Predicts Million Vote Victory

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Last week, Abdullah Abdullah angrily withdrew his support of the runoff election process when he released audiotapes purported to be the voice of the head of the Independent Election Commission urging his staff to stuff ballot boxes. Although Afghanistan continues counting ballots and has announced that the July 2 scheduled date for releasing preliminary results will be met, Abdullah still has not rejoined the process. There is an argument between Abdullah and the Electoral Complaints Commission on whether he has actually submitted a formal complaint regarding the Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail audiotapes. Abdullah’s response is to say that since the ECC won’t act, he is now submitting the material directly to the Attorney General.

Yesterday, Abdullah released more evidence of ballot stuffing:

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s electoral campaign team released an audio tape of Maidan Wardak provincial governor on Thursday, in which the governor persuades an unknown “army officer” not to prevent ballot-stuffing in the June 14 runoff.

Governor Attaullah Khogyani of Maidan Wardak, a province at the south-west of Kabul, speaks on the phone with the officer who asks the governor whether his unit should prevent electoral fraud in a district, according to the tape released in a live press conference.

The governor tells the army officer that fraud prevention was not a task for the security forces and encourages him to speak to a Member of Parliament, Kalimzai Wardak, a supporter of Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

/snip/

The footage which was also released on Thursday shows men in a room in the eastern Paktika province, as Abdullah’s team said, stuffing the ballot boxes for Mr Ahmadzai. The stuffed boxes were confiscated by the security forces, said Mr Shilgari.

Today, thousands of supporters took to the streets of Kabul with Abdullah to protest ballot stuffing. From ToloNews, we learn that although Hamid Karzai is accused of being one of the leading perpetrators of fraud on behalf of Ghani, one of Karzai’s brothers, whom they list as one of Abdullah’s running mates, took part in the demonstration:

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Kabul City on Friday marching alongside Abdullah Abdullah in protest of frauds that took place in the presidential runoff elections.

Several roads in Kabul have been blocked as the demonstrators advance toward the Presidential Palace calling on the government to invalidate the rigged votes.

Protests have begun in several areas of Kabul City that are joined by Dr. Abdullah and his running mates, the High Peace Council Chair, Salhuddin Rabbani, Mahmoud Karzai—brother of President Hamid Karzai—and Amirullah Saleh, former Afghan intelligence chief.

Thus far, there have been no reports of security threats. The demonstration is continued peacefully.

We learn from Khaama Press that there were angry slogans about Hamid Karzai and that posters of him were destroyed.  But it is in the Wall Street Journal where we learn what those angry slogans were:

Demonstrators shouting “Death to Ashraf Ghani” and “Death to Karzai” marched past government buildings and the gate to the presidential palace. Mr. Abdullah, riding atop a truck, greeted supporters chanting their support.

I wonder how Mahmoud Karzai felt about those “Death to Karzai” chants.

Recall that in the first round of the election, Abdullah fell just short of the 50% threshold needed to win outright, getting 45% of the votes, while Ghani was significantly behind him at 31.6%. But from Reuters, we see that Ghani’s team is expressing confidence that Tuesday’s vote announcement will have him leading by well over a million votes:

A member of the Ghani team, former candidate Daud Sultanzoy, said on Friday that based on information from election observers it predicted a lead of about 1.2 to 1.3 million votes over Abdullah.

“We are not claiming anything as we respect the election commission and will wait for its official announcement of the winner,” he said. “However, we know we are comfortably ahead.”

This is indeed a fragile time for Afghanistan. The Abdullah-Ghani split is largely along ethnic lines, with Ghani supported by the Pashtun majority and Abdullah by the second largest group, the Tajiks. But the Reuters article points to another risk the standoff presents:

“We want the mujahideen back. We don’t want technocrats and slaves of Jews and Christians,” said Badam Gul, a former mujahid.

“We want justice at any cost. There’s fraud and that is unacceptable for us. We will fight for our right until the last drop of blood in our body.”

Wednesday is shaping up to be a very important day as Afghanistan faces a highly uncertain future.

Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

Demonstrating once again that electoral politics trumps all other considerations for his administration, Barack Obama mostly went along with the military’s recommendation (successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military) on troop levels in Afghanistan after this year, announcing a force size of 9800 after the military had requested 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Even the one instance of bucking military hawks comes from an electoral standpoint, as he announced that the force size will be cut in half after a year and then taken to only a handful by the end of 2016, which magically coincides with when Obama expects to triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Republicans are upset about an announced end to the troop presence, rather than allowing “conditions on the ground”, which is shorthand for letting the military do what it damn well pleases, to dictate force levels, but Obama seems to think that putting the end of our troop presence just before the next presidential election will get troops out at the one time electoral blowback will be minimized.

Obama’s announcement came with a large helping of arrogance in the handling of his invitation to meet with Karzai during the surprise visit to Kabul over the weekend. Although Obama fully intended his poor treatment of Karzai, he seems to have raised the ire of many more Afghans with his actions. Will that put the Bilateral Security Agreement, on which his troop size plan depends, at risk? From Khaama Press:

President Hamid Karzai was praised by Afghans for rejecting the invitation by President Barack Obama to meet him in Bagram air base.

A last-minute invitation was sent to President Karzai to come to Bagram air base as Obama arrived to Afghanistan on Sunday following an unannounced visit to meet with the US troops.

White House officials said, “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.”

Obama’s plan on troop levels is fully dependent on the winner of next month’s presidential runoff signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that Karzai has refused to sign. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign it, their responses to the handling of Karzai are very interesting. Returning to the same Khaama Press article:

In the meantime, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race, said the decision by President Karzai not to go to Bagram was “respectful to the people of Afghanistan.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the other leading candidates, told Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wasn’t privy to the security discussions surrounding Mr. Obama’s visit.

Some Afghans saw the episode as a deliberate snub and said the U.S. leader didn’t respect diplomatic protocol.

Ghani said, “We do understand security concerns, but adhering to protocol helps cementing relationships.”

Obama has set himself up for a huge problem here. It looks as though both Abdullah and Ghani are indicating that they expect to be treated with the respect due to the office of President. Should Obama continue his cavalier attitude of simply assuming the BSA will be signed once the winner is sworn into office, he could be in for a big surprise.

On the other hand, there are still the four billion US dollars every year that come with our continued presence (and all the attendant opportunities for embezzlement), so perhaps in the end Obama can continue his arrogance without fear of consequences. With that in mind, the role of that final handful of military personnel to be left in Afghanistan after 2016 stands out. From the Washington Post article linked above:

At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador.

Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.

Pause in Afghan Presidential Campaign With Death of Vice President; Taliban Vow to Disrupt

Afghanistan’s Vice President Muhammad Qasim Fahim died yesterday, in what the New York Times described as a heart attack. Fahim was a warlord with a checkered past and had ties, through a brother, to the looting and downfall of Kabul Bank. Because of his death, Afghanistan has declared a three day pause in campaigning for next month’s election to replace Hamid Karzai. The Taliban has taken advantage of this pause to warn Afghan citizens against voting and to threaten violence against those who do vote.

The Times brings us more of Fahim’s history:

Though Mr. Fahim was at the center of Mr. Karzai’s government, the two shared a tumultuous history. In the mid-1990s, when Mr. Fahim was in charge of the Afghan intelligence service after the fall of the Soviet-backed regime, he ordered the arrest of Mr. Karzai, then the deputy foreign minister, on suspicion of spying for a rival faction within the government. The future president managed to escape when a rocket hit the prison where he was being held.

Nearly a decade later, Mr. Fahim backed Mr. Karzai’s bid to lead Afghanistan after the Taliban’s fall, and in exchange was named defense minister. But within months, as Mr. Karzai began moving to sideline Mr. Fahim, American officials picked up intelligence that the defense minister was considering an attempt to assassinate the president, according to current and former Afghan and American officials with firsthand knowledge of the episode. To head off the threat, the Americans quickly replaced the Fahim loyalists who were guarding Mr. Karzai with United States Army Rangers.

But they did not replace Mr. Fahim, concluding that the young Afghan government was too weak to risk a confrontation with one of Afghanistan’s most powerful warlords. American and Afghan officials instead settled for vague statements that suggested Taliban threats had led to the bodyguard swap.

Reuters brings us the threat to the election issued by the Taliban:

The Afghan Taliban said on Monday next month’s presidential election was being manipulated by the United States, which had already chosen the winner, and threatened to use “full force” in attacking anyone taking part.

Two campaign workers have already been killed and at least one presidential candidate has been assaulted during campaigning for the April 5 poll, the first democratic transition of power in the country’s history.

The Taliban said the proceedings were being stage-managed by the United States.

“The people should realize that the election will bear no result because the real elections have taken place in CIA and Pentagon offices and their favorite candidate has already been chosen,” the Taliban said in a statement.

“…All fighters are given orders to disrupt this sham elections by full force and bring under attacks election workers, activists, volunteers and those providing security everywhere. If someone takes part in this (election), they will be responsible for the bad consequences themselves.”

What stands out to me in this statement from the Taliban is that they claim the US (through the CIA) has already chosen the winner of the election, but they don’t say which candidate has been chosen. Just last week, Hamid Karzai’s brother withdrew from the campaign and threw his support to the candidate Karzai is said to favor. But this article on that development from The Guardian shows that there is no clear frontrunner and that the Karzais’ chosen candidate has little current backing: Read more