I t likely will take some years to know if the Oct 9
election in Afghanistan was more than an exercise
in futility. Preliminary results show that incumbent President Hamid Karzai “won a landslide victory in Afghanistan’s first ever presidential election at the weekend,” reported The New York Times.
However, on the afternoon of the election, the 15 opposition candidates “claimed that nitrate ink used to stain voters’ fingers to prevent them from voting more than once could be wiped off easily,” reported the London Telegraph. “They also claimed that ballot boxes were being stuffed.”
By Monday, Reuters reported, “many of (the candidates) were reportedly willing to drop the boycott call and let the Joint Electoral Management Body … election commission decide on their complaints, implicitly agreeing that they would accept its decision and the poll result. … U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and others were trying to persuade (Karzai’s) main opponents to drop their refusal to recognize the poll result, Western diplomats and candidates said.”
“I don’t know if the candidates’ complaint was justified,” said Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. “But it’s quite strange that all these candidates just reversed their position.”
He also pointed out that the vote was along tribal lines. “That’s their custom,” he said. “It’s not like an individual vote.”
Of the election itself, he said, “I don’t think it means very much. They were voting for a guy who controls Kabul and not much else in Afghanistan. The country still has warlords” controlling most of the country “and a rising Taliban insurgency. Karzai can’t depend directly on the people. He depends on the warlords to keep the country together.”
As much as the United States wants to advance democracy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the nation needs to be realistic that this is about as fragile as a democracy can get. Karzai still depends on American bodyguards to protect him from assassination threats. American troops remain engaged in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida, while hunting for Osama bin Laden.
If American troops pulled out tomorrow, Karzai likely wouldn’t last long.
Still, the vote does give the country a start in building a democracy. Whether that start goes far depends on Afghans themselves.