September 22, 2010

Afghan Election Drags Down US Strategy

Afghanistan’s Election Commission will release preliminary figures of last Saturday's parliamentary election on Thursday. Here are some quick numbers:
  • About 4.3 million ballots were cast in Saturday's vote, or 25 % of the country's 17 million registered voters, for roughly 2,500 candidates.
  • An estimated 5 million ballots were cast in last year’s presidential election, after removing fraudulent ballots.
  • Afghan officials originally planned enough polling sites to accommodate 12 million voters, later trimmed to 11.4 million voters.
  • Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the main “independent” observer of the election, received 1,496 complaints of fraud.
  • Over 60 Taliban attacks left 21 civilians and nine policemen dead. One Kabul-based research firm, Indicum Consulting, claims that Saturday’s vote was even more violent than last year’s presidential election, indicating a decrease in security.
With the full results expected around late October, many Afghan, US, and NATO officials are maneuvering for breathing room as public opinion continues to deflate. The West has once again hailed the courageous Afghan people for conducting an election during wartime, undoubtedly a feat if only these elections led to positive change in the country. But with President Hamid Karzai failing to improve the vast majority of Afghans’ lives since being re-elected, Afghanistan’s unstable electoral cycle has many questioning the viability of Western style democracy.

America’s strategy is sinking at the political and military level.

According to the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, “Observers complained that many anti-fraud measures did not work. Some people were able to wash off supposedly indelible ink used to mark fingers and therefore prevent multiple voting, while in some areas poll workers let people use fake registration cards and allowed children to vote.”

In truth Afghanistan's parliament is relatively weak and prone to factionalism, and thus unlikely to prove decisive in the war. Moderate danger arises from those politicians linked to Karzai and whether they receive any favoritism, but the main damage is being delivered through perceptions. One corrupt election after another doesn’t instill confidence in Afghanistan's government or its Western backers, leading to doubts on all fronts of the war.

"Holding" territory after "clearing" it is practically impossible without local and national political support.

Ultimately non-representation will kick in, further undermining attempts to stabilize the country. But the election is first and foremost a psychological obstacle for America, as it blocks political and military progress. Whatever the results - and fraud levels will be high - America and NATO must handle complaints with greater tact than last year’s presidential election, when the West was perceived by Karzai as meddling but by the rest of Afghanistan as his protector.

Perception is vital to insurgency and counterinsurgency alike. To let this election pass with a low standard with similarly passivity would reduce confidence across US strategy, especially in light of reports that President Barack Obama won’t be making any “major changes” in December.

And the Taliban’s version of reality could win out.


  1. In times of chaos and destruction.
    Perception becomes reality.

  2. There's not a great deal of confidence to erode after last year's electoral fiasco when Karzai susprisingly (cough) emerged as the winner. Now that would make a manic depressive out of anyone.

  3. LOL
    Who living in Afghanistan and or Iraq would not be manic-depressive after all that has been done to them.

    First they will discredit his mental capability. Then they will question his physical fitness.
    Then they will connect him to corruption, and or the Taliban.

    Karzai hears Diem's foot steps in his sleep.
    He must stay one step ahead of the incoming barrage.
    The only way he can do that is to bring in the Taliban, ISI, Iran, and the rest of the region.
    Karzai is looking for cover.
    He will need it.

  4. That's true, confidence is already low. But I abide by the law that a situation can always turn even worse. The story on Karzai's mental health is disastrous now that it's gone public, and ongoing negotiations are certainly in his interests, though perhaps not his best option.

    Karzai's relationship with the Obama administration has been poor since day one. Obama wants out and his generals want in. I disagree with many of Karzai's actions, but I sympathize with his position too.