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Afghan elections – a farce against the background of tragedy

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The elections in Afghanistan have turned out to be a disaster for the West's dreams of a democratic Afghanistan. After widespread claims of electoral fraud, it is clear that the occupation is leading to disaster for the Afghan people

The Afghan election - designed to stabilise the puppet government of President Hamid Karzai - has turned into total farce. Immediately after the election, an optimistic Barack Obama stepped onto the White House lawn to proclaim to the assembled press:

"This was an important step forward in the Afghan people's effort to take control of their future, even as violent extremists are trying to stand in their way. I want to congratulate the Afghanistan people on carrying out this historic election."

Yet scarcely a week later the mainstream media was full of reports of Karzai angrily shouting at US presidential special envoy Richard Holbrooke. Evidently he stormed out of a meeting, when the ambassador bluntly demanded that, come what may, he should hold a second round of voting. Why? The outcry, both in Afghanistan and in the domestic media of the occupying nations, indicates that no one believes the elections have been “free and fair.” The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission has received thousands of fraud complaints, 270 of which it considers sufficiently serious to have changed the final result. A second round will be in effect a re-run of the elections.

It seems voter turnout in the Pashtun areas of the south was minimal. Barely 30 to 35 percent of the population voted overall whilst in the south, meant to be a Karzai stronghold because of his Pashtun ethnicity, the turn-out did not even reach 5 percent. This is because huge parts of the area are de facto under the control by the Taliban and other insurgent forces and because the population is hostile to the American and British occupying forces, and thus to Karzai as their puppet.

Despite the British force seizing an insurgent stronghold in the Babaji area, "freeing" 80,000 potential voters from Taliban control, only 150 people turned up to vote, according to the BBC. Yet in Kabul the ballot boxes from the south turned up positively bursting with Karzai votes. Karzai's chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah has released videos showing this was done by wholesale stuffing of ballots. His opponents point out that things were little better in his strongholds. He has refused to recognise the elections or to serve in a government under Karzai.

On top of this fiasco, the US is furious over the figures Karzai chose as his running mates, the two vice-presidents; firstly the notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and secondly another former Northern Alliance commander (and reputed opium dealer) Muhammed Fahim. The Obama administration tried to block these candidates but Karzai absolutely depends on Fahim and Dostum to bring in the votes from the Tajik north. Thus it is clear that this election - even if there is a second round - will not provide the democratic credibility the US and its allies need at home to convince a wavering public that this is “the good war,” a war for democracy, women’s rights, economic development and nation building.

In fact Afghanistan is not in the most minimal sense a democracy as a result of the invasion and eight-year occupation. Virtually all powers under its constitution are vested in the presidency. In elections to parliament only individuals, not political parties, can run and candidates political opinions cannot be put on the ballot papers. It is illegal for any law or measure to contradict the "holy religion of Islam."

This violation of democracy was carried out with the enthusiastic collusion of the NATO allies because they feared that any nationalist, secular parties that won an election would certainly oppose US and British imperialist plans for Afghanistan. Even Karzai and his rivals have presented themselves to the electorate as increasingly anti-American. But this policy of blocking the road to democracy came at a price that now proves irksome to Obama and Hilary Clinton; the rule of the war lords; to man woman-hating, drug-dealing, human rights violating monsters, like Uzbek boss Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Hazara chief Muhammad Mohaqeq and in Herat Ismail Khan, infamous for imposing Taliban-style restrictions on women’s dress employment appearance in public etc,

The courageous women’s rights activist Malalai Joya, elected to the Afghan parliament and then thrown out for denouncing the warlords to their faces, as well as the Western occupiers, stated in an interview with the London Independent on 28 July;

"Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for."

She went on to describe what she discovered when she had been elected:

"I realised women's rights had been sold out completely... Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality towards women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban - and now they were marching back to power, backed by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters."

Likewise she opposes the occupation and calls for the western troops to get out, rejecting the argument that they are preventing a civil war or at least preventing a Taliban victory.

"What about the civil war now? Today, people are being killed - many, many war crimes. The longer the foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war will be for the Afghan people."

Meanwhile the casualty rates for the Anglo-American "Surge" which began in early July in Helmand and Kandahar provinces are rocketing. In July alone, 45 U.S. troops died, the highest monthly toll this year. In August already over 40 Americans have been killed, mostly in the south.

In 2008 total coalition deaths numbered 294, 155 of them Americans. The 2009 total has already reached 301, 172 of them Americans. There are currently 63,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The British too are taking heavy casualties. Between the launch of Operation Panther's Claw and polling day on 20 August UK forces suffered 38 dead and an estimated 150 wounded in action.

Of course the suffering of Afghan civilians is qualitatively as well as quantitatively worse than that of the occupiers. Their faces do not appear on CNN or the BBC every night. Their families’ grief is rarely recorded. According to official figures, more than 1,000 Afghans civilians have been killed so far this year, 24 per cent more than in 2008 and 50 per cent more than 2007. The real death toll is probably several times this figure.

The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, has stated that the situation on the main battle front in the south "is serious and it is deteriorating." General Stanley McChrystal, who took command of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, used the same terms adding, “the Taliban insurgency has gotten better and more sophisticated in their tactics."

He is expected to demand at least another three or four brigades. This will push troop levels higher than during the 1980s when Soviet armed forces not only failed to crush the Afghan insurgents but also suffered their country’s “Vietnam” and the USSR’s collapse as a world power. Now many are asking is this the USA’s “Afghanistan”?

And already public opinion in the US is turning sharply against “the good war.” Remember too it was called the good war in comparison with the bad one in Iraq, at a time when casualties in Central Asian theatre of the War on Terrorism were very low. Things have changed with a vengeance. The latest US polls show 54 per cent against the war and barely one in four believes it is worth sending any more U.S. soldiers to die in Afghanistan. Whilst Britain – under the wretched Gordon Brown - is talking of sending more troops, some of the hitherto staunch US allies are planning their exit strategy: Canada (21 Canadians have been killed in 2009 up to now) and the Netherlands have both set dates for withdrawal because public opinion has turned massively against the war.

Currently there are some 60,000 US and 32,000 NATO personnel in the country, with some 8,000 more on the way.

According to General McChrystal's draft plan, by 2012 the number of Afghan government troops must rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000.

During the Iraq surge by US troops in 2007, McChrystal concentrated on counter-insurgency tactics included the use of death-squads that murdered thousands of civilians suspected of participation in either the Sunni insurgency or the Shiite anti-occupation movement of Moqtada al Sadr. Doubtless he is expected to carry out the same murderous tactics.

In Britain as the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan shot past passed the 200 mark, the media is launched a frantic attempt to justify the war and bolster support at home for the occupation. Aware that a clear majority of the people have opposed this war since its beginning in 2002, the generals and politicians did not dare to launch an openly pro-war campaign. Instead they are trying to manipulate the emotions of the people, with reports of the fallen soldiers: their names and faces, their ages, their farewell letters, their parents’ grief.

The promotion of the charity Help for Heroes, allowing the police to wear badges expressing support for the troops, all distract attention away from the question why are they dying? For what? Their plan will backfire. The parade of faces of these dead men – often very young – as the occupation drags into its eighth year will fuel anger and disgust at the senselessness of their deaths.

All of this indicates that in the countries with troops in Afghanistan it is vital to relaunch a powerful antiwar movement for the withdrawal of the troops immediately and an end to the bombing and all forms of occupation. The people of Afghanistan alone have the right to determine their future.

As Afghan democrats like Malalai Joya and socialists have stated; the occupying forces must get out. Afghan socialist add to this demand the support for all acts of resistance to the Western occupiers. In a statement signed between the League and Afghan Socialists it stated:

“We do not in any way seek to aid the political Islamist forces presently leading the resistance to come to power - such a regime has been and would be again as reactionary as Karzai’s, repressive against workers, women, students and youth- we do on the other hand believe that if the resistance movements were to drive out the imperialists this would be is a progressive act which will show the world, as it saw after the Vietnam war in 1975 that the most powerful army in the world could be beaten.” (Read more)