U.S. Prepares for Questions of Legitimacy in Afghan Election

By
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm
Afghan Presisent Hamid Karzai (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

Afghan Presisent Hamid Karzai (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

With Thursday’s presidential election in Afghanistan proving difficult to forecast, some analysts in and outside the Obama administration are considering U.S. options if the next government is viewed as illegitimate. If so, the U.S. may push the winner toward forming a “national unity government” to incorporate the losing factions into a governing coalition — a move that incumbent president Hamid Karzai is already indicating he’ll pursue.

At issue is the prospect of either violence, voter apathy or anger at the election returns yielding a government that attempts to rule 34 million million people with an asterisk beside its name. Earlier this year, an independent Afghan election commission decreed that security dangers compelled pushing the vote from April to August, a decision with consequences for the Obama administration, as it sought to work with the lame-duck Karzai government to improve deteriorating security and governance.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Last Wednesday at an event at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that some of the administration’s plans for expanding Afghan governing capacity — viewed as integral to the war’s fortunes — required a delay until a legitimate government resulted from the election. “A government needs legitimacy,” Holbrooke said last week. “The decision to ignore the constitution and delay the election has caused a reorientation of our priorities for the first six and a half months of this administration.”

An election seen as illegitimate by the Afghan people could further jeopardize Obama’s plans to bolster Afghan governance and development, as the victor of the election would have a hard time making the difficult governing decisions Obama sees as necessary to reverse the war’s fortunes. Holbrooke last week suggested that a host of U.S. priorities for Afghanistan — “anti-corruption, a national reintegration amnesty program [for insurgents], improving the governance at the sub-central level,” all of which he called “vitally important in an overall counterinsurgency effort” — might be compromised if the next government cannot command the support of its people. Another problem, said Ronald Neumann, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, would be the “loss of U.S. domestic and Congressional support for the rough road ahead.”

The prevailing opinion by observers in Afghanistan and outside is uncertainty over the state of the race. Most polls show Karzai with double-digit leads over his 40 challengers, but experts caution that polling in a country beset with such widespread lack of security is problematic. Some of Karzai’s challengers, such as former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, are showing anecdotal signs of electoral strength, according to news reports. In a phone call from Kabul, Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who is monitoring the elections as part of a delegation from the nongovernmental organization Democracy International, said, “The people that are here, from journalists, aid workers,  people here for years, at the embassy and ISAF [the NATO military command], you ask what’s going to happen and they don’t have a strong theory of the case. There’s a great deal of uncertainty.”

Holbrooke said on Wednesday that the international media would play a large role in setting a narrative of credibility and legitimacy for the election’s results. Similarly, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement on Monday urging the press to “refrain from speculation until results are announced” and for “candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections.” She promised neutrality by the United States, which has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban-led insurgency has threatened violent retaliation against any Afghan who votes in the election, and has launched a series of attacks on Kabul, the capital, in advance of the vote. According to Canadian Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesman, insurgents have averaged 32 attacks daily over the last 10 days, and a spike of 48 attacks during the last three. But Tremblay was confident that even if the insurgents were able to conduct “up to 65 attacks on different locations throughout Afghanistan” on Thursday they would only be able to reach one percent of Afghanistan’s approximately 6,500 polling centers.

The chief of ISAF’s election task force, Australian Brig. Gen. Damien Cantwell, said on a conference call Tuesday that Afghan security forces would take the lead role on securing the polling sites. “We’ll be ready to react” if those forces are overwhelmed by insurgents, Cantwell said.

U.S. officials would not comment on the record about the election for fear of being perceived as interfering, which would compound legitimacy concerns. Nor would officials interviewed for this story offer any predictions for what will happen on Thursday. But one official, who declined to be identified, said that if the election is “not perceived to be broadly legitimate,” it would merit a “whole new series of efforts to get beyond the perceived illegitimacy,” such as “a national unity government or pulling competitors into the government some other way.”

Shuja Nawaz, a South Asia scholar at the Atlantic Council who has advised Gen. David Petraeus about the region, said that “whatever the outcome of the election,” the next government would “seek some kind of ex post facto legitimacy by working out deals” among rival factions. Already Karzai has floated an offer to his rival Ashraf Ghani to join the government in the event Karzai wins reelection. (Ghani, who is being advised by Clinton confidante James Carville, has written a book with development expert Clare Lockhart, who has also advised Petraeus. She did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment for this piece.) “It’s very important for the coalition to have a working government in Kabul,” Nawaz said. “There will be tremendous pressure on the other major candidates to try work something out.”

While the U.S. official cautioned that a legitimacy crisis following the election would “forestall progress on all other areas,” some saw such a crisis as an unlikely scenario. “Karzai would be a fool to do something seen as anti-democratic,” a former intelligence officer with experience in Afghanistan who requested anonymity said. Nawaz pegged the odds for the election resulting in a government seen as illegitimate at 30 percent.

Yet at least one contender’s camp has said it views the reelection of Karzai to indicate fraud in and of itself. “We will not accept it. [Mr Karzai] cannot win unless he resorts to large-scale corruption, so we will not accept that,” Abdullah’s campaign manager, Abdul Sattar Murad, told the United Arab Emirates-based newspaper The National.

Cantwell did not directly address a question about the implications for NATO military actions if the elections were viewed as illegitimate, saying the elections were “an important step, but one of many” for Afghanistan. But he appeared to echo Holbrooke in observing that “all those sorts of reconstruction and stabilization activities that have been brought to bear are also underpinned by governance improvement.”

Additionally, perceived illegitimacy in the election could exacerbate sectarian tensions in Afghanistan. While Karzai is a Pashtun, much of his government is run by members of other ethnic groups, feeding into the Taliban’s message that the government disenfranchises Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. “If election is considered ‘stolen,’ which will only happen in the case of a Karzai win since it is his backers who have the means (government positions) to steal on a meaningful national level, there will be trouble with other ethnic groups, primarily Tajiks as Hazaras and Uzbeks will split votes,” Neumann said in an email. “If Abdullah wins in way where Pushtuns feel ‘we was cheated’ it will be a help to Taliban recruitment and make locals in the most difficult provinces, especially Helmand, Kandahar etc. harder to bring into support of the government. Probably not a similar problem for Asraf Ghani as he is a Pushtun.”

Still, Katulis said from Kabul, there were indications of optimism among Afghans. “In the face of violence and threats of intimidation people seem interested in this… there’s a parallel tension about security and uncertainty about the post-election period, but at the same time [there's] a hopeful political debate that’s happening in certain parts of the country and people seem pretty interested in the election.” Nawaz added that despite a recent history of war and authoritarianism, the number of competitive candidates in this year’s election represented “a great leap forward. It’s a huge victory for Afghans.”

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


Comments

22 Comments

Give ‘Em Hell, Hamid! « Around The Sphere
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chenlifeng0810
Comment posted August 19, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

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chenlifeng0810
Comment posted August 19, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

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citizenUS
Comment posted August 19, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

I don't understand how the above generals from Canada and Australia can be considered “NATO generals”. There is no such thing, they are Canadian and Australian generals working on a NATO mission. Furthermore, what right does NATO which in the Berlin Conference in 2003 switched the decisionmaking on military actions of NATO to the EU, rather than individual nations, have to include any other nations other than the nations in the EU as part of NATO or NATO ISAF missions. This creates a situation where other than EU members, the militaries of other governments are being used in military missions for which they have no decisionmaking capacities, including Australia, Canada and the U.S. as well as numerous other non EU countries involved in NATO ISAF military operations. This is an act that is unconstiutional in all of these countries.


David S
Comment posted August 20, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

actually, Democracy International is a contractor…


triathlon
Comment posted August 21, 2009 @ 12:47 am

THE WORSE PERSON I KNOW MOTHER-IN-LAW

(Helping Where)

Now, Matthew Yglesias is a fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He is the author of Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats, and has posted an article on (http://www.americanprogressaction.org) HELPING WHERE WE’RE NOT WANTED, and from the posting; Judith A. McHale was expecting a contentious session with Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of American foreign policy, when she sat down for a one-on-one meeting with him in a hotel conference room in Islamabad on Monday. She got that, and a little bit more. [...] “‘You should know that we hate all Americans,’” Ms. McHale said Mr. Abbasi told her. “‘From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.’”

(Mother-In-Law Nation)

It sort of reminded me of the (1960’s) song Mother-In-Law, now don’t get me wrong my Mother-In-Law, is a peach now my better half’s Mother-In-Law, fits the bill the worse person I know Mother-In-Law. The same rules apply in an individuals lives as in International Relations, No one what their Mother-In-Law, coming over to give advise and tell them how to lead their lives, since it is their lives after all. If there is a Mother-In-Law of nations it has to be the (U.S. Empire), and Mr. Abbasi cut right to chase. “‘From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.’” Duh! Get your nose out of our business, take your Democracy shove it were the sun don’t shine, and get your unwanted, and unneeded, Marine provided Help out of The Islamic Crescent, your help is killing us.

(Eighty Year of Progress?)

A nation is just like an individual. If a man’s neighbors (The World Community) all hate him (U.S. Empire) and he is continually in trouble, and all his (The U.S. Empire) fights and troubles are always over in the other fellow’s yard (Af-Pak), he (The U.S. Empire) must be wrong. If he (The U.S. Empire) won’t stay at home what he needs is a good licking, or a muzzled. (Will Rogers/with Triathlon additions)

Well, I (Will Rogers) brave been prowling around over the earth for (3) three months. I (Will Rogers) found more countries than the (League of Nation/ United Nations) I (Will Rogers) have located a lot of those little ones (President Wilson/ The Imperial Media Messiah) made out of big ones. I (Will Rogers) have been LOOKING FOR A FRIEND OF (AMERICA/U.S. EMPIRE), BUT I (ANYONE) JUST HAVE TO GIVE UP AND REPORT FAILURE.

You know, you can be killed just as dead in an unjustified war, as you can in one protecting your own home. We lost lots of fine men down there in (Nicaragua/Iraq & Af-Pak), for what? To make (their) elections as pure as Chicago’s? (Will Rogers)

Now, for all those who are not from the Windy City, Chi-Town, elections are pretty straight forward, make it look like its not rigged, stuff the ballot boxes, have all the good dead Dumb Democratic vote, have the bowery gang vote at least twice, and with the electronic voting machines it’s a snap and never ever walk down the hall’s of Cook County, just City Hall. It’s a done deal. All the Crooked Republicans Live in the Suburbs in Mansions, or gated communities now.

(TBAM) Take Back America Movement/ Wolf’s Head Independent/ Mate for Life/ Howl at the Moon/ Mark our Territory/ And We Bite!

As Thomas Jefferson stated more than 200 years ago, “[t]he germ of destruction of our nation is in the power of the judiciary, an irresponsible body – working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall render powerless the checks of one branch over the other and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

It's time to water the tree of liberty” – a phrase taken from Thomas Jefferson, an 18th century American revolutionary and third US president, who wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

HERCULE TRIATHLON SAVINIEN


Recommending a number of trustworthy investigative journalists: « Southwest Progressive
Pingback posted August 21, 2009 @ 11:42 am

[...] sources contributing regularly to the collaborative efforts mentioned above. His story, “U.S. Prepares for Questions of Legitimacy in Afghan Election” (8/18/09) is subtitled, “United States May Push Winner To Incorporate Losing Factions [...]


Matthew Yglesias » How Afghanistan Got a President
Pingback posted August 21, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

[...] support of an Uzbek mass murderer and then deal with the inevitable ensuing legitimacy problems by informally assembling a coalition [...]


Recommending Investigative Journalists | The Sirens Chronicles
Pingback posted August 25, 2009 @ 4:01 am

[...] sources contributing regularly to the collaborative efforts mentioned above.  His story, “U.S. Prepares for Questions of Legitimacy in Afghan Election” (8/18/09) is subtitled, “United States May Push Winner To Incorporate Losing Factions [...]


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Comment posted August 5, 2010 @ 6:25 am

t's time to water the tree of liberty” – a phrase taken from Thomas Jefferson, an 18th century American revolutionary and third US president, who wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”


Discount Louis Vuitton
Comment posted August 23, 2010 @ 2:16 am

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”


What to think about the Afghan elections
Pingback posted December 11, 2010 @ 6:00 am

[...] Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent: “Additionally, perceived illegitimacy in the election could exacerbate sectarian tensions in Afghanistan. While Karzai is a Pashtun, much of his government is run by members of other ethnic groups, feeding into the Taliban’s message that the government disenfranchises Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. ‘If election is considered “stolen,” which will only happen in the case of a Karzai win since it is his backers who have the means (government positions) to steal on a meaningful national level, there will be trouble with other ethnic groups, primarily Tajiks as Hazaras and Uzbeks will split votes,’ Neumann said in an email. ‘If Abdullah wins in way where Pushtuns feel “we was cheated” it will be a help to Taliban recruitment and make locals in the most difficult provinces, especially Helmand, Kandahar etc. harder to bring into support of the government. Probably not a similar problem for Asraf Ghani as he is a Pushtun.’ [...]


What to think about the Afghan elections - Salon.com
Pingback posted May 21, 2011 @ 8:36 am

[...] Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent: “Additionally, perceived illegitimacy in the election could exacerbate sectarian tensions in Afghanistan. While Karzai is a Pashtun, much of his government is run by members of other ethnic groups, feeding into the Taliban’s message that the government disenfranchises Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. ‘If election is considered “stolen,” which will only happen in the case of a Karzai win since it is his backers who have the means (government positions) to steal on a meaningful national level, there will be trouble with other ethnic groups, primarily Tajiks as Hazaras and Uzbeks will split votes,’ Neumann said in an email. ‘If Abdullah wins in way where Pushtuns feel “we was cheated” it will be a help to Taliban recruitment and make locals in the most difficult provinces, especially Helmand, Kandahar etc. harder to bring into support of the government. Probably not a similar problem for Asraf Ghani as he is a Pushtun.’ [...]


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