Tuesday, August 14

Karzai renamed Afghan president


Afghan president Hamid Karzai was given another five-year term after the country’s election committee canceled the runoff scheduled for Nov. 7, ending an election process marked by irregularities and fraud.

The decision was made after Karzai’s opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the presidential race on Sunday, citing concerns over the incumbent’s rejection of a list of demands he hoped would lend more transparency to the runoff.

Karzai initially took the vote in the August presidential election, but about a third of his vote was considered fraudulent by a U.N.-backed panel.

Before the second-round elections were cancelled, worries over the expense and violence that might result from an essentially one-sided runoff were noted.

Salmon Hossein, founder of the United Afghan Club at UCLA, agreed with the decision to cancel the runoff, voicing concerns over Afghans braving the country’s harsh winters and the logistics of what he saw as a predetermined election.

“Karzai was going to win regardless. When his sole opponent pulled out of the race, the election would have been nothing more than a symbolic gesture,” said the fourth-year political science and international development studies student.

Some scholars believed a less ambiguous and more clear mandate resulting from a runoff would have made Karzai a more credible partner in U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Nushin Arbabzadah, an Afghan journalist and visiting scholar at the UCLA Center for India and South Asia, said the fallout from the election has substantiated the fear held by many Afghans that their politicians are incapable of moving forward.

“Karzai refused to accept the conditions, and Abdullah just withdrew without any call for protest,” she said. “The fact that they could not come to a compromise shows they have not moved on from tribal power.”

A statement made by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton suggested she held hopes that the Karzai cabinet would be receptive to Abdullah’s coalition, echoing fellow Western officials who are encouraging Karzai to reach across factional lines to combat corruption.

But Hossein expressed doubts for the legitimacy of Karzai’s re-elected government, with or without an Abdullah presence. His distrust came from the lack of transparency in the original vote, as well as what he saw as the futility of the runoff.

“Karzai would have won the runoff clean, fair and square. If Abdullah is a part of the Karzai government, it will look bad for him because of the soft approach he took in backing out,” Hossein said. “He didn’t call for protest of government because the assumption is that he’s leaving open the possibility for inclusion.”

Arbabzadah said the opposition’s inclusion would do little to improve a general lack of confidence in the government’s authority felt among many in the provinces.

“It seems that the government has very little impact in the country. When you look at the provinces, what matters most there is what the strongmen do,” she said.

“The reach of their power is very strong. As far as the government goes, the thought is it’s not going to make a lot of difference to their lives in the remote provinces,” Arbabzadah said, adding that provinces’ indifference contributed to the low participation in the original election.

In spite of the problematic lead-up to the election, President Barack Obama said he backed the outcome because it was in accordance with Afghan law.

Under Afghanistan’s constitution, a second election should have two candidates to be legitimate, said Azizullah Lodin, the Independent Election Commission Chairman, in a news report.

But Obama’s vote of confidence in Karzai’s reelected government comes as his administration weighs the decision to send 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

The case for sending more troops to Afghanistan will be more difficult for Obama to make, according to Hossein. Dependent on proof that Afghanistan is moving forward, the case is hindered by the cancelled runoff, he said.

“More important than a military response, which will only give way to violent backlash, is a civilian response to promote infrastructure, education and a government that is sufficient and not corrupt,” Hossein said.

Still, for part of the Afghan population, committing more troops would increase feelings of national security, Arbabzadah said.

“Many believe the Afghan forces cannot be left to their own device. They fear civil war,” she said.

“If the troops withdrew or were lessened in any way, many people fear a return to the 1990s, where different factions started to fight.”

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