Afghan Elections Do Little to Soothe International Concerns: The Outcome of Afghanistan's General Elections, the First after More Than a Quarter Century of War, Was Awaited as TME Went to Press. the Results Will Affect Regional Stability throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and the Omens Are Not Good
Land, Thomas, The Middle East
AFGHAN OPIUM PRODUCTION HAS at last declined, for the first time in recent years. But the warlords and traffickers, who took an active part in the 18 September elections, are exploiting the chaos prevailing in the region to strengthen their positions in a country which has gained notoriety as the world's leading supplier of heroin.
The intensity of the war against the Taliban and its allies, who have attempted to wreck the elections by unleashing a fury of violence, is growing relentlessly. More than 1,000 people, including seven election candidates, have been killed in the war during the past six months alone, the worst bloodshed since the American-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The United Nations Security Council says it is gravely concerned about increased attacks by Taliban, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan. The UN has already urged its staff to restrict movement in Kabul and avoid unnecessary travel following a suicide bomb set off there after the elections.
Turnout at the polls was understandably low, with only an estimated 50% of the 12.4m registered voters participating, compared with 75% of the electorate attracted to the elections in 2004 when President Harold Karzai won a landslide victory. This time, the Afghans voted for a 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of Parliament, and for 34 provincial councils. The president and the councils will in turn select members of the 51-seat upper house. Parliament will convene in December.
Many of the 26,250 polling stations were unreachable by road. Election officials supervised by the UN deployed 1,247 donkeys, 300 horses, 24 camels, 1,200 lorries and 48 helicopters and transport aircraft to distribute ballot papers around the country. They have, so far, counted over 80% of the ballot, and uncovered signs of significant fraud.
Among the winners of the elections were obviously Afghan women, some of them clad in all-covering burqas, segregated from their men at many polling centres. But in this deeply conservative society where only four years ago women were still largely confined to their homes under the oppressive Taliban rule, a quarter of the seats in the Wolesi Jirga are now reserved for them.
The main loser may well be Afghanistan itself, as well as its neighbours, since the elections are expected to produce a fragmented national assembly focusing on local interests and commanding little popular respect or support. It is clear that the democratic process has been abused by many warlords seeking parliamentary immunity by participating in the elections through vote-buying or blackmail.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has expressed fear that many of them will try to band together if they win seats, to push through legislation in their favour, possibly even to prevent any judicial investigation into their own murky affairs. Under the constitution, Parliament can implement its own legislation with a two-thirds majority, thus overruling President Karzai.
Close to 50 such prominent former mujahedeen figures were disqualified from running in the elections--but nothing prevented them from sponsoring their relatives at the polls. Among the estimated 1,800 commanders still maintaining "self-defence" forces in the provinces, at least 25 have been accused of insurgency and drug trafficking as well as roadside extortion. Most of them are former commanders in the American-backed Afghan force that drove the Taliban from power four years ago.
The election-day violence included some fatal mortar and heavy artillery attacks by the insurgents and several attempts by them at staging large-scale explosions. The elections were secured by a coalition comprising the 25,000-member Afghan National Army and the 50,000-man Afghan police as well as the 18,000 Americans and the 12,000 mostly Europeans of the Security and Assistance Force of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). …