Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fraud In Afghanistan

Official tallies from the Afghan presidential election show that the man already in power, Hamid Karzai, got more than 50% of the vote in last month's poll. That's enough to win the contest outright without the need for a second round run-off election. No problem you'd think, except there's a big health warning on that result. European Union officials say more than a third of the votes for Mr Karzai might be suspect because of fraud.

The issue of fraud is the first of two big problems with the Afghan election. Even if some of Mr Karzai's votes are ruled out, it seems more than likely he'll remain as president. For the last eight years he's run Afghanistan on the basis that he's the best man available, and a man the western nations can do business with. Over the years his credibility has been gradually eroded by allegations of corruption and incompetence within his government. Now, the apparent large-scale fraud in this election means his credibility is at an all-time low. By backing him over the years, the US, Britain and the rest have painted themselves into a corner, because now they're stuck propping up an ineffective administration headed by a fraudster. And as soldiers continue to die, that support is coming at a high price.

The second major issue with last month's election was the low turnout. The recent increase in NATO military action against the Taliban, called Operation Panther's Claw, was supposed to make the situation in Afghanistan stable enough so large amounts of the population would feel encouraged to get out and vote. The offensive led to this summer's increase in the amount of American and British casualties in the south of Afghanistan. And now returns from the election show that, in some areas of Helmand Province, polling stations were reporting turnouts as low as 2%. That's not to say the offensive was a failure, or that the dead soldiers gave their lives for nothing, because the Americans and British have been able to inflict damage on the Taliban and take and hold territory they'd previously been unable to.

However, there's no getting away from the fact that, after eight years of action in Afghanistan, we've just had an election in which the sitting president cheated and in which not all that many people voted. Time for a rethink.

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