Posts Tagged ‘Electoral Complaints Commission’

Fighting corruption and other challenges in Dexter Filkins’ Corrupt-istan

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Some time is likely to pass before the results of Saturday’s National Assembly elections in Afghanistan become known, and are officially announced.

In the meantime, it is useful to reflect on the more fundamental issues facing the United States, NATO and other allied countries engaged in the effort to secure the country from the Taliban–or at least arrange a departure that does not lead to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government.

As we get caught up in the details provided to our reporters by U.S. military and civilian officials in Afghanistan and Washington, and also those of allied nations, we tend to forget several fundamental facts about the country.

First, Afghanistan is a narco-state, where drug money and drug lords hold inordinate sway.

Second, the country is the second most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International which ranks it 179th, with only the anarchic state of Somalia ranking lower at 180th.

Third, while the United States has supported the development of institutions necessary for good governance over the course of the nine-year war, as have the United Nations and other allied nations, its Central Intelligence Agency has at the same time been paying many high-ranking Afghan officials either as assets or to provide specific information and services, on a long-term and continuing basis. Many of these officials have been known to be corrupt.

Fourth, the United States has been unable to break free from its support of president Hamid Karzai, even when the presidential elections held in August 2009 gave it an opportunity to do so through adherence to the Afghan constitution and the electoral machinery that had been set up in accordance with Afghan legislation. Despite a massive vote against Karzai and for Abdullah that, even after a portion of the votes produced by corruption had been discounted, required that a second-round runoff election be held, the U.S. stood by Karzai.

The massive corruption of the electoral process, apparently orchestrated by Karzai, was corrected in part only by the Electoral Complaints Commission that at that time had a majority of three international members. Lost in the news reporting was the critical fact that the ECC had only examined the results of the voting stations where the most egregious fraud had occurred. The actual extent of the fraud was in all likelihood far greater than that examined and found by the ECC, and it is quite possible that Abdulllah Abdullah, who came in second, could have won a free and fair second round election.

The U.S., instead of facing down Karzai, turned to Pakistan and apparently struck a deal to gain the cooperation of the Pakistani military in negotiating with the Taliban, in exchange for ceasing its pressure on Karzai to either actually hold a second-round election or form a national unity government with Abdullah. In the face of Karzai’s refusal to meet Abdullah’s demand that the members of the Independent Electoral Commission who had orchestrated the fraud be replaced, the latter withdrew from the race.

As Thomas Friedman observed in the New York Times in his March 31 op-ed column,

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

See also The Trenchant Observer, “Thomas L. Friedman on Karzai; Hard Options,” March 31, 2010.

Fifth, when U.S. anti-corruption efforts collide with the pervasive corruption at the top of the Afghan government, which reportedly has many high-ranking officials on the CIA payroll, those efforts seem to always be sacrificed as the intelligence agencies weigh in to protect their assets.

See, e.g., Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Karzai Aide in Corruption Inquiry Is Tied to C.I.A.,” New York Times, August 25, 2010

Recently, Karzai blocked the efforts of two U.S. supported Afghan anti-corruption bodies when they sought to arrest officials close to Karzai widely reputed to be corrupt. Karzai then fired Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, who had been in charge of these anti-corruption efforts. The New York Times, in an editorial on August 25, 2010, noted,

A report in Thursday’s Times that the aide, Mohammed Zia Salehi, is a paid agent of the C.I.A. shows, once again, the seamy complications of this war.

In late July, Mr. Salehi, a top national security adviser to Mr. Karzai, was arrested after being accused of soliciting bribes to help block an investigation of the New Ansari Exchange. New Ansari, a financial firm based in Kabul, is suspected of helping move billions of dollars out of Afghanistan.

The two anticorruption agencies, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigations Unit, were established by the Afghan government last year with encouragement from the United States. They are independent, with broad powers to arrest, detain and try suspects, and they receive technical and other help from the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

–Editorial, “Mr. Karzai’s Promises,” New York Times, August 25, 2010

The Central Dilemma Facing the U.S. in Afghanistan

The central dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan is that good governance is required for the Taliban to be checked, both according to U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine (as enunciated in the Army manual drafted by Petraeus), and under the specific conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. Yet good governance cannot be built, or governance strengthened, without law and the framework of law that such governance requires.

In a word, the U.S. and its allies are not likely to succeed in stabilizing Afghanistan, or in reducing the likelihood of destabilization of Pakistan as a result of failure in Afghanistan, without clearly setting out as its objective the establishment and consolidation of a constitutional or rule-of-law state.

That does not mean that the United States must maintain large military forces in Afghanistan until such a state is firmly in place, but it does mean that U.S. and allied efforts in the country must be oriented toward that goal, and not undermine it.

A long-term commitment from the U.S. and its allies on the civilian side, to assist in building and strengthening such a rule-of-law state, may be required. Such a commitment, however, would reassure Afghan partners dedicated to such an enterprise, and potential adherents, that the Umited States will not simply withdraw its troops and leave the country to warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban.

Two must-read articles lay out the depths of the pervasive corruption that exists in Afghanistan, and the inherent contradictions–as well as the strange if not delusional thinking–involved in current U.S. policymaking discussions on the subject of how to fight this corruption. See

Dexter Filkins, “Inside Corrupt-istan, a Loss of Faith in Leaders,” The New York Times, September 4, 2010; and

Mark Mazzetti and Rod Norland, “U.S. Debates Karzai’s Place in Fighting Corruption,” New York Times, September 14, 2010

Filkins writes,

It’s not as if the Americans and their NATO partners don’t know who the corrupt Afghans are. American officers and anti-corruption teams have drawn up intricate charts outlining the criminal syndicates that entwine the Afghan business and political elites. They’ve even given the charts a name: “Malign Actor Networks.” A k a MAN.

Looking at some of these charts—with their crisscrossed lines connecting politicians, drug traffickers and insurgents — it’s easy to conclude that this country is ruled neither by the government, nor NATO, nor the Taliban, but by the MAN.

It turns out, of course, that some of the same “malign actors” the diplomats and officers are railing against are on the payroll of the C.I.A. At least until recently, American officials say, one of them was Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother. Mr. Karzai has long been suspected of facilitating the country’s booming drug trade.

President Obama’s Response

How has president Obama reacted to Karzai’s interventions to block anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan and his firing of Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar?

On Monday, September 14, Mazzetti and Norland report, the president met with his senior advisors to address the problem:

The Obama administration is debating whether to make Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government, including giving him more oversight of graft investigators and notifying him before any arrests, according to senior American officials.

The corruption issue was at the center of a two-hour White House meeting on Monday, with President Obama and senior aides agreeing that efforts to tackle corruption should be balanced against the need to maintain ties with the Afghan government.

“The discussion on corruption, in essence, is really a discussion about our relationship with Karzai,” said one senior Obama administration official, who like several others interviewed for this article spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Officials cautioned that no firm decisions had been made about whether President Karzai should have any veto power over anticorruption efforts. They said that Mr. Obama told his advisers on Monday to come up with a more “sophisticated” policy toward Afghan corruption.

Mr. Obama, the officials said, directed government agencies — including the Pentagon, the State Department, the Justice Department and the C.I.A. — to develop guidelines that could isolate the corruption that fuels anger among Afghans and drives many into the ranks of the insurgency, as opposed to the more routine kickbacks and bribes that grease the Afghan political system.

“The corruption we need to combat is the corruption that undermines the fight against the Taliban,” said a second American official. “That means going after officials who abuse ordinary Afghans and drive them to the other side — a plundering landlord or a brutal, thieving cop.”

In other words, the idea is to pursue some corruption, but not the corruption at the top of the Afghan government. In the president’s words, the challenge is to come up with a more “sophisticated” policy toward fighting Afghan corruption.

Perhaps more importantly, Obama’s call for more “sophisticated” options for fighting corruption in Afghanistan reflects Karzai’s continued ability to “roll” the president, who every time he hits a brick wall seems to call for more analysis.

There is room for some doubt as to whether these “sophisticated” intellectual distinctions and options, if found and implemented, will ever gain traction in the second most corrupt country in the world, Corrupt-istan.

To the Observer, the idea of trying to make Karzai a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government sounds like giving Al Capone a more central role in cleaning up Chicago.

In the meantime, anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan are “paused”. See Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin, “New Afghan Corruption Inquiries Frozen,” New York Times, September 14, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.

September 18 Afghan National Assembly Elections–Context

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

For updates on the elections, see

Reading the newspapers and watching television news reports in the United States, one would be hard pressed to have any idea of what is going on in the run-up to the National Assembly elections in Afghanistan to be held on September 18, 2010.

These elections are not part of the U.S. and NATO narrative for Afghanistan. It is almost as if corruption is expected and approved in advance.

The fact that U.S. media have given such little attention to the election compaign hints at how dependent the media are on getting their information from allied officials, even if it is information critical of U.S. policy.

The revelations about CIA payments to many, many high officials in the Afghan government reflect courageous journalism, but somehow no one seems to be making the connection between the corruption by the CIA of top Afghan officials and the holding of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the background to the elections, including what happened in the August 2009 presidential elections and their aftermath, it may be useful to review the following articles by the Observer on different aspects of U.S. and allied policy toward Afghanistan, Afghan elections, and the democratic project in that country.

See the following articles, in particular:

“The Magician” enthralls donors once again, in Kabul,
July 22, 2010

The New York Times’ Bob Herbert on dire Afghanistan situation and “the courage to leave”
June 11, 1010

Intelligence Matters: U.S. Dependence on Intelligence From Wali Karzai Shapes Kandahar Strategy
May 27, 2010

Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington
May 22, 2010

Opera Buffa in Kabul — Karzai Threatens to Join the Taliban
April 5, 2010

News to Note: Lower House of Afghan National Assembly Rejects Karzai’s Electoral Coup
March 31, 2010

Thomas L. Friedman on Karzai; Hard Options
March 31, 2010
Afghanistan: Obama Begins to Grasp the Reality of Karzai
March 30, 2010

Afghanistan: U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?
March 27, 2010

Intelligence Matters: Khost, The Flynn Report, and a Few Hypotheses
March 17, 2010

Afghanistan: Controversy Over Live TV Coverage of Attacks, Deafening Silence on Karzai’s Electoral Coup
March 13, 2010

U.S.-Pak Military Deal: Quetta Shura Arrests, Karzai’s Electoral Coup, and the Rule of Law
February 24th, 2010
REVISED February 25, 2010

Karzai’s Electoral Coup, 1000 U.S. Military Deaths and… “What Is It, Again, That We Are Fighting for in Afghanistan?”
February 24, 2010

Pakistan Desire to “Mediate” with Taliban Consistent with Earlier Reports of Deal to Support Karzai in Election Settlement
February 10th, 2010

October 16th, 2009

October 28, 2009

We should watch very carefully what happens before, during and after the September 18 elections for the National Assembly.

For while the Americans appear to have lost interest in the democratic project in Afghanistan, with NATO and the United Nations following in their wake, in the long run it may turn out that the only force that can organize the people of Afghanistan against the nationalism, lack of corruption, and religious fervor of the Taliban is a belief in democracy and the rule of law. These could potentially become goals worth fighting for. It might be worth trying, if not now at least after everything else has been tried.

It is hard to see how deals with corrupt power centers, whether at the national or at the local level, could survive once allied forces have left the country. To try to build a peace on this foundation seems, to this observer, like trying to build a castle in the desert on constantly shifting sands.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Margaret Warner interviewed Hamid Karzai’s opponent in the August 20, 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, on the Newshour on Friday, May 21. See “Karzai Opponent Abdullah Seeks to Bolster Afghan Opposition Movement,” Newshour Newsmaker Interview (video and transcript), aired May 21, 2010.

One of the more startling pieces of information to come from the interview was that Presdient Barack Obama and his administration have been snubbing Dr. Abdullah during his present week-long visit to Washington. The following exchange occurred:

MARGARET WARNER: You’re here for more than a week. You’re meeting with members of Congress. You’re leading an opposition bloc, a movement. Yet, you’re not meeting with anyone in the Obama administration. Why not?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I had put a request for meetings. And the meetings with the Congress and Senate and all the speaking events are scheduled. The administration has not come back with an answer. Perhaps they are busy. I’m OK.

It is difficult to understand why President Obama’s embrace of Hamid Karzai, who committed massive fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, and whose failure to take steps to ensure that the fraud would not be repeated in the second round led Dr. Abdullah to withdraw from the race, precludes meetings by the president himself and other high U.S. officials with the second most popular politician in Afghanistan.

In fact, the United States tilted hard in favor of Karzai, and against Abdullah, long before the results of the first-round election were announced–over two monts after they were held.

The United States has never publicly explained why it is against Dr. Abdullah, who in in his public statements appears to be moderate, pro-U.S., measured in his assessments of developments in the country, and on the whole eminently reasonable.

The Obama administration owes us such an explanation.

Given Karzai’s manipulation of the electoral law in February, seizing the power to appoint a majority of Afghans to the Electoral Complaints Commission–which will have a decisive voice in the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010–Abdullah may be seen as the leading democratic politician in Afghanistan.

He is, at the very least, an important player in the developing democractic process in Afghanistan. Obama and his administration should be embracing the opportunity to meet with a leading figure in that process, the leader of the principal opposition coalition contesting the congressional elections on September 18.

Instead, they have snubbed and are snubbing Abdullah.

While Abdullah is not meeting with U.S. officials while in Washington, he is meeting with a number of other people.

See, for example, the following:

Interview with Steve Coll, “Afghanistan’s Might-Have Been,” Foreign Policy, May 22, 2010

Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “U.S. Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai Rival,” New York Times, May 20,2010

On electoral corruption in the 2009 presidential elections and the forthcoming September, 2010 congressional elections, see Peter W. Galbraith, “U.S. lost in Afghan vote” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2010.

Glabraith writes:

Will we ever learn? In 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who will meet with President Obama in Washington this week, ripped off American taxpayers for about $200 million. This is what the United States contributed to support presidential elections that Karzai himself admits were massively fraudulent. Now, the United Nations and the Obama administration propose to fund Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in September, even though new rules pushed through by Karzai — over the opposition of parliament — make fraud even more likely this time.

Obama has, fatefully, cast his lot with Karzai. But the United States cannot prevail in Afghanistan without a good governance partner.

It is time for Obama to develop a Plan B. Abdullah could be an important part of that Plan B, should Plan A with Karzai fail to work.

Plan B would also involve returning to the democratic goals for which coalition soldiers fought, and international development agencies worked, for eight years.

It is worth thinking about.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation if possible. A Google translation will be sufficient.

News to Note: Lower House of Afghan National Assembly Rejects Karzai’s Electoral Coup

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Heartening News, if Not an April Fool’s Joke

Jonathan Partow of the Washington Post reports from Kabul that the lower house of Aghanistan’s National Assembly has rejected Hamid Karzai’s attempt to seize control of the Electoral Complaints Commission. Partow reports:

“This is a very important day for Afghanistan’s democratic institutions,” said Peter D. Lepsch, a senior legal adviser for Democracy International in Kabul. “The legislative branch has used its constitutional authority to stem presidential power. That’s a big deal.”

The most contentious proposed change in the elections law would allow Karzai to appoint three of five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission…

This appointment proposal was a driving force for many lawmakers to vote against it by waving red cards in the air, according to Mirwais Yasini, the deputy speaker of the lower house.

“We had a very bad experience in the presidential election; it cannot be considered legal. The credibility of the current president is under question. Looking ahead, we have to have good transparency. We had to reject this law,” he said.

The members present in the lower house — about half the total — overwhelmingly voted against the proposal.

–Jonathan Partow, “Afghan parliament’s lower house rejects Karzai election proposals,” The Washington Post, April 1, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Thomas L. Friedman on Karzai; Hard Options

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Thomas L. Friedman, in an op-ed article published on the New York Times website on March 30 and in the print edition on March 31, 2010, has provided an important analysis which complements our article, “Afghanistan: Obama Begins to Grasp the Reality of Karzai,” also published on March 30. The Observer had not seen Friedman’s piece before writing his own.

Friedman argues that the U.S. has violated three cardinal principles of conducting foreign policy in the Middle East:

Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”

Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.

Zeroing in on the central dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan, Friedman concludes:

As Filkins and Landler noted, “During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.” And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we’re there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we’re gone?

We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.

–Thomas L. Friedman, “This Time We Really Mean It,” New York Times, March 30, 2010.

Hard Options

It is time to consider hard options.

One option would be to block the funding by the United Nations of any electoral support for the National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010. Such funding should be restored only if and when Karzai withdraws his decree seizing control of the Electoral Complaints Commission, restores the language of the electoral law to its text before his decree, and takes other measures to guarantee free and fair elections in September.

No U.N. funding should occur until these actions have actually been taken, not just promised. Any restoration of funding should contain clear conditions safeguarding the freedom of the elections which, if violated, would result in an immediate cessation of funding and U.N. support operations.

Other “tough” options should also be explored. These include resolving the contradictions inherent in the alleged ties of Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, to the CIA and U.S. dependence on him for intelligence and other matters in Kandahar and the South.

An even harder question lurks just behind the question of what to do about Wali Karzai, and that is the question of what Hamid Karzai’s involvement with the CIA may have been in the past.

These issues, and what to do about Wali Karzai as the U.S. prepares to launch an intensive compaign to secure Kandahar, require concentrated attention and decisive action at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

For, as we wrote on October 6, 2009,

The failure in Afghanistan has been a diplomatic and political failure, not just a military failure. Military strategy will falter if diplomatic and political strategy does not keep pace. We cannot succeed in Afghanistan by proceeding on the naive belief that we can “stand up” a legitimate government born of fraud, or that we can “stand up” an Afghan army both capable of defeating the Taliban and loyal to a government lacking in legitimacy and losing public support. Legitimacy is the key to developing both a more effective government and a more capable army and police. Without legitimacy, both possibilities appear to be but chimeras in the desert sand.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Afghanistan: Obama Begins to Grasp the Reality of Karzai

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

On March 30, 2010, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler of the New York Times reported that earlier this month the White House had canceled a visit by Hamid Karzai to Washington, following his electoral coup and blatant takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission. They describe his reaction as follows:

Incensed, Mr. Karzai extended an invitation of his own — to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who flew to Kabul and delivered a fiery anti-American speech inside Afghanistan’s presidential palace.

“Karzai was enraged,” said an Afghan with knowledge of the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “He invited Ahmadinejad to spite the Americans.”

The dispute was smoothed over only this week, when Mr. Obama flew to Kabul for a surprise dinner with Mr. Karzai….

But the red carpet treatment of Mr. Ahmadinejad is just one example of how Mr. Karzai is putting distance between himself and his American sponsors, prominent Afghans and American officials here said. Even as Mr. Obama pours tens of thousands of additional American troops into the country to help defend Mr. Karzai’s government, Mr. Karzai now often voices the view that his interests and the United States’ no longer coincide.

Indeed, the recent behavior by Mr. Karzai offers the latest illustration of the central dilemma that faces the Obama administration in Afghanistan: how to influence the actions of an ally who they increasingly regard as unreliable, without undermining America’s ultimate goals here.

At a lunch in January with Afghan leaders, Karzai reportedly described himself as holding the line in Afghanistan against the Americans:

In January, Mr. Karzai invited about two dozen prominent Afghan media and business figures to a lunch at the palace. At the lunch, he expressed a deep cynicism about America’s motives, and of the burden he bears in trying to keep the United States at bay.

“He has developed a complete theory of American power,” said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.”

Mr. Karzai said that, left alone, he could strike a deal with the Taliban, but that the United States refuses to allow him. The American goal, he said, was to keep the Afghan conflict going, and thereby allow American troops to stay in the country.

–Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, “Afghan Leader Is Seen to Flout Influence of U.S.,” New York Times, March 30, 2010.

As the authors note, the Ahmadinijad invitation is not the only evidence of the disloyalty of the Afghan president to the American and NATO forces who keep him in power.

U.S. officials need to carefully review the history of their interaction with Karzai over the last eight years, and reread what Ambassador Karl Eikenberry had to say about him and his government in his cables of November 6 and November 9, 2009.

For only when the Americans and their allies have disabused themselves of their last illusions about Karzai, and stifled their last unjustified hopes that he might reform, will they begin to have the clarity of vision that they will need to extricate themselves from their present predicament.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Afghanistan: Controversy Over Live TV Coverage of Attacks, Deafening Silence on Karzai’s Electoral Coup

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The government of Hamid Karzai has proposed a ban on live television coverage of militant attacks and active security operations in response. In the meantime, Karzai’s takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission stands, and is unlikely to be reversed.

Live Television Coverage of Militant Attacks, Human Rights, and Freedom of the Press

Alissa Rubin of the New York Times reports

Minute-by-minute news coverage by Afghan television stations of two recent suicide attacks proved an embarrassment for the government, showing that it could not stop militants from penetrating even heavily guarded areas of the capital.

The stated reason for the ban is that live coverage presents a security risk because it lets the attackers see how the security forces are responding and allows them to send guidance to militant operatives. Officials also said they were trying to protect journalists from gunfire and bombs.

“While there is an operation going on, the journalists’ lives are always in danger; it doesn’t mean we are censoring the media,” said Waheed Omar, the spokesman for President Karzai. “We will find a way to protect journalists’ lives and to prevent enemies from using those live broadcasts for their benefit.”

–Alissa J. Rubin and Abdul Waheed Wafa, “Afghanistan Aims to Ban Live Coverage of Attacks,” New York Times, March 2, 2010

The Taliban has objected on the ground that the ban would violate human rights including the right to freedom of the press:

“We the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemn this proclamation of the Kabul authorities and this is actually a violation of the international law of media, civil society and human rights,” said Zabibullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman in a telephone interview.

“Banning the free media actually indicates that they are violating freedom of speech. This is unacceptable and a violation of worldwide media freedom,” he said.

–Alissa J. Rubin, “Taliban: Bomb the Ban,” New York Times (At War blog), March 3, 2010

Meanwhile, FOX News quoted Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as follows:

The State Department will voice its concerns to President Karzai about a proposed ban on live media during Taliban attacks, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Tuesday.

“It’s pretty obvious we support free press”, Holbrooke told reporters at a State Department briefing. “We don’t support restrictions on press. My whole career has been devoted to supporting that and PJ [Crowley, State Department spokesman] and I and the Secretary of State are concerned and we’ll make our support of free access by the press clear to the government.”
-Justin Fishel, “Afghans Propose Media Ban, U.S. Reacts,” FOX NEWS Live Shots, March 2, 2010

Since this appears to be a difficult issue for Western officials, the Observer suggests they consult with their respective millitary leaders and ask them for their views on the question of live television broadcasts of ongoing military operations.

Played for Fools?

As this human rights controversy raged, there was a deafening silence from the United States, NATO countries and the U.N. regarding Karzai’s blatant coup and takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission, in flagrant violation of the Electoral Law and the Constitution.

In short, we are debating whether there should be live TV coverage of police and military operations in Afghanistan, while the U.S. media, with few but notable exceptions, ignores the takeover of the electoral machinery by Karzai and what is being done to reverse that decision. Meanwhile, he engages in ploys that would circumvent legal requirements that women serve in the National Assembly, as he appears to prepare the stage for more electoral fraud in the national assembly elections expected to be held in September of this year.

The details of the electoral coup are important to understand. On February 22, 2010, Karzai published a decree giving himself the power to appoint the five members of the ECC, under his authority to issue decree laws when the National Assembly is not in session. By twisted logic, it is believed that a constitutional provision establishing that the electoral law cannot be changed within a year of an election would prevent the National Assembly from reversing his decree. This is a question of Afghan constitutional law, which in an ideal world an independent constitutional court or Supreme Court with constitutional review authority would throw out as a preposterous interpretation of the law. But Western governments seem baffled as to what to do, and are likely to accept a face-saving solution that leaves Karzai with the power to appoint the ECC with a majority of at least three Afghan members.

Former U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide has stated that Karzai promised him that two of the five members of the ECC would be international members (as opposed to the majority of three required in the previous legislation), and diplomatic efforts may lead to that result. But the bottom line is that Karzai will still control the ECC and therefore the outcome of election disputes and elections.

The U.S., NATO countries and the U.N. are all likely to be quite satisfied with that outcome, demonstrating once again that Karzai is a master strategist and tactician in the game of protecting the power of Karzai.

The burning question is how many more U.S. and allied lives should be sacrificed for that cause.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.


Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


–Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?
–The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as
does Abdullah
–Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections
–Final Thoughts
–ANNEX–Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

Another Fraud and Then Five More Years of Karzai?

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai refusing to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission which certified the fraud in the first-round elections on August 20, prospects for a fair runoff election appear greatly diminished. Moreover, recent attacks on UN facilities in Kabul on October 28 and deteriorating security conditions elsewhere will now make it even more difficult for U.N. electoral officials and foreign observers to monitor the voting process. Seeing the U.S., NATO countries, and even the U.N. failing to take vigorous action to stop preparations for another fraud, some voters may conclude there is not much point in voting since the outcome is already clear. Against this background, it is quite possible that Abdullah will boycott the elections.

In any event, a second round election run by the same people who openly sanctioned the massive fraud in the first round cannot, and will not, produce credible results. A Karzai regime that is the product of fraudulent elections will not restore legitimacy to the government of Afghanistan.

But without a government seen as legitimate and offering real hope for meaningful change in the way the government operates, the advances of the Taliban are not likely to be halted.

What can be done, at this late hour?

The United States, NATO and the UN have several options, as does Abdullah

1) The U.S., NATO and the U.N. can proceed in supporting a runoff election which appears to be headed again for massive fraud, and which will have no credibility. Karzai may indeed emerge as the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan, with the most powerful allies (the U.S., NATO, and the U.N.).

Western countries may well believe that the “legitimacy” questions will fade away, or can be overcome by building up a stronger government under Karzai’s direction and control. Detailed knowledge of the last five years of experience with Karzai and how numerous similar hopeful expectations have been dashed might temper such a view, but curiously resurgent optimism–or willful forgetfulness–obscures these facts from public debate.

On the other hand, maybe Karzai will build a new kind of government with the capabilities the U.S. and NATO view as so essential. All one can say, as Afghanistan slips increasingly under the sway of the Taliban, is that the evidence supporting this proposition is slim.

2) Abdullah withdraws, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will have an important role in the next (Karzai) administration

Abdullah could withdraw from the second round, with assurances brokered by the Americans that he will be brought into the Karzai government with important posts. The key fact here is that Karzai will be calling the shots, for the next five years, and if he finds reason to revise any such understandings, there is nothing the Americans, NATO or the U.N. will be able to do about it. He will remain in control. They will remain dependent on him.

3) Abdullah withdraws or boycotts the runoff on the ground that the election is already tainted by fraud, because officials responsible for the fraud in the first round have not been replaced.

Abdullah would have strong arguments to support such a withdrawal, as the Independent Electoral Commission members who certified the first round fraud have not been replaced, and indeed appear to be preparing another massive fraud (e.g., by increasing the number of polling stations in the South). Under this scenario, a period of prolonged political uncertainty would be likely to ensue, further weakening the authority of the government in Kabul.

4) The United Nations could assume immediate control over the elections in Afghanistan, and postpone the second round if necessary.

A fourth option would be for the United Nations to intervene, acting under the authority of a Security Council resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter. Such resolutions have binding effect. This option would depend on gaining the affirmative vote or abstention of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They have worked in harmony on issues relating to Afghanistan in the past.

Given the utter disarray following the attacks on the U.N. guest houses in Kabul on October 28, and the practical impossibility of putting adequate security measures into place before November 7 that would allow U.N. personnel and European observers to actively deploy to assist in and observe the elections, the U.N. could well decide to postpone the second round until the spring.

Such an option would reassert the authority of the U.N. precisely at the moment when many expect it to withdraw or greatly curtail its activities in Afghanistan. In 2003, when the U.N. headquarters in Bagdad were blown up, killing a potential future Secretary General, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the world organization withdrew from the country. Assertion of a more vigorous U.N. role now would serve to counter that unfortunate precedent.

Advantages of the U.N. Taking Over the Elections

A number of advantages would flow from pursuing the fourth option.

First, the decision on U.S. strategy and the deployment of some 40,000-45,000 additional U.S. troops could be decoupled from the second round election results. Deployments could begin as quickly as feasible, without the delay that review of alleged fraud and decisions on complaints might entail. In the first round, this process took two months, and the ECC’s decision was accepted by Karzai only under extraordinary pressures from the U.S., NATO and the U.N.

Second, Karzai would be given a chance to demonstrate that he actually could strengthen his government, and both attack corruption and end any complicity in the drug trade. He might be persuaded to bring Abdullah into a “transitional ” national unity government. His own legal mandate, which expired in August, could be extended until the final results of the second round were in and a new government, based on those results, was formed.

Third, Abdullah would have an opportunity to make his case to the Afghan people that he should be elected President in a free and fair election. He would have time to do this, as would Karzai, in a more stable atmosphere and under electoral arrangements established by the U.N. that are transparent and fair. Indeed, elections run by the U.N. for president n 2004 and for the National Assembly in 2005 were widely viewed as fair.

Fourth, the United Nations could recover from the terrible attacks that cost the lives of five U.N. staff on October 28, and have time to fully develop and deploy the appropriate security arrangements in light of the fact U.N. staff are now being targeted by the Taliban. Many move about in unarmored vehicles and are soft and easy targets. The U.N. would have time to protect its staff more effectively, and avoid asking idealistic young workers–who did not volunteer to be soldiers–to risk their lives to carry out their tasks during the next few weeks.

Fifth, the U.S. and NATO could proceed with plans to increase the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan, not only to avoid the collapse of major cities to the Taliban but also to protect the Afghan population going to the polls in the runoff election, as well as the international observers that need to be deployed throughout the country to ensure that a fair vote is held.

Sixth, while there would be many challenges in pursuing such an option, the payoff would be big–a government viewed by the population as the product of a fair electoral process, and therefore a government that represents them.

Final Thoughts

Many officials and observers assume that Afghanistan’s future will inevitably be like its past, with power controlled by warlords and tribes on a local basis. However, the world has changed and is changing, and the rate of change is accelerating. 44.5% of the population of Afghanistan is 14 years old or younger. They hold the key to the country’s future.

The future of younger Afghans, with cell phones and internet access, will not be like that of the past. The number of internet users in the country, 500,000 in 2008, is growing rapidly, as is that of cell phones. In 2008, there were 460,000 main line telephones and 8.45 million cell phones, in a country of 28.4 million inhabitants. The number of television satellite dishes is growing. Afghanistan is getting connected, and Afghans are becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the world. Surely they observed the three million people who clogged Tehran’s streets following the June 12 elections in Iran, which were also characterized by massive fraud. Afghans and Iranians speak the same language, and share the same cultural heritage. Educated Pashtuns speak Dari as a second language, and Dari is the first language of 50% of the country. Dari is a dialect of Farsi, and educated speakers understand each other easily. Afghans know what is going on in Iran, and vice versa.

We should not be so condescending or naive as to believe that international human rights have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, including the leading elites. The United States insists on absolute fidelity to democratic forms in Honduras, fosters the new democracies of West Africa, supports the democratic government of Pakistan, and proclaims its democratic ideals in President Obama’s speech to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo. Still, American decision makers should never forget that people in the region and around the world are not only listening to what they say, but also watching what they do.

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Elements of a Draft Security Council Resolution Authorizing
Immediate UN Control of the Electoral Process in Afghanistan

The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, should adopt at the earliest opportunity a binding resolution which provides, inter alia, the following:

1. The United Nations, acting through the Security Council, shall immediately assume direction and control of the timing and conduct of the second round in the Presidential elections in Afghanistan, which are currently scheduled for November 7, 2009.

2. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, shall replace the current Afghan members of the Independent Electoral Commission with international elections experts of outstanding and unquestionable qualifications, impartiality and integrity.

3. The reconstituted IEC shall conduct the elections under procedures established by Secretary General to ensure transparency and fairness in the conduct of the elections, the collection of the ballots, and the tabulation of votes cast for each candidate.

4. The Security Council, acting through the Secretary General, may determine that it is not feasible to hold a free and fair second round of elections on November 7, and may postpone the second round to a date by which it expects such free and fair elections can be held. Such date may be postponed until the spring of 2010 or such other date as the Secretary General may decide.

5. The mandate of the current President of Afghanistan, which under the terms of the March decision of the Afghan Supreme Court expired in August, is extended until such time as the second round elections are held, complaints are heard and decided by the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the corrected results are announced by the ECC. The decision of the ECC shall be final, immediately binding, and not subject to judicial review.

6. The Security Council may encourage both parties to participate in the transitional government until the elections are held, and the final corrected results are announced by the ECC.

7. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) forces and other international forces should be augmented by further contributions from the respective members states and NATO countries, in order to ensure, inter alia, that the second round in the Presidential elections are held in a transparent, free and fair manner, resulting in the transfer of power to a new government that expresses the will of the people of Afghanistan.

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