Posts Tagged ‘electoral coup’

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

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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

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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

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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

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