Posts Tagged ‘presidential election’

The stakes in the presidential election dispute — whether Hamid Karzai will continue to call the shots in Afghanistan

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Developing

An old adage is, “Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream.”

There is an important gloss on that adage, however. The fuller version is as follows:

“Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream, unless your horse is drowning.”

OPINION

For background, see “Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off,” The Trenchant Observer, August 23, 2014, and the articles cited there.

Sometimes we need to pull pack from a mere analysis of the events of the day, and look for significance in the broader pattern of events which form the context for today’s developments.

At the moment, a dramatic showdown is taking place in Afghanistan over who the country’s next leader will be.

Hamid Karzai and his government are reliably reported as having been deeply involved in a massive electoral fraud favoring Ashraf Ghani, whose vote total in the June 14 presidential run-off election, was inflated by as much as two million votes (out of a reported eight million votes cast).

Following the 2009 presidential elections, Karzai retained his hold on the presidency through massive fraud which he himself reportedly orchestrated.

It seems quite evident that Karzai intends to continue making the big decisions for the government even after leaving office, with Ashraf Ghani emerging as president from the current second round elections.

Karzai has built a new mansion right next to the Presidential Palace to help ensure he is involved in critical decisions.

If Ghani emerges as president, Karzai and the “Kabul Cabal” which for the last 12 years has been running Afghanistan, a country famously labeled “Corrupt-stan” by long-time war correspondent Dexter Filkins, will continue in power.

Karzai will continue to exercise his influence behind the scenes, as the brilliant master of warlord and tribal and other alliances he has been up until now.

Looking at Afghanistan’s recent history since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, it is clear that the United States—intentionally or unintentionally—has enabled the “Kabul Cabal” to grow and thrive.

For example, the CIA has been an active supporter of Karzai over the years, with many high-level officials on the Company’s payroll, and bags of cash with millions of dollars being delivered directly to the Presidential Palace for Karzai’s unrestricted use.

If Abdullah emerges as the victor, there will be a changing of the guard, a handover of power from the “Kabul Cabal” to something new, potentially marking a milepost on the path to a return to the democratic project in Afghanistan.

In 2009, the U.S. pressured Abdullah into withdrawing from the second round election that was to occur, following a “recount” of the votes in the first round which reduced Karzai’s share to less than 50%. At the time there were negotiations over some kind of a power-sharing arrangement similar to that under discussion now.

In the end, the U.S. withdrew its support for the negotiations.

An interesting report at time by a reporter with close ties to Pakistan’s army and intelligence services, Syed Saleem Shahzad, asserted that support for Abdullah was withdrawn as part of a U.S. deal reached by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad with Pakistani military leaders, under which the U.S. would withdraw its support for Abdullah and the negotiations in exchange for Pakistani assistance in setting up and carrying out peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The reporter was subsequently assassinated in an operation that was reportedly orchestrated by Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

Pakistan has traditionally opposed Abdullah and the Northern Alliance which he once helped lead, because of india’s ties with and support for the Alliance.

While all of this is very complicated, and requires some historical memory or research to fully understand, the drama undeway at the moment is fairly clearcut:

If the current “audit” of the second-round vote is allowed to proceed to completion, it is quite likely that Abdullah will emerge as the winner and have an irresistible claim on the presidency.

Karzai is now pushing hard to cut short that process, and to inaugurate a new president within a week or two. That president could only be selected as a result of the current negotiating process.

A pretext for a quick inauguration of the new president is that it would enable him to go to the NATO Summit which is to be held in Wales on September 4-5, in order to secure continued NATO assistance going forward after December 31, 2014.

However, prospects for stability in Afganistan will turn much more on the perceived legitimacy and nature of the new government than on whether a new president can go to Wales in early September.

For any new government to be able to withstand the challenge from the Taliban after most U.S. and ISAF Forces have been withdrawn, and foreign economic assistance greatly reduced, it will need to have legitimacy and be viewed by the Afghan people as the true product of the elections held on June 14.

It is highly doubtful that without large-scale military and financial support, the “Kabul Cabal” can continue to hold the country together and resist the advances of the Taliban, unless Ghani emerges as the true winner of the run-off after all of the votes in the “audit” have been fully accounted for.

At the same time, it is hard to see the “Kabul Cabal” ceding power in the absence of a mighty push from the U.S. and NATO requiring the real results of the second-round presidential election to be observed.

The composition of the next government in Afghanistan will have a decisive impact on whether or not the country can be held together, and whether or not the Taliban can be denied the victories for which they have been waiting and preparing.

NATO can agree to provide further aid to Afghanistan after the Wales summit in early September. Conference deadlines should not be allowed to drive policy on Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama needs to get it right this time, even if it means overriding the recommendations of CIA Director John Brennan.

This is likely to be Obama’s — and America’s — last chance to save the Afghan project.

The Trenchant Observer

Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Stunning details of the massive fraud in the Afghan presidental run-off election have been published in the New York Times, in an article by veteran Afghan correspondent Carlotta Gall.

It appears that President Hamid Karzai was deeply involved in the fraud, which greatly and implausibly favored Ashraf Ghani, as his opponent Abdullah Abdullah has charged since shortly after the second-round election was held.

See

(1) “Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul,” The Trenchant Observer, June 6, 2014.

(2) “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, dJune 18, 2014.

(3) “Obama Snubs Abdullah During Latter’s Trip to Washington,” The Trenchant Observer, May 22, 2010.

(4) “NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?” The Trenchant Observer, November 11, 2009.

(5) “KARZAI’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL IN AFGHANISTAN—THE REAL EXTENT OF THE ELECTORAL FRAUD, ABDULLAH’S CHANCES, AND WASHINGTON’S RESPONSE,” the Trenchant Observer, October 16, 2009.

See also other articles listed on the Afghanistan page, in the upper right-hand corner of the home page, which can be reached by clicking on the banner above.

The Trenchant Observer

Leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escapes assassination in Kabul

Friday, June 6th, 2014

The leading candidate in Afghanistan’s presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped assassination today in Kabul. Abdullah led the first round of the election with some 45% of the votes. The second round or run-off election will be held on June 14.

The assassination attempt underscores how critical the security situation remains in Afghanistan, even in Kabul.

See Yaroslav Trofmov and Ehsanullah Amiri, “Afghan Presidential Front-Runner Escapes Assassination Attempt; Two Explosions Targeted Abdullah Abdullah as He Left Campaign Event in Kabul,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2014 (6:54 a.m.).

The Trenchant Observer

Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

***

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Speech on the floor of the Senate, March 5, 2012. The full text of the speech is found here.

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency of the U.S., called today in a forceful speech for U.S. bombing of Syria to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.

Noting that the U.S. and many other countries appear to be hedging their bets on Syria, unsure whether Al-Assad will prevail, McCain criticized the utter passivity and lack of contingency planning in NATO and other countries, in the folllowing terms:

“The rhetoric out of NATO has been much more self-defeating. Far from making it clear to Assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. Last week, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, said that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of NATO action in Syria – saying, quote, ‘I don’t envision such a role for the alliance.’ The following day, the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has done no contingency planning – none – for potential military operations in Syria.

“That is not how NATO approached Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or Libya. Is it now the policy of NATO – or the United States, for that matter – to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities, in Syria or elsewhere, that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds or thousands, and the greatest alliance in history will not even bother to conduct any planning about how we might stop them? Is that NATO’s policy now? Is that our policy? Because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. It gives Assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality.

“Not surprisingly, many countries, especially Syria’s neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in Syria. They think Assad will go, but they are not yet prepared to put all of their chips on that bet – even less so now that Assad’s forces have broken Homs and seem to be gaining momentum. There is only one nation that can alter this dynamic, and that is us. The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so (emphasis added).  It is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other countries to do the same. Only then would we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in Syria .”

Obama’s debacle in Syria has entered the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama appears vulnerable on foreign policy issues. His bet that he could keep Afghanistan out of the election is looking increasingly dubious, as more and more Afghan military and police turn their guns on their U.S. and ISAF partners, and kill them. The assumptions on which the Afghan strategy are based–that we can hand over the military battle with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the Afghan military and police, and that these will perform effectively and in a loyal manner under central government control–seems fatally flawed.

Obama, to some extent at least, has also left himself open to charges from the Republicans that through his inept diplomacy and failure to secure a status of forces agreement and other transitional arrangements with the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces were driven into a precipitous departure, leaving the future of Iraq very much in doubt, with the Shiite dominated government in Bagdad very much in danger of falling under the influence of the Shiite regime in Iran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s famous “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship has failed, spectacularly, as Moscow provides arms and ammunition, and most probably intelligence and other support, to al-Assad, enabling the continuing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes thoughout Syria.

Unforeseen events, such as an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, could trigger events that cause the Middle East to spin out of control. It is entirely conceivable that Obama could lose the presidency in significant part because of his foreign policy failures.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Government Terror in Syria—Putin, Al Assad, and Security Council Referral to the ICC

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The Arab League “deal” with Syria looks increasingly like the African Union peace efforts aimed at blocking Security Council action in Libya. Fortunately, NATO and the international community were not fooled by those maneuvers, and acted decisively in Libya to protect the civilian population “by all necessary measures”.

The current presence of Arab League monitors in Syria, headed by a former Sudanese official whose appointment itself calls into question the objectivity of their mission, compounded by absurd statements about normality when all hell is breaking loose right in their face, underlines the great urgency of the U.N. Security Council assuming–now– a decisive role in bringing the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Basar al Assad to a halt.

Syria should be debated in the Security Council, and if the authoritarian Russian government of Mededev-Putin wishes to defend Bashar al Assad’s massacres and use of force against civilians, let them do so publicly. Let Putin run for President of Russia on a record of defending the war criminals who lead Syria.

A resolution should be presented to the Security Council that would give the International Criminal Court a mandate to immediately investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the al Assad government, from the date of the first protests in the spring. This resolution should be brought to a public vote.

The Syrian situation, in which the international community has stood aside while unspeakable crimes are committed by government forces, every day, is throwing the whole region into chaos, as Egyptian government forces’ moves to shut down pro-democracy NGOs on December 29 suggest.

At the very least the International Criminal Court should be given a mandate now, while the Security Council remains seized of the situation in Syria and explores other means to bring the violence in Syria against civilians to a prompt halt.

Let the Russians show their hand in blocking Security Council action, if they have no shame.

President Obama’s leadership is needed. Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq are all directly at issue. What is done or not done in Syria will affect developments in each of these countries, and in other countries from Egypt to Yemen.

A repetition of Obama’s debacle of inaction, hesitation and delay in Libya could have disastrous consequences not only in Syria but throughout the region.

It is time for the Security Council to act, now, to give the ICC the mandate discussed above. Everyone should focus on this immediate objective, while preparing for stronger action to force al Assad to halt his terror.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

See also earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer:

“REPRISE: Syria and the Shame of the World,
November 19, 2011 (originally published August 20, 2011)

Repression in Syria, and the spread of universal ideals throughout the world, May 11, 2011

The Struggle for Democracy in Bolivia, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, and Iran, March 3, 2011

Ratko Mladic to join Radovan Karadic in The Hague; Moammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad await similar fates, May 28, 2011

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

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