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.
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
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