Battle over electoral fraud in Afghanistan (updated July 7, 2014)

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

Hamid Karzai was “awarded” the presidency of Afghanistan in 2009 as the result of 1) massive fraud in the first-round election, reportedly organized by him and his supporters; 2) enormous international pressures which led to a very partial and skewed recount which, though it did not reveal the full extent of the fraud, reduced Karzai’s “official” vote count sufficiently to require a second-round runoff with Abdullah Abdullah; and 3) Abdullah’s withdrawal from the run-off, when his demands for reform of the electoral bodies were not met, and also apparently after having been subjected to great pressure from the United States.

In the first-round elections held in April of this year, Abdullah emerged with 45% of the votes as opposed to his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who received just under 32% of the vote.

In the second-round election held recently, as the vote count proceeded, Abdullah denounced what he alleged was a massive fraud then underway being orchestrated by Ghani and Karzai acting in collusion with electoral officials. The chief electoral official, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, was forced to resign after Abdullah released tapes allegedly showing him and other officials issuing instructions for ballot stuffing.

Much is at stake in whether Abdullah succeeds in gaining a full elimination of fraudulent votes before results are announced. It is no exaggeration to say that the legitimacy and cohesion of the government which emerges from the vote count may determine the chances for the United States’ and ISAF nations’ project in Afghanistan to avoid either a Taliban takeover or a civil war, or a combination of the two.

President Obama seems totally removed from this process, recalling his tightly-managed Afghanistan policy review in 2009, when the ongoing fraud in that year’s election was apparently not even discussed by those involved in the policy review.

This is probably the last chance for the United States, NATO, and other ISAF countries to avoid losing the Afghan war.

To succeed in averting a collapse in legitimacy, they must fully and with great candor discuss openly the alleged fraud at each voting table, and absolutely insist on a full recount of all votes in dispute–voting station by voting station, with full representation of all parties concerned.

In 2009 the United States and its allies took the easier path, accepting Karzai’s refusal to reform the electoral commission and the electoral complaints commission before a second-round run-off, and pressuring Abdullah to withdraw.

This looks like another massively fraudulent election, with the U.S., its allies and the U.N. Mission in Afganistan looking the other way.

Ghani’s numbers do not pass the smell test.

See Margherita Stancati (Kabul), “Afghan Candidate Boycotts Count of Votes; Abdullah, a Karzai Rival, Alleges Fraud in Presidential Runoff, Citing Outsize Turnout in Opponent’s Areas of Support,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014 (Updated 7:40 p.m. ET). Stancati reported,

“Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the IEC , which organized the election and is counting the votes, said Saturday’s turnout was up from 6.6 million in the first round. While turnout was largely the same or lower in much of the country, the IEC’s initial tallies indicated a dramatic surge —in the areas of eastern Afghanistan that are Mr. Ghani’s base.

“In the eastern province of Khost, for example, initial IEC tallies showed that more than 400,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, up from 113,000 in the first round.

“According to the 2012-13 data compiled by Afghanistan’s central statistics office, Khost’s entire population is 549,000—and, given Afghanistan’s demographic structure, at least one-third of them are children.

“In the nearby province of Paktika, 390,000 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, up from 180,000. The province’s population is 414,000.”

See also, “Afghanistan Presidential Election: Abdullah Calls for Halt to Vote-Counting Alleging Fraud by the Electoral Commission,” The Trenchant Observer, June 18, 2014.

Without the acceptance by Abdullah’s supporters of the election results, any future Ghani-Karzai government will have the same weaknesses as the current government of Karzai. Karzai will continue to manipulate the tribal and warlord alliances to keep Ghani and the current political elite in power in Kabul. Ghani will owe his survival to Karzai. But without the continuing presence of the U.S. military in significant numbers to hold things together, such a Karzai-Ghani strategy is not likely to succeed.

Whatever illusions the Americans may have about getting rid of Karzai, while keeping the present political elite of “Corrupt-istan” in power as Karzai pulls the strings from behind the scenes, are likely to evaporate as the new government loses the support of Abdullah’s voters and the Northern Alliance.

Without their support, it is difficult to see how a new government might hold together and succeed in maintaining the allegiance of its soldiers.

See “U.S. National Intelligence Estimate points to dire future in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, January 8, 2014.

Obama may walk away from Afghanistan the same way he walked away from Iraq in 2011.

Yet it is hard to see how the Democrats, after losing the two wars that have been the focus of Americans’ attention since 2001 and 2003, respectively, could hold back the tide of a Republican sweep of Congress and the presidency in 2016, with Republicans running on a strong national security platform.

To repeat: What Obama and the U.S. do in the next several weeks to ensure a full and accurate vote count in Afghanistan, and what they have to say about it publicly, are likely to have a decisive impact on the success or lack thereof of the Afghanistan project that has been underway since 2001.

See

(1) Adam Ahmed, “Afghanistan Election Dispute Draws More Calls for Vote Audit,” New York Times, July 6, 2014.

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

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

(4) “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.

For deeper insights into the present crisis, consider the following articles and their implications:

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

(6) “The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA,” The Trenchant Observer, November 26, 2013.

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.