Things can only get better

Afghanistan’s ‘democratic’ election – a Karzai shoe-in aided by Western media indifference?

July 16, 2009

In the interests of transparency, I have made no secret of my support for Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s Presidential candidacy (Thus passim). I don’t know much about the other candidates (and should do) but it appears crazy to endorse the Karzai regime, which has presided over a culture of warlord cronyism and corruption which has increased support for religious fundamentalist elements, simply because he is ‘our man.’ This more or less guarantees an escalation of the phantasmagoric ‘war on terror’ and sustains the very real opium export economy, which does far more damage abroad and at home. Yet it is clear that powerful forces in the US and elsewhere are doing exactly that.

Despite the glaring evidence that Afghanistan is a failed state whose conditions have significantly worsened under the Karzai regime, and his abysmal popularity ratings, apathy abroad may assure his victory. There is an undeniable imbalance in the reporting of the campaign. According to the Ghani campaigners: “While the international community considers the race for president to be wide open, even bringing top officials to meet individually with leading candidates, the international media relies on weak tools to support its conclusion that Hamid Karzai will win. This is the first election where an incumbent is being challenged an election in Afghanistan. “Statistical” data is weak. The voting “behavior” of Afghans is not parallel to other countries. Polling is notoriously difficult and unreliable. Yet still many in the media are taking Hamid Karzai and his bought-off “analysts” at their word that he is certain to win.”

There is genuine reason to fear that after over 30 years of occupation by foreign forces intent on imposing overweening ideologies – Soviet Totalitarianism and the tragically-tainted version of US Democracy – by military might, to the despair and radicalisation of the suffering population, Afghanistan is too far gone and that occupation worsens the situation. This view was eloquently argued by Rory Stewart, on a BBC Newsnight special last Monday. Stewart, a patrician Old Etonian, follows the time-honoured English patrician penchant of wearing flowing robes at every possible opportunity and mucking in with the natives. For this reason he has acquired the title “Lawrence of Belgravia.” He now lectures at Harvard, but lived in Kabul for several years and thus speaks from experience – something which I for one don’t possess. He argued earlier this year that the Afghan military surge ‘option’ would fail (as it failed in Iraq, unless the definition of success is cementing the position of the militias). The Russians, arguably masters of ’surging’ – throwing vast amounts of troops and armament into hopeless situations with scant regard for civilians – lost in excess of 35,000 soldiers in Afghanistan by their own (understated) reckoning. Yet they trounced Georgia in a week, despite the US-appointed ’strongman’ Saakashvili’s supporting cast of Israeli advisors and US arms and subdued Chechnya in a vicious attritional campaign (where they installed their own bonkers warlord strongman). I’m certainly not endorsing Russian aggression in Georgia, much less Chechnya – another failed state. My point is that the Russians aren’t dummies and they certainly fought dirtier than the Nato forces, yet they failed in Afghanistan. The current occupiers will fare no better.

‘Imposing’ democracy on Afghanistan through the military might of an occupying force can only make a bad situation worse. Ashraf Ghani is right to assert that supporting an endemically corrupt regime in the name of ‘democracy’ is criminally counter-productive. Until and unless the foundations of a civil society are put in place, democracy stands no chance. Neither do the supporting cast in the Afghan elections if the international media persists in reporting the election as if the choice of Leader is a side issue on a chessboard where warring rooks, knights and bishops play centre stage, the pawns are sacrificed and the king is a cypher. That’s OK as a representation of Medieval feudal statesmanship, but no model of democracy.