BALLOTS IN BATTLEFIELD

 
Farooq Sulehria

14-11-2020

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Karzai wins. Hardly any surprise. However, high turn out (69 %) was a surprise indeed. And a pleasant one. With 97 percent votes counted, Karzai with 55 per cent of votes is an outright winner. Had any candidate not bagged 51 percent of the votes, the top two would have gone for run-off elections. Like France. But none of Karzai's 14 rivals, as was expected, posed any serious challenge. Main challenger and runner up Younas Qanooni, a Northern Alliance leader and ethnically Tajik, could hardly bag 16 percent while ethnically-Hazara war lord Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq and notorious Uzbek war lord Abdur Rashid Dostam got 11 per cent and 10 percent votes respectively. Masooda Bano, the only woman candidate in Afghan presidential elections thus attracting a lot of media attention, secured a little over one percent of votes. Besides, Bano there was also a woman candidate for vice-president's slot: Shafiqa Habibi. A newscaster by profession, Shafiqa was nominated as one of the two vice-presidential candidates by Abdur Rashid Dostam.

Surprisingly big turn out was in the first place a blow to Taliban. The female turn out in particular, in this regard, is indicative how women have asserted themselves by rejecting the Talibanisation. The 40 percent female turn out as against 60 percent for men sounds low. But in given situation, it was surprisingly high. Even encouraging was the fact that in Faryab, Daikundi and Noristan provinces, women outnumbered men voters. In Heart and Paktia, the female turn out was also close to 50 percent. Herat is particularly important where notorious war lord Ismail Khan's 'police' were putting women to infamous chastity tests.

However, the big turn out and landslide victory for Karzai is, paradoxically, in no way a support for Karzai's politics of US bootlicking. Karzai was initially recruited by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence for Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF) in 1982. The ANLF was a CIA-ISI project to co-ordinate 'jiahd' activities. Son of a Kandhar-based Karzai tribe, Karzai since has been in the service of CIA.

He have lent help even to Taliban, by supplying arms, when the latter seized the control of Kabul. The USA as an interim president imposed him in violation of the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly of Afghan tribal structure). Being a US choice and an old CIA agent, he was not

popular. Because the USA is hated in Afghanistan, as in rest of the Muslim world, like anything. The Afghans want to see US troops leaving as soon as possible. But by voting Karzai, the Afghans have voted out the warlords of all hue. Karzai was seen as a lesser evil. At least he had not been running a militia and committing atrocities, loot and plunder like other candidates.

Also, many voted Karzai in the hope of peace. With the presence of ISAF and US troops, creation of Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan police, the law and order situation at least in Kabul and few other big towns has improved. The construction of Kabul-Kandhar highway has also generated illusions that a continuation of Karzai regime might lead to badly needed re-construction.

Above all, it was a vote to reject warlordism. Though runner-ups, all notorious warlords, have also managed to bag a big chunk of votes. But their vote bank remained limited to their fiefdoms. Guns, money and ethnicity, all played a role in securing votes for warlords. Ethnically-Hazara Haji Muhammad Mohaqiq, for instance, not only exploited his Hazaraism but also Shia sectarianism. Hazaras are predominantly Shia tribes. They particularly suffered under Taliban ( mainly Pashtoons) with kind-of-Wahabi mindset. Thus a war lord like Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq managed to secure almost 11 per cent of the votes cast.

As a matter of fact, ethnicity has always played a pivotal role in Afghan politics. Even the PDPA 'communists' could not overcome this division. The ethnic break up is: Pashtun 44%, Tajik 25%, Hazara 10%, minor ethnic groups (Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others) 13%, Uzbek 8% .

The multi-coloured map issued by Afghan Election Commission showing election results in graphics, mirrors the ethnic-orientated voting patterns. West of Mazar-e-Sharif, three provinces are blue for Dostum and east of Mazar-e-Sharif is green for Younas Qanooni. Similarly, the three provinces in central Afghanistan inhibited by Hazara tribes, overwhelmingly voted for Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq. Rest of the map is brown showing Karzai's majority. The pattern was evident even in Pakistan and Iran where Karzai's support was 80 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. Pakistan houses mostly ethnically Pashtoon immigrants.

An enthusiastic turn out and landslide for Karzai not only shows Afghans frustration with warlordism, it was also a question of lacking any alternative.

The 25-year-long civil war have impoverished and disempowered Afghan masses and civil society. The tribal structure, political parties, trade unions, student unions, in short every fabric of civil society has been torn apart in last 25 years. Ethnic backgrounds, guns and money therefore have played an important role in Afghan elections. Majma-e-Milli Afghanistan ( National Assembly of Afghanistan) , a coalition of over hundred nationalist, secular political groups, for instance, also lent support to Karzai, despite all their criticism of Karzai, in order to block a Northern Alliance victory.

The Afghan left, on the other hand, was too weak to present a candidate. Neither left groups managed to form some united front to present a joint candidate. The remnants of old Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Maoist Sazman-e-Reyahi Afghanistan ( Afghan Labour Organistaion-ALO) or SAMA (Sazman-e-Azadibaksh Mardam-e-Afghanistan), all are in process of re-organisation. The lack of guns and money also hinders left activity in today's militarised Afghan politics. Different left groups lent support to different candidates. But most of the left gave critical support to Karzai, however.

"None of the candidates were desirable for us, but since in the present situation the people's struggle is centered against fundamentalism and most people were afraid that once again a fundamentalist person might come to power and therefore preferred Karzai among all other candidates. Considering the lack of an independent and democrat candidate and preferring the worse than the worst, Afghanistan Liberation Organization also favored Karzai," says ALO spokesman Tahir Khan. "But this favor certainly doesn't mean that we have forgotten that Karzai is also dependent on US and therefore long struggle against him and exposing him will remain as an important issue. Also we will never let that this preference will cost us our independence as an organization with specific ideology and goals. This can only be considered as a tactic in this particular situation in our country", he adds.

'It is a historic tragedy that left has to lend support to Karzai', says Arif Afghani. Arif is a leader of Hizb-e-Hambastagi Afghanistan (Afghan Solidarity Party), a component of National Assembly of Afghanistan.


An initial election boycott by all the fourteen Karzai's rivals would have cast shadows over the first ever-presidential elections in Afghanistan. However, the 'authority' (read Zalmay Khalizad) managing the whole election affair managed to woo all fourteen back into the election arena. The US ambassador in Afghanistan, Zalmay had been perhaps the busiest person during the election campaign. An ex-UNCOIL employee, Zalmay has been in the service of US oil business for many years. He was persuading, prior to elections, Karzai's electoral rivals to withdraw from the race. He managed to woo only two candidates.

In his bid to remove hurdles, Khalilzad met with so many candidates and potential candidates to 'persuade' for a withdrawal that warlords from the Northern Alliance met in late September to discuss how to respond to Khalilzad's "arm-twisting," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Khalilzad would begin with friendly offers of road-building or ministerial posts--but if that didn't work, he'd turn to more "muscular" measures. "He told me to drop out of the elections, but not in a way to put pressure," said presidential contender Mohammed Mohaqiq. "It was like a request." But when Mohaqiq--whose demands for governorships and cabinet positions weren't met--insisted on running, Khalilzad "left, and then called my most loyal men, and the most educated people in my party or campaign and told them to make me--or request me--to resign the nomination," Mohaqiq said. "It's not only me. They have been doing the same thing with all candidates. That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this, but also the whole U.S. government is the same. They all want Karzai--and this election is just a show."

The boycott was announced on the rigging charges. The charges were not baseless. But the very candidates crying hoarse against rigging had their own hands stained with rigging. All powerful war lords either bought votes or coerced people in their fiefdoms to vote for them. "Qanooni's men were standing outside polling stations for immigrants in Pakistan with dollars in their hands to buy votes", says Sahar Saba. She is a leading member in the feminist Afghan group: Revolutionary Afghan Women Association (RAWA). And there were plenty of votes on sale.

The United Nations election officials, prior to elections, were scrambling to explain why more than 9.9 million cards had been issued, surpassing the original estimated 9.8 million voters. The voters' lists were fake.

"We know that multiple registration has happened," U.N. spokesperson Manoel de Almeida e Silva had confessed .

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged that perhaps 1,000 to 100,000 people had more than one voting card. One example of gross miscalculation occurred in the province of Panjshir, where more than 124,000 voting cards had been issued, more than double the original voter estimate of 49,573. But Karzai is a political intellectual par excellence. Instead of being apologetic for this grave mishandling, he justified it by saying: "As a matter of fact it
doesn't bother me if Afghans have two registration cards and if they like to vote twice, well welcome," Karzai said at a Kabul press conference with U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld sitting beside him. "This is an exercise in democracy and let them exercise it twice." And many voters 'exercised' in democracy , in some cases, half a dozen times on the day of polling.

Actually, many Afghans, particularly men, had registered them many times. The rumour that one could sell a voting card for hundred US dollars, drove poor Afghans to make some quick bucks. And as a result, 5.63 million male voters have been registered while eligible male voters were only 5.12 millions. Women make only 42 percent of the registered voters. It means there were at least half a million fake male voters.

But despite all such rigging practices, one is justified to a large extent in terming the elections 'fair and free'. This much rigging was expected. But what was not expected was peaceful election. Taliban's threat to disrupt election process did not materialise.

' The attacks would have claimed innocent lives, therefore we refrained from attacks', a Taliban spokesman told BBC. ' They have been isolated', thinks Sahar Saba. 'The gun-totters have no mass support. Look at Ismail Khan of Herat. When he was removed as governor, hardly 100 men demonstrated in protest. Taliban likewise have no support. Attacks would

have isolated them even further', she said in a telephonic interview. Col Dick Pederson, a commander of US-led forces, told almost same thing to a BBC correspondent.

The reason that refrained Taliban from launching attacks lies somewhere else. Perhaps. On one hand, Taliban's major patron, Pakistan had been passed clear message by Washington to harness Taliban on election occasion. But also, a deal had been struck between Washington and Taliban.

Hamid Karzai being an elected Afghanistan president was needed as poster boy by the managers planning Bush's election campaign. Twice postponed owing to law and order situation and abysmally low level of voters' registration, elections seemed impossible in Afghanistan early this year. Taliban were proving a major obstacle in holding the elections.

To get through elections, Washington was ready to make any deal with anybody. The willingness in this regard was reflected during a visit to Washington in June this year by Hamid Karzai when he said: "I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace and about movement to democracy."

In the search for a solution, before November's US presidential elections, focus once again shifted to a Pakistani cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman, heading Party of Islamic Scholars (Jamiat Ulema Islam-JUI).

Rehman, often referred to as Maulana Diesel, was in many ways the perfect choice to act as a mediator with the Taliban. The sobriquet Maulana Diesel was conferred upon him by witty Pakistani masses. In return for his support to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was 'rewarded' with a diesel franchise. Thus he earned the title: Maulana Diesel.

The Taliban leadership was mostly educated in the madrassas (seminaries) run by JUI. As a result, when the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) sent Rehman to Kabul after the Taliban seized power in 1996. Taliban welcomed him with open hands and he was instrumental in establishing strong contacts between Kabul and Islamabad.

The JUI is the driving force in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six religious parties that holds 60 seats in parliament. In a controversial move, the Speaker as official opposition leader chose Rehman in late May. Although a largely ceremonial post with limited authority, his appointment became a bone of contention. He was selected soon after returning from a little-publicized and unscheduled visit to England. Earlier, in March, in Pakistan, Rehman had met with visiting British Foreign Minister Jack Straw.

The significance of these events emerged in comments Rehman made to a local journalist. "The British authorities are working on behalf of the United States. This indirect process has been chosen to avoid any ill-effects ahead of the
forthcoming presidential elections in America ... Britain is holding indirect talks with the Taliban militia to seek an honorable American exit from Afghanistan." By implication, Rehman would mediate in this process.

His comments created a stir in Pakistan. The interview however went largely unnoticed internationally. An embarrassed UK official issued a contradiction. So did Maulana Fazlur Rehman. ' I did not make any such comments. Neither I am in a position to make any contact with Taliban as they are in hiding', Rehman told this scribe in an interview.

The Asia Times correspondent Syed Saleem Shehzad however sticks by his story: 'Rehman's interview on that subject first appeared in Daily Dawn Pakistan. The contents of the interview were quite clear and more explicit than my Asia Times story. There was no contradiction on my story or Dawn's story exclusively by UK or USA but in the light of our stories when UK foreign office officials were asked questions about their contacts with Taliban through Rehman, they denied. Obviously, they cannot accept these kind of secret negotiations. Even the USA has been in touch with Taliban in search of 'good Taliban' without Mullah Omar. But publicly they do not afford to admit these manipulations'.

Rehman had told Saleem: 'I had the chance to interact with Mr Mike O'Brien, British minister for trade and investment. At the same time, I was invited to different institutions which work under the British Foreign Office. I clearly told them all to remove their mental hang-ups concerning the Taliban.'

Asked if there was any positive response? Rehman said: "Yes. The situation is not like yesteryear, when Western powers were not ready to listen to the name "Taliban". Certainly now they are preparing their minds for many compromises."

In view of Taliban's total 'cease-fire' on polling day or even during election campaign, Rehman's contradiction leaves much to doubt.

Though Taliban did not 'win' anything out of this deal, if there was one. But Taliban must not be seen as an Afghan-specific phenomenon. Taliban movement is an extension of Pakistani fundamentalism. Jamiat Ulema Islam, to be exact. The MMA government in NWFP, in fact, is a Jamiat Ulema Islam government. Had Rehman not co-operated, Musharraf might have dismissed NWFP government. That was the stick. The 'Opposition Leader' portfolio handed over to Rehman was the carrot.

Also, the other patron Taliban have in Pakistan is Pakistan military. Days before Afghan election, Karzai and Musharraf jointly met Bush at White House. The Afghan election was high on this tri-partite meeting's agenda.

Most importantly, the Pashtoon ethnic nexus might have played a role in this 'deal'. Both Pashtoons, Taliban also have a common enemy: Northern Alliance.

Despite the completion of election process' first phase … next being parliamentary elections… the future of democracy in Afghanistan remains a big question mark. When asked will democracy be able to flourish through a process imposed by USA?, ALO spokesman Tahir Khan said: " Never. We believe that American Imperialism raises specific slogans in definite times in order to achieve its own aims. The page of America's democracy has been torn with the killing of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan during the war against its yesterday's puppets the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's band, fought by the Northern Alliance, and its actions in Iraq. But a considerably strong pro-democracy movement among the people is emerging day by day and the anti-Imperialism, anti-


fundamentalism and anti-Feudalism aspects in this movement need to be supported while hoping that its leadership doesn't fall into the hands of USA or non-religious reactionary forces. It is up to the revolutionary forces to empower the people's democratic movement against the American "democracy" under Karzai's leadership"

The future of democracy depends, above all like any thing else in this war-torn country, on the security situation.

Karzai must expand an undersized army and police force and persuade 40-60,000 militiamen to give up their weapons in a bid to dilute the power of warlords. But he himself and his US masters depend on warlords to run the Karzai government. One of his two vice presidents, Karim Khalili, is a warlord from the Hazara minority. The other, Ahmed Zia Masood, is the brother of revered anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Masood. The Afghans see his dependence on warlords as a transitional phase where he needs to depend on them until he is strong. But this was a paradox Afghan voters had to face. They voted Karzai to reject warlordism despite Karzai's dependence on warlords.

'On winning elections, Karzai will get rid of Northern Alliance', explains Afghan Solidarity Party leader Arif Afghani while clarifying this paradox.

Will Karzai be able to use the legitimacy obtained from his electoral victory be able to leash all-powerful warlords? Close to impossible. The warlords command militias comprising 40-60,000 men. The combined strength of Afghan police and ANA does not match militias' strength in both men and material. Karzai has the backing of around 18,000 US-led troops and 8,000 Nato-led peacekeepers. By contrast, the fledgling Afghan National Army, controlled by Karzai has 14,000 troops. No re-construction is possible unless Afghan National Army and Afghan police is built to an extent where they can outnumber and disarm the militias.

But until now the US/Karzai regime policy has been that of appeasement and accommodation. Not merely warlords have been accommodated but an attempt has been made to woo sections of Taliban. With one section of warlords on his side, Karzai will not be able to disarm another section of warlords. He will have to clearly break with warlords.


His decision to remove Ismail Khan of Herat as governor, weeks before election, won he wide spread support. It also developed an illusion among Afghans that Karzai would disarm war lords as soon as he strengthens his grip on power. But it remains to be seen if Ismail Khan's removal was mere an election stunt or Karzai is serious in disarming warlords. Or more precisely, if Karzai's Washington master is serious in democratising Afghanistan. Or was it a one-time show for 'foreign policy' success at election eve?


Preliminary Results by Ballot Order


Abdul Latif Pedram 100,088 1.3%
Hamid Karzai 4,364,454 55.4%
Hamayon Shah Asifi 25,781 0.3%
Mir Mohammad Mahfouz Nedaee 15,657 0.2%
Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq 913,363 11.6%
Syed Ishaq Gilani 78,586 1.0%
Abdul Satar Serat 29,526 0.4%
Abdul Hafiz Mansoor 19,351 0.2%
Ghulam Farooq Nijrabi 24,059 0.3%
Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai 59,018 0.7%
Abdul Hasseb Aryan 8,190 0.1%
Wakil Mangal 11,547 0.1%
Abdul Hadi Khalilzai 17,842 0.2%
Mohammad Ebrahim Rashid 13,581 0.2%
Yonous Qanooni 1,282,677 16.3%
Massooda Jalal 88,165 1.1%
Syed Abdul Hadi Dabir 23,686 0.3%
Abdul Rashid Dostum 799,288 10.1%

Valid Votes 7,874,859 100.0%
Invalid Votes ** 102,194
Total Votes 7,977,053

IMPORTANT CANDIDATES
Hamid Karzai. The winner and current president was 'appointed' in 2002 by the Loya Jirga (grand assembly) as interim president. He speaks several Afghan languages and comes from the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. He studies in Sinla,India and is fluent in English and Urdu. His brothers run a chain of Afghan restaurents in USA. His father was killed in Quetta, Pakistan where Karzai family had moved following the outbreak of civil war back in 1979. He was the one USA had bet on during this election .


Yunus Qanooni. Once Karzai's education minister, Qanooni was the most serious threat to Karzai. He was a distant second to Karzai. Qanooni is a Northern Alliance leader, and is a member of the country's second largest ethnic group, the Tajiks. He has two powerful backers in Karzai's government: defence minister Mohammed Fahim and the former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Mohammed Mohaqeq. Formerly an anti-Taliban militia commander, Mohaqeq is from the Shia Muslim Hazara tribes of central Afghanistan. The Shia Muslims in Hazara were a target of Taliban atrocities. The scale of Taliban atrocities once drove Tehran to almost invade Afghanistan. He served as planning minister in Karzai's government until March when he was ejected from the cabinet because of his candidacy. He ended up third in election race.
Abdul Rashid Dostum. Notorious Uzbek warlord, Dostum is a 'serial betrayer'. Active in Afghan war over the past two decades, he fought both with and against the Soviets during the 80s. An important member in DR Najib's PDPA ( later re-named as Motherland Party), Dostum ditched Najib and joined hands with Ahmad Shah Masood. He switched sides amny times until he joined the Northern Alliance which helped the US oust Taliban regime in 2001. He was fourth.

Massouda Jalal. The only woman candidate on the list, Massouda Jalal is a former UN worker and a qualified paediatrician. She came a distant second to Karzai at the Loya Jirga in 2002.

 

 
 

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