Elections in Afghanistan, the Second Time Around

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

It is a testament to the strength of our commitment to democracy that we Americans believe elections will solve the problems of a country – any country. This is a nice civics lesson but the lessons of history are otherwise. And it is not a sound principle of foreign policy. Elections in Afghanistan are unlikely to solve the country’s problems; they may even worsen things. In any event, other political processes are more important – we just haven’t realized it yet.

President Hamid Karzai,amid numerous allegations of fraud in August’s elections, has accepted a second-round runoff with Abdullah Abdullah. Domestic pressure for a second round was significant but it was pressure from the US and western bodies that forced Karzai to accede. Coming amid the Obama administration’s debate on sending more troops, one might suspect a deal: Karzai sits for a second election in exchange for more US troops. Any such deal would be a bad one. Escalation should be assessed on its own merits, not on short-term gain. Furthermore, a deal paves the way for more deals: additional troop increases in exchange for what the Afghan government should be doing anyway – acting responsibly.

The runoff between Karzai and his principal opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, will not change anything in regard to the state’s efficacy. The winner will preside over a ramshackle apparatus fraught with corrupt and inept functionaries seeking to pull in as much money as they can while western troops are holding up their political system. The winner will not be in a better position to bargain with various tribes and people, build a fairer administrative system, and otherwise counter the rising influence of insurgent groups.

Many Afghans, even those who think little of Karzai, see the second round as the result of foreign meddling. Though this might elicit some sympathy for Karzai as he protests western interference, a stronger opposite response will weaken him. Anti-western sentiment will increase, as will already strong beliefs that the West is working to bring about Northern/Tajik control of the country. Insurgents have long played upon such beliefs, and their support in the South and East will rise.

A Karzai defeat in the runoff is unlikely though not impossible. A non-Pashtun turnout elevated by the prospect of unseating Karzai and a Pashtun turnout suppressed by insurgent threats, cynicism, and winter weather could give Abdullah the presidency. This might be welcomed in the West, but not in Afghanistan. Though of Pashtun and Tajik parents, Abdullah, by virtue of his prominence in the Northern Alliance and the Jamiat-i Islami party, is considered a Tajik – unacceptable to most Pashtuns. His election would galvanize Pashtun fears of a northern conspiracy and push the country toward a north-south conflict. Pakistan will share those conspiratorial views. It will detect the sinister hand of India’s intelligence wing and respond accordingly – in and out of Afghanistan.

The runoff election is unlikely to bring significant benefits to Afghanistan or the western effort there. It will only underscore the frailty, if not the almost uselessness, of the political framework hurriedly set up by politicians and consultants after the Taliban fled in 2001.

There is another political framework, one that Karzai has failed to deal competently with, one the West has only recently begun to appreciate – tribal parley. Significant political developments are already well under way through tribal parley, which builds consensus through dispute resolution, nationalist appeals, and suppression of warlordism. Thus far, in the contest of building consensus through tribal parley, the Taliban have a commanding lead.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Regime Change Refugees: On the Shores of Europe
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Bait-and-Switch Environmental Politics
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Paul Craig Roberts
Whither the Economy?
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and Crisis
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Colin Todhunter
Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Depraved Morality of David Cameron
JP Sottile
Chinese Military Parade Freak-Out
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Jim Connolly
Sniping at the Sandernistas: Left Perfectionism in the Belly of the Beast
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Dan Glazebrook
British Home Secretary Theresa May: Savior or Slaughterer of Black People?
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Barry Lando
Standing at the Bar of History: Could the i-Phone Really Have Prevented the Holocaust?
Linn Washington Jr.
Critics of BlackLivesMatter# Practice Defiant Denial
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Graham Peebles
Criminalizing Refugees
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Patrick Higgins
A Response to the “Cruise Missile Left”
Tom H. Hastings
Too Broke to Pay Attention
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
David Yearsley
Michael Sarin: Drumming Like Summer Fireworks Over a Choppy Lake