Things can only get better

One, two, three, four – what are we fighting for?

August 17, 2009

Whatever it is, it isn’t a free and fair Afghan election. At least the media are finally admitting it (Thus passim) even if the reason is largely the upsurge in military casualties. Saturday’s lethal car bomb outside NATO headquarters in Kabul was a cynical signal from the Taliban that they can more or less get to whomsoever they choose. The British army death toll stands at 204, most killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the US death toll is approaching 800 since hostilities commenced in 2001. Last month, military deaths doubled to 78. In common with the ‘policy’ in Iraq, nobody is officially counting civilian casualties but it is estimated by UNAMA and Human Rights Watch that nearly 6000 have died as a direct result of the fighting while over 11,000 Afghani troops have died. (Both these figures seem low to me, but I’m happy to admit my ignorance and stand corrected either way).

We don’t know how many ‘enemy’ combatants have been killed and most people cynically couldn’t care less – the Taliban are less than human, after all. Except they’re not. Most of these ‘insurgents’ are farmers by day and are only doing what any British or American citizen or yeoman would do if a foreign army invaded. What we do know, despite the froth from British military figures and the preposterous Hitler-moustached UK Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, is that the much-vaunted ’surge’ clearly has failed. ‘Operation Enduring Freedom‘ is more about enduring and nothing to do with freedom.

But the election, a foregone conclusion, will be spun as a victory for democracy, despite the overwhelming evidence of corruption, bribery, intimidation – by the Karzai government, much less the Taliban – and a full-blown insurgency which ensures that the turnout will be skewed, to put it politely. The UN, having spent an estimated USD 150 million on organising the election, have little option but to declare it a success, despite some cack-handed and counter-productive arrangements. For example, to avoid multiple polling, voters will be marked with indelible ink on their fingers. The Taliban have promised to cut off the fingers of anyone with inky fingers. There will be allegedly ‘thousands’ of election monitors, but already there is evidence of fraud – improbable numbers of people appear to have registered to vote, especially in Karzai-controlled regions.

Miracles notwithstanding (Ashraf Ghani, inshallah), Karzai will ‘win’ on Thursday. Unless he gains more than 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff, most likely against Abdullah, if opinion polls are to be believed (and undemocratic tribalism prevails). This will postpone the result – and probably guarantee increased violence and mayhem – until November. Victory for Abdullah would ‘unacceptable’ to Pakistan, on account of his historic connections with the Northern Alliance, to the Pashtuns and, obviously, to the Taliban. So if Karzai has to win, he might as well do so outright. Having done so, he should seriously consider forming a government of national unity including his main challengers and dedicated to addressing the root causes of the past and present preconditions for a failed state which make Afghanistan not worth fighting for. Unless he agrees, tacit and explicit support from the US and ‘NATO’ for his regime should be withdrawn.

Whatever the eventual result, one lesson to be learned from this deadly misadventure, which has yet again cost so many lives in the pursuit of ‘managed’ democracy, is that the UN should never again be given a mandate to organise and run an election. Incompetence, self-interest and pomposity have endangered the lives of those who are brave enough to vote, increased the possibility of fraud and wasted many tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the lives of soldiers and civilians. Last time I looked, the UN was established to do exactly the opposite.