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The myth of Afghanistan's presidential election
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By Guo Yanyuan

Voting has ended in Afghanistan's presidential election but the outcome is far from clear. The election is reported to have been riddled with fraud; at least 200,000 votes have been disqualified. Although the current President Hamid Karzai is holding his lead, a fraudulent election would wreck his political career. A free and fair election would improve Afghanistan's stability, but a stolen election can only make an execrable security situation even worse.

The election happened against a background of upheaval and turbulence. Although voting took place throughout the country, many voters stayed at home. This in itself will call into question the legitimacy of the future government. Insurgents prevented many polling stations from opening and many people did not dare to vote for fear of reprisals. This was in no sense the normally conducted poll the international community had hoped for.

The government's writ runs only in a few major cities, and a future government will be in no better position. The sad fact is the Kabul government possesses little authority, and most Afghan civilians do not care about the presidential election. The only people interested in the result are people in Kabul, NATO and the presidential candidates themselves.

Afghanistan civilians do not believe the Kabul government can bring them stability or prosperity. Before the U.S. overthrew the Taliban in 2001, Afghans may have had little freedom, but at least they enjoyed relative security. Since then, they have had freedom on paper but have had to endure constant violence. Taliban militants launch ambushes and bombings at will throughout the country. The Kabul government would fall without foreign military support.

The Obama administration has deployed additional troops to Afghanistan, but with little effect. The US risks being trapped in the Afghan quagmire just like the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Obama can neither control Afghan politics, nor guarantee security in Afghanistan.

But the US government is unwilling to abandon Afghanistan because of its geopolitical importance, in a strategic location where many ethnic groups and nationalities overlap.

Afghanistan's neighbors exercise strong influence. They are worried that the chaos in Afghanistan will spill over their borders. The Afghan government needs these countries' political, security, economic and socio-cultural assistance to ensure the stability of its own border regions.

It will be a tough task to change the anarchic situation in Afghanistan. The outside powers cannot hope to impose Western-style democracy in an environment only suitable for other types of political systems. War-weary Afghanistan will remain trapped in a security dilemma if an appropriate political course is not set.

It is vital to Afghanistan's political and social stability that the current election is seen to be legitimate. The U.S. is undoubtedly involved behind the scenes, imploring Hamid Karzai not to declare victory unilaterally, and to allow at least a partial recount of votes so as to avoid the risk of post-election unrest. If the election result is disputed, Afghan politics risks falling into stalemate, with no candidates willing to concede defeat. The security situation would be worse than ever with the country split on political lines. And if the US becomes too involved in the political horse-trading, the image of NATO will suffer and its presence will lose legitimacy.

(China.org.cn September 15, 2009)

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