The Afghanis and the global community will be sorting out the effects of the September 18 Parliamentary elections for weeks if not months. Reports from the Independent Election Commission, and thousands of local and international observers, including those deployed by Democracy International (of which I served as a short term observer), will no doubt be mixed. Nine years after the U.S. – led invasion and months after the American military “surge”, much of the country remains in the control of insurgents. For up to date election-related information check the Democracy International website www.afghan2010.com.
President Obama said he believes the “Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election.” This understated sentiment certainly does not do justice to the tremendous, and perhaps overwhelming, challenges facing the Karzai administration. A significant number of polling centers did not open or closed early due to Taliban attacks. I counted at least twelve mortar attacks, a firefight, and a Taliban truck blaring threats to anyone who voted in one contested provincial capital. Even the Afghan security forces were unable to deploy to many polling sites. Over three thousand formal complaints, allegations of fraud, intimidation, and technical problems further degraded the poll’s legitimacy in the minds of many voters.
That said, it was truly remarkable to witness voters, particularly women, scatter after hearing explosions near the site only to return and cast their vote hours later. The Election commission reported that 4.3 million votes had been cast. Whatever the actual turnout, millions of Afghans felt voting was worth risking their lives.
I have to agree with a prominent observer serving (who also served with Democracy International), “[F]or all the inspiring images I saw of Afghans at the polls, at its core Afghanistan remains a deeply dysfunctional and dispirited country.” (Michael Cohen, AOL)
Many Afghans told observers that the announcement that U.S. troops will withdraw next year emboldened the Taliban and local warlords. An American commander opined that the strategy of pushing the Taliban out of the population centers only made the insurgents more difficult to root out. As so many invading forces have experienced since this country became independent, the mountains serve as an intractable refuge for guerilla forces.
529 foreign troops killed since January from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), make this the deadliest year since the 2001 invasion. The previous record was 521 in 2009.
Check out Gregg Carlstrom’s recent opinion piece about the lack of consensus among policymakers from both sides of the aisle, Searching for Plan B in Afghanistan. “Obama’s Afghan strategy, unveiled last winter after a lengthy strategy review, has always sat uneasily with many observers. Some doubted his decision to escalate the war at all; others questioned his focus on southern Afghanistan, his lofty goals for training the Afghan army and police, his confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to deliver basic services…Today that consensus has all but collapsed,” according to Carlstrom. Carlstrom goes on to survey the various policy options from conservatives to anti-war experts, none of which seem to provide a realistic blueprint for bringing about a peaceful, unified Afghanistan in the near term.
In response to the press reports about internal debates, Secretary Gates said that while he believes “we will find some areas where we can make some adjustments and tweaks”, he does not expect “any basic changes are likely to occur”. Adm. Mullen agreed, saying that “there certainly could be some adjustments, but we think the strategy is sound.”
James Prince is currently blogging from Afghanistan, where he is serving as an election observer. His full bio can be accessed here.