Afghanistan fraud charges ‘may jeopardize democratic transition’




Afghanistan‘s presidential election has been plunged into crisis after one candidate demanded a halt to vote counting, suspended cooperation with election authorities and called for a UN commission to mediate over “blatant fraud”, The Guardian reports:

It was an unexpectedly strong challenge to an election that had initially been celebrated as a qualified success, with high turnout in both the first round and a 14 June run-off, despite Taliban threats and violence.

Former foreign minister and mujahideen doctor Abdullah Abdullah had already signalled that he was unhappy about preliminary turnout figures for the second round, and wary of large leaps in voter numbers in the strongholds of his rival Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank technocrat.

The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) spokesman Fahim Naime called on the electoral commissions and presidential candidates not to harm the election process, Deutsche Welle reports.

“We call on the IEC and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because as time passes the crisis deepens. If it continues this way, we might reach a point where the commissions won’t be able to resolve these problems,” Naim told DW. He also called on the IEC to take steps in order to restore trust with Abdullah Abdullah.

“In the meantime the candidates should respect the votes of the people and not take such actions that can harm the election process,” Naime said.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says in a DW interview Abdullah has made a dramatic accusation while presenting no substantive evidence. In order to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, Kugelman adds, Afghan election officials probably won’t start to investigate these allegations until the vote counting process has concluded.

An election observer mission from the US-based National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] concluded two days after the poll that “the problems it observed did not appear to be widespread or systematic”.


‘Industrial-scale fraud’ mars Afghan poll?



Less than 48 hours after a runoff election to choose the next president of Afghanistan, the first signs of a looming political crisis emerged on Monday, with the campaign of Abdullah Abdullah claiming there had been widespread ballot stuffing and suggesting he was being set up for a defeat he would not accept, The New York Times reports:

A senior campaign official for Mr. Abdullah, who won the most votes in the election’s first round, said the candidate believes President Hamid Karzai and a coterie of advisers around him orchestrated the fraud. The aim, in the estimation of the Abdullah campaign, was either to install Ashraf Ghani, the other candidate for president, or to see Mr. Karzai use a postelection crisis as an excuse to extend his own term in office.

Lessons from Afghanistan: Warlord politics aren’t always bad for democracy?

“Without branding all generals and statesmen as murderers or thieves … a portrait of war makers and state makers as coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs bears a far greater resemblance to the facts than do its chief alternatives: the idea of a social contract, the idea of an open market … the idea of a society whose shared norms and expectations call forth a certain kind of government.”  Charles Tilly, 1985

As Afghanistan’s election season marches on, Tilly’s unsavory portrait of statesmen as coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs” seems eerily resonant, according to political scientists Dipali Mukhopadhyay, of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and Frances Z. Brown, of the University of Oxford.

Ten years after co-authoring “Fixing Failed States,” a seminal book on post-conflict statebuilding,  Afghanistan presidential election candidate Ashraf Ghani has aligned himself with a ferocious warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, hoping to exploit the strongman’s ethnic Uzbek voting bloc and his ongoing influence in northern Afghan politics, they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

At first glance, these actions seem to run counter to the ideals of democracy and good governance as articulated by international institutions and promoted by NATO. That said, violent warlord showdowns followed by cautious and elite-driven cooperation is exactly what scholars of state formation suggest was key to Europe’s development.

Rather than marauding in the countryside, taking what they want as they go, Afghanistan’s warlords and power brokers have bought into the electoral system and the consolidation of the central state. They see a future in winning elections, not in chopping off the heads of rivals or expanding their territory through violent conquest.

To be sure, the Afghan future holds more than strongmen and muscular rule. Other groups have emerged with the potential to bring about reform and progress. The country claims a young, urbanized elite; a cadre of dedicated, increasingly educated civil servants; and a collection of private entrepreneurs, all bolstered by a robust, growing media sector. But their timeline for influence is longer, and in some ways dependent on the consolidation of security under muscular rule…..

Over the years, outgoing President Hamid Karzai has been criticized for his failure to fight corruption and stem the Taliban insurgency, but he also is seen as a leader who could bring unity to the country’s many ethnic groups and factions, VOA reports.

“He has not put people in jail because they disagreed with him,” said former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. “Freedom of expression has been respected.”

“In my judgment, he inherited a very difficult situation,” said Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, “and Afghanistan has come a long way during his period.”


The international community has invested a great deal to help the Afghan state move toward the ideals of good governance we associate with liberal democracy in the West.  Why has progress been so halting? Mukhopadhyay and Brown ask:

Sociologists, political scientists, and economists argue that state-building has always been an untidy, often violent process in which repeated elite confrontations eventually lead to political bargains. Even when the fighting ends, of course, competition for political power continues, with muscular power persisting as the deal-maker and deal-breaker. 

The international community’s intervention in Afghanistan was not the first attempt to introduce democracy to a conflict-ridden country. Bold, international state-building projects have been attempted across the globe in the past several decades: the Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and more recently Iraq. As the foreign-sponsored leaders in this latest incarnation of a well-established model, President Hamid Karzai and his government ticked off the boxes on the now-standard “post-conflict reconstruction” to-do list. ……

For the coming weeks, all eyes are trained on Afghanistan’s presidential runoff. Our research and others’ offer reminders that state formation and (re)formation are often nasty, brutish, and anything but short. State-building can involve campaigning and voting but, in Tilly’s early Europe, it also involved “eliminating, subjugating, dividing, conquering, cajoling, buying as the occasions presented themselves.”

“These are tough words to swallow in the context of a costly, committed effort to introduce democracy to a country whose citizens seek better governance even at risk to their own lives.” they conclude. “As the next chapter of Afghanistan’s evolution unfolds, we should remember that muscle has always had a place in the building of states; perhaps we should check back in two hundred years. “


Afghan elections ‘vindicate investments and sacrifices’, suggest waning Karzai influence


After enduring Taliban attacks and security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered solid indications that the vote far exceeded expectations, The New York Times reports:

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

“This has been the best and most incident-free election in Afghanistan’s modern history and it could set the precedent for a historic, peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Fahim Sadeq, head of the Afghanistan National Participation Organization, an observer group.

Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate, The Wall Street Journal reports:

A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal.

Graeme Smith, a Kabul-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he expected the election to end in a cordial runoff.

“All of the candidates have a deep vested interest in the stability of the Afghan state,” he said. “Though they may rock the boat, they won’t capsize it.”

“I am genuinely encouraged,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who recently visited Kabul. “The high turnout, modest levels of violence, and good performance of the Afghan army and police are all genuine good-news stories,” he said by e-mail yesterday.

The election was a repudiation of the Taliban. Violence in the run-up to the voting backfired, notes Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

“Each attack aimed at discouraging participation seemed to encourage even more people to register. Taliban efforts to intimidate communities at the local level also failed,” he writes for The National Interest. “Even in Pashtun areas in the east and south, turnout was high. With their cause and methods rejected, the armed opposition will undertake needed soul searching,” says Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Afghan electoral institutions performed well. More so than in previous years, the international community operated largely in a supporting role as Afghans took the lead in conducting elections. Although there were reports of ballot shortages in some polling stations, voting, from an administrative standpoint, went remarkably smoothly. …………..Afghan security institutions were effective. Though some stations remained closed for security reasons, Taliban efforts to disrupt voting produced no major security incidents across the country. Afghans’ confidence in security institutions has increased, portending, perhaps, a new level of trust that could suppress the insurgency.

The National Democratic Institute today underlined the need for observers to follow the tallying and complaints process to help ensure the integrity of the April 5 presidential and provincial elections:

Since the margins among the contestants may be slim and a small number of votes may affect the outcome, it is critical that observers follow the tallying and complaints process closely, NDI said. In a preliminary statement, NDI said a final assessment be made only after the electoral institutions had completed their activities.

NDI fielded an observer delegation of 101 Afghan staff members who visited 327 polling stations in 26 provinces. Many of them helped prepare 46,000 candidate and political party polling agents in the lead-up to the elections.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said ballot counting had begun after voting was extended by an hour.

“Out of 7 million, around 35 percent of them were Afghan women, a great signal to practice democracy,” IEC Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani said yesterday in Kabul, adding that the turnout was more than twice that of the 2009 elections.

The fact that the election wasn’t disrupted by violence — only 3 percent of polling stations closed for security reasons — isn’t a guarantee the rest of the electoral process will be smooth, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghan Analysts Network.

“There are still credible reports of fraud from the areas that are difficult to monitor and from where news travels slowly,” said Van Bijlert, co-director of the nonprofit policy group based in Kabul. “And we might still see a very contested count.”

But so far, the election vindicates the large investments and sacrifices of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad asserts:

The Afghan people rose to the occasion, creating an environment of hope and expectation. This presents the country, particularly the new President, with an opportunity to build on the positive achievements of the last 12 years. By resisting the temptation for a winner-take-all approach and including the losing candidates and/or their supporters, the new administration can build a national consensus behind the reforms necessary to advance peace building, economic development, the rule of law, and anti-corruption efforts.

Is Afghanistan ready for April 5th election?

“Is Afghanistan Ready for the April 5th Elections?” (AUDIO)  was today the subject of an on-the-record conference call with David S. Sedney, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia (2009-2013), and Hamid Arsalan, Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy. Robert Zarate, Policy Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, moderated the discussion between speakers and reporters.

With only several hours until polls open across Afghanistan for this historic election, the panelists focused on key issues facing the fledgling democracy, including:

  • What’s at stake for the United States in seeing a successful Afghan presidential election
  • The Afghan election process and timeline
  • How Afghan forces are dealing with potential security threats to presidential candidates, voters and journalists
  • The future of the U.S.- Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA)
  • Relations among the United States, Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s NeighborsTo listen to audio from today’s Afghanistan discussion, visit FPI’s website.