Warlords and Fundamentalists Are the Winners

While no official results have as yet been made available for the Afghan elections, provisionally published lists indicate that powerful warlords and local commanders with links to the drug cartels have emerged victorious. Ratbil Shamel reports

ballot papers being counted (photo: dpa)
Despite isolated cases of electoral fraud, the elections in Afghanistan are considered on the whole to have been democratic

​​The winners and losers of the recent parliamentary and provincial elections are now known: influential warlords and fundamentalists are the outright winners, while the so-called intellectuals, reformists, and modernisers have failed to put in a good showing across the board.

They did not succeed in mobilising their voters; nor did they have the financial means at their disposal that warlords like Abdur Rab Rasul Sayaf or Rabbani were able to spend on their campaigns. It is said that these warlords spent several million dollars on propaganda and gifts ranging from mobile phones to cows.

Only a few independent reformist candidates – like the former Minister for Planning Ramazan Baschardost, or the civil rights activist Malalai Joja – succeeded in obtaining the backing of the electorate.

Influential clerics and technocrats

The well-known Afghan political scientist Dr. Akram Osman is not at all surprised by the election results and lays the blame for them squarely at the existing structure of Afghan society: “We must not forget that most of those who exert influence on Afghan society are clerics and technocrats.”

Traditionally, he says, these forces have always been – and, it would seem, still are – determining factors in Afghanistan. Democratic politicians have not succeeded in winning over the Afghan people to their policies.

This is compounded by the fact that the Afghans don’t trust what they call “tie-wearers”. Many simple Afghans are of the opinion that these “tie-wearers” were responsible for the overthrow of the king in 1973 and the collaboration with the Red Army in 1979. This makes them, in the eyes of these voters, responsible for the country’s misery. This, according to political scientist Osman, is one of the reasons why President Karsai has never worn a tie since taking office; not even on his trips abroad.

Another problem that further weakens the democratic movement, he says, is its inability to be close to the people and to work together. They have not, he adds, succeeded in formulating clear targets that they can put to the electorate: their statements and slogans are too general and unrealistic.

The architects of their own defeat

Instead of going to the people, they expect the people to come to them. This is why, explains Osman, the democratic movement, which is split into over 80 parties, has no right to start complaining: they are, for the most part, responsible for their own poor showing.

“The fact is that the Afghan democratic movement has not yet succeeded in developing a political programme that it can actually implement in practice,” explains Osman. “However, it is our obligation to put together a programme according to our possibilities and abilities that will be accepted by the people.”

Many who have lost the elections refuse to accept the results. They declare that they will not accept the count and are calling for demonstrations.

Much the same thing happened after the last presidential elections, when almost all of Hamid Karsai’s opponents refused to accept defeat and accused the government of fraud.

There are claims that there was electoral fraud this time around too. Nevertheless, international observers say that the parliamentary and provincial elections were free and democratic.

But only very few people in Afghanistan would seem to be pleased with the results of the elections. Many Afghans and human rights organisations are asking themselves what will happen to the future MPs, some of whom are suspected of having committed war crimes.

Karsai avoids confrontations

Hamid Karsai being sworn in as president of Afghanistan (photo: AP)
Unwilling to risk a confrontation with the warlords

​​President Karsai does not consider it his job to bring the accused representatives of the people to justice. Said Karsai: “If they were elected by the inhabitants of the cities and provinces in free and secret ballots, then they are the legal representatives of these people, regardless of who they are.”

President Karsai obviously wants to avoid confrontations with the powerful warlords and local commanders, who are also accused of being involved in the country’s lucrative drugs trade. He speaks of national reconciliation and, in doing so, is trying to keep the number of his armed opponents as low as possible.

For the Afghan government, the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida groups takes priority. But can a parliament that is ruled by warlords and fundamentalists be conducive to the promotion of the democratisation process in the country? Osman is convinced not: “Of course it can’t.”

The new 249-seat parliament is now made up of political groupings that want above all to make large amounts of money. They will demand hefty sums of money from the government for every single law that they are asked to pass. Those who master the tricks of this bazaar-mentality trade will be successful in the new Afghan parliament, says Osman.

He is of the opinion that a dangerous game is being played with democracy in Afghanistan and that many people are sure to be disappointed by it. The only ones who will benefit from these developments are the opponents of freedom in Afghanistan.

Ratbil Shamel


Translation from the German by Aingeal Flanagan


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