Afghan Warlords May Try to Hijack Elections, Watchdog Group Says
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RAY SUAREZ: More than ten million Afghan citizens have registered to vote in the country’s first democratic presidential elections.
AFGHANISTANI WOMAN: Do you know who is the president in Afghanistan?
RAY SUAREZ: Now set for Oct. 9, the elections are part of a long-term plan approved by Afghan leaders right after the 2001 war that ousted the Taliban.
But increasing violence already has forced two delays. Much of the violence this year, which has led to the deaths of 25 U.S. soldiers, 39 international aid workers, and 12 election workers, has been attributed to revived elements of the Taliban.
That violence came not only in the dangerous countryside, but also in the capital, Kabul. Ten people died at this site last month, three of them Americans. It was the deadliest attack in Kabul in two years, and targeted an American security company which provides bodyguards for interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai himself and his vice president came under attack several weeks ago while campaigning at a school in Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. Their helicopter never landed, narrowly escaping a rocket launched from nearby. But Karzai kept on campaigning, here with an opponent in northern Afghanistan.
HAMID KARZAI (translated): Two competitors for the presidency are here to open a road construction project. Where can you find more success than in this?
RAY SUAREZ: Karzai faces 17 opponents in upcoming elections. The strongest is his former education and interior minister, Yonus Qanooni.
YONUS QANOONI (translated): We want the new Afghanistan to be an active part of the international community, and we want the new Afghanistan to be an acceptable country to the world.
RAY SUAREZ: To bolster security before the vote, the U.S. announced it will send up to 1,100 additional troops, bringing the total number of American troops on the ground to more than 18,000.
They serve alongside a NATO-led force of 8,000. Secretary of State Colin Powell:
COLIN POWELL: There’s no reason for these elections not to go forward. We are putting some additional troops in.
In our conversations with President Karzai, there wasn’t… there was not the slightest suggestion that the security situation would keep the elections from going forward.
RAY SUAREZ: Some of the new troops will beef up patrols along the Afghan border with Pakistan, as they seek out al-Qaida fighters and Osama bin Laden.
Even as the country tries to develop a modern political system, longtime warlords and their militias joust for power as they have for decades. Human rights groups warned the militias are using force and intimidation against thousands of prospective voters.
The election takes place in a ravaged economy amidst a revival of the country’s biggest cash crop, opium poppies. Half of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, some $2 billion, is generated from narcotics trafficking, and much of that money flows back to local warlords.
RAY SUAREZ: For more, we get two views. Ishaq Shahryar was Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington from June 2002 to 2003.
He was also a delegate at the Bonn Conference in 2001 that established Afghanistan’s political road map.
Nazif Shahrani is a professor of anthropology at Indiana University in Bloomington. He has written extensively about Afghanistan, and has spent the last three summers there.
Professor Shahrani, is Afghanistan ready to hold an election a week from Saturday?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: I wish it were. I think this is the wrong time, and under very inappropriate security conditions that we’re facing an election.
When democratic exercises are held under inappropriate circumstances, unfortunately they do more harm than they do good. And this may be one of those cases in the case of Afghanistan today.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, how do you feel on that same question? Is your country ready to hold elections a week from Saturday?
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: I think it’s extremely important and necessary to hold the elections. We’re following the timetable and the rules and regulations and bylaws that were set up for the Bonn Conference last October.
We should have had the constitutional Loya Jirga convention and then the presidential convention was supposed to take place in June of this year but has been postponed twice and now Oct. 9.
It’s very, very important that this election should take place because it’s important that we are planting the seed of democracy in Afghanistan. And we should not allow the terrorists and the Taliban to interfere in this election and the election should go forward.
Regardless when we’re going to have it, this problem will exist until we eliminate these enemies of democracy.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, there is a brand-new human rights report that says that the election is going forward under threats, intimidation, bribery, there’s been bombings close to the capital, killings of registrars and election workers.
Is it so important to have this vote on the day that it’s been rescheduled for that it’s worth it to go forward even with these kinds of things going on in the country?
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: As I said, regardless when we’re going to have it, these enemies of democracy and enemies of Afghanistan is trying to do that regardless when are we going to hold it.
I believe the security is beefed up and the country is ready for the election, and election should take place, yes.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, isn’t so it important to a country just getting on its feet like Afghanistan, as the ambassador suggests, with problems, with threats, you go ahead and have the election anyway?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: I think the Bonn agreement had assumed that this administration would have improved the security situation, it would have prepared the conditions for election by now, in almost three years the administration unfortunately has failed to do those things, and under these circumstances, holding this election, if it is meant to bring some additional legitimacy to President Karzai in the country, it may not do that simply because it’s creating a situation where people will question the validity and the legitimacy and the fairness of this election, and under these conditions, unfortunately, it will serve exactly the opposite purpose for what it is intended.
And maybe this election is, some Afghans say, really for the United States, for President George W. Bush. As we heard earlier, Vice President Dick Cheney praising the election in Afghanistan, and it’s not really for the people of Afghanistan and for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.
RAY SUAREZ: But you heard the ambassador suggest that whenever you hold these elections, and they’ve been rescheduled twice, there are going to be this kind of attempt to threaten, to intimidate, so you can’t… can you postpone them indefinitely?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, actually, this will be the second election to — essentially for President Karzai. He’s favored by the United States, by the international community, and he’s very likely to win the election.
He was, in fact, the only person that the emergency Loya Jirga voted for and became the president in a way he had a great deal more legitimacy in the first election, and I’m not sure whether this new election is going to improve his legitimacy in the country anymore, and it probably will raise more questions.
So we should have really… if we had elections under these circumstances, it would have been best to have the parliamentary elections and not the presidential election. We still don’t have any representation from the people to make policy for the country.
We only have this one person, President Karzai, and his team, who have basically done everything for the last three years, and he already had a vote and there was no need far second vote at this time.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Ambassador, you heard the professor suggest that if the vote is troubled, it won’t even give President Karzai, if he’s the eventual winner, the kind of legitimacy he was looking for from this vote.
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: I would like to take issue with the professor. The issue is that it’s not just in Afghanistan, in the world we’re facing an enemy, an invisible enemy that we are going to be facing for years to come.
Even the election of this country has been threatened with violence that might take place, terrorists might do things. We’re not going to in this country postpone the election. President Karzai has proven to be a wonderful leader, a good leader. He’s kept the country going for the last two years.
A tremendous changes has been taking place in Afghanistan since he’s taken over. He has the popular support of 75, 80 percent of the country.
These slogans, political slogans that people are using, that this election is for the election of this country I totally take issue with that and it is wrong.
It is political advantages of opponents of Karzai trying to use in their favor. So the election has to go forward, and President Karzai has a 75, 80 percent support of the Afghan people.
RAY SUAREZ: Is it so clear to you, professor, that Hamid Karzai will be the winner if the election goes ahead on Oct. 9? He’s got 17 opponents.
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Well, 17 opponents and the field is extremely uneven. He is the only presidential candidate who is being flown by the United States army helicopters to campaign.
He’s the only presidential candidate who is being safeguarded by the U.S. Marines, and other people do not have even the means to fly to different parts of the country to campaign, but other people are brought… in fact, delegations are brought from all over the country to the palace so that he could speak to them and campaign. So the situation really is totally in favor of President Karzai, and he will win.
I don’t have any problem with President Karzai. It’s just I’m saying whether this election is going to add anything to his credibility, indeed he has a problem of credibility amongst his own tribesmen, amongst the Pashtun population of Afghanistan.
His life has been targeted twice, once in Kandahar and recently in Paktia. He needs to do more to raise his credibility amongst his own tribesmen, the very people who support the Taliban.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ambassador, one of the things that your council in Bonn tried to put together was the idea of an Afghan government for all Afghans rather than a regional or a tribal government.
But with the breakdown of the voting into sectional, ethnic, language area interests, is that kind of government going to actually emerge when this process is done, will there be an Afghan idea about the country?
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: Well, Afghans always… in the end, the bottom line, they’re Afghans. You have to realize the country has gone through war, destructions and so forth for the last 22 years, regardless of who was the leader, we faced these challenges.
President Karzai has shown tremendous leadership. President Karzai is a patriot. He has the interests and hearts of all Afghan people in Afghanistan. Whatever he is doing – he’s trying to put the country together and he’s doing a tremendous job.
And I think this election, he’s already been a legitimate interim president… He’s been a transitional president, and he’s going to be legitimately elected by a majority of the Afghan people, the next president of Afghanistan.
RAY SUAREZ: But will the power of the warlords decline as a result of the creation of a national government?
Will President Karzai through this election get the kind of power it’s being suggested he needs to be the leader of all the country?
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: This is an attempt is already being made. Some of the regional leaders and warlords have been displaced and the national government is appointing governors in those states.
This process is already taking place. Step by step, the last two year, everything is relative. Relative to two years ago, Afghanistan has made tremendous progress. The seed of democracy is being planted in Afghanistan.
This is the first time in the history of Afghanistan that we are holding an election. This is the first time people are registering in the history of Afghanistan to vote. This is quite significant.
I’m not going to say this is going to be a perfect election. I’m not going to say this is the western style of democracy. It is the foundation and seed of democracy has been planted in Afghanistan and all Afghans should be proud of.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Shahrani, quick response?
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Oh, I think the idea of holding elections is wonderful, and only if they were under the right circumstances. When it’s not under the right circumstances, as I’ve said earlier, it really does more harm.
His credibility will be questioned simply because this vote, of 17 other people also representing various ethnic communities, various interest groups in the country, and it will divide… the vote will be divided along ethnic lines. He may win, but ultimately there will be questions about the fairness and validity of the vote as such. And, unfortunately, this will not help building democracy in the country as much as one hoped.
We should have had the parliamentary election. That’s what the country needs, a parliament, to speak for the people and also make policy for the future of Afghanistan, not one man president.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, Mr. Ambassador, thank you both.
NAZIF SHAHRANI: Thank you.
ISHAQ SHAHRYAR: Thank you very much.