Afghan Election Week

Rich Galen

8/18/2009 10:59:07 AM - Rich Galen

Afghanistan will hold its second-ever elections for President on Thursday. The Afghans will also be holding their second-ever elections for provincial councils. It will be the first time the two elections are held on the same day.

I am here as a member of the official observer mission with the International Republican Insititute and will be leaving Kabul, later today, for a location outside of the capitol city, but I'll tell you where after I've arrived there.

Afghanistan is not known for its long periods of calm and peace. In 329 BC it was invaded by Alexander the Great who found the Afghans impossible to subdue and for the ensuing 2,338 years every other conqueror has met the same fate.

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The most recent conquerors have been the Soviet Union, the United States, the Taliban, and the United States - again.

Following the attacks of September 11, the United States invaded Afghanistan to throw out the ruling Taliban on the grounds that the Taliban had been harboring - indeed had welcomed - Osama bin Laden who, in turn, set up camps to train al-Qaeda terrorists.

The Taliban retreated to Pakistan, regrouped and have rebounded in, especially, the southern part of Afghanistan although they have re-established themselves in other regions of the country as well.

There is not much to recommend Afghanistan which, according to the few Afghans I have spoken to, is just fine with the locals. When I was here in 2005 to watch the first provincial elections, I was sent to Bamiyan which is the place where the Taliban blew up those huge statues of Buddha which had been carved into the mountainside.

We went overland which was a longish trip. As I wrote at the time:

Although Bamiyan is only about 100 miles from Kabul as the crow flies, the trip takes 11 hours, because crows don't fly between Kabul and Bamiyan.

With all that as background we come to the national elections on Thursday in which the current president, Hamid Karzai will be joined on the ballot by 40 other candidates for the job.

Recent polling shows Karzai - for whom Western enthusiasm appears to be waning - leading the pack, but it is unclear whether he can get the 50% plus 1 necessary to avoid a runoff against the man most likely to come in second, Abdullah Abdullah.

I know, I know - so good they had to name him twice. But it's like naming your kid Bob if your last name is "Roberts" or Bill if it is "Williams."

As an election observer I'm supposed to watch what goes on and report on it. I am not supposed to be an election judge nor an enforcer of Afghan election law. As I will only be in one province, I can only report on what I saw in that province. It is a little like looking through a straw and trying to describe the Grand Canyon.

However the National Democratic Institute has observers, as does the European Union. Japan has sent a contingent and the United Nations will be easily in evidence. The hope is, if you put all those straws together a more-or-less accurate determination of how the election was run should be reachable.

The success bar appears to have been set pretty low by the people, mostly foreigners, who are in charge of this election. The short hand is: If the Afghan people think the election was legit, then the election was legit.

The betting line has Karzai winning with just a bit over the 50% margin needed. If its just over 50 percent, then the charges of ballot stuffing and/or ballots being tossed off the side of a mountain will certainly follow.

It is important for the civil government of Afghanistan to continue to grow in strength and reach. The U.S. is leading the fight here and President Obama has put the task of defeating the Taliban near the top of his foreign policy agenda.

According to the BBC

[Obama] is sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan and success or failure there will help determine how history views his administration.

Two presidents - Obama and Karzai - have a lot riding on Thursday's election.