Editor’s Note: Checking the news this morning, I saw the following report from Afghanistan:
“A suicide bomber blew himself up in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 15 people as voting concluded in parliamentary elections that were overshadowed by the threat of attacks and serious organizational problems.” Other attacks on a smaller scale killed or wounded dozens of others, noted the report. Meanwhile, the Taliban in Afghanistan called on people to boycott the elections.
Western efforts to bring (or impose) a semblance of democracy on Afghanistan have been deeply flawed from the beginning, notes Pamela in this article that she graciously agreed to write for this site. The Afghan people were told democracy would naturally follow from elections, but the reality has been far different and more tragic, notes Pamela based on her own experiences in observing prior elections. W.J. Astore
Today, October 20th, Afghanistan is to hold parliamentary and provincial elections which had been postponed since 2016. I’ve witnessed all the previous ones, with the local ones stirring more emotions among the population than the presidential ones.
The first one of these (in 2005) was very popular and people went to vote in droves. I worked then in Jalalabad, a rather traditional city close to the border with Pakistan. A colleague told me he was going to vote and what’s more, for a woman who had taught him in university ‘because women do not use guns to settle disputes and are not corrupted’ (the latter of course being debatable). Security was still reasonable; its abrupt decline did not start until 2006. As later became clear, however, that enthusiasm was the result of a misunderstanding.
People had been endlessly brainwashed that voting would bring ‘democracy’. And that in turn would miraculously produce the human rights, security & prosperity they were desperately yearning for after more than 25 years of wars and oppression. After all, if ‘democracy’ was to be judged by how well off its European and American adepts were, it clearly was worth voting for! Thus all these unfamiliar western concepts conflated in many people’s minds into a magic future of instant peace, security and prosperity.
It’s not like Afghans did not have their own forms of human rights and democratic ways of decision making including elected bodies who represented them, but our concepts as such were alien. Since 2005 even in rural areas the access to television and internet has increased tremendously, but in those days even in major cities electricity was rare and the internet hardly available and very expensive. Particularly illiterate persons (70% of the population) therefore had no way to supplement from public sources their limited understanding of what we proposed.
Our half-baked extension efforts led many people to believe that democracy and human rights were basically two terms for the same phenomenon and that to obtain that universal panacea, all they had to do is go and vote.
No wonder then, that by 2009 (presidential elections) and 2010 (parliamentary and provincial ones) they had realised that ‘democracy’ had not changed anything much and had not brought about the promised miracles, so enthusiasm for the elections was much less and so was turnout. Despite positive developments like more than 25 % of all seats in parliament being reserved for women, too many former warlords with blood on their hands were still ruling and there had been no accountability for the perpetrators of war crimes. Voting enthusiasm also waned because by then security had dramatically decreased as compared to 2005, so the risk of being maimed or even killed when voting for the democracy mirage was only too real. Billboards were supposed to ‘motivate’ people to go and vote in these ‘free and fair democratic elections’, as NATO was touting them.
Those presidential elections were the ones when the US openly repudiated the increasingly critical Hamid Karzai and then had to scramble to adjust the rhetoric when in spite of that he did win anyway. Interestingly, an amazing outsider came in third, Dr. Ramazan Bashardost. Amazing, because he is from the Hazara minority which always is at the bottom of the pecking order. But he inspired confidence as an honest person above corruption, he was no ancient warlord with blood on his hands, part of ‘the usual suspects’, or compromised with foreign powers. He would travel to election meetings in distant provinces by ordinary yellow taxi, as he had no limousine or other privileges.
The next presidential election took place in the fateful year 2014 – the one in which the foreign armies were to withdraw, which prospect had in the years leading up to it caused corruption at all levels to skyrocket to cash in before the dollar manna would dry up. I only witnessed the start of the presidential campaign, but the result is well known: endless squabbling between the two ‘winners’ – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. John Kerry eventually brokered some sort of power-sharing compromise which created a government even more dysfunctional than the previous ones, which has been limping along ever since. Insecurity had again increased exponentially since 2009, which additionally demotivated voters.
As for the parliamentary & provincial elections which were scheduled for 2016, they never materialised and will be held only now (and presidential ones next year).
So now it’s 2018 and yet another round of this futile exercise, whose purpose evidently is to flatter our conscience and embellish our annual reports rather than to improve Afghan lives. The last time I was in Afghanistan was three years ago, so I cannot vouch for the opinions and feelings of the Afghans, but I do follow what is happening there. Several coordinated deadly attacks on voters’ registration centres already had severely limited the number of registered voters. Governmental attempts to inflate their number by relaxing control of voter identities additionally undermined the population’s trust in the election’s transparency.
Last minute distribution of electronic voting equipment can be expected to add to the confusion. This is a far cry from the ballot boxes which during the 2005 elections were transported under UN supervision to remote mountains areas on donkey-back.
The expanding presence of ISIL and their ruthless readiness to kill random civilians (particularly those of the Shia Hazara minority) rather than the Taliban’s usual foreign, military and governmental targets, adds to the risk of any involvement with the elections, whether by organising & securing them or as a mere voter.
Ten local candidates have already been killed in terrorist attacks, as well as many more accidental bystanders and members of the police and army when trying to protect voter registration centres and election rallies. Only yesterday, three top level authorities were killed in Kandahar, including the provincial governor and the police chief who had been fiercely anti-Taliban and had managed to introduce a modicum of security and order in what used to be the most dangerous part of the country. Therefore, the elections will be postponed for a week in Kandahar. According to the Taliban, their target in fact was General Miller – who ‘strongly denies’ this.
How many Afghans will be willing to risk their lives to vote and how many will be maimed or dead by the end of the day? And maybe most importantly, what will it change for the better for the Afghans who have lived under armed conflict for 39 years already, with no end in sight?
Update by Pamela (10/21/18): Few people are interested in Afghanistan anymore and that is understandable with Yemen and Syria being much bigger crises.
And now all are absorbed by the Jamal Khashoggi case, which has the collateral advantage to finally shine the light on Saudi crimes, but otherwise is another dreadful example of western hypocrisy. Millions of starving Yemenis could not produce the outcry that one — evidently well-connected — only mildly dissident Saudi did.
I understand that media are outraged as it concerns one of their own and journalists are threatened world-wide. But that does not apply to governments.
‘Disappearing’, torturing and killing one’s own (in addition to foreign) citizens has been done by all the countries who now sanctimoniously shed crocodile tears while silently praying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo & Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known as MBS) will manage to concoct an acceptable ‘explanation’, which will allow them to keep on selling arms to the Saudis and enjoy their investments.
A good example of that is the second part of a documentary about Qaddafi’s Libya, which highlights western collusion with him which led to rendition of Libyan dissidents including pregnant wives and children. Not to mention al Libi’s rendition to Egypt where this poor guy was tortured for six months until he agreed to sign a paper which stated that he had evidence of Saddam Hussein colluding with al-Qaeda, which ‘confession’ was used to ‘justify’ the war in Iraq in 2003.
After which he was sent back to Libya where he ‘committed suicide’ in prison, four days before the US reopened a consulate/embassy there. I’ve been following these cases since long ago, but this documentary added some more info:
Pamela, a former aid worker with a decade’s worth of on-the-ground experience in Afghanistan, worked with the Afghan people in relationships characterized by trust and friendship.
4 thoughts on “Afghan Parliamentary and Provincial Elections”
Wait, didn’t Petraeus, back in the day, come up with an amazing magical counter-insurgency doctrine that immediately brought peace to Iraq and promised to do the same in Afghanistan?
Oh wait, I must have read that in the US press. Which bases its reporting on whatever the Pentagon tells it is true.
I want very much for an international group to go into Afghanistan, protect the people there, and help them rebuild their country. I’ve assisted in research focused on minority groups in Somalia experiencing much the same situation as the Shia in Afghanistan. It is disturbing to see the same story of failed Western intervention there, with much the same consequences. ISIS, Al Shabaab, they’re of a type.
As a species, we have to figure out how to reliably provide essential services and protections to all people, wherever they live, whoever they are. But until someone can figure out how to build an organization capable of actually achieving these objectives, without spending 17+ years perpetually taking one step forward, two steps back, I’m disinclined to support Western involvement in places like Afghanistan and Somalia.
“Wait, didn’t Petraeus, back in the day, come up with an amazing magical counter-insurgency doctrine that immediately brought peace to Iraq and promised to do the same in Afghanistan?”
Short answer: No.
Longer answer: Ellsberg – From Vietnam to Afghanistan
As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam, The Real News Network (October 25, 2009)
Almost another decade later and what Daniel Ellsberg had to say still rings true, as it will a decade from now. The U.S. military simply has no business meddling in the foreign policy of the United States, much less in domestic affairs. Way past time to “thank them for their service” and retire the lot of them to more productive and useful civilian pursuits. “War” simply seems beyond their capacity to either understand or conduct in anything approaching a “successful” manner. A vast money-laundering Rube Goldberg machine, actually.
If they knew what to do, they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up.
I was attempting sarcasm there, but it didn’t come through well in the text. Petraeus’ ‘new’ doctrine just relied on air strikes against suspected insurgent positions to back up soldiers who were moved off the big FOBs to smaller and more scattered outposts. Caused more US casualties and more collateral damage among Iraqis. But the US media happily lapped up the Pentagon’s preferred explanation (Petraeus as modern warrior-scholar or whatever)
The reason Iraq calmed down (for a while) after the ‘Surge’ was that Sunni communities cut deals with the occupation forces to focus on fighting Al Qaeda. They let the US evacuate with dignity. ‘Undefeated’.
Anyway, the Pentagon’s wars will probably end only when a major defeat reveals how hollow the institutions have become. The Pentagon and its swarm of flag officers is little more than a shopping mall for defense contractors. We’re France in 1940 or Britain in 1941, waiting for Germany and Japan to come break our cozy little illusion of being an unbeatable ‘Superpower’ (Empire.)
“Someday, when the second Afghan War finally ends and the U.S. military limps home from its many imperial adventures abroad as the Red Army once did, will it, too, find an empire on the verge of imploding and a country in deep trouble?” — 17 Years of War (and More to Come) -Anniversaries That Never Will Be by Tom Engelhardt, antiwar.com (October 22, 2018)
Six years ago, remembering January 1972 and my own out-of-sight-out-of-mind return from eighteen desultory months in the now defunct Republic of South Vietnam, I had similar thoughts about other U.S. “advisers and trainers” returning “home” from any number of similar imperial disasters. So this happened:
Jaundice: a state or attitude characterized by satiety, distaste, or hostility. (synonyms: animosity, animus, antagonism, antipathy, bad blood, bitterness, gall, grudge, enmity, rancor)
“Charles Oman, in his classic study of war, spoke of the veterans of the battles of the Middle Ages as ‘the best of soldiers while the war lasted … [but] a most dangerous and unruly race in times of truce or peace.'”– Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans, neither victims nor executioners (1973)
When Jaundice Comes Marching Home
(after the popular Civil War song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”)
When Jaundice comes marching home once more,
We’ll know what its masters have in store,
A shiver of terror to run up the spine,
At the thought of what’s next if we don’t fall in line
Oh they’d like us scared when
Jaundice comes marching home
When Jaundice comes snarling home this time
We’ll spit in its face with a jeering rhyme
Our leaders who screwed up and shot our wad
Will tell us they did it for country and GAWD
But we’ll know they lie when
Jaundice comes snarling home
When Jaundice comes limping home to hate
The wars that it lost and the shit on its plate
The ones who deployed it to bomb and kill
Now find that they’ve used up the easy thrill
So they’ll have to hide when
Jaundice comes limping home
When Jaundice comes sneaking home to hide
The failure and waste and our wounded pride
Of no further use is the man in pain
Who can’t be recruited to do it again
So avert your eyes when
Jaundice comes sneaking home
When Jaundice has marched in its last parade
And laid down to sleep in the endless shade
We’ll have us a wake for the late deceased
From whose awful clutches we’re now released
How we’ll all breathe free when
Jaundice has died at home
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012
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