Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Afghan Presidential Politics

This article on Massouda Jalal puts on a really positive tone. Just three years after the fall of the Taliban, a women is running for President of Afghanistan, and people are looking to her for change. Between the lines, however, there are problems. For one, the piece is based almost entirely in Kabul. No one disputes that the population of that city, patrolled by foreign peacekeepers, are a liberal bunch glad to be rid of the Taliban. However, the rest of the country is largely divided into fiefs governed by fundamentalist warlords who follow the central government only as long as they are basically left alone.

Where do these warlords fit into the Presidential race? The article drops a key sentence on this: "Many warlords are reported to be controlling votes from their regions to gain favor with the two top candidates: Karzai and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni." In other words, everything you read about, such as the high voter registration rate and and the election itself, is part of the same old Afghan political set-up as power players with militias and opium revenue try to get a bigger slice of the pie. Is it better than the Taliban? Sure. But we're a long way from democracy.

I hate to be pessimistic about all this, but there it is. And this will affect another Presidential election, as well. This October, President Bush will be able to talk about an election in Afghanistan returning to power the pro-American Hamid Karzai while pointing out sympathetic candidates like Massouda Jalal. The reality of what happens on the ground will go unnoticed as Republicans claim Iraq is on the same trajectory. And this ploy may well help Bush win four more years in the White House.


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