Afghanistan elections offer little change

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Predictably, the April presidential elections in Afghanistan were hailed as a successful display of democracy by the imperialists and the Afghan government. In reality, there were over 900 serious complaints of corruption to the Independent Complaints Commission; even more than in the 2009 election, when at least a quarter of the votes were considered fraudulent. Over half the present complaints are about the Electoral Commission itself, which was meant to ensure a ‘free and fair’ election. Initial results suggest just 6.6 million people voted out of an estimated electorate (there are no precise figures) of 12 million. In six provinces fewer than 10,000 people voted. Mohamed Younas, an unemployed young man in Kabul, told ABC News that he didn’t vote because ‘All our candidates’ hands are dirty with the blood of the people’. JIM CRAVEN reports.

One of the leading candidates, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, has close links to the Northern Warlords and has a former warlord as one of his nominated vice-presidents. Another, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank economist, has the notorious Uzbek warlord General Abdul Dostum as running mate. Candidate Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is the man who invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan and was mentor to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. Former President Hamid Karzai is thought to have funded the third main candidate, former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. After Karzai had persuaded his brother Qayum to withdraw from the election, Qayum publicly backed Rassoul. There were complaints that Rassoul had used government officials to aid his candidacy. Both Rassoul and Ghani had promised Hamid Karzai an advisory role in any future government.

In the first round of the election, Abdullah Abdullah took 45% of the vote and Ashraf Ghani 31.6%. These two will face a second vote on 14 June. Rassoul, who took around 12% of the vote, has thrown his support behind Abdullah. The result, however, will make very little difference to the plight of the Afghan people. All the leading candidates supported a security agreement with the US that will allow up to 10,000 US troops to remain in the country together with large numbers of CIA operatives and mercenaries. The Taliban and other anti-occupation forces will remain in control of large parts of the country. The Afghan army and police, who are now supposed to have control of security operations, lack training, heavy weaponry and an effective air force. They were unable to prevent attacks during the election, even on the Electoral Commission itself. More than 10% of polling stations had to remain closed.

Grim prospects for Afghan people

As its strategy centres increasingly on the Pacific, and operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East focus on ‘fire fighting’ rather than occupation, the US has little reason to bolster military campaigns with ‘hearts and minds’ work. Aid funding for Afghanistan fell by 40% between 2011 and 2013. By April this year, less than 20% of the UN humanitarian aid plan had been funded. The US Inspector-General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko, has refused to fund the completion of the Kajaki hydro scheme on the Helmand River. More than half the Afghan national budget depends on foreign donations. Much of the foreign aid is stolen by the Afghan ruling elite. Consequently, there will be still greater rivalry among these gangsters for the spoils, possibly even armed conflict, particularly as the two remaining candidates have a strong ethnic bias. The situation invites greater interference by Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran, all funding various factions to pursue their own interests.

The prospects for the Afghan people remain grim. A million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished and 60% of all children have stunted growth due to malnutrition. Only 27% of the population has access to safe drinking water. With falling aid budgets, even the modest improvements in child mortality rates and education are under threat. As Mohamed Younas told ABC ‘I am without hope. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There are no jobs; no proper health care. I won’t vote in the second round. It doesn’t make any sense to me.’

British failure

More than a million people in Afghanistan are addicted to heroin. Opium poppy eradication had been the responsibility of British troops but production reached record levels of more than 200,000 hectares in 2013. Around the main British base at Camp Bastion production increased four-fold between 2011 and 2013. A report by the Royal United Services Institute concluded that the decision to send thousands of British troops to Helmand in 2006 was ‘a strategic failure’. Dr Mike Martin, a former TA captain who served for 15 months in Afghanistan, explains in his book An Intimate War that the British did not understand the nature of Helmand’s tribal society, the Taliban nor the conflict they were engaged in. They killed many citizens using heavy air power between 2006 and 2009 (mostly unreported), scoffed at local demands for adequate water supply and attempted to stop poppy production by aggressive means. The British army, Martin writes, were completely unaware of the historical animosity felt by the local population towards their former colonial masters. This imperialist arrogance chimes with a recent report by Anand Gopal on TomDispatch.com, which shows how offers of a deal by Jalauddin Haqqani following the 2001 invasion were contemptuously ignored by the US. The Haqqani network has since become one of the most determined sections of the anti-occupation forces. A former US intelligence officer said that the prevailing ethos was a simplistic ‘either for us or against us’. For those making policy he said ‘It was just “screw these little brown people”’.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014