Afghan election farce ends, escalation to begin

The two-and-a-half-month election drama in Afghanistan was brought to a close Monday with the incumbent president of the US-backed regime in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, being decreed the winner.

The Independent Election Commission, a body stacked with Karzai supporters, issued a decision giving him another five-year term and cancelling a runoff election set for November 7.

The decision came a day after Karzai’s chief rival and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of the second round vote.

Abdullah had demanded that the Karzai loyalists on the election commission, who were deeply implicated in massive fraud during the first vote on August 20, be dismissed before the runoff. Karzai refused.

An election watchdog panel formed by the United Nations found that one million ballots supposedly cast for Karzai—fully one third of his vote—were fraudulent. Some 300,000 votes cast for Abdullah were also found to be illegitimate. The end result of the recount was that Karzai’s lead was shaved to just under an absolute majority, which under the Afghan constitution requires a runoff between the two top candidates.

In response, the US and its allies mounted a frenetic campaign to compel Karzai to accept the recount and acquiesce to a runoff with Abdullah. Senator John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spent three days badgering Karzai to accept the second round vote. He was joined in Kabul by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon all spoke by phone with Karzai, telling him that the runoff was essential to the “legitimacy” of the election and his regime itself.

Now, barely two weeks later, Washington and its allies are all insisting that the cancellation of the runoff is of no consequence and the selection of Karzai as the winner by his own handpicked election panel is perfectly legitimate.

President Barack Obama called Karzai to congratulate him. Admitting that the election had been “messy,” Obama said he had told Karzai this was the “time in which we begin to write a new chapter.”

“This does not, in our view, affect the legitimacy of the process,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post Monday. “It does present an opportunity to shift to a new phase in Afghanistan.”

The “new chapter” or “new phase” in Afghanistan is being prepared in the form of a major military escalation, in which tens of thousands of additional American troops will be deployed in an attempt to quell armed resistance to the US-led occupation that has grown and spread to 80 percent of the country.

The only purpose of the election was to lend “legitimacy” to this escalation of Washington’s colonial-style war.

The illegitimate character of the vote, in terms of the Afghan people, was a foregone conclusion. It was held under conditions of a military occupation by 100,000 US and other foreign troops to select the head of a government that is utterly dependent upon Washington’s support for its survival. Any candidate who opposed the occupation was barred from running.

The date for the vote—August 20—was imposed upon the Karzai regime in violation of the Afghan constitution in order to allow time for the 21,000 US troops that Obama ordered into the country last March to begin arriving. It came three months after Karzai’s term had expired, calling into question the formal legality of his continuing to act as president.

As for the vote itself, the significance of the fraudulent ballots pales in comparison to the mass abstention by Afghan voters, 70 percent of whom stayed away from the polls.

The US administration was well aware that a runoff vote would attract even fewer voters, turning it into a confirmation of the illegitimacy of the entire process.

The runoff would have required the redeployment of occupation troops to provide security for a diminished pool of voters, undoubtedly entailing another spike in US casualties. There is every reason to believe that the US and its allies never intended the runoff vote to take place.

Rather, forcing Karzai to accept the second round served as a means of taking the puppet president down a peg and forcing him into power-sharing negotiations with Abdullah. The objective was and remains for Washington to assume even more direct control of the Afghan regime in preparation for its redoubled counterinsurgency campaign.

These negotiations continued into Saturday night, with Abullah’s representatives demanding a share of the state spoils in the form of ministries and posts. Karzai balked, however, insisting that he would go ahead with the runoff.

With the power-sharing gambit stalled, it appears that US officials intervened, pushing for Abdullah to withdraw from the race and demanding that the runoff itself be called off.

Now US officials are insisting that Karzai must gain “legitimacy” by reforming his regime and battling corruption. Obama said he had stressed with Karzai that proof of his commitment to such efforts “is not going to be in words, it’s going to be in deeds.”

The personification of the corruption that pervades the regime is the president’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the provincial government in Kandahar, who has been charged with playing a central role in the country’s booming drug trade. As the New York Times revealed last week, he is also a key asset of the US Central Intelligence Agency, which has placed him on its payroll. His services to the agency include organizing a local “strike force” used to assassinate suspected insurgents and providing CIA operatives with facilities in the province.

The US occupation has been the most corrupting force in Afghanistan. It has rested on such figures as Karzai from the outset, strengthening the power of corrupt warlords implicated in the slaughter that took place in the country in the 1990s.

Narcotics trafficking has increased dramatically since the US invaded the country in 2001. Afghanistan’s minister for combating narcotics, General Khodaidad Khodaidad, pointed out recently that the bulk of the drugs are passing through two provinces that are under the control of US and other NATO troops.

The New York Times Monday reported that administration officials had expressed “disgust” over the election fraud in Afghanistan. “How do you consider sending tens of thousands of additional American troops, they asked in meetings in the White House, to prop up an Afghan government regarded as illegitimate by many of its own people?”

No doubt, the same question is being asked by working people in the US, who will be forced to bear the cost of this escalation.

In reality, however, the Karzai regime is the creature of US policy in Afghanistan. Karzai himself was hand-picked by Washington and installed as president only thanks to the 2001 invasion. He won his first election in 2004 in a US-sponsored vote that was also characterized by massive fraud.

Tens of thousands of additional troops are going to be sent to Afghanistan not to prop up the puppet government in Kabul, nor to hunt down Al Qaeda. The aim of the occupation is to pursue the strategic interests of US imperialism.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that the decision on the increased troop deployment would be announced in “the next few weeks,” adding that he couldn’t guarantee that it would take place before November 11, when Obama embarks on a nine day tour of Asia.

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, posted a column Monday on the CSIS web site advising Obama that he should speak frankly to the American people about the war’s escalation.

Obama, he wrote, must explain that “in the best case, it is unlikely that the insurgency and terrorist threat can be entirely defeated in Afghanistan and Pakistan within the next decade.”

Cordesman continued: “He must prepare the US and the world for the fact that the present level of US, allied, Afghan, and Pakistani casualties will almost certainly double and probably more than triple before something approaching victory is won.”

He added that Obama “must stop taking the easy route of focusing on international terrorism” and tell the American people how wars being fought by US troops “affect the broader challenges of regional instability to the west, north, and east.”

In other words, the war in Afghanistan and its escalation are not aimed at eradicating Al Qaeda. Rather, they are part of a projection of US military power into the strategic and energy-rich region of Central Asia, directed at countering the influence of Iran, Russia and China.

Obama, he wrote must warn that “any form of victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be part of a much wider and longer struggle” that will “endure indefinitely into the future.”

What is the meaning of this advice from the military adviser and strategist? One year after Obama’s election as the candidate of “change,” swept into office thanks in large part due to the anti-war sentiments of broad layers of the American population, what is being prepared is a dramatic escalation in the killing and dying in Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of an unending and ever-widening war.