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Elections in Afghanistan: What Now?

On Thursday, August 20, 2009, Afghanistan held its provincial and presidential elections. This is the second presidential election since the occupation of the country began in 2001. While a winner has yet to be declared, many have predicted that incumbent Hamid Karzai would win outright in the first round of the runoff election, although recent reports suggest a second round of voting is probable. Regardless of who is elected, they will be backed by the U.S. led NATO occupation forces, who aren’t planning on leaving any time soon. A few days before the election, Barack Obama made it a point to reiterate that the war in Afghanistan “won’t be quick.” Towards the beginning of the year the administration ordered thousands of more troops to the region, and early reports are suggesting Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s upcoming assessment of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is going to call for even more troops (up to 45,000 more). The reports of possible further escalation are coming right as a recent poll suggests that a majority of Americans are now, for the first time, against the war.

It is impossible to talk about the current situation in Afghanistan without talking about the U.S. led NATO occupation. According to NATO’s own website, there are 64,500 foreign troops occupying Afghanistan soil, with nearly half of those troops coming from the U.S. and the rest coming mainly from the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Canada. These figures, however, don’t take into account the large number of “private contractors” (i.e., mercenaries) in Afghanistan, which is said to be around 70,000. This puts the total foreign troop presence in Afghanistan over 130,000. Many Afghans view the propping up of the Karzai regime as the main task of these occupying forces. Given Karzai presides over what is widely considered one of the most corrupt governments in the world, this destroys whatever credibility the “pro-democracy” forces might have had. On top of this, history tells us the Afghan people are less than receptive to foreign control of their land, regardless of the invading force’s stated intentions.

Back in 2001, after the relative ease of early U.S. operations, Alan Woods warned the war was far from over. He explained, “The Taliban have lost their grip on power, but not their potential for making war. They are very used to fighting a guerrilla war in the mountains. They did it before and can do it again. In the north, they were fighting in alien and hostile territory. But in the villages and mountains of the Pushtoon area, they are in their own homeland. The prospect opens up of a protracted guerrilla campaign which can go on for years.” This view, which has subsequently been proven correct, was nearly absent from the mainstream media, who had praised the swift defeat of the Taliban and dubbed Afghanistan the “good war.” Many of the so-called “anti-war” activists and politicians spouted similar nonsense, with some going as far as arguing against sending troops to Iraq because they wanted to keep them in Afghanistan.

Much like the presidential election in late 2004, Afghanistan’s recent election was held under foreign occupation, with the Taliban threatening violence to anyone who votes. In the days before the election, there was an onslaught of attacks. The Taliban managed to fire rockets at the presidential palace as well as orchestrate various suicide attacks across the capital Kabul. While the government played down the events, they also forbade journalists from covering any violent actions during the day of the election. Despite the government censorship, Al Jazeera reported that at least 26 people were killed in 135 incidents. Understandably, voter turn out was lower than many expected. Despite what officials may say, this played well for Karzai, who is receiving somewhat of an unexpected challenge from former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Only days before the election, Karzai was able to secure the return of feared warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum is to turn out the ethnic Uzbek vote for Karzai in exchange for influence in the new government. This was not unexpected, as Karzai’s senior vice presidential candidate is a Tajik warlord named Mohammad Qasim Fahim. With many people staying home because of the violence, the votes the warlords were able to bring in could very well give the election to Karzai.

So what is to make of all this? First off, it is important to acknowledge the obvious disconnect between the imperialist power and their local Afghan representatives. While Obama has been using Afghanistan to prove his hawkishness since the beginning of his run for president, all the major Afghan presidential candidates have made it clear dialogue with the Taliban is key to their candidacies. NATO bombing missions, which appear to be the Obama administration’s specialty, are clearly not as popular in Afghanistan as they are in Washington. Also, it is important not to forget about the Afghan people. They are largely being lost in the grand schemes of both local, and foreign, leaders. Sonali Kolhatkar, an author and advocate for Afghan women, addressed this fact on a recent “Democracy Now” episode. She said, “…I think we really need to remind ourselves that these elections are happening in the context of this occupation that’s now gone on for nearly eight years, what it ends up looking like in context of these elections is one set of warlords—that’s us—protecting a second set of warlords—that’s Karzai and his cohorts—from a third set of warlords, which are the Taliban.” Right now, the people of Afghanistan are seen as pawns. The imperialist invaders are largely clueless and view them as “collateral damage,” while the local warlords, from whichever variety, view the people as cannon fodder and are only interested in brute control.

This isn’t to say the situation is hopeless, however.

The question of “Socialism or barbarism” is perhaps stated at its most acute relevance in Afghanistan. Clearly, the solution for the Afghan people doesn’t lie within the artificial borders of their country (which many have never accepted anyway). The fate of Afghanistan is tied to neighbor countries like Iran, and most notably, Pakistan. The people of Afghanistan see the Iranians rising up against their brutal theocratic regime and they are also no doubt aware of their country’s deep ties with Pakistan. But what conclusion are people drawing from these relationships? Due to both misinformation and the actions of those who control these countries, many Afghans are getting a distorted view of their neighbors. The Taliban almost went to war with Iran and it is common knowledge that Pakistan’s infamous intelligence service, the ISI, has been a source of support for the Taliban (with the U.S. providing much of the resources during the war with the Soviets). Right now, education is key. Groups like “The Struggle” (the IMT’s section in Pakistan) understand this well, as they set up Marxist educational relief camps during the brutal attacks on the Pushtoonkhwa area of Pakistan earlier this year. It is hard to overstate the importance of such actions. Once the peasants and workers decide to take power, there will be no stopping them.

Of course, this lesson isn’t just for Afghanistan and its neighbors, but is also a lesson for those of us across the rest of world. Ultimately, only the world’s working class can end the wars, occupations, and brutal dictatorships that plague our society. As the situation in Afghanistan tells us, it is urgent we do so.


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