Election lows and UN forces
The US-UK-led occupation of Afghanistan has never had anything to do with democracy, writes Eddie Ford
Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections were finally held on September 18 but the results are not expected until October 31, maybe even later. The elections were originally scheduled for May 22 but had to be postponed due to the “security situation”, while many prominent voices had called for an even longer postponement. According to the Afghan-appointed independent election commission - funded by the United Nations development programme and donor countries - as of September 20, 73% of all “sensitive materials” (ie, ballot boxes) had been collected and returned to their offices.
Election turnout appears to be 3,642,444 voters, or some 40% of the registered electorate, the lowest in any of the four elections held in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The voting system used for the Wolesi Jirga - the lower house of parliament - is the single non-transferable voting and allows for candidates to get elected with less than one percent of votes cast. Formally speaking then, Afghanistan’s voting system is more democratic than that of the United Kingdom or any number of European countries. There are 249 seats up for grabs and the total number of candidates was 2,514, including 406 women. Indeed, the Afghan constitution reserves 68 seats in the parliament for women. However, even if a woman receives enough votes to win a seat in the ‘normal way’ she is still awarded one of the reserve/quota seats - so institutionalised tokenism, in other words.
Overall, these parliamentary elections seem less fraudulent than last year’s presidential elections - but that is not saying much. The 2009 elections were almost universally regarded as an utter farce, totally rigged in favour of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai - Afghanistan’s ‘strong man’, albeit one who has next to no authority outside of Kabul. In fact, so blatant was the fraud - especially in Helmand where British troops are dying in such relatively large numbers - that the whole election became a bit of an embarrassment for imperialism, especially the United States. Rather than a glowing advert for democracy - and hence a desperately needed justification for the invasion and occupation - the whole sorry affair left the US lumbered with a former protégé who lacked all political or moral legitimacy - still unable, despite the systematic cheating, to secure the 50% of the vote needed to declare himself an outright winner over his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Yet Karzai ended up presidential victor when Abdullah, rather foolishly, pulled out of the contest in protest at the grotesque vote rigging. But what did he expect, transparent and open democracy?
Of course, as anyone with even the slightest bit of knowledge about Afghan history and politics will know, the straightforward reality is that it is the warlord, village elder, imam, patriarchal family head, etc who decides how his people vote - and he is more than prepared to put his money, and AK-47, where his mouth is. Hence the current going rate for votes in Helmand, or so we read, is about $10 each - with ‘your’ voter washing off the supposedly indelible ink stamped on them by the election officials and then trotting off to vote a second or even third time. In this vein, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor said police had found two stuffed boxes abandoned in cornfields in the Nowa district - a typical example of course - while one man was arrested carrying a list of 12,000 voter registration card numbers with which he intended to record thousands of illegal votes. There were also various arrests of people holding stashes of counterfeit voting cards. And so on.
As per usual, there has also been widespread intimidation of female candidates and voters - and not only from the Taliban and its backers. Many forces and movements in Afghanistan detest the very thought of women having any democratic or civil rights or input into society, their ‘proper’ role being to act as effective slaves to the men. Furthermore, the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, by far the country’s biggest electoral monitoring group, stated that its 7,000 observers had seen ballot stuffing, proxy and under-age, multiple voting - you name it - in “most” provinces and had “serious concerns about the quality of the election”. However, despite the obvious fraud, low turnout and the “concerns” of the FFEFA, David Petraeus, the US commander of Nato forces in the country, less than convincingly declared that the parliamentary elections showed that the “voice of Afghanistan’s future does not belong to the violent extremists and terror networks: it belongs to the people”. Perhaps more realistically, Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama administration, advised that “our goal” in Afghanistan is “not to eliminate corruption because that’s not possible” - rather, it is to “help” the Afghans “create a government which is responsive to the needs of the people and which the people regard as its friend”.
So why are British troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan? Not to bring democracy and women’s rights (obviously); nor to secure an oil pipe line or gain access to precious metals and minerals. No, rather, the truth is that imperialism intervened in Afghanistan for nakedly political reasons - which is, to punish a wayward regime for harbouring Osama Bin-Linden and Al-Qaeda. Which in turn was the product of the imperial arrogance and hubris of the Bush administration, which genuinely believed - stupidly, if not slightly madly - that the US political-military machine could just waltz into any country, re-organise it from top to bottom to their liking, and then gracefully withdraw at the moment of their choice. Effortlessly. A “cake walk”, as notoriously promised by Donald Rumsfeld. Which of course it was - militarily, but in no other way. More like an escalating nightmare over which they could exercise less and less control. Events, quite predictably to those outside the magical neo-con circles, took on a life and a remorseless logic of their own.
But that whole ideology, the evangelical fervour of ‘full spectrum dominance’ and the ‘new American century’, has all but gone now. The illusion shattered, just leaving a foul, lingering, political odour. Today, the only reason why the US doggedly remains in Afghanistan, despite all the casualties and the obvious military hopelessness of the situation, is that to pull out on the skids of their helicopters - as they had to do in Vietnam - would be a humiliation. Not only that, of course. Such an eventuality - or opportunity - would encourage other regimes, like China, to push forward their own geopolitical standing and interests: such as getting more confident, or belligerent, about their ‘lost territory’ of Taiwan or the inviolable sovereignty of their coast-lands (and other such madness). Or maybe India would seize the chance to make bolder hegemonic moves into South Asia.
So, for all these and other reasons, we in the CPGB call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan - they can serve no progressive role nor create a ‘breathing space’ for democracy, as the Alliance for Workers Liberty treacherously argued about the imperialist presence in Iraq.
In that sense, communists welcome the fact that Diane Abbott - alone of all the five Labour leadership contenders - has consistently opposed the Afghan war and calls for the withdrawal of British troops. Good. True, her opposition to the Afghan and Iraq wars has been essentially on legalistic grounds - ie, that these wars were ‘illegal’, especially in Iraq - the inference of course being that ‘legal’ imperialist wars might be acceptable under certain circumstances. Clearly not a view that communists, as proletarian internationalists, subscribe to in any shape or form - but then again, you will hear exactly the same sort of left social democratic platitudes from the likes of Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill or even the Stop the War Coalition (depending upon which hat the Socialist Workers Party and its allies are wearing on that day).
Even more to the point, the CPGB has never held back or hid for a minute our harsh criticisms of Abbott’s faults and limitations - like her nonsensical belief that there is a “need for a peacekeeping force” in Afghanistan but that it “should be a UN force ideally led by Muslim troops”. For communists, the UN - a den of thieves and vile dictators - is just imperialism with blue helmets and one can only wonder how or why Pakistani or Iranian troops, Saudi Arabian ones even, could ever play any sort of progressive or democratic role in Afghanistan.Democracy, secularism, women’s rights and all the gains of modernity can only be won by the regional class struggle encompassing Afghanistan. The working class movement in India is in that sense key, and not only to progress in Afghanistan but to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the whole region. The September 7 all-India general stike gave an inspiring glimpse of what is possible. An estimated 100 million participated.