THINKING FOR OURSELVES
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, November 9, 2009
The Afghan election drama ended this week with the unexpected withdrawal by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah from the run-off election scheduled for November 7. The run-off had been a last ditch effort on the part of the international community to bring some legitimacy to the widely-discredited elections held in August. Hundreds of thousands of votes were discounted from the August election, including almost a third of those cast for current President Hamid Karzai. After an investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission and widespread reports of corruption and intimidation, President Karzai had reluctantly agreed to the run-off.
Karzai agreed only after intense international pressure, including personal appeals from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and an extended meeting with Senator John Kerry. Throughout this process Karzai was reported as “difficult.” He refused any suggestion of creating a unity government. He refused to acknowledge the corrupt nature of the election or to take responsibility for it. In fact, in his announcement of the run-off, President Karzai made clear that this was forced on him because of international concerns.
The international community greeted the run-off announcement with relief, especially those countries with troops in Afghanistan. It is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to continue to risk the lives of their men and women to support the government of a man whose sole interest appears to be his own personal power and wealth. So even though everyone expected Karzai to emerge as the victor after November 7, the charade was contrived as an example of a fair and democratic election.
The challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, also engaged in a series of meetings with President Karzai. Dr. Abdullah demanded that key officials be removed from the Independent Electoral Commission. This body is widely seen as pro-Karzai, and Abdullah insisted that some changes be made to make the run-off credible.
President Karzai displayed the same intransigence with Dr. Abdullah’s demands as he had done with those of the international community. After one final meeting, described as one in which Karzai would not even consider any changes, Dr. Abdullah announced his decision before a crowd of thousands of supporters. In an emotional speech, talking about the pain of his decision, Dr. Abdullah said that he could not take part in an election process that would likely be as fraudulent and tainted as the earlier one. He said that it would be “the same process with the same problems and the results will not be credible.”
Dr. Abdullah’s withdrawal is remarkable because of the honesty with which he described the situation. He said that going through the motions of an election would not change anything that mattered. In the end the country would face the same situation tomorrow as it did today. The only difference would be that along the way, more Afghans would die in the violence created by the process itself. So for the future of his country and out of concern for some day establishing a transparent democracy, Dr. Abdullah decided to acknowledge the reality and put a stop to the whole effort.
Such decisions are rare. It took courage and humility to be able to acknowledge that simply moving ahead on a path that so many people had contrived would make no difference in the end.
We hope that President Obama spends less time talking with President Karzai and more time seeking advice from Dr. Abdullah. Dr. Abdullah has demonstrated his ability to tell the truth to power, the first step in any real change.