Archive for the ‘Afghan Election’ tag
New York- I appeared on Saudi state television’s KSA 2 Friday to discuss the extension and, I suppose, expansion of the American war in Afghanistan (and to a lesser extent Pakistan) from the initially trumpeted July 2011 withdrawal to sometime at the end of 2014. I couldn’t help but reference the Gulf of Tonkin and President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s direct, televised deception to the American people in which he said damningly on on August 4th, 1964: “We still seek no wider war.” President Johnson had every intention of expanding American military and clandestine involvement in Indochina as a purported bulwark against a spreading communism and as an eventual boon to the military-industrial complex that the outgoing President Dwight David Eisenhower had warned the public to be skeptical of just three and a half years before, days before President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s swearing in.
Of course, there has been no knowably false or trumped up incident to act as a catalyst for President Obama’s (and Secretary Gates’ and General David Petraeus’) opaque decision to hugely extend the Afghan war. We haven’t been told of one suicide bombing in Kabul too many or one IED too far in Helmand that justifies making the Afghanistan conflict the longest foreign war fighting engagement in America’s history. The three principal players in this game are congressional republican politicians in Washington, General Ashfaq Kayani’s Pakistani Army, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government in Kabul. Within the nexus of these interlinked but often hostile political actors, the Afghan war has been undemocratically extended for the foreseeable future. President Obama does not want to “appear weak on defense” in his 2012 reelection bid, General Kayani’s troops have thus far refused to mount a large scale COIN/scorched earth assault on South/Central Asia’s most hardcore militant outfits holed up in North Waziristan, and an increasingly paranoid and isolated President Karzai needs the US and it’s NATO and non-NATO military allies to stay in the country in order for him to remain in power coincidentally until sometime in 2014. After I left the studio, what I had said for broadcast sunk in and I then had to stave off depression. If only Obama and his underlings had understood how critically important the terribly flawed Afghan presidential campaign was last year, and had that election had a different more genuine outcome, perhaps much of the assured bloodshed on the horizon could have been avoided. Wishful thinking on my part, maybe, but one thing is for certain: there is a lot of death and destruction to be, though it mustn’t be so. Americans today would more likely pour out into the streets over a rigged vote on a reality show that one in reality as the era of mass civil disobedience long ago gave way to rampant consumer culture and hollow worship of false mass market idols. In all of this miasma, it would do many good to realize that it is principally the Afghan people who continue to suffer. It is Afghan civilians who continue to take the brunt of military and militant violence in Afghanistan. Outside of that country, Afghanistan is for most an abstraction or a set of misapplied cliches vaguely having to do with empires and their various downfalls as if empires with their ill advising courtesans, not the Afghans themselves, are the victims. In history the Afghan people are mostly an afterthought as their country is described coldly as a “graveyard,” as an ill conceived “buffer state” or as “AfPak.”
Kabul, Afghanistan- Well you all heard what happened yesterday, the great Karzai has been ratified another 5-year mandate to run Afghanistan into the ground even further. To paraphrase former CIA dog of war Milt Beardon, “What are we gonna bomb there? Just blow up bigger rocks into smaller rocks?” Afghanistan is already in a perpetual state of shambles. Karzai has pissed away the goodwill that followed the Bonn process and 2002 seems like eons ago. The man who once seemed like a reasonable intellectual hope for this country now seems insular and childlike pacing about in his palace ensconced in Kabul’s Green Zone like a caged elephant. I have a piece about Azizullah Ludin and the feckless Zekria Barakzai’s antics at the IEC yesterday in today’s Asia TImes. Meanwhile Kabul is gripped by a bogus swine flu scare and almost every Kalashnikov-toting security guard and traffic cop are donning cheap, green surgical masks due to an epidemic that has yet to materialize here. There is a real epidemic of suicide terror attacks and many laborers, who can’t spare a few Afghanis to but masks from street orphans wading through traffic, are being tasks to install new speed bumps all over town. Dear Kabulis: If massive blast walls installed in front of the Indian Embassy after it was attacked last year didn’t deter the recent suicide bombing there, what on god’s earth makes you think a succession of speed bumps is going to stop a determined bomber driving a lorry full of TNT?
Kabul, Afghanistan- Dr. Abdullah announced his withdrawal from the presidential race here yesterday. I have a piece in today’s Asia Times if anyone wants to read a bit more on the announcement. This was rumored and it seemed that the mainstream media was pushing for it for the sake of a story. I am tempted to call third place candidate Ramazan Bashardost and see if he wants to jump back in. All hope for genuine democracy and any sense of a viable peace have been tossed out the window. Abdullah told us he was dropping out of the race for the good of the country and for the future of Afghan democracy. It’s all seemed to be a bit of an oxymoronic circus. The election is meant to be this Saturday but anyone who claims they are on the inside track is lying. No one can control the hydra here. After leaving the press conference at his now suicide blast wall protected house, while the Dexter Filkin’s and Carlotta Gall’s of the world hastily sped off with their attendant drivers and other coterie, I decided to take a walk (partly because I had only a $50 bill and didn’t want to try and negotiate a taxi hassle). I remembered, if only for a few minutes, the reason why I became obsessed with Afghanistan in the first place, pre-9/11. I thought of Afghanistan as a cut off land replete with horseman, Hellenic Buddhist relics and billowing brilliant blue burkhas plodding through Kabul’s ruins.
In my head, this imagined place, just across the Durand line from the Pakistan i was just coming to know, as a fabled city. A romantic and barbaric place kept out of globalization by a vile militia nurtured by successive Pakistani administrations concerned only with its persistently bruised ego vis-a-vis India and its weird notions of strategic depth in Afghanistan. Most journos here know Abdullah solely as a sharp suited, polished politician rather than a shalwar kameez wearing spokesman for the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (dumbed down for journos as the Northern Alliance).
Today’s Afghanistan, well Kabul anyway, is polluted with Westerners, and the thought of walking around in a filthy shalwar kameez is a thing of the past. Globalization in its most blunt sense, came to Kabul after the Bonn conference with the immediate influx of do gooders and return of Afghan refugees and expatriates and many young Afghans in the capital shed the local garb long ago. My dream of the fabled city lay in the ash heap of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Thanks Mohammed Atta! Thanks a freaking lot!
The Independent Election Commission held an arduous total of two (2) voting results announcements before they decided to take a well deserved break? The first event on Tuesday was pretty much a disaster and then yesterday independent candidate Ramazan Bashardost made dramatic outburst about what I can only assume was the IEC’s complicity in some level of fraud. Interestingly, for Tuesday briefing, it seemed like every expat in Kabul was there for the “Big News” and on Wednesday, I was the only Western journalist except for a few of the wire people who would have had to have been there even if this was a Kabul city council election. Bashardost apparently remembered me from a street interview I did with him a few weeks ago while he was campaigning in the bazaar and said he was happy to see me there. Maybe it’s just me but wouldn’t the second day of results be actually more newsworthy than the first (in that it gives us a bigger picture and more of a possible voting pattern)? So why the hell didn’t the other journos deem the event worthy of their presence? Ahh who cares…
My email from the IEC today said that they cancelled today and tomorrow’s polls results which is a little curious seeing as it puts Afghanistan a little deeper into this very dangerous limbo. Holbrooke is yelling at Karzai while Abdullah is yelling at the international media and all of this only leads to further intrigue here. Abdullah has described his opponent as “Conspiratorial” while a Karzai insider told me that Abdullah was making a “Media war.” Anyone smell another palace deal in the works???
Urgent Update: I finally made it into the NY Times….in someone else’s photo…in the far lower left.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission had a pathetic press conference today. The figures for the votes for the candidates counted thus far didn’t match up to the graphic they had projected next to the stage. And the Dari-English translator, where the hell did they find this guy? He’s like a very nervous, Persian Chris Farley. It would have been easier just to have either the whole thing in Dari and try to decipher it later or just have the head of the commission speak English himself (he interjected into English when I pointed out the mismatch in both the translation and the info-graphic on the screen). Twice I pointed this flub out and a group of VIP elders all sitting behind me chimed in that I was right that all the numbers didn’t line up while the bureaucrat at the podium insisted he didn’t know what I was talking about.
Abdullah had everyone over at his house today to show us evidence of fraud and he seems to be playing this situation really well. From the numbers called at the Intercon, he and Karzai are neck and neck from the apparent votes counted so far. The drama continues…
Went out to the Independent Election Commission warehouse out on Jalalabad road today to watch the ballots for Kabul Province come in via faded, clattering Pakistani lorries. Being ramadan, work went by at a snail’s pace. A few men and the odd woman stacked the clear plastic bins organized by district in two massive hangars. As I walked in the tally centre, it looked more like what I imagine an Indian outsourcing office in Bangalore to be than what one would expect in Afghanistan. Young, hip Afghans sat behind buzzing PC terminals doing rote data entry as votes were unfurled. A veteran photojournalist who also happened to be out there said it was nothing like what she witnessed in the 2004 election when everything was done by hand. The partial results are going to be announced tomorrow night here and no one seems to really have a handle on what’s going on. I asked my contact at the IEC if he could give me any “additional” information but he dutifully stuck to protocol and put me on the IEC’s email list. If Karzai is announced the “partial” victor tomorrow when the partial results are called, it will appear to be a defeat for democracy across the board for many. Even if Karzai were to win in a second round, the process would look to both Afghans and the international community as much more vigorous and genuine. Abdullah’s camp is claiming they’re winning outright as well. This could get a little awkward.
I’m suddenly feeling down. The adrenalin rush has worn off and the couple other journos I was socializing with have all left. I imagine today’s Safi flight to Dubai was packed with Westerners fleeing temporarily directionless politics and the discipline of ramadan here. Not to mention the end of MSM interest in the story. But I can’t leave Afghanistan just yet. Have to push through the doldrums. There are more people to talk to and further intrigue to delve into.
It’s been a weird, intense couple of weeks. Richard Engel asking me why I was wearing Blu Blockers™ and if I was a “hipster.” Getting knocked by one of McChrystal’s machismo Italiano guards. Getting left behind at Kabul airport by Dostum’s entourage at night and taking a local taxi back to his house. One of Karzai’s presidential guards asking me, with a straight face, if I had an appointment at the palace to see the Taliban rocket that crashed through the kitchen. Seeing Gary Hart in the lobby of the Serena and then google imaging him on my laptop and holding my laptop next to his head for confirmation. Dr. A’s guy Ali asking us journos if we were ready to go to Gardez by road instead of helicopter and everyone jumping out of the HiLux and bailing. Realizing that Afghan paranoia and conspiracy theories are still child’s play compared to their ilk across the Durand Line. Being told by the kid at the front desk of the hotel that he saw me on state TV next the intel chief at the Intercon. No wonder this weekend was a weird let down…
Afghanistan now sits in this awkward interim phase on this first day of Ramadan (Ramazan in Farsi) between the election and the official announcement of the preliminary results in about ten days. Allegations of fraud are being hurled back and forth between Karzai operatives and Abdullah’s campaigners and Carlotta Gall is claiming a few purple fingers actually were lopped off over in Nangarhar Province. Talk in Kabul is bubbling up that the was much more violence in the provinces than was originally thought while the capital was spared save for the Karte Nau incident. No one knows whether Karzai’s dreadful alliance of a who’s who of skeletons in Afghanistan’s closet will hold together beyond the next few weeks. Dr. Abdullah will not take a defeat lying down either but the rumors of “Iranian-style” streets protests to come are being denied by those at his headquarters. For now, Afghanistan begins it’s lunar month of fasting and it’s politicians are just beginning to bicker. Where it will lead, no one here really has any idea.