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Beyond Demonstration Elections I


At last some good news from the colonies! The solidarity of the 15 presidential candidates who joined the document that came out of the meeting at the Kabul residence of Abdul Satar Sirat, protesting Saturday’s national election in Afghanistan, “began to unravel Sunday,” Knight Ridder reports this morning, “when one of the 15 candidates [Mohammad Mohaqeq] challenging incumbent Hamid Karzai denied he was part of the protest…..The day’s developments are likely to end the boycott less than 24 hours after it started….” (Malcolm Garcia, “Afghan election considered a success as boycott begins to fall apart,” Oct. 11.)


There will be no party-poopers at this historic event. Rest assured.

Actually, only 14 presidential candidates met at Sirat’s house on Saturday. “We 14 candidates announce that the election should be stopped immediately,” Sirat told reporters some time before the protest document was completed and signed. Massooda Jalal, the sole woman running in the presidential election, also joined the protest but wasn’t present at the meeting. While candidate No. 16, the President of the Transitional Administration, Hamid Karzai—whose party affiliation, get this, is officially listed as Independent!—found nothing to protest. As you may have figured.

(Quick aside. For those of you who, like me, were curious to read a copy of the protest document dated October 9, and to learn what its signatories were alleging, other than the widely reported business about the disappearing ink, and the smattering of quotes attributed to Sirat in the mainstream media, don’t bother turning to the website of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Because it isn’t there. Also, you can skip the Joint Electoral Management Body‘s (JEMB) website. Because it’s not there, either. (Though at least you will be able to find a list of all of the political parties active within Afghanistan. As well as a list of the candidates who qualified for Saturday’s presidential election. Including the two who withdrew just days before it was held.) Evidently, neither of these two special agencies of the United Nations considered the archiving of material of this sort to be covered by their mandates—according to their letter, to assist in the transition between the Taliban’s Afghanistan and a free and democratic, sovereign and independent Afghanistan; but, in reality, to assist in the establishment of a permanent state that is sufficiently to the liking of its post-9/11 occupiers, and enables them to use it as a platform for future expeditions, without themselves having to do any more of the heavy lifting. (See Security Council Res. 1401, March 28, 2002. And, more important, see the Bonn Agreement, the UN Security Council having acted as the caddy for this agreement since it was reached in December, 2001, in the middle of the American war, and delegating responsibilities to other UN agencies.))

“After enduring Soviet occupation, civil war and rule by a medieval-minded Islamic militia,” the editorial voice of the Washington Post opened Sunday’s edition, leading the cheer for this “extraordinary event,” and for the role played by “U.S., NATO and Afghan forces” in bringing it off, “millions of Afghans lined up at polling stations yesterday for the first free elections in their country’s history.” Now. How do you suppose we should read this rendition of history? Easy: As the Post‘s affirmation of the rule of the gun. Not the guns of the Soviet Union, needless to say. Not the guns of the various militarized forces of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation. Certainly not the guns of the Taliban regime. But the guns of the Americans and of the Americans’ proxies. These guns, and these guns alone, delivered Afghanistan, the Post recognizes. Proof, in the Post‘s mind, that “nation-building there can work—and that it is consequently worthwhile to continue committing troops and aid to the effort.” Proof, in other words, of the purity of American arms. Of the good things that the rule of American guns can bring to the world. In case anyone was suffering doubts about the rule of American guns per se, following their use in other theaters, such as Iraq, to name another example. Where the decimation of the enemy has yet to prove as efficient. And the Post, therefore, less proud.

Even better, the “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent election observers to Afghanistan, joined the joint United Nations-Afghan electoral commission in declaring that the problems with the election weren’t widespread enough to halt the vote,” the same Knight Ridder report continues. “Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and other U.S. officials have also spoken to the candidates,” urging them to drop the matter, to get with the program, and to sign-off on this triumph of the popular will. Similar reports appeared pretty much across the board in this morning’s English-speaking media. (For example, “Karzai looks home and dry as revolt fizzles,” Daily Telegraph (London); “Pressure on Afghan rivals to end poll boycott,” Financial Times; “Boycott flops as Afghan poll declared fair,” The Guardian; “Stand against Afghanistan’s ‘ink-stained’ election starts to crumble,” The Independent; “Afghan Electoral Protests Will be Heard,” Los Angeles Times; “Plan for Investigation Into Afghan Election Eases Dissent,” New York Times; and “Afghan Election Concerns Subside,” Washington Post.) The only questions remaining to be asked were—not how legitimate the Afghan national election really was, given that it undeniably issued forth from the barrel of American guns—but how many of the original 15 candidates who protested the process would abandon their complaints? And how quickly? These—and who could come up with the most lavish praise for the historic event that just took place?

The OSCE’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Robert Barry, “concur[red] with the Joint Election Management Body Board that the candidates’ demands to nullify the election is unjustified. Such action would also put into question the expressed will of millions of Afghan citizens who came out to vote, carried out voter registration and manned the polling stations despite great personal risk…..October 9 was a historic day in Afghanistan,” the OSCE’s Parry elaborated, “and the millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of law. If their aspirations are to be met, disputes about the validity of election results should be dealt with as the law provides.” (Press Briefing, October 10, 2004.)

Namely: By rescinding the protest. By officially promising to look into the matter. And then, eventually, by dropping the matter altogether.

(Later on Monday, the JEMB announced that it was appointing a panel to investigate the allegations, and thus “further enhance the transparency and legitimacy of the election.” (“Annan urges lawful approach to Afghan poll dispute as experts named to probe,” UN News Center, Oct. 11.) Wake me, should the investigation start to look at anything more serious than procedural mechanisms, ink, and vote-influencing that is roughly on a par with what happens in the United States every four years.)

An official pre-election Statement issued by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, had attested to the “remarkable situation” that now exists on the ground in Afghanistan—and in substance and tone, was indistinguishable from everything else that official sources have produced since the election was held.

“Not only because these elements were not present two years ago in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban,” Arnault said, rattling off a catalog of “nation-building” Do’s and Don’ts. “But also because they show unmistakably a trend, a process embraced by the population at large—and candidates—that quickens the pace of the transition away from the rule of the gun.”

The Special Representative concluded (Statement, Oct, 6, 2004):

[W]e are confident that those who want to prevent this election from happening will not succeed; and those whose only authority stems from the possession of a gun will not be allowed to distort it. Afghans are convinced that a popularly elected, representative president is urgently needed in order to bring an end to violence, whether by factions or extremists, to achieve reform, disarmament, justice and the rule of law. We share their conviction.

Then this morning, a Statement was issued on behalf of the UN Secretary-General that sparkled for its triviality (SG/SM/9529, Oct. 11):

The Secretary-General was pleased to learn of the enthusiastic voter turnout in Saturday’s poll for Afghanistan’s first elected President. It presented the Afghans with a historic opportunity towards the establishment of a stable and democratic State for which they have worked so hard and deserve. That this election was held without major security incident is a tribute to the determination of the Afghan population.

A number of Presidential candidates have cited some electoral irregularities which are being investigated. The Secretary-General urges the Presidential candidates and their supporters to continue to work through lawful measures to resolve such disputes.

The Secretary-General calls on the Afghans, with the support of the international community, to work in concert to ensure Afghanistan’s transition to a peaceful and democratic nation.

Aspirations, popularly elected presidents and the will of the people, historic days in Afghan history, the rule of the gun and the rule of law, and so on. But tell me exactly who is using these words and phrases? This is not the people of Afghanistan talking. Rather this is the babble of the representatives of the Neocolonial Community as they try to manage the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

Twenty years ago, in their book Demonstration Elections, Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead wrote that the “future of the demonstration election”—by which they meant “elections held under conditions of military occupation and extensive pre-election ‘pacification’,” elections that “serve to ratify power and display to some target audience an ability to gain nominal approval of the regime sponsored by the occupying forces,” elections, in short, that serve as a “tool of public relations” for an occupying power—is “closely tied in with the evolution of U.S. intervention, to which it is a public relations complement.”

Continuing along these same lines, they wrote:

The deception and fallacy rest on the fact that in a state of armed conflict and military rule, elections are won by those possessing the most bullets and controlling the electoral machinery. Elections may therefore substitute the form of democracy and free choice for their substance, and provide an Orwellian inversion based on fear, ignorance, limited and meaningless choices, and a militarily assured voter turnout. (p. ix)

The point of planning, publicizing, and holding demonstration elections is to buy time for military pacification. By putting forward a prospective “free election,” we demonstrate our good intentions, our willingness to rely on an honest test of the internal support of our military junta, and thus the legitimacy of both the client and our own interventionary plans. It is difficult for the domestic opposition to challenge the manipulation of such a formidable symbol as “free elections.” The government can manage the drama in such a way that even where there are no opposition candidates, [or a nominal list of many opposition candidates, as in Afghanistan],…”turnout” is still interpreted by our media as a triumphant vindication of democratic values. (p. 181)

Then, writing with demonstration elections in Vietnam in 1967, and El Salvador in 1982, specifically in mind, Herman and Brodhead concluded: “One must stand in awe at a government and Free Press that can pull off an election for ‘democracy and peace’ (the PR version) in order to consolidate military rule and clear the decks for intensified warfare (the real purpose and effect).” (p. 181)

(Another quick aside. Elsewhere in this book, they more succinctly—and sardonically—defined a Demonstration Election as “A circus held in a client state to assure the population of the home country that their intrusion is well received. The results are guaranteed by an adequate supply of bullets provided in advance.” (“Glossary of Current Orwellian Usage,” p. 202.))

This is precisely where the people of Afghanistan find themselves today—having endured 25-years-worth of Soviet invasion and occupation, massive foreign interference, the resistance and civil wars that both inspired, rule by a medieval-minded militia, and—to emend the Washington Post‘s selective historical memory—a second, more massive, and far more successful invasion and occupation, including the establishment of a neocolonial apparatus so majestic in its nature and scope that these days it even includes the United Nations, with dozens of putative “multilateral” and “nongovernmental” agencies vying with each other to see which can do the best job of mopping up the mess made by the rest of them, and the UN Seal of Approval conferring a mendacious—and very dangerous—legitimacy upon the totality of it all.

Imagine the Soviet Union turning to the UN Security Council back in the early 1980s, demanding, and then receiving, the Security Council’s help in pacifying the mujahedeen. Imagine the Soviet Union even engaging the Security Council’s and the Secretary-General’s help in staging a demonstration election for Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, ca. 1982-1983, with the promise of brighter days ahead.

Well. This is exactly what we’ve just witnessed over the past weekend. Mutatis mutandis, of course.

Along with one other change: When a world power is sufficiently great that it can enlist not only its allies and vassals, but also its rivals, among the NATO bloc, the OSCE, the United Nations, and the rest of the so-called “international community,” to do its bidding, and this shortly after the military invasion and occupation of a foreign country—remember: The Bonn Agreement was signed less than two months after the Americans launched their war over Afghanistan in October, 2001, the Secretary-General welcoming and congratulating “all concerned—and particularly the Afghan delegations—on showing the necessary spirit of compromise to reach this accord,…an important step towards the achievement of lasting peace and a return to legitimate authority” (SG/SM/8068, Dec. 5, 2001)—then we are no longer talking about demonstration elections, plainly and simply. And need to update our conceptual maps accordingly.

Instead we are witnessing a stage in a development of the Neocolonial Community that is beyond demonstration elections—the violent “pacification” campaigns, terror, and subjugation by a foreign superpower remaining the common theme, but the ensuing farcical elections and imposed “legitimacy” now stage-managed with the help of the most multilateral of the world’s “multilateral” bodies.

No longer just a circus held in a client state to assure the population of the home country that their intrusion is well received. But a circus held under the auspices of the United Nations to assure the population of the whole world that the military seizure of the client state by a Super Predator is a triumph of the rule of law over the rule of the gun.

A beacon for humanity in dark times. To be replicated the world over. If necessary.

Think about it.

Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, December 5, 2001 (a.k.a. Bonn Agreement)
Fact Sheet on Bonn Agreement, UNAMA

UN Security Council Resolution 1378, November 14, 2001
UN Security Council Resolution 1383, December 6, 2001
UN Security Council Resolution 1386, December 20, 2001
UN Security Council Resolution 1401, March 28, 2002

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB)

Demonstration Elections: U.S.-Staged Elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and El Salvador, Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead (South End Press, 1984)

The Afghan Victim Memorial Project, Marc Herold et al., University of New Hampshire
A Dossier on Civilian Victims of the United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan, Marc Herold et al., University of New Hampshire

Afghanistan’s Florida-style Elections,” Mike Whitney, ZNet, October 8, 2004

Nation-Building, American-Style, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), June 19, 2004
The Crime of Aggression, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), June 30, 2004
On A Foot Patrol in Kabul, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), July 18, 2004

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