Excellent news from Afghanistan. A new president, chosen in the country’s first democratic election, has just been sworn in.
He pledges to extend democracy across Afghanistan, liberate and educate all women, and wipe out “the last remnants of Islamic terrorism” impeding economic and social development. Foreign troops supporting the Kabul government will remain only until security is assured and terrorism eliminated.
But this was not Kabul, Dec. 7, 2004, where the U.S.-installed regime of Hamid Karzai was inaugurated to great fanfare from Washington and the western media. Both hailed — quite mistakenly — “Afghanistan‘s first elections.”
Correction. Afghanistan‘s first true national elections were in 1986 and 1987, under Soviet military occupation. First, the KGB organized a “loya jirga,” or national assembly in 1985 and, through bribes and intimidation, got its new Afghan “asset,” Najibullah, positioned to replace the ineffectual Afghan communist puppet then in office.
In 2002, the CIA got its Afghan “asset,” Hamid Karzai, nominated president through a loya jirga that seemed to many as rigged as the one that promoted Najibullah.
National elections in 1986 and 1987 confirmed Najibullah, Moscow‘s man in Kabul, as president of Afghanistan. These elections were manipulated, yet they were arguably more open and fairer than the recent U.S.-staged Afghan election.
Warlords were bribed
How can this be? The Afghan communists allowed genuine opposition parties to run and even sought a coalition with anti-communist forces. But these groups — mujahedin, or “freedom fighters,” as the West called them (Kabul branded them “Islamic terrorists”) — spurned Najibullah as a traitor and quisling.
In the U.S.-run Afghan election, all parties or individuals opposed to the American occupation of Afghanistan were excluded. So only ethnic minorities like Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks bought candidates — and figures favouring collaboration with the occupation were represented.
Warlords, who control 80% of the nation, were bribed with tens of millions to give at least tacit support to Karzai. Afghanistan‘s majority, the Pushtun, were represented only by a few minor candidates without any political base. The most important Pushtun leader, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, declared a “terrorist” in 2002 for opposing the U.S. invasion, was, of course, excluded.
Afghans, it is true, turned out in large numbers to vote. Elections are still a novelty in Afghanistan, even fake ones. Only in developed democracies are citizens too lazy or indifferent to vote. But the Afghan election had no more democratic credibility than the Soviet elections of the 1980s. In fact, it’s painfully ironic to see the U.S. demanding honest elections in Ukraine — a position applauded by this column — while staging what amounts to predetermined elections in Afghanistan, and, next year, in Iraq. What about some honest elections in U.S.-dominated Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, etc.?
An expensive mayor
Afghanistan‘s new “democratic” president is the world’s most expensive mayor. Karzai rules only downtown Kabul, protected by 200 U.S. bodyguards, 17,000 U.S. troops and a token NATO force that includes Canadians. It costs Washington $1.6 billion US monthly to keep Karzai in power. Without the foreign troops’ bayonets, Karzai’s little puppet regime would quickly be swept away.
The real power behind figurehead Karzai is the Northern Alliance, the rump of the old Afghan Communist Party, made up of Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Afghanistan‘s former Taliban rulers almost totally ended poppy/heroin production. Today, America‘s Northern Alliance communist allies have restored the multibillion-dollar drug trade and are now said to control 95% of the world heroin supply. As in Indochina, the U.S. again finds itself in bed with major drug dealers while espousing a platitudinous “war on drugs.”
Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is a chaotic mess ruled by warlords, drug kingpins, and the Taliban, which is alive and well, waiting with legendary Pushtun patience for the U.S. to withdraw.
The U.S. has stuck its head in a hornet’s nest in Afghanistan. Staying on is hugely expensive and painful. But a U.S. pullout would be hailed as a triumph by anti-American forces across the Islamic world. So the U.S. is good and stuck in Afghanistan — just what Osama bin Laden wanted.
[This article appeared in the Toronto Sun, December 12, 2004.]