Beyond Demonstration Elections II

Are there any doubts that, some time around the end of this month (maybe a little later), after all of the ballots are transported to one of the eight counting centers around the country, and the final ballot tabulated—or, whether they are all sealed in lead-weighted sacks and dumped somewhere in the Florida Everglades, the way the Americans do—which candidate will have received the mandatory 50-percent minimum of the votes required to avoid a runoff, and be awarded victory in last Saturday’s Afghan national election?

The short-lived protests of 15 of the 16 candidates in Afghanistan’s “landmark presidential elections” (to use a phrase that has been so automatic among the media reporting this event, they don’t even realize that it is equally thought-free) have been either snuffed out or channeled into the ultimately manageable categories that the three-member “panel of experts” named by the UN will investigate—“irregularities,” that is, like disappearing ink, vote rigging, multiple voting, voter intimidation, not enough ballots to go around, and the like. But neither: How can the population of a militarily-, UN-, and NGO-occupied territory—i.e., at least some parts of it—participate in a free and fair test of the popular will in anything more than name? Nor: How can any length a list of candidates, any size of voter turnout (Christian Parenti just reported from Kabul that “the proliferation of fake voting cards meant that many people were able to cast votes multiple times”), any number of polling stations (including the UN’s boast of the “largest post-conflict refugee vote in history” in the camps of Pakistan and Iran), or any size legion of foreign and domestic observers, make up for the fact that one and only one candidate, the titular President of the Transitional State of Afghanistan, has been the military invader’s candidate ever since the establishment of an official Interim Authority in Kabul, 34 very long months ago? Under circumstances such as we find in Afghanistan—it’s a foreign-occupied territory, for Christ’s sake!—what might a vote cast for the sitting President Hamid Karzai really mean? Indeed. Presuming that Saturday’s presidential election really was a test of something, the question arises: A test of what? Each Afghan voter’s assessment of the competing platforms of the 16 candidates? Or the success of the Americans at pulling the whole show off? And the success of everyone else they managed to drag in their tow?

Already as early as Sunday (if not sooner), the American Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad—whom a glowing portrait in today’s Irish Times tells us is nicknamed “The Viceroy” and whom the Times itself refers to as the “face of President George W. Bush in Kabul”—began cornering key protest candidates, pressuring them to abandon their announced boycott. These included Mohammad Mohaqeq (ethnic Hazara) and Mohammad Yunus Qanuni (Tajik), both of whom agreed to end their boycott and register their complaints with the “authorities.” By Tuesday, Abdul Rashid Dustum (Uzbek) joined them. The bailout by these three important political figures from Afghanistan’s three largest ethnic minority groups (after the Pashtun, with which President Hamid Karzai identifies himself) killed whatever chances the other candidates may have had in carrying their protests forward. The protest—the exact nature of which it is still hard to determine—beyond the multiple voting and disappearing ink business, that is—petered out as quickly as it began. (“Washington’s Afghan fixer smoothes Karzai’s path,” Oct. 13.)

Or like I said Monday: There was never going to be any party-poopers allowed to crash Saturday’s “landmark presidential elections.” Something historically-cosmically grand is taking place in Afghanistan, we simply must understand. The “international community” intervened in a “failed” state and is now working to set things right. Even better: Intervened in a “failed” state that “harbored” the Al Qaeda-Taliban terrorist network—the perpetrators of acts which are “under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature,” as the Security Council was to toss down the gauntlet in last Friday’s resolution on “terrorism,” the American construction of the so-called “War on Terror” creeping ever-further onto the agenda of the “international community.” (Res. 1566, Oct. 8; and SC/8214, Oct. 8.) Saturday’s election—no matter how phony, humiliating, and divisive for the real people of Afghanistan (in the neocolonies these days, the role assigned to the captive peoples includes voting in staged elections, digging up mass graves, and learning the language of “truth and reconciliation” to please their foreign masters)—no matter how much the whole show was scripted from the barrel of a gun, beginning with the Americans’—was a demonstration election staged by the major players in this “international community” for their own benefit. And theirs alone. And the last time I checked, they didn’t seem to mind at all. Not one bit. In fact, they couldn’t get enough of their own magnificence.

(Believe it or not: Did you know that the United Nations actually has a body called the 1267 Committee, named after the 1999 Security Council Resolution 1267 that created it, the full name of which is the Al-Qaida and Taliban and Associated Individuals and Entities Sanctions Committee. (Or something very close to this.) This is nothing more than American foreign policy stamped upon the United Nations. Another example of the Americans’ hijacking of the United Nations, to use a more expressive word. (For the 1267 Committee’s start, see SC/6739 (Oct. 15, 1999).)

Following Saturday’s production in Kabul and parts unknown, the whole phalanx of the Neocolonial Community Players hasn’t missed a cue. From the UN Secretary-General, who in a statement delivered just yesterday over Afghan radio and television by his Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, congratulated the people “for their patience, resilience and civic maturity,” the vote a “heart-warming demonstration that, nearly three years after the signing of the Bonn agreement, democracy is firmly taking root in Afghanistan.” (SG/SM/9531, Oct. 12.) To a Presidential Statement issued on behalf of the UN Security Council by British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, which stressed the “historic importance” of the election “as a milestone in the political process,” urged the “international community” to remain fully engaged in Afghanistan “to support them in completing the electoral process set out in the Bonn Agreement,” and pledged the Council’s “continued support for the Government and people of a sovereign Afghanistan as they rebuild their country, strengthen the foundations of constitutional democracy, and assume their rightful place in the community of nations….” (SC/8217, Oct. 12.) To the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, who also briefed the Security Council yesterday (SC/8216, Oct. 12). To the American Secretary of State (“Interview With Mouafac Harb of Al-Hurra,” Oct. 12) and, earlier, his chief spokesman (“Elections in Afghanistan,” Oct. 9). The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Election Support Team, Robert Barry (Oct. 10). (A curious aside to this fellow: Although serving with the OSCE’s team in Afghanistan, Robert Barry is an American appointee with experience in running elections in the UN-occupied state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And this is the man representing the OSCE in the OSCE’s first-ever round of helping to stage an election in a non-OSCE state.) And the editorial voices of one mainstream print daily newspaper after another. As when the New York Times expressed delight in the “sight of those patient Afghans [who] lined up to vote on Saturday,” yet another reminder, the Times averred, that “Afghanistan deserves more help than it has gotten to rebuild after the devastations of war and the Taliban.” (“Afghanistan Votes,” Oct. 12.—Incidentally, the phrase “devastations of war” refers to the pre-American period. Not to the devastations caused by the American war and the subsequent U.S., NATO-bloc, and UN occupation under which Saturday’s much-heralded vote was just staged.)

(Quick aside. Just visited the Kerry-Edwards campaign’s website, to check what the campaign’s pronouncement on Saturday’s demonstration election in Afghanistan might have been. (Please notice the date and time of this blog. These little messages change all the time.) Right there on the campaign’s homepage, the website tells us that while “George Bush and Dick Cheney repeat tired rhetoric and make shallow promises, John Kerry and John Edwards have laid out specific plans to hunt and kill the terrorists, offer a fresh start in Iraq so we can finish the job there, and to fight for the middle class.”—This is as far as I bothered to go. I couldn’t stomach any more.)

After the American Secretary of Defense made some banal comments about the Afghan election while he prepared to depart for the NATO meeting in the Romanian city of Poiana Brasov, the Washington Post seized upon them as if a crystal ball pointing to Iraq’s future. “At a sensitive moment in the U.S. presidential campaign,” the Post reported, “the Bush administration is promoting the tentative success of Afghanistan’s election as a hopeful model for Iraq’s future: a messy, often violent struggle against extremists that has nevertheless produced democratic elections.” (“Election Touted as Model for Iraq—to a Point,” Oct. 13.)

But the Post missed the point of the Afghan election—which wasn’t really an Afghan election in the first place. Not in the least. It was an American– and UN– and NATO– and OSCE– and NGO-election—staged of them, by them, and for them.

And if they use the people of Afghanistan as props? So what. Higher principles are at stake. Millennium goals. The responsibility to protect. To bring freedom and democracy to the less fortunate.

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

Postcard From Kabul,” Christian Parenti, The Nation, October 25, 2004

Nation-Building, American-Style, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), June 19, 2004
On A Foot Patrol in Kabul, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), July 18, 2004
Beyond Demonstration Elections I, October 12, 2004

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