From A World to Win News Service

Behind the Afghanistan Elections

Puppets and Invaders, Warlords and Emperors

Revolutionary Worker #1259, November 21, 2004, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

18 October 2004. A World to Win News Service.The worldwide media coverage of the Afghanistan presidential election on October 9 showed long queues of women waiting to vote as proof that the U.S.-led occupation has begun to bring "democracy." But as viewers everywhere noted, a great many of these women were still covered from head to foot in burqas, just as they had been during the rule of the Taliban. While the Taliban never bothered to gather women to vote for their Mullah Omar, not much else is different. That image symbolizes the kinds of change U.S. occupation has brought.

Even before the elections took place, the scale of fraud and forgery marking Afghanistan’s emergence as a "democracy" was shocking. It was estimated that 9.5 million people were eligible to vote. The authorities said they would be satisfied if 6 million of them registered as voters. But nearly 11 million registered. This was not because new eligible voters were discovered, but because many people got more than one card. Under-age children also got quite a few. Since Hamid Karzai is head of the government and the favorite of the U.S. and other occupiers under whose guns these elections were held, he enjoyed all the advantages—in terms of financing and propaganda, and of course counting the votes.

During the elections, the supposedly indelible ink applied to voters’ fingers (to prevent people from voting more than once) turned out to wash off easily. Fifteen of the 18 candidates called the process invalid and demanded a new election. This was rejected by Karzai and his backers, the U.S. and UN. Before the elections Karzai had promised that "horse trading" (making political deals with opponents by appointing them to high office) was gone for good in Afghanistan. Yet when Karzai’s main rivals were persuaded to change their tune and promise to abide by the eventual results, the smell of horse manure was overwhelming.

These elections are the second step in the plan for erecting a loyal puppet government laid out by the U.S. and its occupation partners at the Bonn Conference held after the invasion in December 2001. The first step was the Loya Jirga (council) held last December that approved a new constitution. Elections were to follow in June 2004. But since last January there has been increasing doubt that elections could be held at all without discrediting the Karzai government instead of making it stronger. The date was pushed back several times. Finally, U.S. officials (and their man Karzai as well) drew the line at waiting past the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. In the last few weeks Bush has focused on the Afghanistan elections as proof of the rightness and justice of his invasions. Actually, among other reasons, the injustice of the whole exercise can be seen from the fact that the timing of these elections was determined by one reason alone: American interests.

In order to go ahead with the elections, or at least under the cover of those elections, the U.S. has increased its forces from 10,000 to 18,000. The ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) jumped from 6,000 to about 10,000. Approximately 14,000 Afghanistan National Army troops (trained by the U.S.) were called to duty to suppress any resistance to this plan. While the U.S. and its NATO allies pretend that the only opposition to the occupation and its elections came from the Taliban, the people are increasingly seeing for themselves the hypocrisy of these imperialists. The imperialist-installed government has done little or nothing to lessen poverty, insecurity, political and religious dictatorship, national and religious discrimination, and the oppression of women. Anti-U.S. sentiment is growing even in areas where many people were counting on a U.S.-sponsored "democracy." The Taliban have taken advantage of this situation and increased their activities in the southern and eastern provinces, where people who don’t support the Taliban are in no mood to support the occupiers either.

It is no secret, even among imperialist politicians, that the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable. Some even predict revolts. For instance, in July the Select Committee of the UK House of Commons issued a 174-page report on Afghanistan and Iraq warning, "There is a real danger that.Afghanistan—a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world— could implode, with terrible consequences." John Stanley, a member of the committee and a former Conservative Party defense minister, declared, "Afghanistan is on a knife- edge." ( Guardian , 30 July 2004.)

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told an interviewer in July that he was disappointed with developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Can we afford two failed states in pivotal regions?" he said. "It’s both undesirable and unacceptable if either Afghanistan or Iraq were to be lost. The international community can’t afford to see those countries going up in flames. There would be enormous repercussions for stability, and not only in those regions." ( New York Times , 3 July 2004.)

The general’s aim in admitting the seriousness of the situation was to appeal to NATO member countries (including those that have criticized the U.S.) to send more troops. But in reality, the problems in Afghanistan have been so persistent because of the imperialists themselves. The people would not have gone through the horrors of the past 25 years if it had not been for all the big powers, especially the U.S. and its former chief rival, the USSR. Since the latest U.S.-led invasion has made the situation worse, how could bringing in more soldiers solve these problems? A dramatic increase in foreign troops might be useful for Karzai’s security and imperialist strategic, political and economic interests in Afghanistan, but it cannot provide solutions—either for the people or for the stability that the U.S. so badly wants.

The U.S. argues that the situation in Afghanistan is improving, but even many of the aid agencies and NGOs have withdrawn or have reduced their staff. Medicines sans Frontiers, a medical organization that had operated without interruption through more than two decades of war and other difficulties, was forced to end its activities in Afghanistan last July.

But things are even worse behind the scenes. The alliance of the reactionary forces that sided with the U.S. against the Taliban has proven very difficult to hold together. There has been continual infighting between them, especially those connected to other imperialists or regional powers. The media call this the "warlord" problem. Recently Karzai found himself obliged to send troops against some of the most powerful warlords. Since last March he has had to wage two armed campaigns against Ismael Khan, whom he had originally appointed governor of Herat province. Khan refused requests that he resign, and also clashed with Karzai about the hundreds of millions of dollars Khan got from customs duties at the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan and from taxing the people. Last year Karzai threatened to resign if the cash was not shared with the central government.

However, this is about much more than money. The U.S. and Karzai are not happy with Khan because of his connections with Iran, and maybe with other regional powers such as Russia. He is also a strong figure in the anti- Karzai faction within the central government. The question of "security" is not really what the West is worried about, since for better or for worse Herat is one of the most "stable" provinces in Afghanistan.

Last March some pro-Karzai forces in the neighboring region attacked Herat in an attempt to remove Khan. But Khan managed to defeat their assault and extend his forces into new districts. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Karzai both condemned the attack on Herat, even though they were behind the attack. Then, using the pretext of "security" in a situation they themselves had made unstable, they sent Karzai’s allies and the National Army of Afghanistan to Herat and took control of Shinden airport. Khan’s son, the Minster of Aviation, was killed during this attack. But this campaign failed to defeat Khan’s army. In September, Karzai organized a second and finally successful attack. He sacked Khan as the governor of Herat and offered him the Ministry of Industry and Mining instead.

Karzai also waged war against Abdul Rashid Dustom, the powerful Uzbek commander in the northern province of Balkh, who is Karzai’s own Deputy Defense Minister. Dustom beat back Karzai’s forces, but they regrouped, awaiting another opportunity. Other attempts by Karzai to strengthen his position include dropping his vice president, Marshal Mohammed Fahim. One of the most powerful Northern Alliance commanders, Fahim had replaced the assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud. Karzai also obtained the resignation of two other cabinet members allied with these men, the Minister of Planning, Muhammad Mohaqeq, and Yunus Qanooni, Minister of Education.

One important purpose of the elections was to legitimize Karzai’s efforts to remove his rivals and strengthen his position as central U.S. puppet. But what is "democratic" about that?

Many Western establishment analysts portray Karzai as the good guy and blame the problems on the warlords. However the situation in Afghanistan is much more complicated than that. Many of these forces have developed through many years of war by relying on different reactionary foreign powers, and, more importantly, by oppressing the people in the most evil way. Karzai’s past is no better. When the jihadi (fundamentalists) took power in the 1990s, he became their assistant Foreign Minister. Soon after he resigned and began cooperating with the Taliban. But his negotiations for a high-ranking job with the Taliban also ended suddenly. Some people believe it was because the Taliban assassinated his father. Others believe it was because the Taliban didn’t give the U.S.-based Unocal company the contract it was seeking for an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. Karzai was and continued to be an adviser to Unocal.

Now he has been able to get the backing of U.S. imperialism and can sideline others backed by weaker imperialists or smaller powers. In fact Karzai himself is the biggest warlord at the moment. His actions, methods, motivations, treatment of the masses, and the social system he defends (Afghanistan’s feudalism, including the oppression of women, and its subjugation by foreign powers) are basically the same. He has never condemned the U.S. air raids against the villages and the occupiers’ continuing intimidation and harassment of the people. He never even mentions, let alone condemns, the murder and torture U.S. forces carry out in the military bases they have set up on Afghanistan’s soil. He won the vote of U.S. imperialism and that is enough to win this election. If he has been a warlord without any army of his own, now he has the U.S. and NATO troops behind him. These are much stronger armed forces, and they determine who holds power in Afghanistan.