Afghans' 'march to democracy'

Posted in Broader Middle East | 05-Sep-04 | Author: Rachel Morarjee| Source: (Pakistan)

An Afghan soldier stands guard near several tanks ready to be handed over as part of nationwide disarmament demobilization and reintegration (DDR) in Kabul on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004.
KABUL: As US President George W. Bush trumpets Afghanistan's march to democracy in his bid for re-election, few analysts believe the war-torn country is ready for October polls and many fear it is being pushed into a premature vote.

"I don't think there is a credible explanation why the presidential election needs to be held now. No one has offered a convincing explanation, which of course fuels suspicion that it is tied to the American presidential election," said Vikram Parekh, senior Afghan analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election is set for October 9, but parliamentary elections have been delayed until April because of security worries, lack of clear population data and poor infrastructure.

US-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai was given a two-year mandate by an elected council of tribal leaders in June 2002, but the presidential polls missed June and September deadlines because of rising violence.

Claiming successful transition to democracy in Afghanistan, however flawed the process may be, would deflect attention away from the Iraq quagmire and boost US President George W. Bush's chances in November.

"Afghanistan's elections can be a success for Bush, it can be a boost," Sebghatullah Sanger, Afghan politician and leader of Afghanistan's newly established Republican party, told AFP.

Speaking at the Republican convention Thursday Bush clearly presented the elimination of the Taliban and the introduction of democracy as a firm plank of his re-election strategy.

"Our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is clear: We will help new leaders to train their armies, and move toward elections, and get on the path of stability and democracy as quickly aspossible," Bush said.

Yet it is a strategy which could backfire as security in Afghanistan deteriorates in the run-up to the election.

There have been a string of attacks on UN staffers, electoral and aid workers as well as government officials, culminating in a bomb attack on US security firm DynCorp in Kabul last weekend that killed at least nine people, three of them US citizens.

"More attacks such as the one on DynCorp will be an electoral liability. The primary concern of the American voter is going to be the number of body bags with Americans in them, rather than democracy in Afghanistan," said Parekh.

Bush trumpeted high Afghan voter registration figures as an indication of a widespread desire for democracy.

"In Afghanistan, terrorists have done everything they can to intimidate people yet more than 10 million citizens have registered to vote in the October presidential election - a resounding endorsement of democracy," he said.

But the numbers are deceptive. Since the United Nation estimated that Afghanistan had only 9.8 million eligible voters, the numbers are more likely to reflect widespread fraud than a burning desire for democracy.

In some northern provinces such as Bamiyan and the Panjshir valley, well over 100 percent of estimated eligible voters have registered for elections, while in the country's south and southeast a Taliban-led insurgency has discouraged many people from voting.

"The Taliban were never routed. Many just put down their guns and went back to being Afghan villagers. The south is in the grip of an insurgency, it's not a post-conflict situation," said Nick Downie, security coordinator for aid agency security watchdog ANSO.

Many aid organizations are considering pulling out all foreign staff for the election period and mothballing all provincial projects until violence decreases.-AFP