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The Self Shelf: Afghanistan: democracy inaction

Published: October 23, 2009
Section: Opinions

There’s nothing more rewarding to the Western liberal world than when a previously autocratic regime adopts democracy. Afghanistan, once a prime example of authoritarian excesses, has become a shining beacon of liberty to all of the world. After the United States spent billions of dollars and scores of lives in the hopes of creating a stable democracy, Afghanistan has finally bloomed.

Look no further than the recent election in which Afghan President Hamid Karzai beat out thirty-six other candidates with over 50 percent of the vote. All of this came about in spite of the widespread allegations of fraud, corruption, and general incompetence on his part. What a wonderful example of the democratic process.

And then reality set in.

The election was rigged. Karzai has no real mandate of power as he subverted the will of the people to his own ends. Afghanistan, instead of becoming a political model of the United States, is currently closer to Zimbabwe.

Due to unrelenting international pressure from the Western world (particularly an annoyed United States), there will be a runoff between Karzai and leading opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Nov. 7.

The irony of this outcome is that this is what would have happened had the fraud not occurred. Karzai was a huge favorite over Abdullah in spite of his alleged misdeeds. He most likely won the majority of votes anyway, and he probably would have won a runoff. He may still win the runoff, but now he and his entire country face the burden of illegitimacy.

Meanwhile, underreported because of the inconspicuous fraud of the election reports were those atavistic anathemas to democratic progress, the Taliban. In a completely expected move, the Taliban terrorized voters in certain areas and committed wanton acts of brutality in order to try to subvert the election. They decried it as illegitimate, fraudulent, and anything else they could think of in order to sabotage the perception of the election.

The breakdown of the democratic process has given legitimacy to their criticisms while taking away from that of the government. After all, it was the Western world’s pressure which resulted in the runoff. Thus, the Taliban can use the election as a strong propaganda tool.

Meanwhile, with the Taliban revival movement in full swing, this political setback could not have happened at a less opportune time. The urgency of the situation in Afghanistan begs the question of how the Afghan government can best restore its legitimacy and make sure that the voice of the people is not subverted in such an obvious way in the future? The answer, unsurprisingly, comes through compromise.

The first step in damage control has already been taken by the United States—make sure there’s a runoff election and monitor it to ensure that it’s relatively free of fraud. In the meantime, perhaps consider putting a few more troops around to protect people in regions where the Taliban utilize their unique forms of discouragement on the voting populace.

The second step is to create a government system in which the power-hungry nature of one person cannot subvert democracy. One way in which to do this would be to get rid of the presidency altogether. There’s already a parliamentary system in place. Why not have a system with a party in power rather than a specific individual?

This will ensure that Afghanistan will have a smaller chance of regressing to dictatorship and that the ambitions of one man can’t result in the embarrassment that has taken place with Karzai.

Finally, if you really wanted to fully address the short-term situation, you could create some kind of power-sharing agreement between Karzai and Abdullah. This would not really make up for the wrong that has been committed , but at least this way justice would be somewhat served. Also, if a power sharing system was implemented long-term, it would allow for more stable government and lower the risk of civil war.

The most important step that hasn’t been taken, however, is to somehow make Karzai drop out of the presidential race. He’s been dogged with disturbingly valid accusations of corruption, he’s committed electoral fraud, and his hold on power in Afghanistan is as legitimate as that of Salman Rushdie. It’s time for Karzai to go. He helped pilot Afghanistan through its inaugural years, but he has clearly overstayed his welcome.

Of course, even if all of these steps were followed, it wouldn’t undo all of the damage that has been done to the government’s image, but it would certainly go a long way towards stopping the bleeding.

Also, this is not a death blow to the Afghan political system. In a country with no tradition of democracy, the idea that its second election should go off without a hitch is a little ridiculous. The mere fact that an election is taking place amidst the strife of Afghanistan is a good sign.

Meanwhile, another good omen is that in spite of the violent resistance of the Taliban, people are still defying them (even if some of them were accosted). While the ideal depiction of Afghanistan described in the beginning of this article is not a reality, contemporary Afghanistan is not lost.

However, the steps proposed here are worth taking in order to help bring Afghanistan closer to becoming a smoothly functioning democracy while dealing a blow to the Taliban.

It is high time for reform in Afghanistan, lest democratic inaction leech away the legitimacy of the Afghan government.