“Imposing Imperial Democracy”–Upcoming Afghan Elections Marked by U.S. Pressure, Fraud and Corruption

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As the Bush administration lauds the upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan as a success in democracy, the elections are marked by U.S. pressure, fraud and corruption.

A bomb has exploded near the US military compound in Kabul, Afghanistan a day ahead of the country’s first presidential election. There are no reports of any deaths or injuries from the bombing. But US military officials and the current Afghan government say they are bracing for efforts to disrupt tomorrow’s vote. More than 10 million Afghans have registered and there are some 5,700 election observers deployed throughout the country.

The country’s interim president Hamid Karzai is the frontrunner among 18 candidates. Only two other candidates are considered big names nationwide: the Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum, and the former education minister, Yunus Qanuni. One female candidate, Massouda Jalal, is making history by being the first woman to run for president. The vote has already been delayed twice by violence. Karzai survived an attack last month, and on Wednesday, a convoy carrying his running mate was hit.

  • Christian Parenti, correspondent for the Nation Magazine speaking to us from Kabul. His latest article is titled * “What 'Democracy' Looks Like”*.
  • Sonali Kolhatkar, host of the popular Pacifica Radio Show, Uprising on * KPFK*. She is also Vice President of the Afghan Women”s Mission, a group that works in solidarity with Afghans to help improve health and educational facilities for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Kabul, to Christian Parenti reporting for The Nation magazine. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Christian.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Thank you for having me on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about what’s happening in this lead up to Saturday’s election?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, Kabul is very quiet today. The whole city is sort of on lockdown. Flights inside the country have been canceled and there hasn’t been as much violence as people expect. There was a rocket attack last night. Two rockets came in towards the U.S. base, as you said earlier, and landed nearby and one went off and one didn’t. Other than that, things have been fairly quiet. The overall thing to report is that Afghans are not as excited about this election as international observers are. Most Afghans are very, very — cynical would actually be too strong a word, they’re just very apathetic about the whole process. To start with, the voter registration numbers are totally, either inaccurate or fabricated. I, for example, as I said in a recent piece in The Nation, I have two valid voter registration cards and I’m a foreign correspondent. These were given to me by one of the parties that’s running, the party of Syed Gilani. They were making the point that there is a lot of evidence of vote fraud and much of it favoring Karzai. Although all parties will be participating in this, all warlords, that is, will be trying to deliver blocks of votes. And it’s basically seen that Karzai will definitely win. The only question is whether there will have to be a runoff. If there is a runoff, between Yunus Qanuni and Karzai, that will be a real disaster for the Americans. A source told me that the American Embassy actually doesn’t even have contingency plans for that. The Afghan Joint Election Management Board, which is running elections here, doesn’t have plans for how to do a runoff. So there’s been this massive push, both above board and, you know, pretty underhanded, buying off warlords and using local warlords to intimidate people to get the vote out for Karzai. There’s been a lot of sort of shuffling of leaders recently. People have gotten new posts and some of this is seen as deal-making with Karzai. So, this party that gave me the voter cards was making the point that, you know, that there’s just way too much — way too high voter registration and there are all these fake cards floating around and fake ballots and I said, “Well, how can you prove that?” And they said “Well we have a whole bunch of them right here.” So I asked for one and then I asked for two and they gave them to me, and they are real voter registration cards and I can attach my photograph and I can vote. Because there is also no way to verify the identity of people who are voting. So, basically the election is going to be a fiasco. But the reality is that most Afghans don’t care that much about that because they’re so sick of war and they’re so sick of poverty that all they want is peace. And, again and again, both in Kabul — I’ve been in Kabul and I’ve been in a province called Wardak which is toward the central highlands, and I’ve been out near the Pakistani border in Nangarhar province where Jalalabad is, out in the countryside, and in every place people are just saying, “Well, you know, that’s the price of peace. All we want is peace and all we want is development.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Christian, if I can ask you what about the reports of the United States officials getting involved in trying to pressure candidates or having a much more active role in these elections?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, definitely there’s a lot of those rumors circulating. That’s not really been what I’ve been following up on. I’ve been sort of being out of Kabul more. But, yeah, there’s — the word on the street is that the U.S. Ambassador, who is the real power behind the throne here, is pressuring and cutting deals with all of these former commander/warlords like Rashid Dostum and others to get people to turn out the vote for Karzai. Not that Dostum won’t turn out the vote for Karzai, but more minor players whose names are unknown outside of their region.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There was a front page story in the Los Angeles Times, Christian —

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: And the thing that will come out of this —- the real something -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Christian, there was a front page story in the Los Angeles Times on September 23 that quoted Mohammed Mohaqeq, one of the Afghan candidates, saying that the U.S. Ambassador had dropped by his campaign office and proposed a deal, quote: “He told me to drop out of the elections, but not in a way to put pressure. It was like a request,” According to Mohaqeq.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yes. That’s what’s going on. The proof of all this deal making, I think, will be seen after Karzai wins when he forms his cabinet and that is also a dangerous moment when people — if they see all the same faces, that is to say all the faces of the Mujahedin commanders that were backed by the United States against the Soviet Union during the 1980’s and then between 1992 and 1994 and 1996, just destroyed much of the country and destroyed half of Kabul, these people are now — they were beaten by the Taliban, cornered in Northern Afghanistan, reinvented as the Northern Alliance and lost the war with U.S. air power. And everybody hates these quote-unquote commanders, despite there being incredible fear in Afghanistan. It reminds me a lot of Guatemala, people are very afraid to talk. But people are very open about how much they resent commanders, this from former Mujahedin soldiers. The fear is that Karzai will appoint a cabinet full of war criminals and that will send a message to the people that they have no voice and no hope for any kind of real development in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Christian —

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: All of these Mujahedin commanders are, you know, involved in drug running, extortion and land theft. There’s a massive problem right now with enclosures of common lands. The warlords of the Northern Alliance are back in power and they are — many of them, you know, are now pawning themselves off as police officials and governors and they have a new legitimacy and they have uniforms to go along with their informal power in guns, and they are seizing poor people’s property and seizing common property. And part of the impetus for that is that there’s so much money to be made in poppy that —- opium poppy that -—

AMY GOODMAN: Christian?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: That all land —- The land is going through the roof -—

AMY GOODMAN: Christian, we want to turn for a moment — Christian is speaking to us from Kabul, Afghanistan. We also want to turn to Sonali Kolhatkar, who is host of the popular KPFK program “Uprising” on the Pacifica radio station in Los Angeles. She is also President of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a group that works in solidarity with Afghans to improve health and educational facilities for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and is writing a book on Afghanistan. Sonali, you have written a piece called “Afghan Elections: A U.S. Solution to a U.S. Problem.” Explain.

SONALI KOLHATKAR: Well, really this whole election has been organized by the United States. The Afghan people have not had any hand in organizing their own election, the timeline of the election. The United States decided what form the election should take, what timeline it should take and that’s really an indication of the fact that this election is not really a test of Afghan democracy. You hear a lot of media pundits talk about, you know, this is a test of Afghans, meaning if the elections spiral into violence, the implication is that it will be the fault of the Afghans, and Afghans maybe just can’t handle democracy. Well, we really have to look at it as a test of the Bush administration to impose its model of imperial democracy onto poor countries and Bush has very clearly said that these elections will be the first step and sort of a model for what will happen in Iraq. All along, Afghanistan has been sort of a blueprint for Iraq, a testing ground for Iraq, and the elections in Iraq are going to be the next in line. It’s very clear if you look at what Christian said about Zalmay Khalilzad is absolutely true. Khalilzad, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, a U.S. Citizen, is pulling the strings in this country. We found in my research with my partner, we found a blueprint written by him in 2000 in the Washington Quarterly where he had laid out how the United States should approach Afghanistan. It’s called “Afghanistan: The Consolidation of a Rogue State,” where he basically talks initially about, you know, why not extend an olive branch to the Taliban, why not engage the Taliban? And then his other scenario was to create a military stalemate. The United States should offer existing foes of the Taliban assistance, meaning the Northern Alliance. All of this has been drawn out. Interestingly enough, he also says in this blueprint the Clinton Administration, because this was written up during Clinton’s era. The Clinton administration should appoint a high level envoy for Afghanistan who can coordinate overall U.S. policy. His own job description. He started out as a U.S. envoy to Afghanistan. He is now the U.S. Ambassador, and he is really pulling the strings. He is pressuring candidates and in Afghanistan, according the Los Angeles Times article by Paul Watson, he is known as a Viceroy. The Viceroy, reminiscent of the British colonialist era. He is telling Karzai what to do, and the voter intimidation that Christian was talking about is so real, and this is all with the blessing of Karzai and Khalilzad. One example was that there was a gathering of about 300 clan leaders from a Terazai tribe in Paktia province who decided to throw their support behind Karzai, and they made a radio announcement saying all Terazai tribes people should vote for Karzai and said, if any people vote for other candidates, the tribe will burn their houses. What did Karzai do? He welcomed their support. He extended an invitation to the leaders to visit Kabul. He brushed aside any criticism of the radio broadcast saying, “Such warnings are just a tradition, they’re not meant as a serious threat.” So Karzai is having his strings pulled by Khalilzad who is the U.S. ambassador. This election is for U.S. purposes alone and it’s meant to solve the U.S. problem of the Bush administration not having enough of a success in Iraq to point to, as he goes into election, this November.

AMY GOODMAN: Sonali, we just have 30 seconds. But what about the one female candidate, Massouda Jalal?

SONALI KOLHATKAR: Well, Massouda Jalal, the fact that she can run, is a wonderful thing. I wish there were some women running in the U.S. Election. But it is a token, it is paying lip service. It is giving people around the world what we want to hear. We want to be convinced that women have been liberated. But just like in 2001, women are just pawns in this election. They are under-represented by about one third. They are 60% of the population, but apparently only 40% of them vote, but only 10% of them can even read or write. The infrastructure in this country cannot support women’s rights, and so the fact that they’re supposedly voting in this election is being made a big deal of. Women can’t even vote, they need permission of their husbands to vote, according to survey results from the Asia Foundation. So, who’s going to vote for Massouda Jalal? Even women who may want to vote for her are not going to be able to. One man, Latif Pedram, who was a candidate in the election, he made a suggestion that, you know, polygamy, the issue of polygamy, which is rampant in Afghanistan, might be unfair to women. Well, he was disqualified from the election and accused of blasphemy by the court, the court that was appointed by Karzai, a very fundamentalist Chief Justice. So, the whole infrastructure in Afghanistan is stacked against women. The fact that one woman is running doesn’t mean anything else. Again, it is a show for the Bush administration to say, “Look, we’ve liberated Afghan women.”

AMY GOODMAN: Sonali Kolhatkar, thank you for being with us. Vice president of the Afghan’s Women Mission and popular talk show host, journalist on Pacifica station WPFK in Los Angeles where she is speaking to us from. And Christian Parenti talking to us from Kabul, Afghanistan, writing for The Nation magazine. This is Democracy Now!

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