ROAR: Second round of democratization in Afghanistan

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russian observers doubt that the run-off in the Afghan presidential election will end political uncertainty in the war-torn country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accepted the need for a second-round vote in the disputed presidential election. With fraudulent ballots discounted, his official total in the first round that was held on August 20 amounted to just 49.7% of the vote. The president yielded to international pressure, but he is still expected to win the run-off on November 7.

The position of many international observers at the election and Karzai’s rivals inside Afghanistan forced the president to compromise, Vremya Novostey daily wrote. Moreover, Karzai might have agreed “to form a coalition government, with the key posts occupied by representatives of the opposition,” the paper added. But in this case, observers believe, Karzai’s influence would be much more limited.

Despite the fact that Karzai has the best chance in the second round, many believe his concession was a sign of his “weakness.” Russian observers stress the level of Western pressure on Karzai. “Many in Afghanistan consider the electoral complaints commission as an instrument of foreign influence on Kabul,” Vremya Novostey said.

“The West itself is destroying the constitution of Afghanistan, the creation of which it was so proud of,” Omar Nessar, head of the Russian Center for the Study of Modern Afghanistan told the daily. The time of counting votes in the first round was beyond that “stipulated by the constitution,” he said.

It is also unclear if the electoral complaints commission works in accordance with the constitution and what powers it has, Nessar said. The analyst added that Karzai proposed in the spring to delay the election, saying the country was not prepared for it. “Now it seems that he was right,” he added.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, on the contrary, notes that the date of the run-off “almost coincides with the term stipulated by the constitution.” At the same time, the situation in Afghanistan “has now become even more unstable” than before the election, the paper said.

“Karzai actually capitulated under Western pressure, and recognized that he did not win in the first round,” the daily said. The paper also describes as possible a variant when Karzai may form a coalition government “and share power with Abdullah Abdullah.”

The incumbent president has a good chance of a successful run-off, the paper said, but predicted that the concession to the West may cost him. Afghan society is based on tribal principles, the paper noted. The followers of the president who took part in the election despite the Taliban’s threats “will be seriously disappointed with their leader’s weakness and may ignore the second round,” the daily added.

Karzai’s move shows that not only people in Afghanistan do not trust him, but he is also losing the US’s trust, Sergey Demidenko, analyst at the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis believes. The very fact of the run-off means that “the West is very dissatisfied with Karzai and it has decided to replace him,” Demidenko told RT.

“Americans now accept the incumbent president just because they do not have anybody to replace him,” Demidenko said. It is possible to assume that now the US administration is looking for another candidacy that could be a replacement for Karzai, and may begin the regime change in Afghanistan in the future, the analyst said.

I cannot say this will be a quick process,” Demidenko said. But Afghanistan needs a strong leader that would be able to unite the nation, he added. Karzai can find a common language with a part of tribal leaders and use contradictions between different forces, the analysts said. But it is impossible to say that he is the leader who may unite Afghanistan’s population for the further stabilization of the situation. “And Americans want to ensure stability in the country,” he added.

On the other hand, now there is no appropriate figure to replace Karzai, Demidenko thinks. As for the president’s main rival and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, he is not a very authoritative figure in the eyes of the tribal elites, the analysts said.

However, Karzai has a big plus, he is Pashtun, Demidenko noted. Abdullah Abdullah is “half Pashtun, half Tajik,” the analyst said. However, he “belongs more to the Tajik community,” Demidenko added.

The controversial election “only aggravated disagreements between Pashtuns represented by Karzai and Tajiks who voted for Abdullah Abdullah,” Kommersant daily said, in turn.

At the same time, the problem of the second round is even more serious than simply the chances of the candidates. “Observers think that Afghanistan’s movement toward democracy forced by Washington may provoke a new wave of violence,” the daily said.

“Barack Obama has decided to bet on a legitimate leader, not exactly Hamid Karzai, who was actually appointed by the previous US administration,” the paper said. “This turn has become an unpleasant surprise for the Afghan president.”

Meanwhile, more “surprises” are expected during the second round. In particular, it will be very difficult to count votes this time, in particular, because the coming winter will cut most of Afghanistan from the capital, Kommersant said.

The winter “makes the second round an unrealistic move,” Vedomosti daily said, adding that most polling stations will be beyond the reach of voters and observers. But shifting election date to spring “will boost the Taliban’s position,” the paper noted.

At the same time, the US does not intend to increase the military contingent until the situation with the winner in the election is determined, the daily added. The US may support the idea of forming a government of national unity, Vedomosti said, but the Afghan president has chosen to hold a second round.

Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quoted Askar Akaev, former president of Kyrgyzstan, as saying that the US “has already lost the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power is inevitable.”

America had a good chance at the beginning of the war, but it should have concentrated all its resources – those of the West and of the post-Soviet world – on Afghanistan, he told the paper. Instead of this, the US launched the war in Iraq, he said.

It would have been wiser for Americans to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan first, Akaev said. “But they devoted themselves to such an absolutely hopeless thing as the democratization of Afghanistan,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT