Potemkin Democracy 

A laughably fake election in Afghanistan

TORONTO--One early morning in November 2001 found me and a dozen fellow journalists bouncing around the back of an ancient pickup truck a few miles into northern Afghanistan. As we passed one bombed-out village after another, a fortyish correspondent for Moscow radio stretched out his arms. "It's great to be back," he grinned broadly. I squinted under the white-hot sun, focusing on the spiderweb-shaped bullet wound running up his arm. Field surgery, courtesy of a Soviet medic. I asked why he was so pleased. "Because this time," he elaborated, "all of this crap"--he waved his other arm through the dust--"belongs to you!"

The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was a dry run for George Bush's Iraqi oil grab. Kabul was the proving ground for new bombs and missiles destined for Baghdad. Changing rationales for war--first it was about catching Osama, then about closing al-Qaeda training camps, then liberating Afghan women--presaged the Administration's throw-every-excuse-at-the-wall-to-see-if-it-sticks strategy for Iraq. Most of the mistakes that led to failure in Iraq were first made in the war against Afghanistan: unpopular foreign exiles appointed as puppet rulers by the CIA, failing to send enough troops to provide basic security, unsavory no-bid deals with White House-connected corporations to exploit energy resources, torture and murder of detainees and POWs, propping up tribal chiefs with histories of genocide, and making life for the average Afghan even more difficult than it was under the previous despotic regime. And, like the Iraq war, the Fourth Afghan War was a substitute for the war we should be fighting--against the 9/11 criminals, who were all in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Afghanistan will again preview future failure in Iraq on October 9, when the United States will hold its first occupation-era national election. A real Afghan election? Not now; not in 20 years.

Afghanistan doesn't even have a government. Puppet president/former Unocal oil consultant Hamid Karzai is the weak, ineffectual mayor of Kabul. As Agence France reports, "Karzai has tried and largely failed to extend his control outside the capital of Kabul and into medieval-era provinces which remain under the sway of regional warlords." In 95 percent of the country, the warlords and their thuggish commanders issue visas to travel through their districts and charge entry fees to travelers. And the Taliban are back. U.S. military officers have already ceded several large provinces to Taliban governors.

Afghan bureaucracy is nonexistent. Afghans don't have passports, driver's licenses or national ID cards. Representatives of the Karzai government can't travel freely, nor do they know who lives in their country, since they have never taken a census. Estimates of the total population vary widely, between 24 and 28 million. Millions more live in Iran and Pakistan; absentee ballots are impossible because Afghanistan doesn't have a postal system. To add to the fun, many Afghans are like Madonna; they only use one name. Because there are no phones or electricity to allow officials to crosscheck records, Madonna from Kabul can easily register as Madonna from Mazar-e-Sharif and Madonna from Kandahar. The Bushies brag that 12 million Afghans registered to vote; they leave out that only 10 million are eligible.

Echoing the concerns of other watchdog agencies, a report by Human Rights Watch concludes that "there remains a high degree of political repression, and politically active Afghans in every region reported that they regularly censor themselves for fear that they might face threats or violence at the hands of factional leaders." A UN official cites a warlord from eastern Afghanistan as an example: "If the powers of warlords such as Hazrat Ali here are not curtailed, the elections will mean nothing. One of the major sources of power and authority for Hazrat Ali and his gang is his close relations with the U.S. military and intelligence. He has successfully used this relationship to harm and intimidate his political rivals. He has arrested people and constantly threatens them with sending them to Guantánamo."

The farcical Afghan election is the perfect closer for a lost war. Declare democracy so you can cut and run. If it works in Afghanistan, the Bushies plan to hold similar "elections" in Iraq in January. Of course, both countries will disintegrate into further civil war. Eventually some future superpower will come along to try its hand at Middle Eastern neocolonialism. Then we'll sit back and laugh, because our mess will all belong to them.

Ted Rall is the author of two new books, Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years. Ordering information is available at amazon.com.

Copyright 2004 Ted Rall

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall

Ted Rall online: www.rall.com

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