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    South Asia
     Aug 25, 2009
Karzai's rival cries foul play
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KABUL - Accusations of fraud and intimidation in last week's presidential and provincial elections in Afghanistan threaten to undermine the efforts of the United States and its allies to have a credible broad-based consensus government that would include the Taliban quickly installed. This is seen as the only viable way to cut deeply at the roots of the insurgency.

Afghanistan's Election Complaints Commission (ECC), which is an independent organization controlled mainly by international officials, says it has received 225 formal complaints. These include charges of intimidation of voters, ballot-box stuffing and bias by officials of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission. The ECC said its investigations could potentially


affect the outcome of the election. Preliminary results of the polls are expected to be released on Tuesday.

Supporters of President Hamid Karzai claim he has received much more than the 51% of total votes cast needed to avoid a runoff with the second-placed candidate.

One of Karzai's main rivals, former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah, is particularly vocal in claiming widespread fraud. "There were a wide range of discrepancies in the process of the election," Abdullah told Asia Times Online.

"However, I will not give a final judgment concerning the legitimacy of this election until the Election Complaints Commission responds. It depends on how the ECC deals with the complaints, such as common complaints that people could not vote in southern Afghanistan [due to the Taliban's' threats], but still votes were shown in the ballot boxes," Abdullah said at his Kabul residence.

Abdullah's is a modest-looking house, compared to those of other leaders in Kabul. The walls of the drawing room are decorated with paintings and pencil sketches of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Abdullah is completely unimpressed with the idea of a broad-based consensus government in which he would also share power, along with members of the armed opposition, such as the Taliban and loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan, which operates mainly in the northeast of the country.

Sources in the presidential palace in Kabul confirmed to Asia Times Online that soon after the voting was over last Thursday, Karzai called Abdullah and offered him a share of power in a new government.

"I don't think that power-sharing will work. Striking political deals is Hamid Karzai's fixation, as well as his political problem. This is not my problem. Through such heaps of deals, Hamid Karzai's political fiefdom is floating around. Let's suppose tomorrow if I lose the election, what will happen? Nothing. I would still be in the spotlight and would be working and planning for the next round.

"However, if Hamid Karzai loses, this whole setup would be in disarray and then where would Mr Hamid Karzai stand? Nowhere! This whole setup built through deals would be scattered and all his supporters would run away. He simply does not have a power base. Therefore, I have never supported such power-sharing deals. Instead, I have always favored to reach out to the people," Abdullah said.

Abdullah was part of the Northern Alliance which fought against the Taliban when they were in power from 1996 to 2001. The alliance helped drive out the Taliban when the US invaded in late 2001. Now the situation expects Abdullah, as a main political leader, to build bridges with the Taliban. (Abdullah was foreign minister immediately after the Taliban's defeat.)

The soft-spoken Abdullah is dismissive of the whole approach.

"These things cannot possibly happen overnight. Many steps are involved for such a reconciliation process. One of the main reasons why the insurgency is picking up pace is bad governance. The present administration is losing ground and the insurgents are simply filling the void," said Abdullah.

"Tell me, what do you mean by the Taliban?" he asked. "Who are these Taliban? They are from Afghan society. They are the sons of the soil. However, I am not talking about the Talibanization [ideology] and I don't refer to [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar. Do you think he is ready to talk? I don't think so. Therefore, I believe in a separate strategy.

"Things are now changed and improved compared to the past. There was a time when Pakistan and the Pakistanis were supportive of the Taliban, now there is a new realization about them. Pakistan is now against them. Therefore, there is a need to tackle this issue in a new light. Some Taliban are ready to talk, we need to reach out to them under a different arrangement, on a province-by-province basis. The environment is now conducive in the region and the extremist factor can easily be isolated," Abdullah said.

Abdullah believes that such an agreement is possible in broader terms, but he does not have a road map as to how extremist factors can be isolated and who the influential commanders are that could be separated from Mullah Omar. This is a problem shared by the many Western diplomats who spoke to Asia Times Online.

An important character in this debate is the influential Jalaluddin Haqqani, the head of the largest insurgency network in Afghanistan. Abdullah interacted with Haqqani during the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s.

"That group [Haqqani's] is already isolated from the Quetta shura[the Talibanís ruling council]. They have separate policies and plans other than Mullah Omar," Abdullah said.

However, Asia Times Online's interaction with the Haqqani network tells a different story. Despite all efforts by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence after September 11, 2001, Haqqani never left Mullah Omar. He and his son Sirajuddin are still part of Mullah Omar's commanders' council and coordinate all their activities in concert with the Taliban's policies.

Abdullah believes that the idea of talks with Hekmatyar is also a figment of the imagination of a few minds.

"I really don't trust that a person like a former aide of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Daoud Abedi, sitting in the US, could approach Hekmatyar. Several people have been saying that they have also exchanged messages with Hekmatyar, but I don't think that these negotiations are going anywhere. I was never personally involved in such negotiations, though Hekmatyar's son-in-law, Himayoun Jarir, an intellectual and a soft-spoken Pansheri, is a good friend of mine," Abdullah said.

"Honestly, Afghanistan cannot afford political wheeling and dealing. It needs a straight-forward approach to correct things. The first and foremost thing Afghans require is a quick and swift justice system; this is the root of every problem and all turmoil.

"The communists [in the early 1990s] pledged a justice system, but they failed to deliver and the people rose against them. They [then] expected the mujahideen would provide such a system, but mujahideen infighting tarnished their image and people turned to the Taliban in the hope that the Taliban would provide them a quick justice system. But the Taliban forgot their cause and became involved in other things, therefore they were unpopular.

"The present democracy in Afghanistan was a new system, but in the last several years it has also failed to provide justice to the people, and therefore we find that the insurgency is taking root," Abdullah said.

Commenting on an observation that Karzai was likely to win in the first phase of elections and that dialogue with the Taliban had to begin at all costs and as quickly as possible, Abdullah said with a long sigh, "If this is true ... then this country will suffer the same fate as it has now."

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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