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
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
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
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
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
"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 email@example.com