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Afghanistan prepares for electoral run-off in November

Afghanistan prepares ahead of expected run-off vote in November. Israel seeks to change international rules of war. The US Congress approves Guantanamo bill. Uighur detainees missing in China’s Xinjiang region according to Human Rights Watch. All this and more in today’s security update.
Rukeyya Khan
21 October 2009

A two-month long fraud investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has judged vote rigging in the Afghan elections held in August to be so extensive that it invalidates a first round victory for incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Preliminary results showed that Karzai had won 54.6% of the vote but the Afghan electoral process has since been dogged by claims of fraud. On Tuesday, Karzai conceded to a run-off due to take place on 7 November against rival presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, following confirmation that one-third of ballots cast for Karzai in August were fraudulent. The Commission claimed that Karzai received 49.7% of the vote, below the 50% threshold required to avoid a run-off.

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Karzai welcomed the decision of the ECC as ‘legitimate, legal and constitutional.' Gordon Brown and other Western leaders are thought to have put pressure on Karzai to accept the results of the fraud inquiry after he threatened to reject the decision claiming it was a foreign plot to weaken him. World leaders praised Kazai's ‘statesmanlike' behaviour after he accepted the findings of the fraud investigation, with Barack Obama describing it as ‘an important precedent for Afghanistan's new democracy.'

The ToD verdict: Insecurity, apathy and corruption are the main concerns in the lead up to the Afghan presidential run-off. Abdullah Abdullah has said he hopes that a second round of voting in Afghanistan will prevent a repeat of the massive fraud that hit the original elections. His comments came as the UN announced it was going to replace half of the most senior Afghan district election officials to prevent fraud in the coming election. The extent of electoral fraud and the subsequent wrangling has undermined the democratic process hoped for by NATO and Western donors.

Providing security for the elections will pose a serious challenge, particularly as there has been an upsurge in insurgent attacks across the country. The Taliban is reportedly active in half of the country's 368 districts. Some analysts argue that it is impossible to secure the country without negotiating with the Taliban and incorporating moderate insurgents into the political future of the country.

Quelling insurgency in the country rests not only on the capacity of the Afghan army and police but also on the credibility of the Afghan government in the eyes of the Afghan people. Voter apathy and weariness remains a serious concern. A recent report by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has judged Afghanistan the fifth most corrupt state in the world. Abdullah and Karzai are likely to focus their campaigns on combating corruption so as to ensure stability throughout the country.

Among the logistical challenges to the coming election include the weather. Afghanistan's 17 million registered voters are scattered in 4,000 or more villages, some of which are situated in hostile terrain. Election organisers are hoping this year's snows will not arrive early. Typically, the upland areas of the country are frozen by mid-November and potential voters could be cut off by heavy snow. The scheduled run-off will thus be the last chance to secure a legitimate government before the new year and delays, such as might be posed by wide-scale violence, could be fatal to the democratic process.

The run-off comes at a crucial juncture for Obama as he deliberates on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. The US administration's strategy in Afghanistan will depend on whether it judges the Kabul government to be an effective partner. The US wants to be seen as an independent arbiter in the electoral process and to give the impression that the Afghan people are the ones that determine the political course of the country.

The difficulties associated with ensuring security and preventing fraud means the prospect for a power-sharing agreement between Karzai and Abdullah remains a possibility. So far both candidates have failed to arrive at any such agreement.

According to analysts, the likely outcome of the run-off in November is the re-election of Karzai. As a Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, Karzai is able to mobilise grassroots support, while a victory by Abdullah could increase ethnic tensions in Afghanistan. Though he is half Tajik and half Pashtun and seen as a unifying candidate, his cabinet is likely to be dominated by Tajiks with strong links to the Northern Alliance.

Afghanistan's neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, have a strong interest in the outcome of the election. Iran supported the late Tajik anti-Taliban general Ahmad Shah Masood with whom Abdullah had close links. Iran is likely to prefer a Tajik in power whilst Pakistan, which has a significant Pashtun population and funded the pashtun-dominated Taliban during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, is likely to prefer the re-election of Karzai.

Israel seeks to change international rules of war

The Israeli government has claimed that international law needs to be amended in order to combat global terrorism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly instructed his government to ready itself for a worldwide initiative to lobby for change in international laws governing war. The move follows a special cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss Israel's response to the UN's Goldstone report which condemned Israel's actions during its offensive in Gaza earlier this year. Defence Minister Ehud Barak blocked a planned cabinet discussion on whether to launch an inquiry to probe accusations of war crimes. The government is instead seeking to delegitimise the findings of the report and establish a special committee to deal with international legal consequences, including the prospect of Israeli officials facing war crimes trials abroad. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has called for Israel to launch its own Gaza war inquiry to avoid the possibility of international war crimes charges against its leaders.

US Congress approves Guantanamo bill

On Tuesday the US Senate voted to allow terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to be transferred to the US to face trial. Congressmen voted 79 to 19 in favour of a $42.8bn homeland security department budget bill. The bill will fund more than 20,000 US Border Patrol agents and pay for more border security technology. The bill also allows the defence secretary to prevent the release of detainee abuse photos if he deems their disclosure harmful to national security. The legislation now awaits the signature of President Barack Obama. The Obama administration has ordered the prison at Guantanamo to be shut down by January 22 though this date is unlikely to be met due to several legal and political obstacles.

The vote came hours after the US Supreme Court ruled an appeal by Chinese Muslim Uighurs imprisoned at Guantanamo would be accommodated. US authorities have said that the Uighurs are no longer suspected of playing a role in any terrorist attacks though they are unable return to China due to fears of persecution.

Uighur detainees missing in China's Xinjiang, says Human Rights Watch

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on Wednesday said it had documented the disappearance of at least 43 Uighur men and boys in arrests made following China's crackdown on ethnic unrest in July. The actual number of ‘disappeared' persons is likely to be significantly higher than the number of cases documented by Human Rights Watch. The group claims its findings are likely to be ‘just the tip of the iceberg.'

The report, entitled ‘We are Afraid to Even Look for Them', conducted interviews with Uighur residents in Urumqi describing how the security forces raided several neighbourhoods following the riots. Witnesses claim that men as young as 14 years of age have been snatched and not seen since. The rights group has called on the international community to press China for clear answers about what happened to those who have disappeared in Xinjiang, adding that enforced disappearance is not the ‘behaviour of countries aspiring to global leadership.'

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