Corrupt Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently agreed to a run-off election, in an all but open admission that more than one-third of his votes were fraudulent. Allegations of fraud have hounded Karzai since he “won” the August Afghan election, and a UN official was fired for breaking the news that more than a third of Karzai’s votes came from non-existent persons. Since then, international pressure has steadily mounted for Karzai (who was described by one of his former subordinates as a “US Stooge”) to accede to a runoff election, or, more preferably, step down with some dignity intact.
But at the time of Karzai’s original announcement of victory, a second election appeared highly unlikely. Even after an independent election commission had voided tens of thousands of his votes, Karzai seemed poised to unilaterally declare victory, fraud be damned. As he claimed only one week ago, the election in August was both “good” and “fair”. Then, three days later, Karzai woke up, examined himself in the mirror, and decided a runoff election maybe isn’t such a bad idea after all. It would be interesting to see what changed over the course of those few days.
The answer almost certainly has to do with America. Since 2004, Hamid Karzai has been “our man in Afghanistan”. US policy planners repeatedly overlooked his blatant, widespread corruption, his open ties to militants, his family members who happen to be in the opium business, and numerous other transgressions we have not the privilege of knowing. They did so because Karzai was (and is) seemingly the one person in Afghanistan who will support a US invasion of his country under any and all circumstances. Indeed, even at the height of the fraud accusations, the Obama Administration expressed little doubt that Karzai would end up serving a second term.
But how did we convince Karzai to buckle down and accept a runoff? Ahmad Rashid over at The New York Review appears to have an answer: the Obama Administration announced on October 18th (mere days before Karzi acceded to the runoff) that no more US troops would be forthcoming unless there was a “legitimate” government in Kabul. Now, as Karzai well knows, the only thing standing between himself and assassination are US troops. So, with his life on the line, the choice for a runoff election was not a difficult one to make.
Particularly in light of the Obama’s Administration’s comments via The New York Times:
“At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in New York on Friday that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghanistan foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the ministers agreed that Karzai would likely prevail, either by his current victory margin of more than 50 per cent, or by winning a runoff against his main competitor Abdullah Abdullah,”
It should be pretty clear that Karzai is still the US favorite, warts and all, and only needs to forge another election to gain legitimacy. Which is what will likely happen.
The Afghan runoff election will occur November 7th. I don’t think there should be any doubt as to who the victor will be. If, by some miracle, Karzai does not prevail, I will give up any pretense to knowledge of international affairs.