The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, April 6, 2014

News of the Day for Sunday, April 6, 2014

About 50% of registered voters -- 7 million people -- are estimate to have turned out for local and presidential elections. Despite Taliban threats to disrupt the voting, there were not major attacks reported. President Karzai, and presidential candidates, hailed the event as a historic step forward for Afghanistan. Results will not be known for some time. However, the day was not free of violence: the interior minster said "said four civilians, nine police and seven soldiers had been killed in violence on election day." Two hundred polling places did not open due to security concerns.

A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying ballot boxes in Kunduz, killing three people including an Independent Election Commission (IEC) member, and destroying eight ballot boxes. A separate account from DPA gives the casualty toll as two IEC members and one police officer.

Two people are killed and nine injured in Helmand province in three separate mortar attacks and one roadside bomb incident.

IEC receives over 1,200 complaints of fraud, most by mobile phone. [Of course many could be duplicative or frivolous.] Only 162 complaints were made in writing and provide a basis for investigation. There also appear to have been shortages of ballots in some locations.

The Defense Ministry paints a somewhat less peaceful picture of the day, saying that there were 690 attacks reported by militants over the course of election day; and that 142 militants had been killed along with 7 soldiers, and 45 soldiers injured. The electorate is said to have been 65% male.

NYT's Azem Ahmed repors that in some rural areas, the Talban did not need to perpetrate any attacks to prevent voting. In some districts, residents were too frightened, or too disenchanted with the government, to vote.

As a bellwether for legitimacy and inclusion, Nangarhar is a crucial province. With a large concentration of potential votes, and with one of the country’s major cities, Jalalabad, as its capital, Nangarhar proved to be decisive in President Hamid Karzai’s 2009 election. This time around it is shaping up to be symbolic for another reason: the potential disenfranchisement of wide stretches of the countryside. The government closed nearly 25 percent of the voting centers in the province, calling them too dangerous to secure. In reality, the number is probably far higher, undermining any potential claim to representative government. In Shinwar, for instance, hardly any of the 18 polling stations were officially closed on Saturday.

Pakistan claims that 12 mortar shells were fired from Afghanistan into North Waziristan on Sunday. No casualties were reported.

Despite the problems, Helena Malikyar writes for Al Jazeera that "The air was filled with enthusiasm, hope and a kind of energy that I had only felt on Nowruz 2002, the first Afghan New Year's Day after the fall of the Taliban. Twelve years later, however, there was an added aura of determination and defiance." She notes the slowly changing mores about the place of women in society, as exemplified by one of the candidates' wives appearing alongside her husband to vote; and an improving and more legitimate democratic process as signs of a better potential future for Afghanistan.

International leaders praise the conduct of the election.

[I looked for a more pessimistic or critical assessment, but couldn't find any. The consensus seems to be that the voting was a success, at least relative to Afghanistan's past, that the Taliban appear weakened, and that the Afghan people are looking to a more democratic and liberal future. We shall see what the coming months and years will bring. -- C]

Update: Okay, I found a party pooper. Eric Margolis, at Common Dreams,  thinks it's all an exercise in neo-colonialism and that the Taliban would win if they were on the ballot. His prediction:

Washington’s current plan is to install a new, post-Karzai Afghan client regime in Kabul, and keep control of the 400,000-man Afghan police and army who fight for US dollars. The tame Afghan regime will then “invite” some 16,000 US soldiers and airmen, plus large numbers of tribal mercenaries, to stay on and keep Taliban at bay.
My take on this is that the U.S. just doesn't have enough real interest in Afghanistan to keep spilling so much blood and treasure. I think Afghan society is riven by ethnicity, and by a cultural divide between a growing cosmopolitan sector that looks toward a native form of modernity, and the fiercely traditional countryside; and that any country that has no tradition of democracy or honest government is going to have trouble establishing a regime which is stable, reasonably just, and provides a basis for economic and cultural development. But I also think a lot of Afghans want to achieve this and it's not because they are tools of the West. How it will all come out, however, I do not know.