Things in Afghanistan always seem to be going from bad to worse. The current crisis over seating the newly elected parliament is no exception.
Following last September's poll—a catastrophically failed election in which millions of Afghan voters were disenfranchised and during which time President Hamid Karzai ruled by decree—Karzai announced his decision on January 19 to postpone the inauguration of the parliament by 30 days. At best, in the interim, the Afghan political class—including a host of warlords, tribal chieftains, ethnic demagogues and corrupt politicians of all stripes—might come up with a papered-over compromise that allows things to go on as they have since the equally flawed election that returned Karzai to office in 2009. At worst, though, the parliamentary election crisis could trigger an escalating wave of ethnic and sectarian strife that prompts a civil war on top of the struggle against the Pakistan-based Taliban insurgency.
Among other things, that latter outcome would spell utter doom for US President Barack Obama’s strategy of starting the orderly withdrawal of US forces this July, transitioning to an all-Afghan security effort by 2014.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
That the September 18 election was a fiasco is disputed by no one. More than a quarter of the ballots, about 1.3 million of those cast, were thrown out by the controversial Independent Election Commission (IEC), over charges of fraud and corruption. The IEC and a parallel body, the Election Complaints Commission (ECC), collected thousands of challenges to the results. Millions of Afghans couldn’t or didn’t vote, especially in eastern and southern provinces where the Taliban is most powerful, leaving huge swaths of the Pashtun population—which makes up nearly half of all Afghans—virtually disenfranchised.
In Ghazni Province, for example, where the Sunni Pashtuns have a healthy majority, all 11 seats were swept by a tightly organized group of Shiite Hazara candidates, and in some areas the election was laughable: in Ghazni’s overwhelmingly Pashtun district of Andar, out of a population of more than 100,000 Pashtuns, more than 70,000 were registered to vote, yet only 3 votes were cast.
In total, the number of Pashtun members of parliament dropped from 120 to 94, out of 249 seats. Not surprisingly, losing Pashtun candidates howled. To mollify them, Karzai disparaged the election itself, and the authorities arrested all seven IEC commissioners, several staffers, and all three Afghan members of the ECC. Then, defying the newly elected parliamentarians, much of the Afghan establishment and the United States, Karzai appointed a special court, backed by the Supreme Court, with a panel of five judges who conducted an ersatz review of the election.
After much suspense, this week the court reached its foregone and clearly prearranged conclusion, asking Karzai to delay seating the new parliament. Strongly supported by Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, the former intelligence officer under Prince Mohammad Daoud in the 1970s who is now Afghanistan’s attorney general, Karzai did just that. And despite his declaration that the delay is for one month only, it isn’t clear when—or if—the new members will ever take office. Needless to add, the special court’s decision was denounced by many Afghans, including those newly elected, with the spokesman for the ECC saying bluntly, ‘The special court is totally illegal.’