Friday 10 July 2009

Presidential horse trading Part 2.

More on the deals being made by President Karzai to ensure that he wins in next month's presidential election. When the list of 41 candidates was released by the Independent Electoral Commission of Afghanistan last month, several names were not included, having been disqualified.
Amongst them was Akbar Bai, who comes from the Turcoman minority. Readers of this blog will remember that In February last year Bai and members of his family were the victims of a vicious assault by Uzbek warlord General Abdur Rashid Dostum, during which he was attacked with a bottle, according to former US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (see my posting of 4 December 2008).
The attack took place because Bai had the temerity to break with Dostum's Junbish-e-Milli party and set up the Turcoman Council in opposition to his former ally.
It was this incident that was the final straw for the US in deciding Dostum had to leave the country. When, a few months later, Dostum ordered the bulldozing of an official war crimes site to hide evidence of his murderous actions in the wake of the Taliban's fall, he was finally flown out to Turkey, allegedly for medical treatment.
Now we know that President Karzai has been courting his favour in order to win Uzbek votes during the election (see story below). Part of the deal may also have been to ensure Akbar Bai did not stand as a presidential candidate. Bai was allegedly disqualified from standing because he had served time for drug offences in a US prison. However, he is indignant. “If there was a protest or complaint against us, they should have informed us earlier and given us an opportunity to defend ourselves, “said Akbar Bai.
He claimed that the president had ordered the electoral commission to exclude him, a charge the body has denied. But the charge is backed by Afghan political analyst Wahid Muzhda. “The decisions on the candidates were not impartial,” he says. “It seems that some kind of compromise has taken place,” said Muzhda. “This violates the commission's independence.”
And there are other signs that the President has been doing deals. This week President Karzai pardoned five heroin smugglers, one of whom is a relative of Deen Mohammad, the man who heads his campaign for re-election.
His relative was jailed for more than a decade in 2007 for smuggling more than 100 kg of heroin. But Deen Mohammad belongs to a powerful family from eastern Afghanistan. One of his brothers served as a deputy for Karzai before he was assassinated in 2002.
Karzai's spokesman, Siyamak Herawi, said the president had ordered the release of the five men some months ago and said it had no link with the election or Deen Mohammad's job.
"The tribal chiefs had sought their release and the president ... acquitted them," Herawi said.
Herawi said more than 3,000 people have been tried or imprisoned over drugs in Afghanistan in recent years, but he admitted the pardons were the first ordered by Karzai.
A further deal by Karzai concerns his running mate for vice president. In defiance of international pressure, Karzai appointed Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during the country's civil war 20 years ago, as one of his two vice-presidential running mate.
A 2005 report from Human Rights Watch called Blood-stained Hands found "credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law" were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Mr Fahim. He has been accused of murdering prisoners of war during the mujahideen government in the 1990s and has been linked to kidnap gangs operating in Kabul.
Mr Karzai was "insulting the country" with the choice, the New York-based group said recently.
Mr Karzai's other running mate is one of his current vice-presidents, Mohammed Karim Khalili, a Shia leader and former mujahideen commander.
As for the rest of the candidates, few are in a position to challenge the incumbent. When the Electoral Commission announced the list of 41 contenders, Azizullah Lodin, head of the commission, complained that many of them should not have been on the ballot paper at all:
"There are people among the candidates that even if you are not a psychiatrist you would say take them to the Ali Abad hospital," he said, referring to a Kabul mental hospital. He added, "The law says a candidate must have a good reputation, has not committed actions against Islam and national issues. A number of candidate are famous for committing actions against national interests.
"I personally feel ashamed that when I ask someone are you literate, and he says no. I ask if he has a professional background, and he says no. I ask if he was a mullah in a mosque, and he says no. And now he comes and registers himself and he wants to be president of Afghanistan. This is really shameful," Lodin told reporters.
(A list of candidates is available on the Electoral Commission website, but I have yet to find a list in English. If anyone has found one, please send me a copy.)
No-one wants to discredit these elections, which will be held against the background of a major insurgency and during which many people will die - both soldiers and civilians. But something needs to happen to politics in Afghanistan to make sure that they do not die in vain and that Afghans get a government they can believe in.

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