by Ben Tanosborn
My good friend Mingo, a chronicler of Afghanistan and diligent contributor
to European and Latin American print and electronic media, found himself as
a self-appointed, unofficial observer in the September 18 provincial and
parliamentary elections of Afghanistan. Of all places, he chose Ghoryan, a
village almost two dusty hours by jeep from Heart- his most recent home
base, where there's a NATO/ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)
Four days after the election, when I was able to connect with him, his
experience did not seem to echo anything I had either read or heard. Not
that I expected it to be so. The story we did get from the mainstream
media, passed no doubt through the "optimistic filter" of the White House,
gave a communique portraying unquestionable success "for democracy" in a
liberated Afghanistan. . . even if only a third of the registered voters in
Greater Kabul went to the polls, with just over 50 percent doing so
nationwide (vs. 70 percent recorded a year ago in the presidential
It was quite a different story in Ghoryan, according to Mingo, where at
day's end fewer than 30 percent of registered voters, according to local
officials, had made it to the polls. [His fluency in both Dari and Pashto,
after a long stay in Afghanistan, has bypassed the need for both
interpreters and often-given "interpretations," as he puts it.] Why such a
low turnout? And, was it representative of other rural areas?
Mingo preferred not to speculate on the turnout elsewhere, but was quick to
advance the principal reasons for the obvious disillusionment he had seen
grow and come to a crescendo after the election of Hamid Karzai last fall.
People's expectations are seldom, if ever, met. . . but in Afghanistan,
accomplishments had fallen dismally short.
Economically, most Afghans see neither an improvement in their personal lot,
or view the rebuilding of their country happening at an acceptable pace.
Politically, many are angry at having warlords and militia commanders appear
on the ballot. . . making them conclude that democracy simply legitimizes old
tyrants, those who already hold power. And, as for security. . . people feel
insecure, often intimidated, with four factions bidding for power:
Americans, the Taliban, warlords/drug lords, and Karzai's government.
It doesn't take long after talking to someone with intimate, and in situ,
knowledge of what's going on in Afghanistan to realize the mirages shown to
Americans "as proof" of economic and political success in the democratic
upbringing of that nation. Yet, for the many mirages we are shown, an oasis
appears now and then that gives a glimmer of hope. In this instance, right
there in Ghoryan, Mingo told me of such success: an FM radio station, Nadaye
Suhl (Voice of Peace), part of a large national network funded by USAID
(United States Agency for International Development)- stations experiencing
different levels of success in their double mission of community service and
commercial enterprise. [This USAID success is a novelty for me, after all my
first-hand involvement in failure after failure by that agency during the
Bush and Rumsfeld probably reached the conclusion long ago, perhaps late in
2003, that no additional help would be forthcoming from NATO or anybody else
to help hold the fort in Iraq. And that the Iraqi insurgency would be
formidable enough to keep US ground forces in check. . . leaving the Pentagon
with only sea and air destructive potential, but not enough foot soldiers
[to invade and occupy other lands]. "Expeditions" to Syria or Iran could
only take place on the saddle of cruise missiles. And the problem could
escalate beyond the exchange of words with Syria and Iran. . . it could
conceivable involve a re-emerging Taliban, and an Afghan insurgency at par
with that in Iraq.
Next spring perhaps?
Now the Bush administration is being pressured on several issues by Karzai,
who probably feels his only chance for remaining in power rests on some form
of internal alliance, and not an overt dependence on a foreign military. A
military more Afghans are coming to believe, rightly or wrongly, that
contributes to insecurity. . . best exemplified by irresponsible "collateral"
damage, killing of civilians, in its pursuit of the Taliban.
So the pressure has been on to get troops from "Old Europe" [that would have
none of Iraq] to play a larger role in keeping the peace, or even assume
total responsibility, in Afghanistan. The voice from the White House seems
to be amplifying with the passage of time, making it more than a wish, and
sounding more like a demand for NATO to play the "top" operational role
there. But diplomatically (and respectfully), the Europeans prefer to
simulate deafness and look the other way. . . remembering Seneca's warning:
"Unwelcome is the gift which is held long in the hand." For two years now
they have seen Bush trying to pass the Afghan-buck to them. . . but they'll have
none of that.
"Election Rigging in Afghanistan and
Iraq," The Wisdom Fund, September 28, 2004
Carlotta Gall, "Monitors Find Significant Fraud in Afghan Elections,"
New York Times, October 3, 2005
[In a recent interview, a former Bagram prisoner, Moazzam Begg, said he had
heard during his detention there that American intelligence officers had
once proposed staging an escape to release a detainee whom they wanted to
act as a double agent against Al Qaeda.--Eric Schmitt and Tim Golden, "Details
Emerge on a Brazen Escape in Afghanistan," New York Times, December 4, 2005]
[While an international debate rages over the future of the American
detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded
another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500
terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without
charges. . . .
Human rights lawyers generally contend that the Supreme Court decision on
Guantanamo, in the case of Rasul v. Bush, could also apply to detainees at
Bagram.--Tim Goldern and Eric Schmitt, "Monitors Find Significant Fraud in Afghan Elections," New
York Times, February 26, 2006]
Copyright © 2005 Ben Tanosborn