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Karzai, Abdullah and Canada Await the Outcome of the Election in Afghanistan

August 21, 2009

The Afghan people have spoken, or at least quite a few of them have: turnout for last Thursday’s presidential election was apparently 40 to 50 percent. This is lower than the figure for the last election, held in 2004, but there seems to be widespread satisfaction in Afghanistan and elsewhere that this summer’s exercise in democracy went off as well as did. The Taliban had threatened widespread disruption, but the only incidents that occurred on election day were quite small in scale. This counts as a qualified success for the Afghan government, as well as for Canada and for other nations that were helping to keeping a lid on the insurgency during the election period.

With that said, it’s possible that Taliban intimidation will influence the outcome of the vote. Turnout was evidently somewhat lower in the Pashtun-dominated south, where the Taliban are strong, than in more northerly Tajik-dominated parts of the country. This matters partly because Hamid Karzai’s power base is among the Pashtuns whereas his strongest challenger, the former ophthalmologist and Northern Alliance figure Abdullah Abdullah, gets more support from Tajiks. If Karzai fails to take at least 50% of the vote, he will have to face a run-off in October against the runner up, who would almost certainly be Abdullah.

It seems quite possible that Abdullah might win in this situation, which would presumably leave many Pashtuns feeling even more alienated than they do already. Karzai is at least a Pashtun himself, albeit a Pashtun from a minor tribe who presides over a Tajik-heavy government with discouraging levels of cronyism and corruption. Despite his limitations, which have been getting a lot of attention lately, Karzai at least has a track record of forming alliances with a wide range of influential figures– in fact, he has already promised government jobs to Abdullah and another prominent rival, Ashraf Ghani, in the event of victory.

Some of Karzai’s pacts are with rather dubious characters, such as Shia theocrats and the brutal Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, but I sometimes wonder if there’s really any other way to hold Afghanistan together. Perhaps I should count myself lucky that, as a Canadian, I’m only peripherally responsible for solving the problems of this extraordinary, fractious country. Our role will be to await the outcome of the election, and do our best to work with the winner – whoever he may be.


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5 Comments leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    August 25, 2009 12:53 pm

    I’m guessing from the comments posted here on the “rape law,” and the link to the Bahamas, that any encounters, be they literary, literal or imaginary, have not been entertained with, say, Andrea Dworkin or Catharine MacKinnon?

    • corsullivan permalink*
      August 25, 2009 5:04 pm

      Perhaps my narrow horizons are showing, but I’ve never heard of Catherine MacKinnon – pointers to her work would be welcome, should you choose to enlighten me. I have read some things about (not by, admittedly) Andrea Dworkin, and I’ve formed an impression of her as extremely and unpleasantly puritanical. Is that unfair?

      Anyway, I’m curious. What exactly about the comments I posted brought these women to mind?

      • reneethewriter permalink
        August 26, 2009 11:36 am

        If your horizons are “narrow,” then boy, we’re all in trouble. I don’t even want to think about trips to China, living in that country, let alone Science digs in remote parts there etc. Eek.

        First thing, i did intend my comment, despite the very serious nature of the issue, to be just a bit playful in regards to the Bahamas link which i only scanned. (oh dear).

        Second, re A. Dworkin. Ahem. I’ll only say this, “overalls without a tee shirt.”

        Third, Catherine MacKinnon was a bit of a “gold standard” re feminist interpretations of equality in the history of The Law, when i was at law school. I’m not very up-to-date on the latest and greatest re equality/law/women/gender/definition of rape/marriage etc. But I raised a reference to both Dworkin and to MacKinnon as a gentle tweak re perhaps taking too definitive a stance re “All the “rape law” really does is formalise these obligations, which is distasteful to Westerners but hardly the same thing as legalising marital rape.”

        The history of the nature of the marital contract in Western Law, the role of gender, the mis/apporpriation of that history, the definition of rape within marriage – all are highly contested “constructs.” Or, they used to be.

  2. August 21, 2009 6:10 pm

    Not only is Karzai associated with brutal warlords including Dostum who returned from exile to help in his campaign, he also recently pardoned several drug dealers from prominent families. He also quietly put the so-called rape law into effect rather than having amendments discussed by parliament as he had promised.
    Also see this article:

    • corsullivan permalink*
      August 23, 2009 11:19 am

      Thanks for the link, which certainly offers plenty of good reasons to be skeptical about the election results. Perhaps Canada and the other invading powers were wrong to push Afghanistan towards democracy so quickly, before the stability and infrastructure needed to make the system work had been established.

      Karzai’s links with warlords and drug dealers represent a separate problem, but I still think that any president of Afghanistan would have to forge at least some relationships of this kind in order to keep the country functioning. Alienating people who control private militias can be dangerous, to say the least. Afghanistan is probably safer with characters like Dostum more or less inside the tent, and it might be very useful to have a few friendly warlords around during the years of fighting that undoubtedly remain ahead.

      As for the “rape law”, I never get tired of pointing out that the media are being a bit sensationalistic about the whole thing. It may be unpleasant to think of marriage as a contractual arrangement in which the man provides material support and the woman provides sexual favours, but it could be argued that this idea isn’t always too far below the surface in Canada and other Western countries. All the “rape law” really does is formalise these obligations, which is distasteful to Westerners but hardly the same thing as legalising marital rape. For a genuine debate over the latter, you apparently have to go to The Bahamas.

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