Karzai Defends Afghanistan Election

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Maria Golovnina, Reuters

2009-09-09T071319Z_01_KAB04_RTRMDNP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man rides on his donkey-cart past a poster of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul September 9, 2009. Afghan election returns on Tuesday put Karzai on course for a first-round victory, but a watchdog that can veto the outcome said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" and ordered a partial recount.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

KABUL (Reuters) – Incumbent Hamid Karzai defended last month’s Afghan presidential election as honest on Wednesday, a day after returns showed him on course to win in a single round and a U.N-backed panel ordered a partial recount.

The standoff has alarmed Western leaders who have risked their own political capital to send troops on what is becoming an increasingly unpopular mission.

Preliminary election results issued on Tuesday gave Karzai more than 54 percent of valid votes tallied, putting him above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with his closest rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

But the independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), appointed mainly by the United Nations, said it had found “clear and convincing” evidence of fraud and ordered a partial recount.

On Wednesday, Karzai praised the conduct of the vote.

“The president praised the (election officials) for holding the election with honesty and impartiality despite all the difficulties,” the presidential palace said in a statement.

Abdullah says Karzai’s backers have attempted to steal the August 20 election by stuffing ballots on a massive scale.

Early vote tables, which have been removed from the election commission’s website without explanation, showed whole villages in which Karzai received every single ballot cast, sometimes with exactly 400 or 500 votes.

For now, Western officials have put their confidence in the watchdog ECC, which can overturn the result and must sign off on the outcome before it is final.

Diplomats say they are uneasy but resigned to the possibility of the U.N.-backed body reversing a result released by Afghanistan’s own election authorities.

The West originally hailed the vote as a success, largely because the Taliban failed to disrupt it. Those assessments have became increasingly muted as evidence of fraud has mounted.

In central Kabul, hundreds of people gathered to mourn the death of Tajik anti-Taliban hero Ahmed Shah Masood who was killed on September 9, 2001, by al-Qaeda — a crucial rallying day for half-Tajik Abdullah who was part of Masood’s inner circle.

Addressing the rally, Abdullah made no direct mention of the election but played up his link to the iconic commander.

“Masood fought for this country and died for this country,” said Abdullah, whose supporters have threatened to hold protests if their election concerns were not heard. “He fought to bring peace and security to this country.”

Speaking alongside Abdullah in a city festooned with Masood posters, ex-president and key ally Burhanuddin Rabbani added: “The election result must be cleaned or Afghanistan will face chaos and big challenges.”

Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who draws much of his support from his ethnic heartland, did not attend the ceremony.

Locking Afghanistan into a further period of uncertainty, the ECC ordered Afghan officials to recount results from polling stations where one candidate received more than 95% of the vote or more votes were cast than the expected maximum of 600.

Election officials say that could take weeks or even months. British ambassador to Afghanistan Mark Sedwill said it was too early to judge the authenticity of the vote before the ECC had finished its process of screening ballots for fraud.

“We have to see the result of their investigations,” he told BBC radio. “We always knew there would be fraud in this election, a lot of irregularities, I’m afraid that was inevitable, and we talked about that before the election.”

Facing an increasingly skeptical public opinion over its role in Afghanistan, Britain on Wednesday offered to host a global conference to set targets for handing over security commitments from foreign troops to Afghan forces.

Raid frees reporter

Before dawn, NATO troops stormed a Taliban hideout in the north of the country to release New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell of Britain and his Afghan colleague Mohammad Sultan Munadi who were kidnapped by insurgents at the end of last week.

Farrell was freed but Munadi was killed in the rescue, along with a British soldier and at least one civilian.

The two had been headed to cover the aftermath of a NATO air strike called in by German troops that killed scores of people. The strike took place in an area controlled by the Taliban and fueled anger among its mainly Pashtun local people.

NATO has confirmed that some civilians may have been killed and ordered a formal investigation into the air strike — the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War Two.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Sayed Salahuddin in KABUL, Mohammad Hamed in KUNDUZ, and Avril Ormsby in LONDON; Writing by Maria Golovnina)

11-38

Why Is a Leading Feminist Organization Lending Its Name to Support Escalation in Afghanistan?

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sonali Kolhatkar and Mariam Rawi, Alternet

2009-07-12T160723Z_01_KBL210_RTRMDNP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Women walk on the main street of Baharak town in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province during a visit by presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah July 11, 2009. Picture taken July 11, 2009.  

REUTERS/Tim Wimborne 

Years ago, following the initial military success of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the temporary fall of the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan were promised that the occupying armies would rebuild the country and improve life for the Afghan people.

Today, eight years after the U.S. entered Kabul, there are still piles of garbage in the streets. There is no running water. There is only intermittent electricity in the cities, and none in the countryside. Afghans live under the constant threat of military violence.

The U.S. invasion has been a failure, and increasing the U.S. troop presence will not undo the destruction the war has brought to the daily lives of Afghans.

As humanitarians and as feminists, it is the welfare of the civilian population in Afghanistan that concerns us most deeply. That is why it was so discouraging to learn that the Feminist Majority Foundation has lent its good name — and the good name of feminism in general — to advocate for further troop escalation and war.

On its foundation Web site, the first stated objective of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s “Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls” is to “expand peacekeeping forces.”

First of all, coalition troops are combat forces and are there to fight a war, not to preserve peace. Not even the Pentagon uses that language to describe U.S. forces there. More importantly, the tired claim that one of the chief objectives of the military occupation of Afghanistan is to liberate Afghan women is not only absurd, it is offensive.

Waging war does not lead to the liberation of women anywhere. Women always disproportionately suffer the effects of war, and to think that women’s rights can be won with bullets and bloodshed is a position dangerous in its naïveté. The Feminist Majority should know this instinctively.

Here are the facts: After the invasion, Americans received reports that newly liberated women had cast off their burquas and gone back to work. Those reports were mythmaking and propaganda. Aside from a small number of women in Kabul, life for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban has remained the same or become much worse.

Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children.

Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war. The conflict outside their doorsteps endangers their lives and those of their families. It does not bring them rights in the household or in public, and it confines them even further to the prison of their own homes. Military escalation is just going to bring more tragedy to the women of Afghanistan.

In the past few years, some cosmetic changes were made regarding Afghan women. The establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs was one celebrated example. In fact, this ministry is so useless many think that it should be dissolved.

The quota for 25 percent women in the Afghan parliament was another such show. Although there are 67 women in the Afghan parliament, most of them are pro-warlord and are themselves enemies of women’s rights. When the famed marriage rape law was passed in the parliament, none of them seriously raised their voice against it. Malalai Joya, an outspoken feminist in the parliament at the time, has said that she has been abused and threatened by these pro-warlord women in the parliament.

The U.S. military may have removed the Taliban, but it installed warlords who are as anti-woman and as criminal as the Taliban. Misogynistic, patriarchal views are now embodied by the Afghan cabinet, they are expressed in the courts, and they are embodied by President Hamid Karzai.

Paper gains for women’s rights mean nothing when, according to the chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court, the only two rights women are guaranteed by the constitution are the right to obey their husbands and the right to pray, but not in a mosque.

These are the convictions of the government the U.S. has helped to create. The American presence in Afghanistan will do nothing to diminish them.

Sadly, as horrifying as the status of women in Afghanistan may sound to those of us who live in the West, the biggest problems faced by Afghan women are not related to patriarchy. Their biggest problem is war.

More than 2,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2008. And disastrous air strikes like the one in Farah province in May that killed an estimated 120 people — many of them women and children — are pushing the death toll ever higher. Afghans who survive these attacks often flee to cities, where overcrowded refugee camps strain to accommodate them. Living in tents without food, water and often blankets, the mortality rate soars.

For those who do not flee, life is not better. One in three Afghans suffers from severe poverty. With a 1 in 55 chance of mothers not surviving delivery, Afghanistan has been, and still, is the second most dangerous place for women to give birth. Afghan infants still face a 25 percent risk of dying before their fifth birthdays. These are the consequences of war.

In addition, in the eight years since the U.S. invasion, opium production has exploded by 4,400 percent, making Afghanistan the world capital of opium. The violence of the drug mafia now poses greater danger to Afghanistan and its women than the rule of the Taliban.

Some of the biggest drug-traffickers are part of the U.S. puppet regime. To make matters worse, corruption in the Afghan government has never been so prevalent — even under the Taliban. Now, even Western sources say that only pennies of every dollar spent on aid reach the people who need it.

If coalition forces are really concerned about women, these are the problems that must be addressed. The military establishment claims that it must win the military victory first, and then the U.S. will take care of humanitarian needs. But they have it backward.

Improve living conditions and security will improve. Focus on security at the expense of humanitarian goals, and coalition forces will accomplish neither. The first step toward improving people’s lives is a negotiated settlement to end the war.

In our conversations arguing this point, we are told that the U.S. cannot leave Afghanistan because of what will happen to women if they go. Let us be clear: Women are being gang raped, brutalized and killed in Afghanistan. Forced marriages continue, and more women than ever are being forced into prostitution — often to meet the demand of foreign troops.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is doing nothing to protect Afghan women. The level of self-immolation among women was never as high as it is now. When there is no justice for women, they find no other way out but suicide.

Feminists and other humanitarians should learn from history. This isn’t the first time the welfare of women has been trotted out as a pretext for imperialist military aggression.

Columbia Professor Lila Abu-Lughod, a woman of Palestinian descent, writes: “We need to be suspicious when neat cultural icons are plastered over messier historical and political narratives; so we need to be wary when Lord Cromer in British-ruled Egypt, French ladies in Algeria, and Laura Bush, all with military troops behind them, claim to be saving or liberating Muslim women.”

Feminists around the world must refuse to allow the good name of feminism to be manipulated to provide political cover for yet another war of aggression.

The Feminist Majority Foundation would do well to heed the demand of dissident Member of Parliament Malalai Joya, representing Farah province, who was kicked out of the parliament last year for courageously speaking out. Addressing a press conference in the wake of the U.S. bombing of her province she was clear: “We ask for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and a stop to such tragic war crimes.”

That should be the first action item for the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls.

Sonali Kolhatkar is co-cirector of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a U.S. nonprofit that funds health, educational and training projects for Afghan women. She is also the host and producer of Uprising Radio.

Mariam Rawi is a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan writing under a pseudonym.

11-

US Willing to Talk to Taliban

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider

2008-10-28T144412Z_01_ISL12_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-AFGHAN

Head of the Afghan Jirga delegation Abdullah Abdullah (L) and Head of the Pakistan Jirga delegation Owais Ahmed Ghani talk during a news conference in Islamabad October 28, 2008. Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Tuesday to establish contacts jointly with Taliban militants through tribal leaders after two days of talks over how to end bloodshed in both countries.

REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood    (PAKISTAN)

Washington/New York, Oct 28: The US is willing to hold direct talks with elements of the Taliban in an effort to quell unrest in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing unidentified Bush administration officials.

The Washington Post reported that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had shown openness to the idea of repudiating Al Qaeda, which encouraged the Bush administration to explore the possibility of holding direct talks with the militia.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that the Taliban had conveyed this message to representatives of the Afghan government during a meeting in Saudi Arabia last month.

Amid these reports of a possible breakthrough in the search for a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict, Christian Science Monitor noted that on Monday the Taliban militia showed “a new potency” in the fight against coalition forces, bringing down a US military helicopter near Kabul, while a suicide bomber struck and killed two Americans in northern Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday highlighted the significance of the attack, noting that “choppers are a crucial mode of transport for troops and supplies” in Afghanistan.

Speculations about a possible breakthrough in the talks with the Taliban follow a series of meetings last month in Saudi Arabia between representatives of the Afghan government and the militia.

But even before the Saudis initiated the talks, the Karzai government had been putting out feelers to the Taliban for negotiating an end to its insurgency in exchange for some sort of power-sharing deal.

Though the US has so far been on the sidelines but at a recent news conference Gen David McKiernan, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, grudgingly said he would support the Afghan government if it chose to go down the path of negotiations.

And now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US might get involved in those negotiations directly. “Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban — while excluding top leaders — could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan,” the report said.

Both countries have been destabilised by a recent wave of violence.

Senior Bush administration officials told the Journal that the outreach was a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan. The officials said that the recommendation called for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the US.

The US would be willing to pay moderate Taliban members to lay down their weapons and join the political process, the Journal cited an unidentified US official as saying. The Central Intelligence Agency has been mapping Afghanistan’s tribal areas in an attempt to understand the allegiances of clans and tribes, the report said.

WSJ noted that joining the talks would only be a first step as the Bush administration was still in the process of determining what substantial offer it could make to persuade the Taliban to abandon violence. “How much should (we) be willing to offer guys like this?” asked a senior Bush official while talking to the Journal.
Gen David Petraeus, who will assume responsibility this week for US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan as head of the Central Command, supports the proposed direct talks between the Taliban and the US, the WSJ said.

Gen Petraeus used a similar approach in Iraq where a US push to enlist Sunni tribes in the fight against Al Qaeda helped sharply reduce the country’s violence. Gen Petraeus earlier this month publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements.

Gen Petraeus also indicated that he believed insurgencies rarely ended with complete victory by one or the other side.

“You have to talk to enemies,” said Gen Petraeus while pointing to Kabul’s efforts to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they were “willing to reconcile” it would be “a positive step”.

US Afghan experts outside the Bush administration have also been urging the White House to try to end violence “by co-optation, integration and appeasement”, as one of them said.

They urge the Bush administration to give the Taliban a positive reason to stop fighting. This, they argue, would allow Washington to separate hardcore militants from others within the Taliban and would also expose the extremists before the Afghan people.

10-45