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Massive fraud in Afghanistan vote
"This election is just for show"

By Eric Ruder | October 15, 2004 | Page 7

"A REALLY great thing is happening in Afghanistan," George W. Bush declared as elections were held last weekend in the country he conquered. "The people of that country, who just three years ago were suffering under the brutal regime of the Taliban, are going to the polls to vote for president...Freedom is beautiful."

Ordinary Afghanis would use different words to describe the "elections"--like "ugly," "fraud" and "tyranny."

Election day in Afghanistan began with U.S. forces dropping two 2,000-pound bombs that incinerated 25 supposed rebel fighters--leading Major Mark McCann to declare, "I think we're very pleased with the security situation." Hours later, reports of widespread voting fraud were rampant after the indelible ink that was supposed to mark people's hands to keep them from voting multiple times disappeared within minutes in many places. "I saw a man vote six times, I swear," one election observer in Kabul told journalist Christian Parenti. Other reporters said they watched as their drivers voted three and four times.

On top of multiple voting, the reported number of registered voters--10.5 million--outnumbers the estimated number of eligible voters, and many people reported lining up for multiple registration cards when they heard that political parties would pay up to $150 for a card, a huge sum of money in a country where many live on $2 a day.

Before the voting was over, all 15 presidential candidates running against U.S.-backed puppet Hamid Karzai announced that they would reject the results and call for a re-vote. Realizing that these objections could undermine any claim of the election's legitimacy, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sprung into action, convincing candidate after candidate to drop their protest in exchange for an investigation into voting fraud--and a share of power in the future government.

Such backroom deals make a mockery of the idea that the elections were the way for Afghans to have a say in these decisions. The truth is that the U.S. had already made sure that the outcome of the vote would be favorable to its interests. By the time the votes are counted--a process that's expected to take three weeks and allows even more opportunities for rigging the election--everyone knows that Karzai will be pronounced the winner.

While the mainstream media focused on technical problems and harassment of voters by Karzai's police and his warlord rivals, reporters largely ignored intimidation by the most powerful of Afghanistan's armed factions--the U.S. military.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Ambassador Khalilzad and other U.S. officials systematically pressured Karzai's rivals. Khalilzad met with so many candidates and potential candidates to cajole, bribe and flatter them into ending their challenge to Karzai that warlords from the Northern Alliance met in late September to discuss how to respond to Khalilzad's "arm-twisting," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Khalilzad would begin with friendly offers of road-building or ministerial posts--but if that didn't work, he'd turn to more "muscular" measures. "He told me to drop out of the elections, but not in a way to put pressure," said presidential contender Mohammed Mohaqiq. "It was like a request."

But when Mohaqiq--whose demands for governorships and cabinet positions weren't met--insisted on running, Khalilzad "left, and then called my most loyal men, and the most educated people in my party or campaign and told them to make me--or request me--to resign the nomination," Mohaqiq said. "It's not only me. They have been doing the same thing with all candidates. That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this, but the whole U.S. government is the same. They all want Karzai--and this election is just a show."

The Bush administration justified it war in Afghanistan by claiming that, if nothing else has been achieved, at least Afghanistan's oppressed women have been liberated. But in reality, nothing has changed for Afghan women. "[The U.S. has] failed, misguided and betrayed Afghan women by giving them false hope," said T. Kumar, an Amnesty International official, at a Washington press conference.

The Afghan elections confirm this. A survey of Afghani women found that 87 percent said they needed to ask their husbands' permission to vote. And though many women were registered multiple times by their husbands so that their votes could be sold, the number of women registered for the election still only reached about 40 percent.

Bush claims that the Afghan elections are a "foreign policy triumph." And if you think about it, he's telling the truth. As the U.S. record in Afghanistan shows, Washington's first priority is installing its own handpicked dictator--while keeping in check the demands of the country's impoverished majority.

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