So says Joshua Foust, writing on the World Politics Review blog:
Democratic elections usually rest on a few basic principles: a free and fair vote, an uncoerced selection of candidates, and an agreement by all parties to abide by the results. Afghanistan doesn't quite qualify for any of these.
Though not disputing the strategic importance in determining who will be in charge of the government, Foust makes a pretty convincing case that the elections aren't shaping up to look much like what most democracy promoters would have hoped:
*Take the idea of a free and fair vote. Pajhwok, an internationally-funded independent Afghan news service, has an entire news page set aside for incidents of voter intimidation -- and I don't mean by the Taliban (more on them later). It runs the gamut from the government arresting supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, to police killing Nuristanis for asking for enough ballot boxes to cast their votes.
*The government is building up "tribal security" forces modeled on the arbakai, a traditional tribal militia. Only, these forces are going to be different from all the other forces that have come before, will be given better weapons, and will not be subject to the disarmament and de-mobilization programs that have stood down other informal militias. In other words, they are flooding the country with guns to try to create security for the election.
*Shortly before the registration deadline passed, Gul Agha Sherzai -- the former-warlord governor of Nangarhar Province who had taken to American newspapers to make the case for his impending presidency -- abruptly withdrew his own nomination amid rumors of a deal cut with Hamid Karzai.
*Speaking of deals, what's "free and fair" about Karzai de-exiling a man like Abdul Rashid Dostum -- the Uzbek warlord who faces allegations of America-sponsored mass killings in 2001 -- to deliver the Uzbek vote?
The sudden return of Dostum and his quick endorsement of Karzai did seem particularly dirty. Karzai's government, after all, had exiled Dostum, and he was one of the stronger competitors to Karzai--though still very far off--in the 2004 election. At this point though, there is little anyone can do to protest. The elections must go on. Right?
Assuming the elections are not disrupted by violence, a related question will be how much progress, if any, Afghanistan has made since 2004. Is it more democratic, if not a democracy?
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