What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some speculative election gossiping

I see Ghosts of Alexander has come up with a good take on the upcoming Afghan presidentials. As a kind of reality-check for me, I note with satisfaction that Christian there (tentatively) is signing up to the assumption that currently the Obama administration may be just making it clear to Karzai that they are not "four-square behind him" (as one of the sources, that Christian quotes, says), with all the pressure that's been mounted on Kabul recently (including Hillary Clinton's having called Afghanistan a narco-state).

A short while ago I wrote a brief piece in Hungarian about the election prospects (unpublished). I was wondering there if the Obama administration -- having talked much, during the U.S. election campaign, about a "regional solution" to Afghanistan's crisis (even while backing off from getting into the Kashmir issue as much as was probingly suggested at times, before the attacks in Mumbai) -- might find Karzai good enough in the end. There may be reason for them to do so, as Karzai could-be kind of least-worst, yes, and because he is moving into a regionally sensitive direction as opposed to a clearly U.S.-guided direction, since a while now. (This may be carried away as Karzai is now talking about vague future defence cooperation with Russia, just when U.S. policy and his stance could seemingly be reconciled in our analysis. Although this may as well be a way of resisting pressure for Karzai, while that pressure is on).

Meanwhile, I can't say the same thing about Great Britain -- that they could re-learn liking Karzai somehow -- and NATO as such is turning increasingly critical as well, of corruption and the Afghan government in general.)

Of course, security is the main issue of the day. Will the presidential elections be sabotaged, turned into a massacre at the polls or anything like that? Or will they be staged at all, given such considerations?

An indication of things to come is the voter registration process. It started on October 6 last year. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan's press releases announced having launched the second phase of voter registration by November 5, seemingly moving past the first phase, which included a round of registration in the province of Ghazni, without major complications to mention. But there were, in fact, major incidents during the first phase. For example, it was because of what happened in Ghazni (one person killed and several wounded in an attack on October 20) that the government made the decision to refrain from setting up registration sites at health centres (basic clinics). On November 3, the registration process was even extended for 10 days in Ghazni, since it couldn't be completed, as it was aggressively obstructed by local Taleban. The second phase was launched, still.

One has to add that there wasn't really a final deadline for voter registration in the form of the set date of commencing the next phase (in fact that date was set only shortly in advance). One fixed registration centre stays open in every province, so in theory it's no problem if the "registrators" could not get everywhere.

The stakes in the registration process are somewhat limited. Quoting IEC of Afghanistan here: "the previous voter registration cards would be considered valid as well." Therefore it is only important (counting with criteria relaxed with regard to the security situation) to reach a critical number of non-registered, wannabe voters (those who have lost the old card they had, who have turned 17, and who have not registered at any time before so far; and finally those who have recently immigrated to Afghanistan).

That there are problems even with realising these goals is certainly an indication of trouble to some extent.

Take a look at the upcoming fourth phase of the registration process, and at which provinces are to be covered this time around:

"In fourth phase, Kundahar, Orzgan, Nimrooz and Helmand
"
(some unusual transliteration, taken from IEC itself)

In Kandahar, the process sets off today. May Allah keep the voter registration process from becoming a reason for people not to see another day there.

A peculiarity of elections in Afghanistan is that mobile registration centres are used, and not only because of wandering nomads, but because of the many difficult-to-reach locales. Shipping ballots (uncast and already-cast) will be done by donkeys in some places. Why am I bringing this up? Well, "mobile" in some cases might mean militarily-escorted and getting-in/getting-out type execution, especially at the time of the elections, in the end.

Whether this is good for legitimacy is a good question. We do not yet know how the Taliban will react exactly, and their reaction may vary from area to area (depending on what "locals" want; on what the "Taliban" want; on whether there's an overlap or a difference between the two categories in a given place; and if there is a difference or only a small overlap, on whether the latter have to respect what the former want and how much). So we will see, but ultimately only at the elections, really. The voter registration process is only semi-indicative of anything, as a test-run of a kind.

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