As Afghans head to the polls to elect a president next week, a Human Rights Watch report warns of the dangers of warlord control.
The political rights of afghans are not being adequately protected or promoted in the run-up to the October 9 election. The overall process has been severely affected by the overriding atmosphere of threats, harassment and fear.
Because of this environment, an indeterminable number of politically active Afghans have decided against taking part in the process, and many voters are not free to enjoy their right to participate. Many voters simply may not be able to vote as they wish, not trusting the secrecy of the ballot and fearing the consequences if they do not follow instructions.
The biggest problems are yet to come. President Hamid Karzai is being challenged by several factional leaders, but most of those analyzing the elections expect him to win. Those who represent factions are likely running to creating political capital for themselves and barter for positions in a future cabinet. This is not simply bloc voting (a common enough phenomenon in most political systems), but voter control by well-armed and violent men through threats of violence and intimidation against candidates and voters alike.
The danger, therefore, is not that the election will descend into violence, but that Karzai will enjoy a hollow victory in which he is forced to appoint an unrepresentative cabinet similar to the current one - a set of warlords and warlord proxies, with atrocious human rights records - and keep factional commanders in control of local areas outside of Kabul.
This is an outcome that would create serious risks for the 2005 local and parliamentary elections, when the factions' control can be used to deliver votes for the factions' candidates. Human Rights Watch has already interviewed dozens of likely female candidates for parliament who fear harassment, violence or retaliation from warlords if they run for office.
There are few reasons to be optimistic. The underlying theory behind the postponement of parliamentary and local elections is that somehow security conditions will have improved by next year. There is little reason to expect this will be so.
Simply put, current democratization strategies are not working. Karzai is attempting to sideline abusive commanders but often blanches on the job, believing he can weaken warlords by making deals with them - a strategy that has failed in most areas despite succeeding in some others. The U.S., as a leader in the international effort to assist Afghanistan's democratization, has failed to adequately assist Karzai in establishing a fully functioning national government.
Efforts to strengthen the government of Afghanistan and support Karzai's efforts to rein in factions are clearly suffering heavily. U.S. personnel are cooperating with and even supporting warlord leaders like Hazrat Ali in Jalalabad, General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Commander Ustad Atta Muhammad in Mazar-e Sharif and General Mohammad Fahim in Kabul - even as the central government attempts to bring them under control.
At the same time, the United States has not supplied the central government in Kabul with adequate assistance to train and expand a credible and professional police force and central army. The overall strategy is self-defeating and harms long-term efforts to promote respect for human rights in Afghanistan.