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The Afghanistan Election

21/08/2009

The Afghan elections were yesterday in case you hadn’t heard. And if you were counting on this blogger then you probably haven’t since I’ve been the one person in the world not writing obsessively about it. Mea Culpa. In my quasi-lame defense balancing full time job + finishing book manuscript has not left as much time for blogging as I’d have liked. But while I have not been writing about Afghanistan I have been reading about it. So I should probably quit winging and get on with my early thoughts on the election.

Caveat Lector: There will be no predictions in this blog entry and there is, as yet, not much to analyze. I also promise no more pretentious use of Latin for the remainder of this post. But I say no predictions/heavy analysis because we’re not going to know who won, whether rigging was a big problem or what the security situation looked like in various places on the ground for a little while. What we do know is based on a lot of snap reporting, emailing, blogging and tweeting.

On that score my colleagues Gilles Dorronsoro and Austin Long over at the Foreign Policy AfPak Channel, both of who are on the ground in Afghanistan, had a brief exchange discussing turnout that went something like this:

Gilles: So some people are not afraid of the Taliban, just cynical?

Austin: I also think you hit the nail on the head on turn-out: it’s probably low only in part because of security concerns but mostly due to apathy and cynicism.

Note: They had more to say than that. If you want a play by play: go here. Seriously, you should go check it out. They’ve got a murderer’s row of people on the ground writing in. But finish reading this post first.

Their exchange raises the question: which is worse? Failure to provide adequate security speaks to the distinct operational challenges in Afghanistan. And to be clear, that failure was not a one day affair. Some areas never even had the chance to vote because officials could not get out there to register them. Or polling places were set up far enough away because of security concerns that actually making it to the polls was impossible. On the one hand, it was never reasonable to assume we could secure the entire country for Election day. On the other, this is yet another reminder of how the security dynamic has changed in the past few years..

As hard as it is going to be for Coalition forces in concert with the ANA to protect the population, getting that population to believe in their leaders is probably going to prove even more challenging. Governance and security are intrinsically tied together. But governance clearly goes beyond security. It says something that the Taliban probably wanted to infringe on elections just enough to depress turnout and send a message, without actually keeping Karzai from winning. Anybody who read Elizabeth Rubin’s fantastic piece can see why.

None of this is to take away from all those who voted or the countless people on the ground working to make the election happen. Once we have definitive answers on turnout, the security situation and maybe even which candidate won than we can let the real analysis begin.