Afghan Elections: Karzai Is Well Positioned To Win

3795041662_43bfa5e058On August 20, about 17 million Afghans will go to the polls. The elections are taking place in a country at war. Since the previous presidential election of 2004, the security situation in Afghanistan has become considerably worse. The Taliban insurgency has re-gained momentum, allowing the militants to control some areas in the South and to stage attacks anywhere else in Afghanistan, including at the door step of the NATO headquarters in the heart of Kabul.

Despite the challenges of having an election in an occupied country with a low level civil war brewing, the fragile Afghan authority, the US & NATO could not afford to postpone the elections. It would have being viewed as a complete failure in  establishing a credible democracy in Afghanistan. This goal was set in motion in Bonn after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Furthermore, postponing the elections would have been a victory for the Taliban.

Most analysts are now expecting current president Hamid Karzai to win despite his failure at solving most of Afghanistan’s problems, and repeated allegations of corruption at all levels of his administration.

But Karzai, a 53 years old Pashtun, if  nothing else is a shrewd political operator and a consummate survivor. Karzai is a survivor both figuratively and literally; he has survived 3 assassination attempts. In 1983, Karzai moved to Pakistan to join anti-Soviet forces. From 1992 to 1994, he was deputy foreign minister for the Islamic State of Afghanistan. From 1995 to 1998 Karzai worked with the Taliban, later breaking with them by refusing to serve as their UN ambassador. In 2001, he was nominated chairman of the Interim Authority then elected president in 2004 with 55.4 per cent of the vote.

The man that some call pejoratively, the “Major of Kabul”, has been in power for the last 8 years. At first, Karzai’s relationship with the Obama administration was on shaky ground, not only Karzai didn’t get the almost daily phone call he used to get from George W. Bush, but countless rumors were circulating in the media & in Washington that the Obama administration was looking for a more suitable candidate.

However, Karzai has skillfully managed to outmanoeuvre his rivals at home and his critics abroad. He vehemently protested the death of civilians from US & NATO air-strikes, positioning himself as a man who stands up to foreign powers. By doing so, Karzai scored points with many Afghans.

Last but not least, the key factor for Karzai likely victory is to have forged alliances with 2 big players from different ethnic groups: The Uzbek war lord Dostam & the Tajik Fahim. This smart move will give Karzai, a Pashtun, the critical support from some Tajiks & Uzbeks and should guarantee him an easy, if not meaningful, re-election.

For a bio of Hamid Karzai, click here.


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