Karzai’s corruption threatens future progress of Afghanistan

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor
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“There is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance.”

So said Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a speech last Thursday. But, if there is also a thin curtain between political necessity in a war-torn nation and abuse of power, Karzai is dangerously close to the wrong side. The past months have seen a cooling of his relationship with the United States, but more importantly they have seen an increasing trend toward the centralization of power. Signs of corruption in his government have been present for years, but they seem particularly dire in light of recent events.

Karzai must reform his administration and accept the balance of power or he will lose all legitimacy — and, with it, any hope of a stable government in Afghanistan.

Though several of Karzai’s actions over the past months warrant concern, a few are particularly egregious. The first of these was the widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential election last year. In the first ballot, Karzai received over 54 percent of the vote, but the election commission investigated nearly 20 percent of polling stations for fraud. Karzai initially refused a run-off vote, and though he eventually allowed one, it never occurred because his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race. Abdullah cited his lack of faith in a fair election when he left the race.

It is easy to cynically assert that fair and free elections are simply impossible in Afghanistan, a country that suffered under the Taliban for seven years and has since experienced over eight years of conflict. And while truly democratic elections with high turnout may be idealistic, the future of Afghanistan is not so bleak that we should accept fraud without complaint. Some pre-election opinion polls gave Abdullah over 30 percent of the vote. The Afghan people are not blind to the events in their country, but they must be able to have their opinions heard.

In fact, the problems Karzai is creating within Afghanistan pose as much of a threat as his foreign policy failures. Many in Afghanistan blame him for economic problems as well as government corruption. He has not taken firm steps to control the poppy trade that funds Taliban fighters. The hope of a prosperous and reborn Afghanistan that existed after the fall of the Taliban government has only partially come to pass, and Karzai’s is the most recognizable face associated with this failure.

As if the widespread election fraud in 2009 were not enough, in February Karzai audaciously changed the composition of an electoral commission that investigates allegations of fraud. Previously, three of the five members were appointed by the United Nations and two were appointed by the president. Karzai now appoints the entire commission.

The lower house of the Afghan Parliament rejected the change last Wednesday, though questions remain as to if and when the commission will return to its former composition. In the meantime, the dispute has already destroyed much of the little legitimacy Karzai still had. Western nations were outraged after the February announcement, with President Barack Obama revoking a diplomatic invitation to his Afghan counterpart. Karzai responded by extending a diplomatic invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Relations between the US and Afghanistan have been low for the last few months, though Obama visited Afghanistan and met with Karzai last week.

It’s possible that there is some reasonable explanation for all of these events. Karzai has an incredibly difficult job. He deserves, perhaps, the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Afghan politics. Fortunately, he explained his views on the election fraud and his reasons for changing the election commission.
“There is no doubt that the fraud was very widespread, but this fraud was not committed by Afghans — it was committed by foreigners,” Karzai said, according to The New York Times. “There is a thin curtain between invasion and cooperation-assistance.”

The next time American agents commit voter fraud in Afghanistan, perhaps they’ll have the foresight to elect someone else.