Background Briefing

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

IV. Conclusion

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 actively in politics.  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.

Human Rights Watch cannot evaluate whether the problems described here mean that the overall election result will not be an expression of the popular will of the Afghan people.  (It is not in our mandate or expertise to make such a conclusion.)  We can only state that a significant number of human rights abuses have occurred in relation to the process, and that these abuses have severely damaged the election as a vehicle for expression of political will.

The biggest problems are yet to come.  President Karzai is being challenged by several factional leaders, but most of those analyzing the elections expect him to win, even if there are some complications along the way.  In fact, few of the candidates running against President Karzai actually expect they can win.  Those who represent factions are likely just creating political capital for themselves to barter for positions in a future cabinet.  Much of the political pressure and many of the threats reported here may thus merely be part of efforts by factions to create malleable factional voting blocs which the factions can then deliver for Karzai on election day—for a price.  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 President 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 fears that without significant and immediate changes in the overall international effort in Afghanistan, the 2005 elections will likely be marked by widespread political repression and violence, as factions tighten up their control of local voting blocs. 

The 2005 parliamentary elections will be a significant test for democracy in Afghanistan and will determine, among other things, whether Afghan women can freely exercise their political rights.  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.  (The political situation of women in Afghanistan is the subject of a forthcoming report by Human Rights Watch.)

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.  As things stand, the Afghan government has found it extremely difficult to secure necessary commitments for added international security forces or additional funding to implement security sector reform.  And as noted above, the basic logistical preparations for administering and monitoring the October election have fallen far behind schedule; for the more complex 2005 elections, six months away, it could be even worse.  There are no clear indications that major policy shifts will take place on the international level before the 2005 elections.  Accordingly, it is likely that the 2005 elections will also be marked by a general lack of security and an adequate monitoring effort, creating an environment for impunity for widespread abuses.

Simply put, current democratization strategies are not working.  President Karzai is attempting to sideline abusive commanders, but often blanches on the job, believing that he can weaken warlords by making deals with them—a strategy which has failed in most areas, despite succeeding in some others.  The United States, as a leader in the international effort to assist Afghanistan’s democratization, has failed to adequately assist President Karzai establish a fully functioning national government.

Broadly speaking, the focus of U.S. policy in Afghanistan over the past two years has been to militarily defeat remaining Taliban and insurgent forces in Afghanistan and to assist in the political and economic restructuring of the country.  In practice, the U.S. military has undertaken much of the ground work for implementing this policy, but has been unable to strategize effectively.  U.S. military objectives in Afghanistan now include: searching for remnants of Taliban and other anti-government forces, capturing non-Afghan terrorist leaders, assisting in political negotiations between President Hamid Karzai’s government and local leaders, assisting with reconstruction and development projects in rural areas, and preventing civil conflict between rival Afghan military factions.  But the means employed to reach the goals have too often been insufficient and inappropriate, and there is no known guide as to how these agendas are supposed to harmonize, and which take precedence over others. 

Moreover, the military reconstruction effort has been thwarted by lack of resources and vision, and the U.S. military’s involvement in the development sphere has created security problems for international humanitarian agencies.  More fundamentally, this dual strategy has proven mutually contradictory, such as when the U.S. cooperates with or provides assistance to regional warlords who interfere with national  development programs or otherwise oppose Kabul’s authority.

Efforts to strengthen the government of Afghanistan, and support President Karzai’s efforts to rein in factions, are clearly suffering heavily.  U.S. personnel are cooperating and even supporting warlord leaders like Hazrat Ali in Jalalabad, General Dostum and Commander Atta in Mazar-e Sharif, and General Fahim in Kabul—even as the central government attempts to rein them in.  At the same time, the United States has not supplied the central government in Kabul an adequate amount of 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 the respect for human rights in Afghanistan.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>September 2004