A run-off election with only one candidate? That would be too absurd even for unstable Afghanistan. From Kunduz in the north to Kandahar in the south, 15 million ballots were to be distributed, filled out and counted in the coming days. Of course, the results would already have been a foregone conclusion, with Hamid Karzai as the only remaining candidate in the poll, which was planned for Saturday. In the end, the election commission on Monday moved to cancel the election and declared Karzai president.
Shortly after, the United States officially congratulated Karzai. The US Embassy in Kabul said the decision adhered to Afghan law, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described Karzai as Afghanistan's "legitimate leader." US President Barack Obama also congratulated Karzai by telephone and called on the Afghan president to start a new chapter in his government and to step up efforts to battle corruption. In his conversation, Obama addressed the chaos surrounding the election, particularly the manipulation that had been uncovered during the first round of voting in August. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the United Nations also offered their congratulations to Karzai.
Karzai's only challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the run-off vote at the weekend. He claimed that the election fraud in favor of Karzai was so well organized that he had virtually no chance of winning. Karzai, who originally became Afghanistan's leader with the help of strong support from the West, which saw him as the "good Afghan," will now steer the war-torn country's fortunes for the next five years.
But the election drama, the massive fraud during the first round of voting, Karzai's obstinateness and his recognizably undemocratic aura are all adding up to a massive problem for the West. Leaders in the West may stress that Afghanistan's new president must have democratic legitimacy -- but they all know that Karzai doesn't have it.
A Problem Instead of a Partner
Instead of a reliable partner, which the West so urgently needs in Kabul right now, Karzai will be one of its bigger problems. The man who will remain at the helm in Afghanistan is symbolic of everything the West believes is going wrong in the Hindu Kush. That includes the rampant corruption, which also benefits his clan and the governors that Karzai appointed in undemocratic processes. Then, of course, there's the drug trade, from which Karzai's brother is raking in millions. "Bad governance" is the term used by the Americans to describe the chaotic state of the government in Kabul -- and that is the system of Hamid Karzai.
The Afghan president is becoming an especially serious problem for the US. After the fiasco in the Afghan election -- Karzai's stubborn insistence on standing by the fraudulent results -- and Abdullah's withdrawal, how is President Barack Obama supposed to explain to his people that he now wants to send more troops to Afghanistan to support precisely this government? "It won't be easy," the New York Times comments dryly in its own analysis.
The mood of the US public is becoming more and more critical for Obama. Washington has already spent close to a quarter-trillion dollars in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, all the news coming out of the crisis region these days seems to be bad. In October, more US soldiers died in the Hindu Kush than in any previous month -- an alarming signal for the home front. "We aren't in the position we wanted to be in after six months," one Obama adviser said, not mincing words about the situation.
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