Iranian support likely went to benefit candidates tied to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-i-Islami party. Hekmatyar is a long-time friend of the Iranian regime who has received extensive backing from them for years. He isn’t the official leader of the Afghan party, but the candidates openly support him and say the only reason he isn’t their chief is because he’s outside of the country. Hekmtatyar has also cultivated ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and is an insurgent leader.
On September 20, the Taliban’s shadow government, called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, bragged that they had foiled the election, carrying out 739 attacks across the country. This number may not be much of an exaggeration. One security firm in Kabul estimates that there were up to 600 attacks and that a “fairly huge amount of polling centers” had been shut down. In one incident, the Taliban laid down a chain around the area of the polling station and refused to let aspiring voters cross. Eleven civilians, three Afghan cops, and 27 terrorists died on election day.
Unfortunately, the democratic culture just hasn’t taken hold in Afghanistan. One account from AOL News reads:
As one Afghan journalist said to me, very few people were voting for the “right” reasons or even truly understand what democracy means. Most were voting along tribal and ethnic lines or perhaps for the local powerbroker or militia leader, for whom the legislative process is simply power politics by other means.
Part of the problem is that political parties aren’t organized or valued. Almost all of the candidates ran as independents and not as part of any type of bloc or collective. As a result, Karzai and his cronies and other figures control the process. Their families own the businesses that can fund campaigns and the government ministries that employ workers. Karzai is the only one with an apparatus to mount a campaign because he controls the government.
Karzai’s opponent in the presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, has sought to create a democratic political movement in Afghanistan to fill this gap called the National Alliance for Change and Hope. A European government was reportedly interested in helping him, but decided against it when they saw that he was bankrupt and had no real strategy. He boasted of supporting 300 candidates during this last election but admitted he couldn’t support them financially. He strikes an optimistic tone, saying: “We have just laid the foundation for the National Alliance for Change and Hope. That’s very young.” But he has a long way to go to create the dynamics and institutions necessary for a democracy.
The crumbling of Afghanistan’s democracy is a very sad loss. The country is relatively pro-American and is very much against the Taliban. But the fraud in the Taliban-controlled areas indicates there cannot be credible elections until their control is completely wrested. And then the inadequate culture and institutions for democracy will still remain. The National Alliance for Change and Hope is a sign that the desire exists, but there is a long, tough road ahead to an Afghan democracy. And the American people are only willing to travel that road to the next traffic light.