Afghanistan could face a run-off election after a panel voided hundreds of thousands of rigged votes. A German election analyst tells Deutsche Welle that the polls were marred by massive fraud.
The Afghan election was massively rigged in favor of Hamid Karzai
Gunter Mulack was the political analyst of the EU's Election Observer Mission in Afghanistan. Previously he served as German ambassador to Syria from 1992 until 2002 and as ambassador in Pakistan from 2005 until 2008. Currently, Mulack is director of the German Orient Institute.
Deutsche Welle: You were an observer of the presidential election in Afghanistan for the EU where there were numerous reports of widespread fraud. Did you personally witness vote-rigging and can you confirm there was foul play?
Gunter Mulack: The problem was that we were very much restricted in our movement because of the security threats and the intimidation by the Taliban and the anti-government elements, so that I myself could only move around on election day in Kabul. There, in one of the stations, and these were minor things, 10 votes were missing from the block and they were not in the register. They said they were destroyed, but that I couldn't see them, but otherwise in most of the stations we personally have observed, we did not see massive fraud. This only came out later and happened in those areas where foreign observers or even Afghan observers could hardly go because of the very bad security situation.
So what do you make out of the reports by the EU and also UN officials that there was massive fraud?
We were shown by many of the candidates, by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and others, examples of fraud like blocks of 100 votes all crossed in for Karzai or other votes which were in favor of other candidates that had been taken out of the voting boxes and destroyed. We heard from many, many Afghan people, reliable sources, what was going on in Kandahar and other towns near the border with Pakistan. What they told us really was very realistic and they showed us proof of it. So finally all these things were collected.
And then also the number of voters who had officially attended election day and cast their votes was much higher than it was in reality. We talked to people on the ground and they said at this station only 50 people appeared, but then at the end of the day you suddenly had 500 hundred votes for Karzai. It was systematic and the election complaints commission started to review all these boxes in which there were more than 90 or 95 percent votes cast for only one candidate. All the others have apparently tried to cheat, it was not only Karzai or his people. But it was said that - also to a lesser extent - Mr. Abdullah Abdullah for example or his people did the same in areas where they had the majority. So the whole process unfortunately seemed to be quite flawed.
President Hamid Karzai has strongly denied reports of widespread fraud and said that if there was fraud it was small just like there are problems in many other countries as well. What do you make of his statement?
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I would say, of course in Afghanistan we cannot expect Westminister democracy to pop up in a short time. We cannot expect that the elections go better than in many other countries in the world. There always will be smaller incidents. But what we have seen was that in areas that were not accessible to foreign observers and where the outcome of the votes was extremely low, suddenly full boxes were presented with votes in favor of Karzai. That is true in the provinces of Kandahar, of Ghazni, of Wardak, of Paktia, Paktika and so on.
We also talked to many people, to members of the international forces who were present there in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), to the members of the parties, the agents of other candidates who very carefully watched this. There was more than just small cases of acceptable fraud. In these kind of elections you might say up to five percent of fraud unfortunately happens and is acceptable to a certain extent. But if the fraud goes to 10 percent or higher than it becomes really a big problem.
There is a deep rift within the UN about the election. The No. 2 UN official in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, was fired recently from his post because he said there was massive fraud that needed to be investigated further while the top UN official, Kai Eide, apparently didn't want to press too hard because he fears it could destabilize the country. Which of the two is right?
That's very difficult to say. I know both of them personally. Peter Galbraith is a very sharp mind who has a lot of critical experience from Iraq and I think he really saw what's going on there whereas Kai Eide, the head of UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), sees the overall responsibility he has and wants to avoid a sort of clash which would totally destroy the actual system and bring more instability to the country. So the one is probably looking more into the details of the process and the other one takes the overall situation into account and then comes to a different conclusion. But it's very regrettable that this kind of clash happened.
The international community, the EU and the US, aside from calls for a thorough vote count, has been very quiet about the entire election mess. The question now is how Germany, the EU and the US deal with President Karzai if he is confirmed. Can they simply recognize him after all this and go back to business as usual?
Maybe not business as usual. It's a new government and it depends what kind of government he will present to the Afghan people and what kind of policies he will develop. I think we have to have a very open and critical dialogue with whoever it will be and also make very clear that we do not accept a continuation of corruption, of bad governance and of other things and that even if President Karzai will get a new chance this will be seen as an improvement of what has been the case up to now.
Will this not also make it much more difficult to defend the Afghan mission to the public in the West?
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Of course it will not facilitate this. It will make it more difficult. What we have to understand is that you need to really view this as a generational problem. We cannot expect that this generation, the old fighters, will be able to form a new modern Afghanistan. We have to see what we can do and what our role is there. Probably we have to redefine our mission in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the very positive impressions I got in Afghanistan is that the new generation which is now coming up, those who are between 18 and 25, is very, very good. They went to school, they went to university and I think this new generation is a sign of hope for the future of Afghanistan. But this generation will only come to power in a few years, so we have to stay there and we have to help these people redefine what Afghanistan should be.
If President Karzai would ask for advice, what would you tell him?
I would advise him to try the best to get national unity in the country, try the best to find a solution to the Taliban problem - not militarily, but politically. And try to find new heads, new young people and get rid of the old commanders, the old faces and names from the jihad who are not able to change and who are not the right people to run a modern Afghanistan. Fight corruption and fight bad governance and do something to rebuild this state and the system of law and justice. But I think we have to press the new Afghan government much more than we have done in the past.
Author: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge