In one month Afghanistan will go to the polls to elect a president. NATO troops are expected to provide the much needed security for the historic event, but experts worry the alliance may be ill prepared for the job.
Securing democracy: NATO troops help secure Afghanistan elections
When the more than 10 million eligible Afghans go to the polls on Oct. 9, some 10,000 NATO soldiers will be guaranteeing their safety. In order to do so, the military alliance will have had to double its contingent from the 5,000 troops currently stationed in the country.
That increase in size corresponds to the pledge made to Afghan President Hamid Karsai by the North Atlantic Alliance during the Istanbul summit in June. After a lengthy internal tug-of-war, the member states had agreed to boost their presence in the country in order to help ensure that the historical first elections take place peacefully.
Eurokorps troops head to Afghanistan in Aug. 2004. They will be part of the expanded NATO security force.
"The NATO contingent in Afghanistan will be significantly strengthened in time for the elections," announced the military alliance's spokeswoman Simone de Manso. The deployment is already underway and should be completed in time for the elections, she added. "The additional troops will consist of an Italian and a Spanish battalion as well as a US reserve battalion stationed outside Afghanistan," said Manso.
According to NATO plans, the new troops are not intended as a permanent expansion of the current military presence in the country. Although the troops are only there to secure the election," Manso said they will "remain in Afghanistan for as long as the local commander deems it necessary."
Despite the commitment to security, not everyone is convinced NATO is approaching the elections realistically. "I regard the whole situation as a mid-size farce," argued Albert Stahel, professor for strategic military studies at the Technical University in Zurich.
The international community has set false priorities and is placing itself under unnecessary time pressure, Stahel told DW-WORLD. "The elections are coming light years too early, as Afghanistan is no where close to being mature enough for democracy," he maintained.
Should rebuilding Aghanistan take priority over elections?
"Rather than focusing on preparing for an election, (the international community) should be working to rebuild the country, for instance concentrating on the infrastructure and the water resources," he said. An election could be held once the much more crucial reconstruction work is completed -- in a couple of years, Stahel added.
The Swiss expert also warned of placing too much faith in the elections. "Of course it will not be an election according to western democratic standards," he said. And in order to guarantee that the elections throughout the country take place freely and peacefully, a much larger military presence will be necessary.
"If one wanted to ensure that the election takes place more or less orderly, that cannot be done with just 10,000 soldiers," he stressed.
At the same time, though, the election cannot be postponed, admitted Stahel. The international community cannot change the timeframe with such short notice. "If the election date is pushed back, the United Nations, NATO and the United States would risk losing face and the population in Afghanistan would not go along with it either."