Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:59 GMT

Afghanistan: Democratization process threatened as façade of international unity crumbles

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 17 September 2009
Cite as EurasiaNet, Afghanistan: Democratization process threatened as façade of international unity crumbles, 17 September 2009, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

A Eurasianet commentary by Aunohita Mojumdar 9/17/09

The international community is bitterly divided as it struggles to find a solution to the democratization dilemma posed by evidence of widespread fraud in the recent presidential election.

The spectacular falling out between the United Nation's top man in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, and his deputy, Peter Galbraith, underscores the international community's disarray at this critical hour for Afghanistan's democratization process. The Eide-Galbraith rupture – which resulted in Galbraith's departure from Afghanistan, ostensibly for a 'cooling down' period – also has confirmed a schism within the international community over how to engage the Afghan government and its key power brokers.

According to published reports, Galbraith, an American diplomat, wanted to see wide-scale recounts of the presidential poll, whereas Eide was far more restrained in his desire to question the voting results. The UN admitted to a rift between the two on September 15, but would not go so far as to say that Galbraith had been dismissed.

The immediate beneficiary of the row appears to be the incumbent Afghan government, which is whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment in an attempt to shore up its shaky credibility.

The evident fault lines within the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) seem to extend through the international community in Kabul, and even to the European Union. The appearance of disarray came after two international conferences, one in Paris on September 2-3, followed by a meeting of EU ministers in Stockholm on September 4. Those gatherings had been expected to develop a coordinated approach toward the new Afghan government and strengthen a common agenda.

While few details have emerged from those meetings, a 'Kabul summit' was proposed by the UN as a way of giving momentum to the new Afghan government. Expected in the spring, it is meant to bring a new energy to reconstruction efforts and emphasize the need for accountability within the Afghan government.

While that summit is still expected to take place, it appeared that it would be upstaged when the EU's Big Three – Germany, France and Britain – called for an international donor conference on Afghanistan before the end of this year. The design of such a summit would be to create benchmarks to evaluate the Afghan government's performance. Currently a tussle is continuing within the EU over the need for the meetings. The EU presidency, now held by Sweden, has come down on the side of the UN in the debate.

The differences on elections within the UN are being viewed as a dispute between accommodationists and hard-liners on the issue of Afghan election fraud. The divide, which has also been projected as one separating the United States and the UN, reportedly centers on whether a second round of polling is needed to give crucial credibility to the next Afghan government.

Those advocating a less rigorous approach argue that a perfect election was not possible. They add that instances of fraud need to be addressed, but need not be pushed so far as to delay the final result beyond October, or do anything that might de-legitimize the next presidential administration. To push the issue of fraud too far risks stoking political instability, the accommodationists claim.

Those advocating a more rigorous approach, or hardliners, have argued that a second round of polling and a more thorough investigation offers the best guarantee of legitimacy for the next government, and thus would best assist the international community in achieving its democratization goals in Afghanistan.

Both accommodationists and hardliners seem to assume that, one way or another, President Hamid Karzai will secure re-election. "The issue of credibility and the question of fraud are being used as leverage," said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. While the soft approach relies on building a cozy relationship with the next president as the best way of leveraging influence, hardliners believe that an assertive stand against Karzai would compel him to take desired steps toward democratization.

Over the immediate term, the disarray within the international community threatens to reduce the leverage that it has in the democratization process. Some experts, meanwhile, are starting to ask: how is it that a unified contingency plan was not worked out in advance of the presidential election, if diplomats – including the US troubleshooter for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke – widely expected ballot-stuffing and other fraudulent practices to occur?

A lack of international consistency is currently undermining credibility, enabling Karzai and his supporters to portray the electoral fraud controversy to a domestic audience as a matter of foreign meddling in Afghanistan's internal affairs. Karzai's rhetoric is resonating widely with Afghans, as is evident from the changing focus of Afghan media outlets. Local journalists who earlier questioned the international community for its apparent endorsement of a flawed election have now moved to questioning the motives of the international community in questioning the elections. If anti-foreigner rhetoric ends up defining the credibility of the next government, it bodes ill for the government's future partnership with the international community.

Editor's Note: Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 19 years.

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