…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
On Election Day in Afghanistan, Both Americans and Afghans Ask: What is the Point?
Categories: Commentary, War

by Meg White

One would think that the very last question on Afghans’ minds on this historic first of an election would be, “What’s the point?”

Or that the American people — who have given up so many of their best and brightest to help this troubled country be able to run an election for the first time in their history — might agree with such a sentiment.

This Time Magazine round-up of the Aug. 20 election quotes one Afghan election volunteer who believes his countrymen are “disappointed with democracy,” while also noting voting delays and irregularities, including suspected ballot-stuffing.

Furthermore, an Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group is quoted worrying that low turnout could open the window for violence with the “possible threat that the incumbent’s main rivals will question the results and perhaps encourage a violent response, leaving open a window for the Taliban to fully disrupt Afghanistan’s progress.”

At the same time, an Associated Press poll was released that said 51 percent of Americans surveyed said the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Now, AP was quick to point out that a July poll had revealed that 53 percent of respondents disapproved of the war in Afghanistan (in that same poll, disapproval of the Iraq war was 2-1). But this is different. These respondents are saying that, regardless of whether they approve or not, the war in Afghanistan is pointless.

One thing Americans and Afghans seem to agree upon is the efficacy of this election. By a two-to-one margin, AP poll respondents said they doubted that the elections would produce an effective government there.

Afghans seem to believe voting is useless and Americans feel the same way about fighting. So what’s the point?

One can hardly blame Afghans for staying home on Election Day. As this piece in the Edmonton Journal points out, there are many reasons to skip voting today, both physical and ideological:

Already many have died as the Taliban have stepped up their terror campaign of threatening “night letters” along with the outright random murders of those who might have cast a ballot. Citizens who sport the ink-stained finger of voters will have those digits cut off, warn the terrorists. They claim the rigged election is little more than a show for the foreign invaders…

As Afghan entrepreneur-aid activist Hassina Sherjan predicted to reporters Tuesday, most schooled Afghans “will not vote because they believe no candidate is worth voting for.” Little of what has been accomplished in Afghanistan, he says, has been instituted by the government.

The Afghan government seems actively engaged in defeating this image, however. The ban on reporting election-day violence foreshadowed such public relations maneuvering (a move that the Time article suggests may have discouraged people from voting because they didn’t know where it would be safe to cast a ballot).

This Agence France-Presse article opens with several quotes from an upbeat Afghan election official who brightly reports a great turnout of about half the population, though exact numbers are unobtainable. But subsequently, the report mentions a Western diplomat who questions the Afghan government’s optimism, saying 50 percent is an unlikely figure.

The article reminds the reader that the last presidential election featured turnout figures the U.S. would envy at around 70 percent. While the last election was significantly different in that it was basically run by the international community, it is still disheartening that fewer people are willing to venture out to the polls in this first election run by the Afghan government.

Perhaps the most instructive confluence of these two defeatist views on opposite sides of the planet is this report from the UK’s Channel 4 News via the Real News Network. The reporter follows the British ambassador to Afghanistan as he travels to Nad-e-Ali in Helmand province to encourage locals to vote, despite the turmoil in southern Afghanistan.

One man at a community meeting with the ambassador and local politicians told the reporter (via an interpreter), “With a situation like this, even if you put up a picture of my own father, I wouldn’t vote for him. What’s the point? I’m not going to vote.”

Later, the reporter states in a voiceover, “It can be hard to remember the purpose of all this,” and asks a British soldier whether Western powers will ever succeed in Afghanistan. The reply is more telling than I think the soldier meant it to be:

You know, I think it is winnable. It’s not going to happen overnight and everyone recognizes that. But we’ve got to believe it’s doable, because there would be no point in being here if we didn’t.

It’s as if this soldier is begging us not to question the mission because otherwise, his presence and the death and destruction he’s no doubt been exposed to has no meaning.

And who can blame him? After all, the war in Afghanistan used to be the good war; the one in which our recently-renewed commitment almost made up for the unjustified disaster that is the war in Iraq. But we can’t use Afghanistan to assuage our collective neo-colonial guilt over Iraq any longer.

If this is just about atonement for Iraq and torture and all the terrible things that blossomed from the so-called War on Terror, then we might as well leave the poor people in Afghanistan alone. If it is about something more high-minded, such as the defense of democracy, one would hope the Afghan government and the international community would put more effort into Election Day.

So tell me, then: What is the point?


Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

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