Elections: What’s the Point?

From one of the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks:

Elections: What’s the Point?

(C) In answer to a question from the RoCK and the SCR
about the credibility of the elections, AWK said democracy
was new for Afghanistan, and that people in the region did
not understand the point of having one election, let alone
two. “The people do not like change,” he said. “They think,
the President is alive, and everything is fine. Why have an

To put this in context, ‘the RoCK’ is Ben Rowswell (sic?), the Representative of Canada in Kandahar. ‘SCR’ is Afghan regional governor Tooryalai Weesa. ‘AWK’ is Kandahar Provincial Council Chief Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and the wealthiest narcotics dealer in Afghanistan. A New York Times article describing Ahmed’s drug connections is linked here. AWK is, not surprisingly, poo-pooing the concept of elections. Quelle surprise, given the protection having his half-brother installed as president offers, both to his position and his, er, other income stream. The comment at the end of the memo highlights in my mind what is the greatest challenge of the mission in Afghanistan:

(C) The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major
challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and
connect the people to their government, when the key
government officials are themselves corrupt. Given AWK’s
reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large,
costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a
healthy dose of skepticism. Still, his observations about
the unintended consequences of how NGOs and other
international partners do their work, e.g. “poaching” of
government staff, track with some of our own concerns,
including about how to promote Afghan-led solutions. We will
continue to urge AWK to improve his own credibility gap as
well as that of the GIRoA.

The coalition governments have attempted to get Hamid Karzai to remove Ahmed Karzai from power (presumably sending him back to the US, where he used to work). President Karzai has refused, saying that the drug czar allegations remain unproven. In this memo, the coalition representatives appear resigned to the fact that they have to work with Ahmed Karzai. They urge him to “improve his own credibility gap”, whatever that means. How many other provincial leaders in Afghanistan are similarly dismissive of elections, and caught up in the narcotics economy? How many need to “improve their credibility gaps”?


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