An angry and one-sided editorial in the Washington Post today blasts President Karzai of Afghanistan for his supposed "anti-democratic impulses." The editorial was triggered by Karzai’s decision this week to postpone seating the new Afghan parliament for one month while he, the courts and Afghanistan’s election bodies sort out the fraud changes from the September 18 election. "This parliament should be seated without further delay," harrumphs the hawkish Post, accusing Karzai of acting to "exacerbate tensions…in the non-Pashtun areas where Taliban activity is rising."
But the Post ignores the very real crisis created by the election, which disenfranchises millions of Afghan voters, especially Pashtuns.
Let us stipulate that, for the most part, Afghanistan’s parliament is, first of all, a nearly powerless body. Let us further stipulate that the parliament is something of a laughingstock, many of whose members are corrupt wheeler-dealers, warlords, tribal potentates, militia chiefs and so on.
Let us also stipulate that the September 18 election was catastrophically flawed. First of all, more than a quarter of the votes cast, about 1.3 million, have already been thrown out by the election bodies, the controversial Independent Election Commission (IEC), over charges of fraud and corruption. The IEC and a parallel body, the Election Complaints Commission (ECC), collected thousands of challenges to the results.
Even worse, because the election was held under wartime conditions, in which going to the polls was tantamount to suicide in some districts, millions of Afghans couldn’t or didn’t vote. That hugely skewed the results, disenfranchising many Pashtuns. Not only do the Pashtuns make up nearly half of Afghanistan’s population, but the Taliban and its allies draw strong support from conservative and tribal Pashtun groups. So getting the Pashtuns madder than they already are will drive even more of them to take up arms and join the Taliban.
Case in point: Ghazni province. Ghazni is heavily populated by Pashtuns, and it’s a key battleground in the war. But, because voters stayed away from the polls in Pashtun areas—where many polls didn’t even open—the Hazaras, a Shiite minority, swept all eleven seats in the province, and Pashtuns got none. In some parts of Ghazni the election was laughable: for instance, in the overwhelmingly Pashtun district of Andar, out of a population of more than 100,000 Pashtuns, more than 70,000 were registered to vote—and only three votes were cast. Needless to say, losing candidates, especially Pashtuns, howled in protest, and some threatened worse. Already, angry Pashtun tribal forces blockaded the road from Kabul, the capital, to Khost, an important provincial capital. A Ghazni politician, Daoud Sultanzai, who was disqualified in the election, said: "We are trying to calm our followers, but if they don’t get justice many of them will turn to violence. It is not a question of joining the Taliban. Our followers are the majority. The Taliban will join them."
In all, the Pashtuns’ representation in the 249-member parliament declined from a respectable 120 seats to just 94.
Karzai, who’s launched a major effort to talk to the Taliban, has lost much support among the non-Pashtun population in the north and west that originally were his strongest supporters. The ethnic groups whose militias comprised the old, anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, have turned against Karzai, and he’s sought to bolster his Pashtun base. By challenging the election results, Karzai is trying to placate the Pashtuns, at the risk of riling up other segments of the population. It’s a difficult balancing act, and that’s why the one-sided Post editorial misses the point.