Well, let's take a little history lesson.
Anyone who followed the news in 2004 remembers Afghanistan's triumphant first run at democratic elections. TV footage of Western favorite Hamid Karzai campaigning with his foreign bodyguards behind him. Voters waving purple thumbs. Women in burqas casting ballots. An easy win with the interim president sweeping more than 50% of the vote against a field of twenty-two opponents.
Here's what you may not know--and I don't mean that purple ink turning out not to be indelible after all! Exactly who thought up Afghanistan's presidential election code seems to be a mystery. Certainly Karzai's foreign backers signed on to it, though it bears no resemblance to their own election rituals. But who drafted and signed it into law is undisputed. Then interim president Hamid Karzai. Among minor red flags, such as that only Muslims can run for any office in Afghanistan, several more controversial provisions stand out.
2) Any would-be candidate serving in government, military, or law enforcement office must resign position at least two months ahead of said campaigning. In other words, are you willing to risk your livelihood on the outside chance you can beat said incumbent?
3) No government resources or connections may be used by candidates in pursuing their campaign.
Five years later, no one is expecting a fairy tale anymore. With approval rating for the 'Mayor of Kabul' (so called because, one, his control only minimally extends beyond the capital and, two, because Karzai rarely leaves home to visit any of the country he rules) at an all-time low, neither Afghanis nor his former Western allies are showing much enthusiasm for another five years of Karzai. The difficulty is finding any alternatives. At the moment, proposed candidates include any number of former warlords, now cabinet ministers and parliament members. And even some relatively decent possibilities. One contender, the Minister of Finance, has already stepped down from office in order to begin his campaign. But even the most wishful Western experts concede it is unlikely any of them will muster up support in such a short time frame to overcome the advantage of the incumbent. Especially since once again that election code doesn't seem to apply to the man who wrote them. Far from a 'thirty day window', Karzai has already announced his own rebid and is campaigning actively with no intentions of stepping down from office in the process.
The big question is how much difference it makes who occupies Kabul's Gul Khana Palace. As I've mentioned in another blog, elections don't equate with freedom. The United States recently finished one of its more hotly contested election campaigns (no thirty days, but closer to two years!). Were there disappointed people on election night when the final vote came in? Of course, there always is, no matter which side wins. But Americans don't go to bed on election eve scared to death the other party is taking over the next day. Why? Because while we enjoy the democracy of choosing our leaders, we do so within a framework of law that does not change according to who scares up the majority vote. Win Democrat or Republican, the next day we can still worship God as we choose. We can still voice our opinions. We can still read, dress, eat, drink, move, work as we choose. We are still innocent until proven guilty, protected against unlawful search and seizure.
In a hideous reversal of that, whether Karzai wins out again or some new contender, Afghanis will wake up the next day under sharia law. Just this month, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan ended the last hope of reversing that 23-year-old journalist's twenty-year sentence for printing an article off the internet. Since in Afghanistan, the accused don't get to defend themselves, he didn't even find out the case had gone to the Supreme Court until he was informed they'd confirmed his sentence. Karzai has shrugged off any suggestion of a pardon. Ditto for the two journalists condemned to death for wanting to give Afghanis the Koran in their own language. The TV producer mullahs decided was blaspheming Islam with those uncovered female faces. And so on. And those offenders were all Muslim. Things like freedom of worship are so far under the table, we can't discuss them here.
Still, if Karzai makes no pretence of human rights, not a single alternative candidate has even suggested moderating Islamic law for little issues like freedom of worship, speech, association, or anything else. One might even ask in all the talk of 'American values', which is really more valuable to the average American. The 'democracy' of choosing which leader to a dministrate unjust and oppressive law. Or a governing framework that offers protection and freedom to every one of its citizens, winner or loser in the last election. When we trumpet 'democracy' around the world as a prerequisite for global peace and freedom, but whimper apologetically that the framework of law and justice that makes our democracy work is just a personal opinion issue we'd hate to impose on anyone else, we might as well pick up our ballot boxes and go home.
All to say that this time around, let's not get quite so excited at those purple thumbs the media love to show us. As long as Afghanistan's upcoming elections are being held within a governing framework of sharia law and Islamic totalitarianism, we might as well be pouring those one hundred and forty million dollars straight into a hole in the ground.