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Afghan moodswing

A few months ago there might have been cause to hope the August election would kickstart Afghanistan's progress towards stability. But no longer. Now there is something more like despair.

Last modified: 17 Oct 2009 16:24
Photo by AFP

A few months ago there might have been cause to hope the August election would kickstart Afghanistan's progress towards stability. But no longer. Now, with the country in deep political crisis and the possibility of worse to come, there is something more like despair.

Despair, I mean, on the part of the international presence in Afghanistan that so badly wanted a clean, fair election. They wanted it to produce a so-called "credible partner" government with whom US and Nato forces could enlist a new strategy to defeat the Taliban, get Afghanistan back on its feet - and then get out.

Almost two months after votes were cast, as delay follows delay in unravelling the fraud-ridden election, dark clouds loom over Afghanistan's progress. Foreign governments are finding it ever harder to justify their continued presence here to an increasingly skeptical public back home.

But what matters more than the view of outsiders is the mood on the Afghan street. This was Afghanistan’s second presidential election since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001. Five years ago, the mood at the polls was exuberant. By August 2009, cynicism had begun to creep in. President Hamid Karzai's first term has not been all it promised. Corruption is rife. The Taliban is back in force.

The vote still meant something though. Enough for voters in some parts of the country to brave extraordinary violence and intimidation to make it to the polls.

But if there's to be a second round between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, many may not do so again. In the last few days, I've spoken to Afghans on the streets of Kabul and asked them what they expect to happen now. Where once they had faith in the democratic process, the dominant feelings now are frustration, disappointment and anger.

Why did they go out and vote only to find their votes apparently ignored? Why do foreign members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, the UN, and scurrying diplomats seem to have so much sway over the outcome?

“This is an Afghan election,” one man told me. “It belongs to us and we want a result now.”

“If there is another election, I won’t vote,” said another.

That’s worrying for any lingering hope that a second round will clean up the mess.