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Afghan Opposition Complains of Fraud in Recent Parliamentary Elections

Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission says it has received thousands of formal complaints of fraud about recent parliamentary elections. But prominent Afghan watchers in Washington say signs of progress in Afghanistan are tied more to security and quality of life than western style legitimacy in elections.

More than four million Afghans braved violence and Taliban threats to elect a new parliament.

But with final results not expected until the end of October, President Hamid Karzai is not claiming success. Some even see a level of failure.

Sayeed Morad Sharif is the chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission:

"We have received 2,500 formal and written complaints," said Sayeed Morad Sharif. "So far we've looked at 570 complaints and are taking action about all these complaints, God willing."

Opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah says the vote count is plagued by massive fraud and urges President Karzai's government to prevent further irregularities and fraud.

"I still leave room that still it is possible to correct what has happened and to address what has happened and to prevent what might happen in the future," said Abdullah Abdullah. "So the minimum trust of the people could be restored in the process."

But after three decades of war, what constitutes progress? Afghans do not expect western style legitimacy in their elections, says Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Legitimacy in Afghanistan, as poll after poll shows, is based on whether Afghans get security and better conditions of life and a government they feel they can trust to provide services," said Anthony Cordesman.

The election is being closely watched in Washington ahead of a planned strategy review in December, which will likely examine the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals expected to begin in 2011.

Cordesman says the election results are not going to impact the December review for which General David Petraeus has laid out several benchmarks.

They include the elimination of Taliban sanctuaries outside the city of Kandahar, an increase in the number of Taliban fighters brought into a government reintegration scheme, and improvement in the capabilities of Afghan security forces.

"If we start setting benchmarks based on our political desires rather than the reality, the conditions on the ground, we almost ensure the Taliban win because they have a strategy of political attrition," he said. "They don't win by fighting us, they win by out waiting us."

Peter Bergen at the New America Foundation is a longtime Afghan watcher. He notes that both General Petraeus and the White House have started downplaying the December strategy review.

"I think they don't want to make it a huge moment to really look at everything, because I think that they want to kind of continue with what they have without anybody saying that it is not working," said Peter Bergen.

Analysts say there is too much political pressure on the U.S. Army to produce rapid progress in Afghanistan. That, they say, is not realistic and will only guarantee defeat at a time when patience is needed.