Karzai Did the Deals That Made Him a Winner Anyway

The scene was evocative, Abdullah Abdullah making
his stand against corruption in front of hundreds of grizzled old
warriors and tribal chiefs. The setting was the huge tent built for the
loya jirga
after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, an apt symbol of a new
beginning as the former comrade of the great Mujaheddin commander Ahmed
Shah Masood threw down a gauntlet for a possible future challenge to Hamid Karzai for the leadership of Afghanistan.

Despite
all the criticism heaped on Mr Karzai for fraud in the election and for
all the surprisingly strong showing of Mr Abdullah, there was always
going to be one winner in this race, Hamid Karzai.

The demographics of Afghanistan
mean that Mr Karzai, from the majority Pashtun population, could not be
beaten by a man who is of mixed Pashtun and Tajik parentage, but draws
his support overwhelmingly from Tajiks. Besides, deals done by Mr
Karzai had ensured that he would have got the other significant
minority votes, the Uzbeks and Hazaras.

It is one of the ironies of the electoral
mess that Mr Karzai would probably have won in the first round of the
polls even without his supporters engaging in massive and blatant
ballot stuffing. To his surprise and anger he was penalised for the
fraud and forced to run a second round.

The
incumbent president and his followers, and indeed many Afghans who do
not directly support him blame the West for putting them through a
second electoral process.

Around $300m (PS180m) has been spent so far on the elections. And then there are the lives of soldiers,
civilians and officials lost in attacks by the Taliban who vowed to
disrupt the polls. Further costs, human and material, to get Mr Karzai
to his 50 per cent of votes officially needed for victory would cause
an international outcry. Many UN
staff, who have seen seven of their colleagues murdered - five last
week in Kabul - in the course of election work, are close to revolt
against taking part in such an empty exercise.

The
likely course now is election officials will take the matter to the
supreme court which could waive the rules demanding a second round.
Western officials insist that Mr Karzai will in future be pressurised
to carry out reforms and take a firmer stand against corruption. But
they will have to continue dealing with Hamid Karzai. There is no one
else around.