During my recent trip to Afghanistan, I never heard Afghans calling for a runoff election. Yes, they were furious that the U.S.-sanctioned election in August was fraught with fraud, and they knew (with the current election commission) only fraud could again result. Their hopes had been dashed on the rocks once, and they didn't want it repeated. Yet Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations-talked Karzai into a "runoff election." Did Senator Kerry ask the Afghan people if they wanted one? Apparently, this didn't matter. When Karzai's "opponent" Abdullah Abdullah (the war criminal) stepped down from the run-off election contest, he became the people's hero for ending the farce.
Fundamentalists, warlords, drug lords, jihadists, and yes, Taliban, have been empowered by the U.S.-backed former Northern Alliance. Nowhere in this war-torn nation do we find a focus on principles that the United States claims to prize so much. The people I met with didn't ask for a new election: they asked, "Where is the democracy?"
One of the many flaws in the August Afghan election was the silencing of women. CODEPINK met with various groups who worked on the election, and we were shown that most of the voting areas designated for women were not staffed, yet were full of votes. Women's inequality in Afghanistan results in widespread proxy voting by male relatives, used by unscrupulous ballot box-stuffers as a target of opportunity. We need to be supporting the voices of women to nurture change in Afghanistan.
Women's rights (which are, in fact human rights) will never rise from a corrupt, fundamentalist government. Many members of Karzai's government have perpetrated crimes-murder, theft, corruption, rape-and if they are even charged, they are often not tried, or they are pardoned. Malalai Joya, Afghan parliamentarian now on tour in the United States, has survived assassination attempts and risks her life to bring to light her expulsion from the Afghan parliament when she exposed the warlords and pushed for true democracy. From Joya's book A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice:
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"The Afghan people have been betrayed once again by those who are claiming to help them. More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, we are still faced with foreign occupation and a U.S.-backed government filled with warlords who are just like the Taliban. Instead of putting these ruthless murderers on trial for war crimes, the United States and its allies placed them in positions of power, where they continue to terrorize ordinary Afghans.
"I am the youngest member of the Afghan parliament, but I have been banished from my seat and threatened with death because I speak the truth about the warlords and criminals in the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. I have already survived at least five assassination attempts and uncounted plots against me. Because of this, I am forced to live like a fugitive within my own country.
"The sad fact is that in Afghanistan, killing a woman is like killing a bird. The United States has tried to justify its occupation with rhetoric about ‘liberating' Afghan women, but we remain caged in our country, without access to justice and still ruled by women-hating criminals."
Meddling in Afghanistan's elections and U.S. failure at every turn to deliver security and justice is increasing the potency of the Taliban. We are aiding in the creation of a power vacuum and undermining the possibility of Afghanistan to move forward as a sovereign country. We must push for our troops to come home. We must support a fully funded ‘Marshall Plan' for Afghanistan. And we support bringing women to the table! If we take care of the women and children, the country can heal and their homegrown form of democracy can take root and grow.