Thursday, February 24, 2011

Afghanistan’s Elections Stalemate


The prolonged crisis over Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections has substantially weakened President Hamid Karzai’s government and could, if left unaddressed, drive disenfranchised Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, stoke ethnic tensions and increase the risks of civil war.

Afghanistan’s Elections Stalemate, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the fallout from Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, which has further undermined President Karzai’s credibility. If public confidence is to be restored, the president and Supreme Court must disband the special tribunal that was created to adjudicate elections complaints, but lacks a clear legal mandate. The newly elected parliament must also immediately place electoral and constitutional reform at the top of its agenda.

“The warning signs that the September 2010 parliamentary polls could destabilise the country were readily apparent months before the elections were held. But Afghan leaders and the international community chose to turn a blind eye”, says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan. “Flaws in the process were ignored in favour of maintaining the false narrative of greater momentum in the battle against the Taliban”.

By the time Karzai returned to office in November 2009, it was obvious that the electoral system needed urgent reform. Nonetheless, eager to push ahead with the ill-conceived agenda of putting an “Afghan face” on the transition process, international stakeholders insisted that the parliamentary elections be held on time, choosing to ignore the defects in the system, and allowing Karzai to manipulate the political process to his advantage. The president’s 18 February 2010 decree on the electoral law sharply limited the authority of the Electoral Complaints Commission, increased ambiguity over the role of the Independent Election Commission, and created confusion over candidates’ right of appeal in the event of disqualification. Unsurprisingl y, the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly) polls resulted in a repeat of previous electoral debacles.

The president and parliament must dissolve the special elections tribunal immediately. The Afghan government as a whole must move swiftly to mend fragile institutions, to initiate substantial electoral reform and to adopt constitutional amendments to strengthen the checks and balances between the executive, leg-islature and judiciary. In addition, the government should strengthen provincial and district level governance through greater devolution of administrative and political authority, and pass legislation clarifying the role of the Independent Commission for the Supervision of the Constitution.

“The president’s political survival and that of the Afghan government depend on the ability of all stake-holders to reduce the trust deficit between the Afghan people and their government by adopting genuine reforms”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “There are no shortcuts this time”.

Libyan Refugees Cross Into Tunisia

Closure: Final page turns on Saeed Book Bank Peshawar

A significant chapter in Peshwar’s literary history came to a close as the largest bookstore in the provincial metropolis shut down after over 40 years of operation.
The massive bookshop’s shutters have stayed down, with owners placing a banner notifying that the books will be shifted to their main store in Islamabad.

When contacted, Saeed Book Bank employee Manzoor Hussain told The Express Tribune that the shop had been closed for three days. The owner, Akbar Saeed, said lack of readership in Peshawar compelled him to shift his business to Islamabad.

“There is no reading culture in Peshawar and we mostly deal in foreign titles,” Akbar said. The family-owned business was established in 1955.

The closure of the shop came as a shock to avid readers. Javed Khan, a resident of Peshawar termed the closure a setback for the city. “It is indeed sad news that the only bookshop where we had the luxury to browse through shelf upon shelf of fresh imported titles is gone.”

A spate of bombings in recent years had exhausted the city’s avenues for entertainment, with people often being wary of stepping outside their homes. The closing down of the oldest bookstore seems to be the final nail in the art of imagination in Peshawar.

“Where should I go if I need books? All the way to Islamabad to purchase a single title?” he rhetorically asked.

The bookstore’s section on Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan including the tribal areas was one of the most popular here and contained a mammoth number of titles, beginning with some of the earliest texts up to the most recently published.

“The last book I purchased from that section was a rare book, ‘The wind blows away our words’ by Noble Laureate Doris Lessing on her experience with the Afghani resistance,” Khan said.

The closure of the city’s largest book store came at a time when it is struggling to return to normalcy after devastating bombings in recent years that have taken hundreds of lives and rendered the city barren of culture.

Published in The Express Tribune