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Elections in Afghanistan
Now that the October 9 U.S.- sponsored Afghan presidential elections are over, a huge sigh of relief is probably being heaved in Washington. As of this writing, the vote counting has not yet begun and, according to news outlets, the outcome will not be known for at least two weeks. But the Bush administration got a huge boost for two reasons.
First, people came out to vote in large numbers. If even half of the 10.5 million people who are reported to have registered actually voted, then the act of voting was an incredible achievement in a country where elections for head of state have never occurred. Despite rampant violence prior to the election and threats of violence duringand despite a history of war and destructionthe Afghan people were hopeful that the elections would improve their lives. A September 2004 report by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium describes interviews with over 700 Afghans not heard or heeded in the corridors of power. Many of those interviewed reflected the belief that the elections would improve things significantly. One woman in Kandahar said, If the new government is fair, it will bring great changes to our lives. We will feel more secure; women will be able to work without any fear; our country will be free from bad people. A man in Kabul expressed the hope that, If there is a permanent government, the guns will be collected [and] people will have jobs. Afghanistan will be a safe, comfortable society.
The second reason the Bush administration received a boost is that the anti-election violence threatened by the Taliban and other groups largely did not materialize, due to a heavy military and police presence. There were only scattered rocket and grenade explosions across the country and a smattering of attacks on election sites, according to the Los Angeles Times (October 10, 2004). A great thing happened in Afghanistan, Bush said. Freedom is beautiful. Freedom is on the march.
Also on the march were soldiers. The United States and Afghan governments deployed over 100,000 security personnel (mostly Afghan, with 18,000 U.S.troops and 7,000 NATO forces backing them up) to polling places and at checkpoints on important roads. The deployment was part of a sophisticated, nationwide security strategy. In a year in which security has been deteriorating, according to NATO public relations, with the number of violent attacks steadily increasing, people should be asking why the U.S. waited until the election to show that all along it could have brought desperately needed security to the country. It is unlikely that this security will remain once the vote-counters finish their job.
Despite U.S. propaganda, the Afghan elections were not an opportunity for real democratic choice, they were an act of extortion. Bush took advantage of the Afghan peoples hope for a better future by offering them a cruel choice between two possibilities: a U.S.-controlled Hamid Karzai government with fascist fundamentalist warlords in subordinate positions; or a government completely controlled by the warlords. Of the 15 candidates challenging incumbent President Karzai on October 9, most were either warlords (the second-most likely winner was Northern Alliance commander Yunus Qanooni) or had serious connections to warlords.
Furthermore, none of the candidates had Karzais access to U.S. government aid, such as it is. Indeed, the blackmail has paid off: exit polls show that Karzai will likely win more than the 50 percent of votes required to avoid a runoff. Shahir, the head of the Kilid media group, describes the importance of the elections to him: I see a chance even if I know that most of the game is fake and most people are unaware of their rights. But this is the first step in the process. Our warlords will see how much they are cherished by the people.
It would be a mistake to say Afghans were charmed by Karzai. Rather, they decided to pick anybody but warlords.
Karzais record over the past three years, it is unlikely that
he will be able to improve the lives of Afghans without drastic
changes in U.S. policy. After decades of war and poverty, Afghanistan
lacks the basic building blocks of civil society such as roads,
schools, hospitals, adequate housing, etc. Security is likely to
worsen as U.S. troops return to their hunt for terrorists.
With a weak economy and outside donations slowing to a trickle,
the infrastructure that Afghanistan needs to survive, let alone
flourish, is nowhere in sight.
Most Afghans agree that, since the fall of the Taliban, security has been the most serious problem. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) complains, The president is being protected by U.S. bodyguards, but who will protect the vulnerable innocent people from the bullets of the warlords? The violence of tyrannical warlords, Taliban terrorism, and U.S. raids in the southeast hamper every aspect of peoples lives, including their freedom of movement, distribution of aid, and the safety of women, who remain special targets. The two most formidable military powers in the country are (1) coalition forces (mostly U.S. troops) and (2) heavily armed private militias led by unaccountable warlords. While the former does nothing but hunt for terrorists in the southeast and buy the hearts and minds of villagers with aid, the latter frequently turn their guns on the Afghan people. The antidote to insecurity as proposed by the U.S. government has been the training of the Afghan National Army, meant to empower the central government of Hamid Karzai to secure the country. But with AK47 rifles a common sight on Afghan streets, a national army is still meaningless. After three years the ANA is only 13,000 strong, less than 20 percent of its intended size, and still much smaller than the private militias of warlords like Ismail Khan. Even though Khan was recently fired from his post as governor of Herat, he was allowed to keep his 30,000 troops. One important solution to the problem of insecurity, disarmament, is not being taken seriously by the U.S. The UN disarmament effort has been dubbed a big failure by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.
The Afghan economy is also in shambles, largely because of the security situation. In particular, the largest single component of the economy is the booming warlord-controlled drug trade. Afghanistans legal economy is more or less controlled by the central government now that Ismael Khan is no longer governor of Herat. But this is so small that the presidential elections were a large expenditure, costing the country 10 percent of its annual revenue. The illegal trade in opium earns 8 times more than the government takes in as tax revenue. Thus the warlords are better financed than the central government, making it extremely difficult to pry them from power, regardless of who wins the election. In order to address the economic incentives of poppy cultivation to affect the warlords financial base and their consequent political power, Karzai will have to significantly undermine the drug trade. This is unlikely since drug production has wildly increased under his tenure and there is every indication that the trend will continue.
A White House press release cites as part of Bushs record of achievement the fact that Afghanistan is now a country in which women can vote for president. Laura Bush told the Republican National Convention, look at Afghanistan for an example of women who were totally disenfranchised in every way, who werent even allowed to leave their homes and now a lot of them are registered to vote in their election. But even if the ability of women to cast votes was fully realized on October 9 (and it was not), it has little bearing on their day-to-day lives. With sexual violence at an all time high, maternal mortality rates still at epidemic levels, and education denied to married women, Afghan women have become pawns in Bushs re-election bid. Decades of fundamentalist forces being empowered by the U.S., Pakistan, and other allies have either preserved or worsened patriarchal attitudesleaving women oppressed within their own families. Amnesty International has documented very high levels of forced or underage marriages, imprisonment for those who escape them, chastity checks for women by roving street teams, and self-immolation by traumatized women. These incidents are at markedly higher rates than during the Talibans reign. Karzai has been unable and, in some cases, unwilling to address such issues in the past three years and has instead condoned oppressive values by encouraging men to control their wives votes. Further, he has appointed a religious extremist as chief justice, with the result that the constitution and its relationship to Islam are interpreted in the most misogynist ways. In post-election Afghanistan, given the trajectory over the last three years, there is little hope for women.
U.S. government and media pundits have sold the elections as a test of the ability of Afghans to embrace democracy. The secretary general of NATO said, The enthusiasm with which the Afghan people went to the polls is an unmistakable sign that they are ready to take forward the democratic process. Now that the Afghans are deemed ready to make their own decisions, the U.S. may claim even less responsibility for what happens. International attention is likely to wane, isolating the nation even more.The Afghan elections may represent a success for the Bush model of imposing imperial democracy via bombs and war, but they are a dismal failure by any real standard of democracy.
Jim Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar are co-directors of the Afghan Womens Mission. Ingalls is a staff scientist at the Spitzer Science Center, California Institute of Technology. Kolhatkar is host and co-producer of Uprising, a daily public affairs program on KPFK.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.