Afghans to Diplomats, Envoys and 'Experts': Please Go Away

KABUL, Sep 4 (IPS) - If the numerous foreign diplomats, envoys and super envoys assigned to Afghanistan really want to help the country, the best thing they can do during these vote counting and election-fraud investigation days and maybe weeks ahead is to go on vacation.

Since the presidential poll on Aug. 20, many diplomats have either been busy calling the elections a success or denouncing them for fraud.

Either way, they have succeeded in measuring Afghan democracy by their own democratic yardsticks instead of allowing those who braved election day a chance to have their votes counted and for Afghans to define representational politics by their own terms, at their own speed, for good and for bad.

The week since the elections, much energy has been spent, mainly by the U.S. Embassy, shuffling between meetings with President Hamid Karzai and his main opponent Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and spearheading a "special meeting in Paris" to discuss the international communities "response" to an election where the votes have yet to be fully counted and certified by an independent commission.

On Sep. 3, top envoys for Afghanistan from 26 countries including the U.S. and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) met in Paris for talks on Afghanistan's future.

Rather than send a positive message of support to the Afghan public and civil society- based partners, the Paris talks may have fostered a fabricated hysteria that the country is in some crisis mode when in fact it is not, at least not yet.

It may also lead Afghans, both the elite and ordinary citizens, to suspect that deals and decisions about their future are being made without their participation yet again.

It is true that there was less voter turn out in Afghanistan's second presidential election but keep in mind that statistics can lie.

In the previous presidential election (2004), which had an estimated 70 percent voter turn out, only eight out of 12 million registered voters voted.

In this year's election, there were more than 16 million registered voters out of which an estimated five to seven million voters voted. Roughly the same amount as in the previous election. Statistically less but still worthy.

Let us say for argument's sake that out of the five to seven million votes, one million votes are fraudulent. For a country that has only experimented with electoral politics for five years, potentially half of the registered voters coming out to vote is still an accomplishment.

Put into perspective, the number of Afghans who voted this year is roughly the same number of Afghan children, boys and girls, who are enrolled in school, around seven million, a statistic which is often touted as a success story for Afghanistan.

Despite the problems faced by the August election, the fact that they took place within so many security and logistical challenges and that millions went to vote amid violence must also be regarded as a sign of progress and one more step forward in the development of Afghanistan's democratic culture.

The tax-payer money of those participating in the Paris meeting this week would have been far better spent on a conference after the election results are certified, such as the international summit being planned by the U.N. in Kabul, to discuss in partnership with the next government and Afghan civil society, a productive, positive way forward for both Afghanistan and its partners from around the world.

If Afghanistan's democratic friends are genuinely committed to supporting the country's democratic experience, the best thing they can do is to show the kind of patience and restraint that most Afghans are showing during this critical time.

And, to remember that these elections are not an end in themselves but part of what should be a long-term Afghan-driven process if democracy is to take hold and grow.

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