The right to vote

While the chattering class complains about the candidates that Delaware voters selected in last Tuesday’s primary, voters Afghanistan this past weekend faced a different challenge – the lack of opportunity to vote altogether.

Concern over fraud in Saturday’s Afghan elections was widespread – and with good reason. The most obvious problem was the instability plaguing large swathes of the country, which jeopardized Afghans’ ability to get to the polls in the first place.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only issue; prior to the election, The Washington Times reported that Pakistani printers produced thousands of fake voting cards – meaning that those who did show up might do so a number of times, skewing the outcomes.

As a result, more than 1,000 polling places (approximately fifteen percent of the 6,835 total) were not opened – in effect, disenfranchising approximately 1.5 million people. Speculation abounds that many polls were closed to shut out specific ethnic groups. Although difficult to prove, these charges are unlikely to enhance the government’s reputation (which has been, shall we say, less than sterling.)

Despite that obstacle, many Afghans voted anyway, even in the face of danger. Preliminary reports indicate that members of the Taliban killed or injured a large number of voters, as well as several election workers. The actual election results will not be known for several weeks, but complaints of voter fraud are widespread, and more are likely to be filed.

Karzai’s government wasn’t the most legitimate of regimes to begin with – and without a doubt, Saturday’s bungling has further damaged its reputation. The ability of the government to protect its citizens has long been questioned in international circles (usually in regard to what happens when western forces withdraw from the country) – and Saturday’s elections probably didn’t instill much confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to do so.

Unfortunately, even a failed election won’t stop the United States from eventually withdrawing, be it in 2011 or at a later date and time. The American people lost the stomach for this engagement a long time ago – in a recent AP-GfK poll, nearly 6 out of 10 opposed the war in Afghanistan – and the obvious cost the nation has paid in blood and treasure weighs heavily upon the nation’s conscience.

Eventually, the Afghan government will have to assume responsibility for running its own country. Both sides acknowledge the break-up is imminent – but when it comes time to do the deed, will the two governments really walk away?

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