Saturday, August 22, 2009

They mock themselves

In the aftermath of the Operation Panther's Claw, on 28 July, David Miliband, our current foreign secretary was full of himself, telling us that several hundred British troops will remain in the area to provide ongoing security. "Hopefully," he said, "there will be a credible turnout at the Afghan elections in August."

He then cited Brigadier Tim Radford, Commander Task Force Helmand, who had said: "We are creating the conditions, as we have done in many other campaigns, so that a political process can take place above us, and that security at the moment is going extremely well."

Radford went on to say that which has only recently been repeated by Nick Gurr, the MOD's Director of Media and Communication, viz:

As a result of our forces' efforts, around 80,000 more Afghans in Helmand now live in areas under government control, giving around 20,000 more the chance to vote, with 13 additional polling centres becoming useable. That does not mean that turnout in Helmand will match that in less troubled provinces. Helmand is at the heart of the insurgency and that is bound to have an effect. But more people will be able to exercise their democratic choice than was the case before Panther's Claw.
Now cut to The Times of yesterday, and we read: "... fewer than 150 people actually cast their ballots in Nad e-Ali (at the heart of the Panther's Claw operation) out of about 48,000 registered voters, according to Engineer Abdul Hadee, the local head of the Independent Election Commission.

Then we read: "Mullah Ghulam Mohamamd Akhund, a Taleban commander in the district, said: 'Everything was fine. There were no polling centres and no voting. We didn't face any problems.'"

That this might be empty rhetoric is not borne out by other reports. For instance, here we read that only one of the three polling stations in Babaji was open (the other area on which Panther's Claw concentrated), and in Nad-e Ali voting only took place in the centre of town, with outlying stations remaining closed.

The situation, however, is perhaps even worse than that. Kim Sengupta reports for The Independent that, at one polling station in Nad-e-Ali, just over 400 people had voted by 1pm.

Three hours later, he writes, the figure had apparently surged to some 1,200. This [was] despite the fact the streets were empty, all shops and businesses were shut and an Afghan army officer saying his men standing guard had hardly seen any civilians heading to these particular voting booths.

Heedless of the so-called "security envelope" provided by Panther's Claw, the largest election monitoring group had refused to come to the district, deeming it still too dangerous. On the day there were rockets, machine-gun fire and mortar fire, roadside bombs, deaths and injuries.

Thus, at the conclusion of the poll, Sengupta tells us that election officials were seen counting piles of ballot papers, without even checking the choices, simply declaring the votes had been cast for incumbent president Hamid Karzai.

Still we have the twittering of the ghastly Caroline Wyatt and the attempts of the BBC to downplay the violence, yet in Kandahar province, 122 Taleban rockets were fired, with 20 falling on the city. Four people were killed and 12 wounded. This has not stopped the BBC presenting the election as a success.

In the real world, such has been the effect of the Taleban that, despite the ballot stuffing and rigging, in the disputed provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul, turnout is estimated to be as low as 5 to 10 percent. That is half of what it was in those regions in the first presidential election five years ago – the last three of which have seen intensive fighting and repeated claims of how the Taleban has been beaten.

The uncertainty has allowed Karzai and his leading rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, to claim victory but the official results will not be declared until 25 August, but there are no bets as to who will actually come out on top. Karzai will "win", coming out with a clear majority, even if the ink is still wet on the ballot papers.

The farcical and corrupt nature of this election - with Gerald Warner suggesting that an Afghan ballot box with an untampered seal would probably fetch a fortune at Christie's for its rarity value - puts into perspective Nick Gunn's spin on behalf of his masters. In the words of one of our forum members: "Quite how our troops in Afghanistan would manage without the Herculean efforts of Nick and his team I just don't know. We're obviously very lucky to have him. The only remaining mystery is how the bastard sleeps at night."

What applies to Gurr, however, must apply to the whole sorry crew. Either Operation Panther's Claw was grossly oversold and the stated objectives were unrealistic, or they simply were not attained. Either way, the hopes of Mr Miliband were not fulfilled, even though 13 men had died in the effort to bring them to fruition – with many more injured. As for the election itself, rather than a move closer to a solution, it looks to opening wide the divisions in Afghanistan and reducing still further the legitimacy of the central government.

Says The Times, the credibility of the election "hangs in the balance". But, for their exaggerated claims, the credibility of Mr Miliband and the rest of those who trot out their glib phrases is already shot to pieces. You do not have to mock them. They mock themselves and, sadly, those who died for their witless posturing.