The drug warlords are doing business as usual, and the Taliban are again the major problem in the Afghan quicksand.

It is a big problem for the international community: after Washington and Europe’s untimely congratulations to the Afghan authorities on the correctness of the electoral process, news of widespread electoral frauds have started coming in. For the moment, polling data are still being scrutinized, but rumors of manipulation are so loud that credibility of the process has been seriously affected and the man in the street doubts the transparency of the announced Karzai victory. Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is presently in Kabul, ready to defuse any crisis that may arise.

Unfortunately, public support seems to depend on the rate of success of the war and people tend to forget the reasons for which this war was started. At the same time, one should wonder why, while fighting international terror, we in the West should be involved in supporting corrupt regimes such as Karzai’s. Despite the billions of dollars poured over this country we have not been able to trigger either a process of economic development or a process of democratization.

An ABC news/Washington Post poll released last week showed that US public support for the war in Afghanistan has declined steeply, with more than half the US for the first time saying the war is not worth fighting. Fifty-one per cent of Americans say it is not, compared to 47% who say it is. A flawed election will not make it easier to justify the conflict.

After the collapse of the Taliban regime, TV reports were full of scenes of Afghan women removing the burqa, clean-shaven young men, and music being played in the streets. However, after Hamid Karzai became President of Afghanistan, the country seems to have made several steps backward. Women returned to wearing the burqa, men are growing their beards, apostasy is still crime deserving death penalty and Karzai did not even hesitate to approve a law that entitled Shia husbands from depriving their wives of food if they fail to respond to their husband’s wishes.

We are not so naïf as to think that we should side only with angel-like politicians. On the contrary, we are convinced, as Bismark once said, that politics is the art of compromise. However, there must be a limit to what can be tolerated and we think that Karzai went well beyond that limit. The popular participation to the vote was low not only for the Taliban’s threat but also because so many Afghans felt that it was not worthwhile to risk their neck for the sake of a system that is not yielding any desired result.

The Afghan presidential election could leave the country in political limbo for weeks. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, the main opponent of President Hamid Karzai, already said that there is evidence of fraud in the results emerging from the country's southern and eastern regions. He declared to the press: "Karzai knew that without this he cannot win, about that I have no doubt in my mind."

According to Karzai’s supporters, their candidate is about to win the presidential elections with a landslide victory of over 70% of the vote. Actually the media explained that even though the partial results showed Karzai and Abdullah running neck and neck, these reflect only the votes in the urban areas like Kabul and Herat. It is expected instead that in the rural areas, especially in the Pashtun ones, the result will go in Karzai's direction.

However, a legitimacy problem is hanging over the election results. Even though Abdullah used a soft stance, stating that he would challenge possible fraud only through legal channels, rather than calling his supporters out in protest, and would accept defeat if it were ultimately confirmed by election results, analysts fear that the country could erupt in ethnic violence if Karzai and Abdullah both claimed a first-round victory on Friday.

International organizations are receiving information from their sources about the scrutiny of the votes, but, just like anything else going on in this country, it is difficult to verify the accuracy of the information also given the fact that, for security reasons, no expatriate personnel can be deployed in the field.

The prospect of a post-electoral dispute is considered a gloomy possibility by the coalition forces, are inclined to consider the outcome of the vote acceptable to avoid the uncertainty and confrontation that would worsen an already precarious situation.

Ensuring transparency to the election results is therefore a golden opportunity for the US and the western coalition to regain some credibility in the eyes of the disillusioned Afghan people.

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