The yet to be settled Afghan presidential election exemplifies the problems the United States and NATO have caused since their forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 in the name of a ‘global war on terror.’ The election was conducted by the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) under the oversight of a U.N. Election Complaints Commission (ECC). The final results will not be known for several weeks but evidence has emerged of widespread fraud -- eclipsing what happened in Iran. Problems have even been caused by the IEC’s placement of polling stations in remote villages to facilitate voting. In such areas, leaders organised block-voting and field coordinators went unsupervised. In Kunar, voting occurred only because the U.S. military paid a local warlord to defend positions against possible Taliban attacks. In 14 out of 34 provinces, insurgent activity made election monitoring impossible. The ECC, riven by disagreements between its senior-most members, has quarantined the votes from nearly 10 per cent of the 26,300 polling stations. What is clear is that President Hamid Karzai has failed to win 50 per cent of the vote and the question is whether the contest will be allowed to go into a second round. Assuming it will be, the Afghan winter will be a virtually insurmountable obstacle to polling.

Electoral fraud and all-pervasive corruption are not the only problems. The civilian death toll is estimated to exceed 31,000 since the 2001 invasion. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reckons that over 60 per cent of the 33-million population has been directly affected by the conflict. NATO troops have even called on local warlords to pacify angry locals following civilian deaths. U.S. commanders have recently tried using ground troops more; but this has not brought down civilian deaths or the brutality of the occupation. It also means increasing unrest in the U.S.; poorer rural recruits -- among the hardest hit by the recession -- enrol to get a job but are more exposed in Afghanistan, where their death rate is 60 per cent higher than that of their urban counterparts. Meanwhile the Taliban, by every credible account, have expanded their strength and influence. Attempts by NATO to train the Afghan National Army appear to have had no more success than attempts to build Afghan political institutions. The country that has defied invaders through history has once again proved to be a trap of calamitous proportions.

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