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Cablegate: Practicing Democracy

VZCZCXRO1557
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #3177/01 3440538
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090538Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6367
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 003177

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MCGRAW
CG CJTF-101, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV AF
SUBJECT: PRACTICING DEMOCRACY

1. (SBU) As election season opens in Afghanistan, voters
and politicians alike are demonstrating a stubborn enthusiasm
for the still-new practice of democracy. The national mood
feels dour, reflecting widespread criticism of the weaknesses
of the Karzai government; frustration at the rise in
kidnappings, crime, and anti-government fighting; economic
anxieties; and the coming of the hardships of winter. Amid
this gloom, and ignored by the international media, some 2.5
million voters since October 6 have joined the 12.4 million
Afghans already on the rolls begun in 2005. In the
fast-growing metropolitan area of Kabul, some 20,000 voters
signed up in one day. In between grousing about the failures
of the government and grappling with the reality of daily
life in a poor country, Afghans are making a practical choice
to have a say in their future.

---------------------------------------------
FROM GRASSROOTS TO POWER BROKERS, IN THE GAME
---------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Community leaders across the country are
mobilizing to demand their right to register and vote. In
Kapisa, Nuristan, and Kunar, local notables offered
transportation and security guarantees to allow electoral
workers to reach remote areas in these provinces. Elders
from Now Zad, Baghran, and Sangeen districts in Helmand,
where government presence is scarce and anti-government armed
groups dominate, traveled recently to Kabul. They told the
chief of the Independent Election Commission: "We promise
your workers will be safe. We even asked the Taliban, and
they agreed. Don't forget us." President Karzai has told us
several times how "even the elders of Shindand village" (the
site of a controversial civilian casualty incident in August)
have come to him and pleaded for more registration teams. The
security environment in many parts of the south will pose the
most difficult challenges of the voter registration process,
but the courage and motivation of these elders has boosted
the hopes of registration organizers.

3. (SBU) Political leaders and their organizations are also
opting into the democratic game. President Karzai put the
famously competent Mohammad Atif Atmar in the Interior
Ministry to "deliver results," presidential advisors say,
with an eye to a coming re-election campaign. The
predominately Uzbek Junbesh-e-Milli and Pashtun-centric
Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan have rallied their party members to
register to vote in their regional strongholds. The United
Front opposition is busy crafting a multi-ethnic slate of
presidential and vice-presidential candidates to challenge
Karzai. Women legislators have demanded, and received,
special training on how to get out the female vote.

4. (SBU) The strongmen and ethnic soloists, in contrast, are
bowing out. Dostum, Mohaqqeq, Rabbani, and Sayyaf look set
to endorse other candidates and confine themselves to
politicking on behalf of their support bases. In 2005,
before the parliamentary elections, disarmament remained a
distant wish. For the 2009 presidential and provincial
council races, 43 of the 360-odd districts already meet
government criteria for disarmament.

------------------
WITH GROWING PAINS
------------------

5. (SBU) Four years into this democratic experiment,
Afghanistan's young political and governmental institutions
remain far from fully formed, and struggle with formidable
challenges from the legacy of 30 years of conflict and an
ongoing and deeply-rooted insurgency. The Taliban continue
to reject the constitution and use violence to try to achieve
their goals. The drug trade and ensuing corruption undermine
security and respect for both government and the rule of law,
while the country's still-powerful old-line warlords grimly
try to assert their presumed perogatives.

6. (SBU) The legislative and judicial branches of
government are still struggling to find their balance in
relationship to the traditionally strong, overwhelmingly
centralized executive by demonstrating what value-added they
can contribute. Provincial and local authorities are sorting
out both their place in the institutional framework and their
mechanisms of accountability to voters, a chore made more
difficult by the President's own conflicted and often
contradictory attitude toward decentralization and empowering
his representatives outside Kabul. New, younger political

KABUL 00003177 002 OF 002


leaders, like Governor Mangal in Helmand, still stand back,
watching and waiting for the veterans of the struggle against
the Soviet Union to pass from the scene. Yet despite these
complex, interlocking challenges, both polls and anecdotal
evidence suggest that Afghans remain committed to democracy
and determined to have their say, believing that, flaws and
all, elections and democracy are the way forward.

DELL

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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