Columbia Faculty Analyze Major Elections Underway Around the Globe

July 27, 2009Bookmark and Share
Afghan National Police Lt. Gen. Mohammed Haroon Asefi (third from left) meets with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin (fourth from right) during Durbin’s visit to an Afghan National Police border-control point in Torkham, Afghanistan.
Afghan National Police Lt. Gen. Mohammed Haroon Asefi (third from left) meets with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin (fourth from right) during Durbin’s visit to an Afghan National Police border-control point in Torkham, Afghanistan.
This year, elections taking place in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia could bring major changes to key issues affecting the United States and its policy on national security and other issues. Professors of political science, history, and international and public affairs at Columbia University and Barnard College help assess elections in Afghanistan, Japan, Germany and Kyrgyzstan.
Afghanistan: Presidential Election, Aug. 20
At a White House meeting in July, President Barack Obama said Afghanistan’s August presidential election will hopefully begin a “transition to a different phase” of U.S. involvement there, with Afghanis “taking more responsibility for their own security.”  
Yet according to a recent article in The American Interest by Stephen Biddle, adjunct associate professor of international and public affairs, “there is no easy way out of Afghanistan, no clear light at either end of the tunnel, for President Obama.” Biddle says Obama must balance political pressure at home with the need to keep turmoil in Afghanistan “from aggravating Pakistan’s internal problems and magnifying the danger of an al-Qaeda nuclear-armed sanctuary there.”
President Hamid Karzai is a favorite to win the election even though, according to Biddle, his “government is widely seen as corrupt.” A strong contender has recently emerged in Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former foreign minister, who is off to a late start but may gain enough momentum to force a run-off election if Karzai does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote. The third candidate is Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is being advised by James Carville, campaign strategist for former president Bill Clinton.
The Obama administration plans to spend $40 million for election administration and will temporarily increase U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan by 21,000. In January, the Pentagon deployed 17,000 troops to increase pressure on al-Qaeda and resurgent Taliban groups operating on the Pakistan border.
The troops will supplement existing NATO-led security forces, the Afghan Army and Afghan Police in securing elections, according to Austin Long, assistant professor of international and public affairs, who conducted research in Kabul and in the Kandahar and Panjshir provinces of Afghanistan in July. “This combined force is probably sufficient for securing most major population centers, like Kabul and Kandahar City, as well as the actual polling stations,” Long said.  “However, it may not be enough to prevent intimidation in some villages away from the polling stations.”
Long says about half of Afghanistan is reasonably secure, but that securing the other half will require a large and effective police force. “The present numbers of about 80,000 are increasing, but to give a comparative perspective, Anbar province in Iraq has more than 20,000 police—for a single province. Coalition forces can ultimately only enable and support Afghan security forces, including the police, the Army (which is more developed than the police), and the National Directorate of Security. Absent their effective growth, Coalition activity is only a holding action.” 

Overall, Biddle says, there is a limit to what the U.S. can influence directly. “We can increase security by deploying more troops,” he wrote, “we can bolster the economy … and we can put pressure on Karzai to reform. But only the Afghans can create a legitimate government.”    

Next: Japan's National Parliamentary Elections, Aug. 30

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