Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Karzai Asserts Control Over Elections, Gates: European Mood a Danger to Peace

Gates Calls European Mood a Danger to Peace

Published: February 23, 2010

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has long called European
contributions to NATO inadequate, said Tuesday that public and political
opposition to the military had grown so great in Europe that it was directly
affecting operations in Afghanistan and impeding the alliance's broader
security goals.

"The demilitarization of Europe - where large swaths of the general public
and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with
it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to
achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st," he told NATO
officers and officials in a speech at the National Defense University, the
Defense Department-financed graduate school for military officers and

A perception of European weakness, he warned, could provide a "temptation to
miscalculation and aggression" by hostile powers.

The meeting was a prelude to the alliance's review this year of its basic
mission plan for the first time since 1999. "Right now," Mr. Gates said,
"the alliance faces very serious, long-term, systemic problems."

Mr. Gates's blunt comments came just three days after the coalition
government of the Netherlands collapsed in a dispute over keeping Dutch
troops in Afghanistan. It now appears almost certain that most of the 2,000
Dutch troops there will be withdrawn this year. And polls show that the
Afghanistan war has grown increasingly unpopular in nearly every European

The defense secretary, putting a sharper point on his past criticisms,
outlined how NATO shortfalls were exacting a material toll in Afghanistan.
The alliance's failure to finance needed helicopters and cargo aircraft, for
example, was "directly impacting operations," he said.

Mr. Gates said that NATO also needed more aerial refueling tankers and
intelligence-gathering equipment "for immediate use on the battlefield."

Yet alliance members, he noted, were far from reaching their spending
commitments, with only 5 of 28 having reached the established target: 2
percent of gross domestic product for defense. By comparison, the United
States spends more than 4 percent of its G.D.P. on its military.

Dana Allin, a senior fellow with the International Institute of Strategic
Studies in London, called Mr. Gates's remarks "very striking."

"Whether this is a conscious statement to sound a real sharp warning,
no question that the frustration among the American military establishment
is palpable regarding coalition operations in Afghanistan," he said.


Afghan Leader Asserts Control Over Election Body

Published: February 23, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan - To the dismay of his political opponents and many of
his international backers, President Hamid Karzai has moved to ensure that
he can handpick members of an electoral monitoring commission, removing
significant United Nations oversight of future elections.

Using a loophole in the Afghan Constitution, the Karzai government
unilaterally rewrote the election law, and the president put it into effect
by a legislative decree on Feb. 13.

Under the new version, the five members of the Election Complaint
Commission, created to oversee voting irregularities, will now be chosen by
the president after consultation with the parliamentary leadership.
Previously, three of the seats were held by foreigners appointed by the
United Nations. The other two members were Afghans.

The Election Complaint Commission was the oversight body that documented
widespread irregularities in the presidential elections last August, ruling
that at least a million votes cast for Mr. Karzai were suspect and forcing
him into a runoff.

Mr. Karzai's opponents denounced the new decree, saying the move threatened
the nation's stability. They predicted that without an impartial complaint
commission, elections would lead to a Parliament whose members were indebted
to Mr. Karzai or others in his government. Parliamentary elections are
expected this summer.

"This is really a critical moment in the run-up to the parliamentary
elections," said Abdullah Abdullah, who was Mr. Karzai's main opponent in
last year's presidential election. "There has to be a fair way for the
people to participate in the elections."

Even after the Election Complaint Commission forced the runoff last fall,
Mr. Abdullah withdrew, saying he could not get a fair vote. Mr. Karzai was
then pronounced president by another election body, the Independent Election
Commission, whose members the president had appointed.

"You cannot live without an independent, impartial electoral body in the
hope that democracy will take root," Mr. Abdullah added.

Mr. Karzai's government was unabashed about the new law.

"In order to make these truly national commissions, this decree has excluded
the foreign members," said Ahmad Zia Seyamak Herawi, a deputy spokesman for
President Karzai.

"There can be Afghan and international monitoring bodies to monitor the
elections of Afghanistan, but we are not going to allow the foreigners with
high salaries to be involved in our elections," Mr. Herawi said. "As they
are not Afghans, they won't care about Afghanistan's national interest, and
they are creating problems for us."

The change in the law was part of "the process of Afghanization," Mr. Herawi
said. The term has been coined by American and other Western diplomats to
describe the process of Afghans taking responsibility for their own
governing and security.

Afghans have begun to use it, too, to burnish their bona fides as patriots
intent on promoting their countrymen.

Indeed, some Afghans appeared to avoid being overly critical of efforts to
give Afghans the powerful roles previously filled by Westerners. Mohammad
Kabir Ranjbar, an independent member of Parliament who represents Kabul,
supported Afghans assuming a greater role, but he said the government was
not yet ready. "To Afghanize the process and the complaint commission is
something necessary, but it should happen when we have a government to obey
the law which we don't have yet," he said.

Potential candidates in the parliamentary elections found the new law
discouraging. "His aim is to engineer a Parliament that will be his 'yes'
men," said Saleh Registani, a former member of Parliament who was hoping to
run again this year.

The loophole Mr. Karzai took advantage of was an apparent contradiction
between two provisions in the Afghan Constitution.

Article 79 states that when the Parliament is in recess, the president has
the right to enact emergency legislative decrees, which have the force of
law, but that when the Parliament returns, it has 30 days to reject them.

However, another provision, Article 109, states that "proposals for amending
elections law shall not be included in the work agenda of the National
Assembly during the last year of the legislative term." That means the one
kind of decree that Parliament cannot discuss in the last year of its term
is one that changes electoral laws.

While some legislative scholars say that the prohibition on discussing an
electoral law would not include a straight up-or-down vote on the
decree, it seemed unlikely that such a reading would gain ground.

"We are currently studying this legislative decree," said Dan McNorton, a
United Nations spokesman. "We hope that this decree is in line with the
Constitution and with what Parliament and civil society has called for in
terms of reforming the system."

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.

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