The beleaguered president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai was facing a national election on Thursday of this week after Socialist Worker went to press.
Western forces and politicians hope to use the election to justify their occupation.
Karzai is expected to win, but the US and British leadership hope to see a strong showing by the opposition.
That would enable them to distance themselves from Karzai, who is compromised in their eyes both by his corruption and his attempts to play up his independence by criticising some aspects of the occupation.
Western commentators have focused on Taliban attempts to disrupt the poll, suggesting that if only these could be contained everything would be fine. But there are many other problems.
First, Afghanistan is still a country devastated by war.
Second, the country is skewed by the politics of the occupation.
There can be no genuine free elections under occupation.
One symptom of this is Karzai’s decision to allow the warlord and war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum to return from exile. Dostum’s supporters said they would withdraw support for Karzai if he was not allowed to come back.
The administration is an unstable patchwork held together by the support of warlords.
The government maintains what control it has by doing deals with the most conservative forces in each area.
This has included passing a law that legalises rape in marriage – saying a husband has the right of starve his wife if she will not consent to sex.
While courting warlords in other areas, Karzai has counted on ethnic affiliations in the Pashtun areas of the south to deliver electoral victory. This is a risky strategy when this is the area that has seen the heaviest fighting.
And where support has wavered he has been prepared to use bribery. His half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, the representative for Kandahar province, offered local leaders who had backed the opposition $20,000 to change sides, and they did.
Karzai’s campaign has also repeatedly been accused of attempting to rig the ballots.
Afghan villagers interviewed by the Guardian explained that though they did not much like the Taliban, “At least they are honest. They don’t take bribes like the government officials do.”
While opposition candidates attack Karzai for his corruption, none is offering a serious alternative. All are wedded to working with the occupation.
New Labour continues to peddle lies about why British forces are in Afghanistan. Few people believe the war is helping ordinary people, so the government says it is about security.
Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said, “A significant proportion of the people arrested in connection with terrorist offences in Europe over the past few years have been trying to engage in insurgencies in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
What he failed to say was that it is precisely the West’s “war on terror” that has created both the recruits and the places for them to train.
The Taliban was a spent force in 2001. As the US invaded no one rushed to defend their government. It is the occupation that has reversed their fortunes.
For the Afghan people to begin to rebuild their lives, the occupying forces must get out of the country.