America’s Manchurian Candidate in Afghanistan

From Holden:

The Bush administration is meddling in Afghanistan’s election in order to ensure their man Karzai has an edge:

In recent weeks, candidates in the presidential election to be held on Saturday have accused the US envoy [ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad] of taking on a new role — that of campaign manager for Mr Karzai — in an exercise whose success is vital for the re-election hopes of George W. Bush.

Mr Karzai has long been seen as the US’s man, and his backers have done little to challenge that perception. In the past week, the US ambassador has appeared three times at Mr Karzai’s side at the opening of US-funded reconstruction projects, even when they have not been completed.

The museum’s end wall stood unfinished and unplastered as the ribbon was cut. The new road to Shibarghan petered out into rubble long before it reached the town, so the ceremony was held in the middle of the desert.

Rival candidates have complained to Afghanistan’s election commission over the legality of the support the US provides to Mr Karzai, from Chinook helicopters to his well-armed bodyguards.

Most serious of all, opposition candidates are claiming the US is pressuring them to drop out of the race or seek deals. They contend that such interference could damage the credibility of what is being hailed as the first truly democratic election in Afghanistan’s troubled history.

Leading candidate Mohammed Mohaqiq was preparing to launch his presidential bid when Mr Khalilzad offered him a deal to pull out of the election in return for cabinet posts for his men.

Mr Mohaqiq asked the Americans to pay for a road through his tribal heartland. He said Mr Khalilzad readily agreed. When he decided against the deal, he claimed the ambassador called his party colleagues and tribal associates and asked them to help persuade him.

“I am not the only one he has visited — he has done the same thing with many other candidates,” he said. “We all know the Americans are not interested in a real election, they just want Karzai to win.”

[snip]

“It is very shameful what the Americans are doing,” said Mohammed Qasim, a vice-presidential candidate on an opposition ticket. “They came here to end terrorism, not to interfere in our elections and impose their will on us.”

Mr Karzai’s frenzy of ribbon-cutting has angered those with less tangible achievements to show off. After two years of doling out reconstruction funds, the Bush administration has pumped in an extra $US1.76billion ($2.44 billion) this election year.

But, true to form, the administration’s incompetence may spoil their plans:

Mr Karzai would probably be a runaway favourite without any US meddling, but the perception that the election is a done deal is gaining currency among the educated elite, fuelling cynicism and apathy.

“It’s a dangerous game the Americans are playing,” Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit analyst Andrew Wilder said.

“The American ambassador accompanying him everywhere is undermining his credibility. It confirms to the Afghans that Khalilzad is the real power in the country and that there is more interest in the outcome than in having a meaningful process.”