Analysis: Tehran Talks Out Of Both Sides Of Mouth On Afghan Election
By Bill Samii
The Iranian government is continuing to take a two-pronged approach to events in neighboring countries. The relatively moderate Foreign Ministry has congratulated Afghanistan on its first election, which took place on 9 October. Official government radio, however, is sending a different message to the Afghan people, with Dari broadcasts from northwestern Iran denouncing Hamid Karzai as a U.S. stooge and playing up alleged election violations.
Two weeks before the Afghan election, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi stressed the importance of the event, IRNA reported on 26 September. "We believe that broad-based election, in which all people with differences of views are allowed to choose their [candidates], is [a] very important and effective step towards stability, prosperity, and economic growth of Afghanistan," he said.
Two days after the election, Assefi said that Tehran views the event as a "positive move," IRNA reported on 11 October. Assefi said the all-inclusive nature of the 9 October election contributed to national solidarity, political stability, and economic development in Afghanistan. He expressed Iran's readiness to support Afghanistan's democratic efforts, and noted that Afghan refugees in Iran participated in the election. The International Organization for Migration, which organized refugee voting in Iran and Pakistan, said less than 40 percent of eligible refugees in Iran voted, the "Daily Times" reported on 12 October.
Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Reza Bahrami sent a letter to Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai congratulating him, the election organizers, and the Afghan people on their election, Kabul's Radio Afghanistan reported on 11 October. "The successful arrangement for Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential election was a long stride toward the establishment of a lasting peace, strengthening the foundations of stability, and paving the way for comprehensive development in Afghanistan," Bahrami's letter stated, IRNA reported.
In contrast with these expressions of support, Iranian state radio's Dari-language service, which is based in the northeastern city of Mashhad, tried to discourage participation in the election and denounced the incumbent candidate. Mashhad radio reported on 4 October, "because of the U.S. and other Western countries' apparent and clear support for Karzai..., [his] rivals and the country's political observers have described the election contest as unfair." The next day, Mashhad radio reported, "Karzai has imposed an unfair contest on other candidates by taking advantage of government resources and enjoying the support of the United States and other Western countries." The report underlined U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's alleged support for Karzai, and it added, "Doubts about the election campaign in Afghanistan will certainly put a big question mark over the credibility of the election and the legitimacy of the future president." Citing an anonymous "informed source," Mashhad radio claimed on 6 October that the U.S. Embassy was buying voting cards because, "Washington wants its favorite to become president."
On election day, Mashhad radio cited candidates' allegations of fraud. The next day, an Afghan journalist named Sayyed Essa Hosayni Mazari was quoted as saying there were electoral violations, and he added that the Joint Electoral Management Body favored one candidate. And in the following days there were more reports about candidates' complaints. "America is throwing its absolute weight behind the president of Afghanistan, and [U.S. Ambassador] Zalmay Khalilzad is making his utmost efforts in Kabul to secure his [Hamid Karzai's] victory," Mashhad radio announced in an 11 October broadcast. "And Karzai's personal use of all government facilities to get rid of rivals and to stay in power for longer were the other factors which made it clear to the people that nobody else but Karzai is the winner."
Mashhad radio went on to describe the issue as a choice between Western democracy and Islamic values, and it suggested that the election is meant to legitimize "an occupation and the appointment of the occupiers' favorite government." It concluded, "It is indisputable that the occupiers, who have not spared a crime to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, will take out from people's ballot boxes the name of the person whom they have already appointed."
Vote counting began on 14 October, and according to an anonymous senior official cited by AP, turnout was about 75 percent. A final tally is not expected until the end of October. Hard-line Iranian state radio, meanwhile, is doing its utmost to undermine the entire process.
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