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Update No: 104 - (26/09/10)

Another electoral round
It will take weeks to know what the results of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections are, but a few facts are already clear. Turnover, estimated at around 40%, was rather low, considering that that figure includes all the vote-buying and the ballot stuffing. However, some observers felt that the elections were not as bad as the 2009 ones, not least because 6,000 election officials have been removed from their jobs for alleged misconduct. Perhaps the best piece of news is that the electoral campaign and the elections themselves were characterised by unusually low levels of violence. This might have in part been because the campaign mostly coincided with Ramadan, but there might be more about it. Some sources claim that the Taliban were convinced by the Pakistanis not to attack the electoral process on a large scale, in order to create the preconditions for negotiations later on. Whether this is true or not we shall see later on, but Pakistani sources are insistent on the fact that negotiations are closer than ever. Reportedly Mullah Omar has given up his prejudicial position that a withdrawal of foreign troops should be completed before the Taliban accept to talk.

A few more scandals
In the meanwhile Kabul has been shaken by a few more scandals involving financial impropriety. What is new about this? For the first time it is one of Afghanistan’s few banks to be shaken. In fact, Kabul Bank is the largest financial institution in Afghanistan and counts among his prominent investors one of the brothers of the President and one of the brothers of first vice-president Fahim. It is also being used to pay salaries to army and police. The crisis is shaking the (already not very solid) foundations of the Afghan state, but the National Bank has been ordered to move in and take control, after initially trying to shore Kabul Bank up. The crack occurs at a time when the Obama Administration, less than impressed by Karzai’s attitude towards corruption, despite his promises back in Washington during the last trip to the US, has despatched Senator Kerry to Kabul to warn Karzai that any efforts to assert his own control over the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit would not be accepted in Washington. The two units are investigating corruption allegations. Having chosen Kerry to deliver the message is however also signalling a desire not to antagonise Karzai more than is strictly necessary, as the Senator has good personal relations with Karzai and already helped him to get out of the 2009 electoral impasse after the exposure of the massive rigging.

The first few barrels
After much talk of Afghanistan’s astonishing (and wildly estimated) natural resources, in August finally an oil well in Sar-i Pul province started again pumping out some oil. At 800 barrels a day, it is not going to make much of an impact, but the government has also announced the discovery of a big oil field in the same region, worth an estimated 1.8 billion barrels. The provision of basic services to Afghans continues to develop very slowly despite the massive reconstruction aid. Access to electricity has just expanded from 6% of the population in 2001 to 10% today,(ie: 94% don’t receive it) as the effort was marred by wrong investments. Afghanistan still has a result the lowest per capita consumption of electricity in the world. Now Russia is stepping in to fill the gap, no doubt aiming also to strengthen its influence. The project is called CASA-1000 and should bring 300 megawatts of power from Central Asia to Afghanistan, thanks to funding from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.  

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