The West’s involvement in Afghanistan over the past 12 years has been dominated by one failed opportunity after another. Rather than focusing so massively on the military effort rather than well-informed and better-targeted recovery, for example, the international community could have made a significant difference by supporting a proposal made back in 2002, notably the introduction of electronic ID cards. But the idea was consistently ignored as “impractical.” And yet, in a society where mobile phones are now ubiquitous, it could have served as a relatively reliable voter ID, perhaps preventing stuffed ballots. It could also have helped monitor health, educational, and other crucial data, such as vaccination programs.
For Afghans, the elections are broadly perceived as their last chance before the bulk of foreign troops leave and global development commitment drops even further. Nevertheless, even though Afghans have traditionally proved adept at compromise, the voting abuses may have gone too far. People went to the polls to have their say. To have their vote turned into a shared coalition government primarily because of corruption and abuse of the voting process may only be sending the message that there is no point in democracy.
Yet this does not mean the West should abandon Afghanistan. The last time the West lost interest was after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. This led to a ruthless civil war during the early 1990s followed by the rise of the Taliban supported by Al Qaeda, Pakistan, and even the United States. By the time Washington understood what was happening, it was too late.