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Counting on Karzai: Can he continue as President of Afghanistan for Five More Years?

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In less than two days, 17 million Afghans are expected to go to the polls and vote. This will be their second presidential election, and although I have been watching the events surrounding the election, I, like many Afghans, feel almost apathetic.

No doubt I wish I were there. I would relish interviewing and watching the wheeling and dealing of the candidates. I'm sorry and extremely disappointed that I lost out on an observer position because I worked as a policy advisor in the Office of the Afghan President last year. It was feared that I would not look independent.

Ironically, I really don't support any of the candidates. Not because I don't like one or another, but because I am jaded enough to know their hands will basically be tied.

The current president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and his entire cabinet, including his opponent, Former Cabinet Minister and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, are weak and inept. This is not completely their fault. It is the result of a complex Afghanistan that has suffered extreme damage to its governance due to war, invasion, the current occupation and poverty.

Factions have been fighting in that country for centuries. In order to survive, Afghans have had to become fiercely independent. Despite their independence, they know they must build coalitions to survive and they are brilliant at building them.

Unfortunately, the compromises that often take place are worrisome. The problem is not a few back-room deals or the stuffing of ballot boxes but rather something much more complicated. A blind eye to opium production, embezzlement, large kickbacks and the sale of women, children and boys are just the starting point. All these shameful offenses are committed just to gain power, which can be lost in seconds to a competitor's militia or one enemy's gun.

Foreigners also participate in many monetary crimes. The country changes little, yet the lure of Afghanistan continues to call out to any soul that has visited even once. With warm hearts and endless hospitality, Afghans remind you that there are basic needs in life: friendship, food and warmth. Though they initially may appear serious and somewhat rough, eventually they reveal animated expressions full of life, wanting justice, freedom, income, and viable security. They all want to participate in their future and have their voices heard.

It is doubtful that Karzai or any other candidate, or even the international community, will be able to satisfy these desires. The next Afghan president will inherit more corruption, more uncertainty, more occupiers and more war. More importantly he will lose even his existing authority. He will not be in charge of his country, which has been overrun by foreign parties and extremist intimidation.

Karzai, despite diminishing popularity and a close campaign, will most likely win. In spite of this, he will again be weak, having negotiated away much of his influence to other tribal leaders and warlords. Even worse, he will not have a say in the war or in the work of the expatriates, leaving him once again to be nothing more than a washed-up mayor imprisoned in his "palace" within Kabul.