It’s democracy, but is it freedom?

BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Early results show Karzai victory

It looks fairly certain that Mohammed Karzai will win the first elections in Afghanistan since – well, since for ever. In the wake of the Iraq debacle it’s easy to forget how much has changed in Afghanistan. Remarkably, the widely trailered Taleban violence never really materialised. By Sunday night Karzai had secured 4,219,569 votes – more than the 50% he needs for a straight win, and of course therefore a much better mandate than those enjoyed by Messrs Blair and Bush.

George W, of course, famously told the world that ‘they hate us because we love freedom’. Well done, George. You have a talent for stating the blindingly obvious and still getting it completely wrong. But is freedom what Afghanistan really got? The process of democratic election seems to have worked, which bodes well for Iraq. But looking more closely, it was the closest ally of the USA who won. And, what’s more, there were widespread protests that he got the lion’s share of coverage in the media. In addition, of course, to the advantage that the incumbent always has in a many-horse race.

All this sounds eerily close to the situation in the ’70s and ’80s in South America. Nicaragua and El Salvador should not be forgotten. When governments friendly to Western interests were fairly elected, all was well. When the result seemed to be at risk, US advisers to their allies magically appeared. When the result actually went the wrong way, things turned nasty.

The test for the nascent democracies which the coalition is trying to plant in the Islamic world will come when local populations attempt to elect governments hostile to US interests.

What price, then, freedom?