Karzai’s Fortuitous Flu Bug

Karzai’s Fortuitous Flu Bug

As the election run-off between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah approached, tensions were running high, particularly among Abdullah’s Tajik supporters, who thought the election process was fatally flawed. There was widespread talk of anti-government protests—even among the Afghan population opposed to the Taliban.

When Abdullah withdraw from the run-off in early November, saying the process was corrupt, he urged his followers not to take action. But Abdullah thought mistrust could further alienate the disenchanted populace from the Kabul government. Abdullah told Stars and Stripes, “Anything can happen. The reason for the fragility is mainly because the government is not trusted.”

But in the days prior to the cancellation, the Karzai government had already hobbled the protest movement. The day before Abdullah withdrew, the government declared an HINI flu emergency in parts of the country, including Panjshir Province, the fierce Tajik region that has been a hotbed of support for Abdullah. With the run-off looming, the government declared mosques, schools and universities—the traditional gathering places for politically minded Afghans—to be closed for three weeks.

Though Ahmed Abdul Rahman, the UN World Health Organization officer-in-charge in Afghanistan declared the order to be “appropriate and timely,” there was widespread cynicism about the timing. The country had 320 HINI cases by November 3, with two fatalities tied to the disease. An Afghan member of parliament, Kabir Ranjbar, told the IRIN news agency, “The disease was not widespread and cannot justify a state of emergency in which the entire education system is closed.”

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