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Meddling in US polls

January 09, 2017

AN unprecedented election in the US has given way to an acrimonious and tendentious presidential transition process. While the world may have become accustomed to American politicians warring over issues big and small, the extraordinary spectacle of Republicans, Democrats, the Obama administration, and president-elect Donald Trump and his supporters arguing over the so-called Russian hacking of the November presidential poll is almost incomprehensible. The world’s only superpower is at war with itself politically over the collective assessment of its intelligence apparatus that the Russian state tried to influence US public opinion in favour of president-elect Trump and against his opponent, Hillary Clinton, by hacking Democrats’ emails and passing the stolen information on to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Befuddling as events may be for US citizens and the undeniable schadenfreude of many non-Americans the world over, there is a deep irony to these events: the US is suffering, at the hands of a rival, what it itself has long inflicted on countries around the world, friend and foe alike.

Take just the recent, regional experience here. Despite vowing to build the nation of Afghanistan, or perhaps because of that pledge, since 2001, Afghanistan has had a government whose leadership has effectively been decided by the US. Installing Hamid Karzai in 2001, trying to oust him in 2009, then forcing a so-called National Unity Government on the country in 2014, the dominant role of the US in the Afghan political process has run counter to its own avowed goals there. Or consider the Pakistani example: a decade ago, as then-president Gen Pervez Musharraf was considering how to cling on to power, the US, along with its usual ally in such matters, the UK, helped broker the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance to create a power-sharing scheme between Gen Musharraf and the PPP. The PML-N, which has swept elections in Punjab since 2008, was nowhere in the scheme and only a catastrophic breakdown in the relationship between Gen Musharraf and the PPP opened the door to legitimate elections in 2008.

Elsewhere, in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, the experience of US interference in domestic political processes — and directly manipulating elections – has been so ubiquitous over the decades that it scarcely qualifies as a scandal in the US today. Clearly, the Russian interference in the US election, if true, would herald a new era of global tensions and possibly instability. But if America can acknowledge its own murky interference in elections and political processes internationally, perhaps new rules can be drawn up for an integrated, digitally connected era.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2017