The second Afghan presidential and provincial council elections of 2009 turned out to be complex, confusing and full of risks; a different scene from the previous experience in 2004, where all hopes for the betterment of the Afghan society was attached with the new experiment of establishing a democratic system, in a tribal society. But nothing changed since then. Afghanistan continues to suffer from chronic high level of illiteracy, corruption, patronage, and lack of promised institution building. In these four years the Afghan society is still alien to the concept and spirit of a democratic electoral system. Such essential elements like political parties, are nonexistent and the elected representatives have failed to replace the influence of corrupt and ruthless warlords. The expectations of building a new Afghanistan have been shattered. This time, much awaited presidential elections were held on the basis of Hamid Karzai's five years performance, which even according to his closest supporters has been disappointing. No wonder, during the election campaign President Karzai and his Cabinet's record became a focus of intense attention and discussion and above all concern. In spite of massive foreign economic aid and security provided by the occupying American and NATO troops, the Karzai administration failed to establish necessary institutions, may they be in education, health, administration, law or in security services. They totally relied on the US and the NATO troops for their security and other services. America's future plan is largely depended on Karzai government's ability to take charge of the country so that the US and NATO troops would be able to withdraw from this dangerous and complex tribal country. Most important of all it was felt that an uplift in the Afghan society would help to improve the security situation. It was expected that benefits for the ordinary Afghans would isolate the militant Taliban, depriving them of refuse and support amongst their fellow countrymen. On the contrary, the Taliban threat has grown in number, where they not only frequently challenge Karzai's security apparatus but made a number of dare devil attacks on the US and NATO forces. To make the matters worse, on a number of occasions NATO's miscalculation of targets have killed scores of innocent civilians, including women and children, thus putting on hold the whole concept of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The incident of NATO airstrikes of September 4, in Kunduz province, where around 90 people, mostly civilians lost their lives, sent shockwaves around the embattled country. Earlier, in May more than 140 Afghan civilians were killed by US airstrikes, in western Farah province. Although, in these elections, President Hamid Karzai was seen as a favourite, but as the reports started to trickle from the far-flung corners of the country, it became clear that he was facing a tough opposition by his closest Tajik contender, Dr Abdullah Abdullah. There were news of large scale rigging, manipulation, coercion and other dirty tricks applied during the polling, by the incumbent's supporters. Even the ardent American backers of Karzai questioned the validity of these elections. Expressing scepticism, the US State Department spokesman, Ian C Kelly remarked: "It is very important that these elections are seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and in the eyes of the international community." The United Nations backed Electoral Complaint Commission said that it discovered "clear and convincing evidence of fraud in a number of polling stations." The commission ordered a selected recount. It was expected that the 2009 elections would reinforce the electoral system and provide stability in Afghanistan, thus laying a foundation for furthering of democratic traditions and above all unite the country, to confront the militant Taliban, but the things have gone in the opposite direction. The failing security situation made the matters still worse for countrywide free elections. In 12 of the 34 provinces there is either limited or no government control, and are therefore categorised "high risk", meaning they have been disfranchised. Thereby, at least one-third of the Afghan people took no part in the elections. To ensure his success, President Karzai for the sole purpose of expediency, applied all means at his disposal, for example, contrary to the established law that the warlords, with a history of heinous crimes against humanity would be debarred from contesting elections, there were at least 70 candidates with such known illegal practices. Hamid Karzai's running mate Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a warlord is known for his criminal activities, including gross civil rights abuses. Karzai's selection came in spite of stern opposition from the Obama Administration, the UN and the Europeans. Fahim might be an unpopular figure but has enough muscles to muster manipulations of polls through his goons. The presence of warlords in the electioneering process, by itself, negates free voting. According to a commentary: "People will tend to vote for the local strongman who has daily power over their lives. This is hardly surprising in a country more familiar with the Kalashnikov than the ballot box." In another huge deviation to ensure free and fair elections Karzai allowed much feared notorious Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was responsible for the 2002 manslaughter of thousands of his captives, by suffocating them in sealed containers, to come back from exile in Turkey. It was part of a deal stuck in lieu of his support for Karzai. These tactics would further harm Karzai's credibility to rule for the second term. There is also a danger that Karzai's victory in this manner might trigger an ethnic conflict and split the country on ethnic lines - further complicating the political and security landscape of Afghanistan. This would further strengthen Taliban and weaken the American and NATO forces, and militancy and terror activities might get out of control. Already the American fatalities in July and August of this year have surpassed previous figures, since 2001, as they face stiff resistance from the Taliban forces. Such developments have a potential of a spillover in the restive areas of both Iran and Pakistan. Although the US administration openly recognises that Karzai administration has not delivered as expected and that there is a rampant corruption within the ranks of his administration and though being a Pashtun was unable to win the support of the Pashtun masses, still he remains a lesser evil for the American interests. Abdullah Abdullah on the other hand tried hard to win the support of the Obama Administration, but coming from a minority ethnic group he is not expected to provide a kind of support base that the Americans need, especially in Southeast Afghanistan. "President" Abdullah being a Tajik would further alienate the Pashtun population, which is the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. That would diminish any future chance of establishing links with even the "moderate" Taliban. The Americans and the Europeans have been trying to communicate with these militant groups and Saudi Arabia is playing an active mediatory role, in these otherwise not so publicised negotiations. After all, Taliban belongs to the largest ethnic group in the country, which according to some estimates is 42 percent of the total population. Without the cooperation of such a large ethnic group there can be no peace in Afghanistan. In these circumstances the controversial victory of Hamid Karzai, would contribute a little towards the objectives of these elections. The chaos will remain and the Taliban will emerge as strong as ever. The Washington Post editorial of September 3, wrote: "Unless the fraud can be reversed or repaired through a UN-backed 'complaints commission' or a runoff vote, Mr Karzai may emerge as a crippled winner, his already weak and corruption-plagued administration facing further discredit or even violent protests." The writer is a scholar at the Middle East Institute, Washington DC.