14 October 2004, Volume
EXPECTATIONS CONFRONT AFGHAN POLLING REALITY.
By Ron Synovitz
The jovial mood of voters in the Afghan capital on 9 October quickly turned to surprise, and then anger, when problems emerged with the ink used to prevent individuals from casting more than one ballot.
Faruq Wardak, chief of the secretariat of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), was surrounded by an angry crowd of voters when he visited a polling station in eastern Kabul less than two hours after the vote began.
Scores of voters held up their voter registration cards with cancellation holes punched in them to show that they had voted. They also stuck out their thumbs to show that they had been able to easily wipe away the ink that is supposed to ensure that anyone who received multiple registration cards would not be able to vote more than once.
Surrounded by the angry crowd, Wardak told RFE/RL that if the problem proves to be wide-scale, it could pose a threat to the credibility of the election.
"The center that I visited, in the beginning when I arrived, so many people complained that the indelible ink is very easily washed away," Wardak said. "When I went there, I found that the wrong marker was used [by the poll station workers]. The marker that was supposed to be used to for marking the ballot paper, that was used to ink the finger. In some polling stations, we found that indelible ink marker does not exist at all. I am not ruling out at this stage, if this is very massive, there could be an act of sabotage just to defame the process."
Wardak initially told RFE/RL that any polling stations without the proper indelible ink would have to be closed until the supplies could arrive. He said the vote could be put on hold at those locations until Sunday.
Later, after coordinating with UN and Afghan election workers at his headquarters, Wardak said the problem had been resolved at all polling stations where the problem had emerged.
Some of the 16 presidential candidates demanded that the election be postponed.
But the United Nations' chief spokesman in Afghanistan, Manoel De Almeida e Silva, said the JEMB decided after careful consideration to continue voting throughout the country.
After Almeida e Silva's announcement, RFE/RL correspondents in provincial regions across the country continued to report the ink problem.
Afghan transitional leader Hamid Karzai confirmed earlier this year that some individuals received more than one voter card during a UN-led drive to register more than 10 million voters.
Karzai said the total number of duplicate cards was not known. But he calmed widespread fears about voter fraud by insisting that the use of indelible ink would prevent those who got more than one card from voting twice.
In Kabul today, the man who was expected to present the greatest challenge to Karzai -- former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- told reporters that he would not vote unless something was done to resolve the situation (see news section below). Qanuni said that if the problem continued, the election would not have any credibility.
John Sifton, a researcher on Afghanistan from the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, said the confusion over the ink was not the only issue that could undermine the credibility of the vote. He said many Afghans also were being pressured on who to vote for by Afghan factional militias that hold sway in provincial regions outside of the capital.
"There's no one mood in the country and there's no one atmosphere. District by district, province by province, Afghans are telling us different things about their expectations, hopes and fears about this election," Sifton said. "Rural people tend to not understand, to the same degree, their political rights. They are more prone to being intimidated and told how to vote -- and obeying -- because they don't understand that their vote is secret. Whereas urban voters are more likely to understand their rights and are more likely to do what they want. [They are more likely to understand] that they don't have to listen to what [Afghan militia] factions tell them."
Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent.
UN OFFICIAL HAILS AFGHANISTAN'S VOTE AS 'SPECIAL EVENT.'
By Robert McMahon
A senior UN official has called the Afghan elections an impressive achievement that bodes well for the country's political development. The deputy head of UN peacekeeping, Hedi Annabi, said an investigation is under way into charges of voting fraud and intimidation. But he told the UN Security Council on 12 October that the elections were generally well run and orderly. The Security Council praised the elections as a milestone for the country and urged Afghan authorities to follow through with parliamentary polls in the spring.
The counting of ballots in Afghanistan will take at least two weeks and a probe into irregularities has just begun. But UN officials are expressing great optimism about the presidential election held on 9 October.
Annabi, told the Security Council that the process has proven to be "overwhelmingly positive" among Afghans.
"The impressive participation, the enthusiasm and pride of the women and men voting for the first time, the peaceful and orderly environment in which the electoral operation unfolded, have made it a special event that augurs well for the journey of the Afghans towards a vigorous democracy," Annabi said.
Annabi said initial estimates show a high voter turnout. And reports from out-of-country voting centers in Pakistan and Iran, he said, showed 800,000 Afghans casting ballots -- the largest-ever refugee vote.
Annabi said the electoral process also generated momentum in disarmament, demobilization, and defactionalization of military forces. He reported a surge in the number of soldiers entering the demobilization program by the end of September. By election day, more than 22,500 personnel had been disarmed -- one-third of the target -- and more than two-thirds of heavy weapons had been turned over.
"These results suggest that, just as disarmament is an important ingredient in the holding of credible elections, the electoral process itself helps advance disarmament," Annabi said.
The UN Security Council issued a statement welcoming the elections and commending the role of the Afghan National Police and National Army in maintaining security. The statement took note of the investigation being mounted by the Joint Electoral Management Body and its efforts to "enhance the transparency" of the electoral process.
Security Council President Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, reading the statement, cited major challenges still facing Afghanistan: "The Security Council urges the government of Afghanistan, with the help of the international community, to continue to confront the challenges that remain in Afghanistan, including security; timely preparation of the parliamentary elections in April 2005; the reconstruction of institutions; the fight against narcotics; and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of Afghan militias."
UN officials said the security conditions for the 9 October elections "greatly exceeded" expectations. They urged the United States and NATO-led forces to remain in the country through the parliamentary elections next year.
Robert McMahon is an RFE/RL correspondent.
RFE/RL ELECTION SPECIAL.
Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's first-ever direct national elections. Find detailed profiles of the presidential candidates, identify emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow October's presidential vote and next year's parliamentary campaigns.
AFGHAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN ENDS AMID CONTROVERSY.
Campaigning officially ended on 6 October for Afghanistan's first presidential election scheduled for 9 October, international news agencies reported. At an election rally held in Kabul on 6 October, front-runner Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said that "the future of Afghanistan for centuries ahead will be determined" by the upcoming election, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The rally held by Karzai was his second official election campaign gathering, while he also made a trip to northern Afghanistan to open a new road (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 October 2004). Karzai's first campaign rally was held on 5 October in the south-central Ghazni Province, the BBC reported on 6 October. In Kabul, Karzai told a crowd estimated at 6,000 who had gathered at a stadium that he would "respect the vote of the nation" in the case that "someone else wins the polls," AFP reported on 6 October. Campaigning began on 7 September.
On the last day of campaign, one person was killed and four people were injured when a bomb exploded near Fayzabad, provincial capital of the northwestern Badakhshan Province, as Karzai's first running mate, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud's vehicle passed by (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 August 2004).
Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 6 October that his militia tried to assassinate Zia Mas'ud, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "The explosion in [northeastern] Badakhshan [Province] was aimed at killing Ahmad Zia Mas'ud," Hakimi told AIP in a telephone conversation. "As a first step, we are targeting the candidates and their running mates. We will employ all means to disrupt the election," Hakimi added (see below for a contradictory statement from the neo-Taliban).
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 7 October that "initial investigation shows that they [those behind the attack against Mas'ud] were drug mafia," AFP reported. According to Jalali, the "drug mafia," supported by militant neo-Taliban and foreign "terrorists" -- a term used for Al-Qaeda -- are trying to derail the election.
The neo-Taliban have never been active in Badakhshan and the province was one of few places that the former Taliban regime failed to bring under its control.
Afghanistan's growing drug problem is being characterized as a major security challenge by the Afghan administration and some foreign countries. However, those responsible for Afghan security, namely the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, has consistently maintained that counternarcotics is not part of its mandate. By blaming the attempt on Mas'ud's life on the drug lords, Jalali is turning attention to the link between militants, terrorists, and drug cartels in his country -- elements which he referred to as "the enemies of peace and stability" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003; 12 February, 2 and 10 June, and 1 September 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER'S OFFICIAL KILLED IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN; HIS SUPPORTERS REPORTEDLY JAILED.
A district campaign official for Karzai's main rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, was killed in Shindand District of Herat Province, AFP reported on 5 October. "We condemn the killing of Abdul Aziz who was campaigning for us in Shindand," Qanuni told a gathering of his supporters in a rally held in Kabul on 5 October. Herat Province police chief Ziauddin Mahmudi said that Abdul Aziz's body was discovered in Shindand, however, it was not clear whether he was campaigning for Qanuni at the time of his death.
At a campaign rally in Kabul on 5 October, Qanuni accused supporters of his rival, Karzai, of jailing his supporters, the BBC reported. "They threw our supporters into jail," Qanuni said, referring to the unidentified supporters of Karzai. "We condemn this act and we ask the UN and the government to release those people who have been sent to jail for no reason but supporting us," Qanuni added.
The alleged incarcerations occurred in northern Baghlan and Konduz provinces, AFP reported on 5 October. Supporters of Karzai and Qanuni, two main contenders in the election, reportedly clashed in Herat city in late September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
KARZAI FARES WELL IN SURVEY, GAINS SUPPORT OF TWO CANDIDATES AND RADICAL PARTY.
A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration shows that 97 percent of Afghan refugees in Pakistan favor Karzai as the next leader of their country, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 6 October. An estimated 650,000 expatriate Afghans in Pakistan and an equal number in Iran, from around 2 million refugees in the two countries, have registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential election (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" 8 October 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
A dissident group of Hizb-e Islami said it supports the candidacy of Karzai in the upcoming presidential election, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 5 October. Khaled Faruqi, chairman of the splinter Hizb-e Islami, said that Karzai was the most suitable person to run Afghanistan, adding that his party wants the future Afghan leader to bear in mind the objectives of the jihad and observe Islamic values. "All Afghans and especially the Hizb-e Islami party should vote for Hamid Karzai," Faruqi said, according to "The Christian Science Monitor" on 6 October.
The main branch of Hizb-e Islami, led by former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is an ally of the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The splinter group of the party is an officially registered political party in Afghanistan (for a list of Afghan political parties, see RFE/RL's special website on the elections at http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections/).
Meanwhile, Sayyed Ishaq Gailani, presidential candidate for the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, terminated his candidacy on 6 October in favor of Chairman Karzai, Afghanistan Television reported.
"In order to strengthen peace and national unity and to preserve the interests of Afghanistan, we held talks and reached agreement with Hamid Karzai...about our joint cooperation in serving the noble people of Afghanistan," Gailani told a news conference in Kabul. Gailani asked supporters of his party to join the "national movement" during the election. The details of the agreement reached between Gailani and Karzai were not disclosed.
Gailani, a member of one of Afghanistan's most influential religious families, has considerable backing in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan -- Pashtun areas where Karzai is not seen as being widely popular
Abdul Hasib Aryan, an independent candidate, also withdrew his candidacy on 6 October in favor of Karzai, Afghanistan Television reported. After discussions within his team, Aryan said that it was decided in order to "save Afghanistan from violence and tragedy." "Therefore, I withdrew my presidential candidacy and I officially announce by support for Mr. Karzai," Aryan told a news conference in Kabul. Aryan, who was not regarded as one of the major candidates, asked his followers to cast their votes "solely" for Karzai.
Karzai told reporters on 6 October that he was "very grateful" for Aryan's announcement of support, adding that "he's done the right thing," RFE/RL reported. "And if any other candidate would come and back me, I would be happy and appreciate that," Karzai added.
Qazi Mohammad Amin Weqad, the first vice president of candidate Abdul Satar Sirat, on 7 October announced his decision to back Hamid Karzai's candidacy, AIP reported. Weqad told AIP that he has resigned as Sirat's running mate and will support Karzai, "in the interest of Afghanistan and to avoid the possibility of the election going into the second round."
Karzai, widely regarded as the front-runner, is facing the possibility of a runoff since his efforts to persuade major challengers -- including Qanuni and Sirat -- to drop out of the race. Qanuni earlier had indicated that in case there is a second round of votes, he and a number of other candidates, including Sirat, would form a united front against Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
DISPUTE WITHIN POLITICAL PARTY RANKS OVER SUPPORT FOR AFGHAN LEADER.
National Movement Chairman Ahmad Wali Mas'ud indicated on 6 October that his party was backing the candidacy of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. A day later, fellow party member and Afghan Minister of Returnees Affairs Enayatullah Nazari read a statement refuting Wali Mas'ud's claim, AIP reported. Nazari called Wali Mas'ud's support for Karzai a personal choice but argued that "there is no change in the National Movement's stance," which is to "resolutely support" the candidacy of Karzai's chief rival and National Movement member Yunos Qanuni.
Wali Mas'ud, the current Afghan ambassador to the United Kingdom, is a younger brother of the celebrated former military commander of United Front (aka Northern Alliance), Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. Another brother, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, happens to be Karzai's first vice-presidential running mate.
The two Mas'ud brothers, along with Qanuni, Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, formed a powerful front in post-Taliban Afghanistan and were regarded as a major force that could mount a serious challenge in pursuit of Afghanistan's top political post.
But Karzai surprised many Afghan observers in July when he dropped plans to include Defense Minister Fahim as his chief running mate on the presidential ballot, instead choosing Zia Mas'ud (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). The move created divisions within the Mas'ud-Qanuni-Fahim-Abdullah group.
In an interview with RFE/RL in August, Wali Mas'ud hinted at the dilemma his party faced in backing a candidate, saying, "On one side we have Ahmad Zia, who is a prominent member of Nahzat [the National Movement]; and on the other side we have Qanuni, who is also a key member of Nahzat. My position -- and the position of the party -- is critical" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). In August, Wali Mas'ud had said that his immediate job was "to bridge the gap" between Karzai and Qanuni. "I am responsible for the National Movement," he continued. "I am not acting alone. I must act through the collective decision-making process of the National Movement." Wali Mas'ud added in August that "in making the decision, we must be very careful to stick to the principles and charter of the National Movement."
Wali Mas'ud's hopes of bridging the gap between Karzai and Qanuni seem to have failed, since speculation of a looming alliance between the two candidates never materialized (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 October 2004). Mas'ud has thus decided to back the ticket that includes his brother, while his party appears to have opted for Qanuni.
Wali Mas'ud said the following in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL from Kabul on 8 October:
RFE/RL: The Afghan Returnees Affairs Minister Enayatullah Nazari has declared that the National Movement backs the candidacy of Yunos Qanuni and that your decision to support Chairman Karzai -- and your brother Ahmed Zia Mas'ud -- is a personal one that does not reflect the position of the party. Is this true?
Wali Mas'ud: The National Movement is an officially registered party, and it has 16 founding members. Neither the returnees minister [Nazari] nor Yunos Qanuni are founding members; they are not registered with the [Justice] ministry as such.... My name has been registered as the head of the party. Whoever claims they support a candidate other than the official position of the party, that is their own view and their own personal claims. It has nothing to do with the official position of the National Movement.
RFE/RL: Which candidate does the National Movement support?
Wali Mas'ud: We support a national agenda, and we support the candidates who support that national agenda. In this case, it is President Hamid Karzai, Ahmad Zia [Mas'ud], and [Karzai's second vice-presidential running mate Mohammad Karim] Khalili, as well as other leaders. Among them, there are some mujahedin and some political leaders.... So yes, the National Movement supports the campaign of President Karzai, which, I repeat, is based on the national agenda.
RFE/RL: What exactly does this national agenda consist of?
Wali Mas'ud: This is the position of the National Movement, and it is the result of numerous discussions during which we have come to agree on certain principles with Mr. Karzai. We are not simply backing them for the sake of backing anyone. Our decision was based on certain principles.
RFE/RL: What are those principles?
Wali Mas'ud: These principles involve 12 items. Among them [are]: having a united political vision for the future of Afghanistan; agreeing on the day of the parliamentary elections and a viable mechanism for those elections; not allowing any controversial personalities -- we all know who they are -- from the past cabinet into the new cabinet; not allowing anything unconstitutional -- in other words, no appointments should be made that go against the constitution; and we have also agreed that the fight against narcotics and terror should be the responsibility of all.
RFE/RL: Is it true that these principles also include a number of key cabinet posts for members of your party?
Wali Mas'ud: At the moment, every candidate is preparing his own cabinet. There are talks that will take place from now onward, because they must prepare this. No one knows for sure who will win. But it is the responsibility of each team to prepare their cabinet. We have not talked about these things.... But as soon as the elections are over, talks will start.
RFE/RL: There are rumors that the elections will be fraudulent.
Wali Mas'ud: Well, let's see what happens. The elections are tomorrow.... If it hasn't happened, we can't judge.
RFE/RL: Who do you think was responsible for the assassination attempt on your brother in Badakhshan Province on 6 October (see above)?
Wali Mas'ud: No details have come out yet. One thing I can say is that whoever is responsible does not want a national unity government to take form. Anyhow, this is not something that one can find out right away. It needs a lot of investigations and the government and the right agencies will do so after the elections.
Whoever was responsible is against peace and unity in Afghanistan. Don't forget that my brother Ahmed Zia's coming out as a candidate for the government is a very important step towards establishing unity in the country and stopping the polarization of the country along ethnic lines. Had Mr. Karzai gone alone, and Ahmed Zia [gone] on the other side, the elections would have polarized the Afghan people along ethnic lines. That is why the enemies of unity acted in this manner and tried to kill my brother. (Amin Tarzi and Tanya Goudsouzian)
PAKISTAN DENIES DOSTUM'S CLAIMS OF INTERFERENCE...
In a statement issued on 7 October, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Mas'ud Khan denied Afghan presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum's allegation that Islamabad was forcing Afghan refugees to cast their vote in favor of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported. According to the report, the statement expressed Pakistan's "shock and dismay" over Dostum's charges. In a separate statement, the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul on 7 October said that Dostum did not have any evidence to substantiate his claim, therefore his allegations were baseless, Radio Afghanistan reported. Dostum, who heads Junbish-e Melli party and controls his own militia, is running as an independent candidate in the upcoming presidential election. It is not clear when Dostum made his remarks. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS U.S. REBUKES HIS REMARKS ON RECONSTRUCTION.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement on 7 October that General Dostum made a false statement about reconstruction work on a road in northern Afghanistan. "General Dostum's statement this week that work has stopped on" the road from Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jawzjan Province, to Sar-e Pol, the provincial capital of Sar-e Pol Province, "is false," the U.S. Embassy stated. "As with any major construction project, activity on this road will be more visible in certain phases than in others, but the work on this road has been initiated and will continue until its completion," the statement added.
Dostum, who was an ally of the United States and Karzai until recently, has reportedly refused to quit the presidential race in favor of Karzai. While not a strong candidate throughout Afghanistan, Dostum is expected to secure most of the votes from the country's ethnic Uzbeks, estimated at around 10 percent of the population. It is not clear when and under what context Dostum made his charges regarding the reconstruction project. (Amin Tarzi)
ELECTION OFFICIALS TRY TO LEARN FROM MISTAKES IN VOTE.
JEMB chief Faruq Wardak has praised the eagerness shown by millions of Afghans who took part in the first-ever direct presidential election on 9 October.
But with candidates continuing to allege fraud over faulty ink markings on the fingers of some voters, Wardak said the JEMB is trying to learn from its mistakes.
"Thanks to the Afghan people that have registered -- thanks to the thousands and thousands of the young Afghan dedicated teams who have worked [at the polling stations and as election monitors] and the international election experts," Wardak said. "We are, in the meantime, learning lessons. Some of the mistakes that we may make here will not be repeated in the parliamentary election, which is going to be much more complicated."
All 15 challengers of Afghan transitional leader Hamid Karzai maintain that ink that could easily be rubbed off the fingers of some voters might have allowed those who were erroneously issued multiple registration cards to cast more than one ballot.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met on 10 October with two of Karzai's strongest rivals in the vote -- former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni and former Afghan Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq.
Both Qanuni and Mohaqeq now say they will consider the election to be legitimate if an independent commission determines there was not massive voter fraud.
"I appeal to the United Nations to hold an independent investigation and ensure that the candidates are represented [on an independent commission]," Mohaqeq said. "If the commission announces that the elections were fraudulent, of course, at that time there will be a need for a new election" (see below).
Afghanistan's election commission said it will delay vote counting while seeking advice on dealing with possible illegal ballots. An independent panel has been created to investigate the fraud claims.
UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said it is possible that first results could be out this week.
Mohammad Sayyed Niazi is leader of some 2,300 independent Afghan election monitors in the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. He said close monitoring of ballot counting is now needed to ensure ordinary Afghans that the official results are legitimate.
"Our suggestion for the JEMB is that they make sure the counting process does not include the problems that happened in the voting process," Niazi said. "We can say that if the ink issue did not appear in the voting process, the process would have been much more fair and clear."
Some international officials said the furor of Afghan voters over the ink issue needs to be put in perspective. Among them is Robert Barry, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) election support mission in Afghanistan.
"If you look at the regulations for this election, and if you were to examine the implementation of every one of these regulations, it is completely impossible because the regulations are -- I would say -- much too demanding for a country at this stage of the training and development of election administrators," Barry said.
Barry noted that the last of the 120,000 polling-station workers for the 9 October election had been hired only a week before the vote. Training of those poll workers began just days before the vote.
For Wardak, the JEMB chief, the scandal over faulty ink markings is providing the first lesson for those who are looking ahead to the 2005 legislative elections.
"There could be other lessons that we learn," Wardak said. "And I am pretty sure these will help us to make our parliamentary election as smooth as possible."
John Sifton, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, sees next year's parliamentary and local elections as the real test of whether democracy can work in Afghanistan.
"This presidential election is not the most important milestone on the road to democratic rule. Most politically active people -- most political organizers, political party leaders -- recognize that the more important test will come in the 2005 parliamentary and local elections. That's when the warlords will make their move to cement control at local levels through more legitimate democratic processes. That's when the test will take place," Sifton said. "Can independent actors standing up to them -- with no guns, but just words and pamphlets and voter organization -- overcome these people who, in many cases, don't enjoy the support of the local constituencies they rule?"
Grant Kippen is the Afghanistan director of a Washington-based nongovernmental organization called the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. His group trained Afghan election monitors for the 9 October vote. Kippen told RFE/RL that the presidential election was an enormous educational process for both observers and for Afghan voters themselves.
Wardak agreed. He said the most important lesson for ordinary Afghans was to understand that when they go into a polling booth, their vote really is secret -- that nobody can attach their name to the ballot they marked.
"They saw it practically. Their vote is secret. So that is another confidence-building [measure] for future elections," Wardak said. "So far, I have heard that people were hearing on radio and television [about how a secret ballot election works]. But they had never seen it practically [until the presidential election]."
Wardak said the 9 October experience will help Afghan men and women better understand their rights as voters.
In that sense, and considering what the JEMB has called the strong turnout of both men and women voters, Wardak concluded that Afghan society has just taken a significant step forward. (Ron Synovitz)
TOP CHALLENGER TO ACCEPT AFGHAN ELECTION RESULTS...
Mohammad Yunos Qanuni said on 11 October that he is backing away from his threats to challenge the veracity of the 9 October presidential election, according to international media. "We want to continue the election process," Reuters quoted Qanuni as saying. "We don't want to boycott it despite what we considered the irregularities in the election. We want to see this electoral process through. And we appreciate the honor and the will of the Afghans." (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN VOTE COUNT ON HOLD.
The JEMB has stated that the vote-counting process to determine the results of Afghanistan's first direct popular election has been postponed to investigate allegations that illegal ballots were cast, Radio Afghanistan reported on 11 October. According to the JEMB, the UN is setting up an independent commission to investigate the charges of fraud made by most of the 16 presidential candidates, AFP reported on 12 October.
The commission will include a former Canadian diplomat and an as-yet-unnamed Swedish electoral expert as a third member. Candidates who have questions about the election are required to submit their written complaints by 12 October. The charges of fraud, mainly stemming from either the quality of the ink used to mark voters to prevent multiple voting or the use of the wrong pen, has placed the success of the election, which featured a large voter turnout and no large-scale violence, in doubt. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION WANTS AN ELECTION INQUIRY.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has complained about a number of shortcomings in the 9 October election, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to a press release, AIHRC observers witnessed that the ink used for marking thumbnails of voters could be easily wiped off and that special permanent ink was not used at all polling stations. According to the AIHRC, election personnel were not well trained and not all polling stations were equipped with a sufficient number of ballots and ballot boxes. The AIHRC also complained about the lack of communication between central election offices and the polling stations. The AIHRC called on the JEMB, the UN, and the international community to set up a transparent panel to investigate the complaints made by the majority of the candidates and to inform the Afghan people of the results of their inquiry. (Amin Tarzi)
ALLEGATIONS OF AFGHAN ELECTION FRAUD EXTEND BEYOND INK ISSUE.
All 16 candidates in Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential election on 9 October filed complaints regarding irregularities to the JEMB, "The New York Times" reported on 13 October. Most of the complaints among the field of 15 rivals of presumed front-runner Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai involved the failure to prevent multiple voting, as the supposedly indelible ink used to mark the thumbs of voters could be washed off soon after its application. Abdul Bashir Bezhan, a deputy to candidate Latif Pedram's National Congress Party of Afghanistan, has charged that some people voted as many as 15 times, according to "The New York Times."
An aide to ethnic-Hazara candidate Mohammad Mohaqeq said ballots were missing from boxes from districts with Hazara majorities, the daily reported. Another candidate, Homayun Shah Asefi, alleged that a police official from south-central Ghazni Province reported that the manager of a polling station took two empty ballot boxes and brought them back full of ballots. Asefi claimed the manager in question was briefly detained by local police but was released after saying the ballots were for Karzai, the daily reported.
In Spinboldak in the southern Kandahar Province, an election official wishing to remain anonymous claimed that poll officers were ordered to fill out 700 ballots in favor of Karzai. Hamid Elmi, a spokesman for Karzai's campaign, said his office is also submitting complaints involving other candidates' supporters. (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM SELF-RESTRAINT ON ELECTION DAY.
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said his group decided not to launch attacks on the day of the presidential election in order to avoid killing innocent Muslims, AFP reported on 12 October. "In order to avoid bloodshed of innocent Muslims, we did not target the polling station," Hakimi told AFP in a telephone interview (see above for a contradictory statement from the neo-Taliban).
Hakimi said neo-Taliban insurgents will continue their struggle beyond the elections and that the movement is gaining popularity, a claim rejected by Colonel Dick Pedersen, commander of U.S.-led forces in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar Province Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun said that while neo-Taliban elements are not totally destroyed, the successful election "will demoralize them."
In the months and weeks prior to Afghanistan's presidential election, there was much talk of likely attacks by neo-Taliban and other militant groups before or on election day. It is still unclear whether security measures that were put in place ahead of the vote were responsible for the essentially bloodless election day, or whether militants made a conscious decision not to launch attacks on that day. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S., AFGHAN OFFICIALS SAY SECURITY EFFORTS ENSURED SMOOTH ELECTIONS.
Mahbud Amiri, commander of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Quick Reaction Force, said militants fired at least three Chinese-made BM-12 rockets into Kabul on 11 October.
Amiri said a 20-year-old Afghan man was killed and an Afghan child was injured. He said the main suspects include members of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami mujahedin faction.
"The Hizb-e Islami, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban people are trying to disrupt the situation following the elections -- and they cannot succeed. We have told people that we are trying to ensure that the entire election process in Afghanistan is a success. The balloting has been successful. And as soon as possible, we will arrest those and bring them to justice," Amiri said.
The attack on 11 October was the first in the Afghan capital since the 9 October presidential election. It was similar to several small-scale attacks around the country on election day involving antitank mines, rockets, or attempts by gunmen to break through security checkpoints.
Major Scott Nelson, a spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, credits increased pressure on militants for helping to keep the election process peaceful.
"We've been aggressive in capturing and disrupting anticoalition forces operations throughout the country. For example, down in Spin Boldak [shortly before election day], we had a major operation where we captured 10 [anticoalition militia fighters from the Taliban, Hekmatyar's fighters or Al-Qaeda.]. A number of them have been killed trying to cross in from Pakistan and through the border areas. That's been [part of] the same effort we've had across the country. Especially in the south and southeast where we've put a lot of pressure and enhancing security with the [U.S. Army's] 82nd Airborne coming in, with ISAF [International Security and Assistance Force] and the Spanish battalion, an Italian battalion, and the U.S. company now under ISAF," Nelson said.
U.S. Army Colonel Sam Johnson is the director of strategic communications for the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan. In remarks to RFE/RL, he praised both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) for performing well on election day.
"In some ways, we were surprised that we didn't have any major attacks [on election day]. In many ways, though, we weren't surprised because of the overwhelming success of the ANA and the ANP in establishing good security across the country. And, I would tell you, largely because of the overwhelming support of the population who wanted this vote to happen. We were just absolutely amazed at how many local citizens came to us with issues -- [saying:] 'We know where some 107-millimeter rockets are. We know where some IEDs [improvised explosive devices] are. We know where some land mines are,'" Johnson said.
One of the biggest planned attacks was in Kandahar. The day before the vote, militants tried to smuggle explosives into the city using a large gasoline tanker truck. Johnson credits the Afghan National Army with saving many lives by discovering the explosives before they could be detonated.
"It was very obvious, if you saw this 5,000-gallon tanker truck stopped at the east gate of Kandahar by the ANA, that had it gotten into the city and been detonated, we would have had a major incident on our hands. Fortunately, the security was good. The ANA were looking -- doing the right things and doing what they should be doing. And this truck was discovered. It was a tanker truck that had rockets with detonation cord -- it's a way of being able to set them off -- land mines and explosives in all the wheels. This was a major bomb that would have caused huge damage," Johnson said.
Johnson said Taliban militants also tried to group in Oruzgan Province just north of Kandahar for an election-day assault. About 25 Taliban fighters are thought to have been killed by the only U.S. air strike on election day.
"We did not need the American air superiority in the case of securing the elections -- with the exception of one incident [in Oruzgan Province] where we did find a rather large number of Taliban gathering for an attack. We had eyes on them. We followed them for pretty much an afternoon. And as they massed to put together an attack, we did use American air [power] to come in and drop precision-guided munitions on them. It was a pretty large battle-damage assessment that we did. We pretty much incapacitated that group of Taliban," Johnson said.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi has concluded that a so-called three-ring security plan kept militants from getting close to the polling stations.
Under that plan, the Afghan National Police patrolled areas up to 500 meters from each voting station. The Afghan National Army was responsible for security around the national police. The outermost areas of the security ring were protected either by coalition troops or, in some cases, local tribal forces whose family members were going to the polls.
Still, even if things have gone well so far, the electoral process is not finished. UN and Afghan organizers say it could take up to three weeks for ballot boxes in the most remote parts of Afghanistan to be transported by mules and camels to regional vote-counting centers.
Johnson said security forces are escorting those caravans in a bid to make sure the electoral process remains peaceful -- right to the end. "We're absolutely involved and it's still part of the three rings of security. The ANA and ANP are the primary security for all of that [ballot-box] movement," he said. "We are providing the backup for it, and in some cases, in some of the more remote areas, helping to facilitate getting those ballots to a location that they can be counted."
Johnson concluded that the lack of violent protests, as well as the absence of major fighting by regional warlords, shows that Afghans are excited about the democratic process and are accepting it as the way to chose their future leaders. (Ron Synovitz)
U.S. TO PUSH NATO TO ASSUME TOTAL CONTROL OF AFGHAN SECURITY.
The United States is expected to pressure its NATO allies to assume overall responsibility for peacekeeping and reconstruction in Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 13 October. The U.S. request is expected to come during informal NATO talks in Romania on 13 October. "Obviously we hope to see, at some point, integration of the NATO effort and Operation Enduring Freedom [the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign]" in Afghanistan, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said.
NATO currently commands the ISAF, which is based in Kabul and runs several Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). The ISAF currently has about 9,000 troops, but expectations are that the number will be reduced after the conclusion of Afghan parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2005. The U.S.-led force numbers around 19,000 and is mainly responsible for fighting militant groups or pressuring warlords. The ISAF has not seen any combat in Afghanistan and, in the event of hostilities, has either remained in its barracks or evacuated areas in which fighting has occurred.
Burns was cautious over the possibility of integrating the two forces, saying, "It's a very complicated issue." (Amin Tarzi)
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIALS SEE AFGHAN ELECTION AS MODEL FOR IRAQ.
In a 12 October interview with U.S.-funded Alhurra television, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Afghanistan's presidential election illustrates Iraq's potential to follow suit, the State Department spokesman's office said in a press release (http://www.state.gov). "I believe the people of Iraq want the same thing the people of Afghanistan and people in so many nations want: the opportunities to step forward and decide who will be their future leaders and to decide that by a vote," the statement quoted Powell as saying.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said while visiting Macedonia on 11 October: "The great sweep of human history is for freedom.... We see that in this region [the Balkans], we have seen it in Afghanistan, and let there be no doubt we are going to see it in Iraq," "The Washington Post" reported on 12 October. Iraqi elections are scheduled for January. (Amin Tarzi)
12 October 1965 -- Abdul Zaher elected president of Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament.
15 October 1967 -- Afghan King Mohammad Zaher inaugurates the Supreme Court.
15 October 2001 -- Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister of the ousted Rabbani government, declares that United Front (aka Northern Alliance) forces would not enter Kabul until an interim government is established.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).