As Afghanistan's election authorities now begin the laborious process of vetting 27 prospective presidential tickets, many in the country are hoping to see some of the country's most notorious warlords removed from the running.
Every presidential candidate who cleared the first stage of registration has now named their proposed first- and second-vice presidents. And the Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission, a branch of the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission tasked with approving presidential candidacies, will have some interesting names to consider.
Some evoke not-so-distant memories of Afghanistan's 1990s civil war, when tens of thousands of civilians were killed as a result of fratricidal fighting carried out by warlords and their militias.
Presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a leading reformer and former World Bank executive, has faced harsh criticism after listing former communist militia commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum as his first-vice president.
Afghan Salafi leader Abdul Rab Rasul Sayaf and his first running mate, Ismail Khan, could be considered an all-star warlord ticket. Sayaf is accused of grave abuses in the capital, Kabul. Khan ran the western Afghan province of Herat and surrounding regions as his personal fiefdom.
On another ticket, Mohammad Mohaqiq, a leading Hazara candidate who has been tied to rights abuses while he was a militia leader, is listed as a first-vice president for leading contender Abdullah Abdullah.
After candidates' names were registered on October 7, many Afghans took to social media to voice their disapproval.
Writing on the social-network website Facebook, Wadood Pashton mocked a recent apology by Dostum for past mistakes. "This is a good precedent. First commit atrocities then apologize," he wrote. "If I kill all of Dostum's family, just as he has killed many Afghan families, will he forgive me?" he asked.
Another Facebook user, Alizai Shinwari, opposes Sayaf and Khan. "We will never recognize Sayaf and Ismail Khan as our leaders even if they build nuclear weapons," he wrote. "The enemies of Afghans can never become their friends."
Push Them Out
Kabul University law professor Wadir Safi says some of the individuals in question should not be running free, let alone running for office.
"The West is culpable in [letting the warlords run in elections]," he said. "Even now if the West wants, they can push them out of the presidential race. They have their lists and can take them away irrespective of whether they are candidates."
Safi says the mere presence of warlords' names on the final ballots for the April poll would practically ensure electoral fraud.
Suraya Parlika, a prominent women's rights campaigner, says that Afghan women are deeply worried by the prospect of being ruled by warlords who are at least partly responsible for ruining the country's institutions and causing the deaths of more than 65,000 civilians in Kabul alone.
She is calling on election authorities to remove warlords from the running as the authorities work to approve a final list of candidates by November 16.
"The past record of these warlords is indicative of their ability to ruin everything. How can the people now entrust them with power?" she said. "I hope the Electoral Complaints Commission will throw them out of the final ballot. If they are not removed from the ballot, I expect our people not to vote for them."
How Much Power?
The big question, however, is how much power the Afghan election authorities have to remove candidates, and on what basis.
In a statement on October 9, global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to try to repeal recent amnesty and election laws that would prevent the Electoral Complaints Commission from disqualifying presidential and vice-presidential candidates accused of past atrocities.
Brad Adams, HRW's Asia Director, says his organization has documented abuses committed by some of the candidates now running for the elections. HRW has particularly named
Dostum, Sayaf, and Mohaqiq
as right abusers.
He says that there is no future for an Afghanistan led by people who helped destroy the country:
"The people who have committed these crimes are basically unrepentant [and] unreformed," Adams said. "They continue to operate mafia-style politics. They control militias directly or indirectly and they engage in factional as opposed to national politics."
Both Karzai And The West To Blame
Adams says that President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers share the blame for failing to prosecute individuals responsible for grave human rights violations that took place in Afghanistan over the past 35 years.
He says the UN was involved in a process aimed at bringing "transitional justice" after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. That effort sought first to map grave rights abuses and then to prosecute some of the leading violators.
The initiative failed, Adams said, because deals were cut with warlords and the West failed to pressure Karzai to go after rights abusers.
"Basically, the Western powers and Karzai have made so many deals with so many people responsible for human rights abuses that they themselves are compromised," he said.