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Afghanistan: UN, Afghan Rights Group Warn Of Election Shortcomings

Concerns are growing about the potential for manipulation in Afghanistan's first direct presidential election. Just five weeks before the October ballot, the United Nations and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have issued a report warning of voter intimidation and a lack security across much of the country. The report says the elections could be seriously undermined.

Prague, 6 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The UN and AIHRC report highlights three major areas of concern about the 9 October presidential election.

One concern is insecurity in areas where extremist groups are using violence to try to undermine the electoral process. Those regions include much of the south and southeast -- where the U.S.-led coalition is continuing to battle the remnants of the Taliban.

Another concern is about warlords and their private militias. The report says warlord factions continue to intimidate candidates and voters in the lawless provincial regions outside of Kabul.

Finally, the group says a lack of information about democracy is exposing many Afghans to manipulation and is generating a climate of uncertainty for political parties.

"Our second report [on conditions during the run-up to the election] is based on information gathered from 7 July through 24 August," said Nadir Nadiri, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "It shows that overall, there has not been a major change in political rights of the people compared to the past."

Nadiri said a climate of fear has led to self-censorship by some political parties. Some groups refuse to publicly state their platforms ahead of the vote, saying they fear reprisals by local authorities who may consider their views subversive.
So far there has been little talk from the 18 candidates about how specifically to deal with Afghan warlords who have committed war crimes during the past 30 years.

"There are some differences locally in some areas," Nadiri said. "For example, in our eastern provinces, the situation is much improved regarding freedom of speech and political activities. But in the northeast, the south, and the west, [militia] commanders, militia groups, and some government officials are still, in some way, preventing the people from having the freedom to engage in political activity. They have limited this freedom."

Even in the relatively secure capital of Kabul, many residents have expressed concerns about safety. Those concerns were heightened in late August after the Taliban claimed responsibility for detonating an explosives-laden truck outside the offices of the private U.S. security firm DynCorp. DynCorp provides security for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and trains recruits for the Afghan National Police. At least nine people were killed in the blast.

Security also is an issue for international election monitors. Neither the European Union nor the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will send full teams to monitor the polls. Instead, each will send a minimal staff to assess how the vote is conducted in major cities. The United Nations says there will not be enough international monitors to determine whether the ballot is free and fair in most provincial regions.

The fledgling Afghan National Army does not have enough troops to establish security in most of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. General Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the national army will coordinate security patrols from command and control centers in seven provinces.

"The divisions of the National Army are preparing to establish security during the elections," Azimi said. "Since the first days of this process, the command and control centers have been established in seven provinces -- including Balkh, Paktia, Konduz, Nangahar, Herat, Kandahar, and Bamiyan."

Karzai has made the need for improved security a major part of his political platform. Speaking in Kabul today, he emphasized the need for building up the national army and national police force.

"If people elect me, then my government will create such an Afghanistan that is able to stand on its own feet and should have its own army and its own police," Karzai said. "It should be able to defend its own territory so that no country -- a neighbor or any other country -- can look at Afghanistan with bad intensions. Afghanistan has been troubled by neighbors and other countries for the last 30 years. Interference has been done in this country both openly and covertly. This has caused great problems for us."

But so far there has been little talk from the 18 candidates about how specifically to deal with Afghan warlords who have committed war crimes during the past 30 years. AIHRC spokesman said a national survey is still being organized to gather ideas from Afghans about how to deal with the human rights violations and war crimes of the past.

(RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report.)