8 October 2004, Volume 3, Number 36
ELECTION OFFICIAL, SECURITY FORCES PREPARE FOR AFGHANISTAN'S PRESIDENTIAL POLL
By Ron Synovitz
The United Nations-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body says it has completed most preparations for the 9 October presidential election. What remains is to deliver ballots and other election materials from provincial centers to the most remote polling stations. The UN's election security chief, John McComber, says security is also ready. The Afghan national police, army, and international forces are guarding against attacks by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They also are keeping an eye on possible intimidation of voters by various militia groups that back different candidates.
UN election officials in Afghanistan say 30 October is their target date for releasing the final official results from the 9 October election -- that is, provided one of the 18 candidates wins the 50 percent needed for outright victory in the first round.
Julian Type, an adviser on international election operations with the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), told RFE/RL that 20 November is being considered as a possible date for a runoff vote if no candidate wins in the first round.
"If that's the case, the law requires the runoff election to be held within two weeks of the announcement of the result of the first round -- which would mean that the JEMB would probably delay the official announcement of the result of the first round until the sixth of November. That would not, however, in most cases, prevent a clear picture of the results of the first round from emerging. The results will be posted progressively as they become available," Type said.
Type said a second round would require new ballots to be distributed to more than 21,500 polling stations. That process already has proven difficult in rugged parts of Afghanistan, with officials using camels and donkeys to get to the most remote places. Meanwhile, Type said 120,000 local Afghans are being trained this week to administer the nationwide poll.
U.S.-led coalition forces have increased patrol flights around the country in recent days. A U.S. spokesman for the coalition, Major Scott Nelson, confirmed the flights are part of a "show of force" designed to discourage attacks by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or Afghan militia fighters.
"For the elections, we are significantly ramping up our security capabilities. That includes aviation support -- both A-10 [attack planes] and helicopters throughout the country. [The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] ISAF is doing the same thing, as well as, in support of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior, with Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army soldiers. All of this is coordinated in concert with the UN's [Joint Electoral Management Body] on how we support and secure the election process for 9 October," Nelson said.
The 48,000 officers of the Afghan National Police are the only people allowed to carry weapons within 500 meters of polling stations. Just outside that area, a combination of Afghan National Army troops and local officials will carry out patrols.
The "area security" beyond the army's zone of control includes local authorities as well as some 20,000 troops in the U.S.-led coalition. Another 9,000 members of the UN-mandated ISAF also are involved.
The UN's election security chief is John McComber. He said the greatest threat is any activity that scares voters away from casting ballots on 9 October. Concerns include solo attacks by the Taliban or in conjunction with fighters of militia commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as by Al-Qaeda-linked groups. McComber also acknowledged concerns that private militias linked to some candidates might try to intimidate voters.
"There's potential. But there's much greater potential for other forms of intimidation from the traditional threat groups -- Taliban, Hekmatyar's people, others. Is that ongoing now? Yes it is -- the campaign of night letters. Those agents moving amongst villages trying to influence through threatening people or otherwise. So it's not just a question of intimidation potential of Afghan militia. We've had the same allegations [of intimidation] made against Afghan police," McComber said.
McComber said he expects militia forces to be prevalent in parts of northern Afghanistan that have the fewest number of international troops or trained members of the Afghan army and police.
Fighters loyal to the ethnic Uzbek presidential candidate, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, hold sway over much of those areas. Most of Dostum's fighters refuse to participate in internationally backed disarmament programs. In areas more than a half-kilometer from the polls or vote-counting houses, Dostum's militia is being tolerated as an unavoidable reality on the ground.
But McComber distanced the UN-backed security program from Dostum's fighters. "The bottom line is, they are there. They are, everyday, performing a search and security function," he said. "But we are not linking them to the election security plan. They will carry on doing what they do essentially in support of the local police. But no direct link to us."
McComber also expects militia groups that are nominally linked to Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim to be posted in areas beyond the control of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.
"There are some Afghan militia forces working directly with Ministry of Defense. That's a fact. Some of those are acting in this area a security role. You won't see them at polling centers. You won't see them at counting houses. In fact, most you won't even see on the roads. Those that are here are, for instance, sitting on the mountain tops around Kabul doing what they always do," McComber said.
McComber concluded that it is possible -- even probable -- that some militia fighters have been hired individually either as poll workers or as local security officers. But he stresses that the UN's security plans do not include any complete Afghan militia units.
Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent reporting from Kabul.
Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections/, "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.
OSCE SAYS AFGHAN ELECTION WILL BE CHALLENGED TO MEET INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS...In a news conference held in Kabul on 4 October, Robert Barry, head of the OSCE Election Support Team, said it was difficult for a country such as Afghanistan to hold free and fair elections in accordance with international standards, Radio Afghanistan reported. Therefore, the OSCE team will not supervise the 9 October presidential election according to international standards, Barry said, and the OSCE will not issue a statement about the fairness of the poll. "If we did issue such a statement it would have to be based on the whole line of rules and regulations where they literally observe every polling station, enter every complaint in their logbook," Barry told journalists, according to AFP on 4 October. In total, 14 international OSCE teams are currently being deployed to Kabul, seven to regional centers, and three to the provinces.
In a 4 October press release (http://www.osce.org), the OSCE said that its role in Afghanistan was to analyze the election preparations and the polls on election day. "On the basis of [the election monitors'] findings, we will put together a set of recommendations that will be given to the Afghan government and the electoral administration in order to assist them with the holding of future elections," Barry said, according to the OSCE statement. Since the EU is one of the largest funders of the Afghan election, "analysts say it would be in an awkward position if a body [OSCE] with many EU members had to declare the election process flawed," AFP said.
Commenting on the OSCE announcement, William Safire of the "The New York Times" wrote on 6 October that "European nit-picking about 'irregularities' will be fierce from high-minded bureaucrats who do not realize that the most irregular thing in that part of the world is anything approximating a free election." (Amin Tarzi)
...AS U.S., UN OFFICIALS EXPECT AFGHAN ELECTIONS TO GO FORWARD, BUT WARN OF VIOLENCE.U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee that the Afghan presidential election on 9 October will be a success, although he expects militants will try to disrupt the process, "The New York Times" reported on 29 September. Armitage said resurgent Taliban forces might try to derail the election process "by attempting a large-scale attack on election day itself."
Speaking before the UN Security Council on 28 September, the UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said that he expects the Afghan elections to take place "in the atmosphere of safety" despite the fact that multiple "incidents across the country on or around elections day cannot be excluded," AP reported.
While much international concern appears focused on the security aspect of the elections, human-rights groups and Afghans in general are reportedly concerned about the fairness of the process due to issues other than simply security (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 October 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
NATO GENERAL ASSURES AFGHAN LEADER OF ELECTION SECURITY.NATO Joint Forces Commander General Gerhard Back told Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 29 September that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is fully prepared to ensure security during the forthcoming presidential election, Radio Afghanistan reported. Back also indicated that ISAF and Afghan military and police forces are preparing to improve security for the parliamentary elections due to take place in Afghanistan in April 2005. At a June Summit in Istanbul, NATO leaders agreed to support those two election processes (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June and 1 July 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
HUMAN-RIGHTS GROUP SAYS AFGHAN WOMEN ARE UNDER ATTACK FOR POLITICAL PARTICIPATION.In a report released on 5 October, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, "warlords and the Taliban are undermining Afghan women's participation in the political process through ongoing threats and attacks." The 39-page report, titled "Between Hope and Fear: Intimidation and Threats Against Women in Public Life in Afghanistan" (http://hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan1004), documents how warlord factions, the neo-Taliban, and various insurgent groups attack and harass female government officials, election workers, journalists, and women's-rights activities.
"Many Afghan women risk their safety if they participate in public life," LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of HRW, is quoted as saying in a 5 October press release. "Since the ousting of the Taliban, women's lives in Afghanistan have undoubtedly improved," said Jefferson. "But now it's the warlords who are actively trying to keep women from exercising their rights."
According to HRW, the upcoming presidential election will be a key test of women's ability to participate in the Afghan public sphere on an equal basis with men. An important sign of progress has been the large numbers of women registered to vote (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 and 18 August 2004). Near the Pakistani border, continuing insecurity has contributed to women comprising less than 10.5 percent of registered voters in the southern Zabul and Oruzgan provinces.
The failure of international donor countries -- including the United States and Germany -- to send promised funds on time and to bolster security may adversely affect women’s participation on election day, HRW noted.
Beyond the presidential elections, HRW warns that parliamentary elections planned for next year will present even greater challenges for women. One women's rights activist told HRW, "I don’t think I should run for parliament.... [The warlords'] men will come at night and make problems for my family, so it’s not possible. I have to sit quiet." (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN SPOKESMAN SAYS GROUP WILL NOT ATTACK AFGHAN VOTERS IN PAKISTAN...Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 30 September that the militia does not intend, nor does it have the ability, to attack Afghan voters in Pakistan. "Pakistan is an independent country. The Taliban have no intention of disrupting the Afghan electoral process there," Hamed Agha said. However he said that the neo-Taliban "are requesting the [Afghan] refugees [living in Pakistan] not to participate in the electoral process.... [which] are only for the sole benefit of the Americans and [the] British." Since the communist putsch and the subsequent Soviet invasion in the late 1970s, millions of Afghans settled in Pakistan. Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, many refugees have returned to Afghanistan, though there are still more than a million Afghans living in Pakistan who are eligible to vote in the 9 October presidential elections.
Voter registration for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan began on 1 October and came to a close on 4 October with an estimated 650,000 expatriate Afghans registering to vote in their country's presidential election, international news agencies reported.
According to Peter Erban, director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the "response of the Afghan community in Pakistan has been very enthusiastic," IRNA reported on 4 October, quoting an IOM press release. Around 600,000 Afghan refugees living in Iran are also eligible to vote, the BBC reported on 4 October. While the expatriate Afghans who have registered make up about 10 percent of the total number of Afghans eligible to vote, another estimated 2 million Afghans, also living in Iran and Pakistan, were not registered. "It was regrettable that registration was not possible for some areas. The limited timeframe available to conduct the program was not sufficient to allow the establishment of facilities all over Pakistan," Erban said, according to the IRNA report. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT WOULD KILL THE CANDIDATES IF THEY COULD.Hamed Agha said that if the neo-Taliban were able to they would kill Afghan presidential candidates, AIP reported on 30 September. Contradicting most of the recent reports that the neo-Taliban are focused on disrupting the elections, Hamed Agha said that in their attacks the neo-Taliban "do not care about the elections." "We are particularly focused on daily escalation of the mujahedin's operations because the people are supporting us," he added. Hamed Agha warned that the intensity of neo-Taliban "operations will continue vigorously even after the end of the elections." (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS KARZAI.Former Afghan President and head of the Jami'at-e Islami party, Burhanuddin Rabbani, is backing Chairman Hamid Karzai's candidacy for the 9 October Afghan presidential election, international news agencies reported. Rabbani told a crowd of his party loyalists on 3 October that since Jami'at-e Islami "did not have its own candidate," it has held meetings with Karzai who agreed on the "implementation of religious values" ensuring national unity and giving a role to the former mujahedin in his government, AFP reported.
Rabbani's support for Karzai's candidacy has been expected since July when Karzai unexpectedly snubbed his first deputy and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim by choosing Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, a son in law of Rabbini, as his first running mate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 26 August 2004).
With Rabbani's backing, Karzai has the official support of one of Afghanistan's largest political parties. However, Rabbani's record as president from 1992 to 1996, specially his repeated refusals to step down from power as scheduled by UN agreements, is seen by many Afghans as one of the main reasons for the continuation of the civil war in the country and the eventual rise of the Taliban. Details of agreements between Karzai, who does not have a political party, and Jami'at-e Islami are not clear. Rumors are that Rabbani may head the upper house of the Afghan Parliament as part of a possible deal. (Amin Tarzi)
RUMORS OF QANUNI QUITTING AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE DENIED, AS HE MAY FORM A COALITION.Sayyed Hosayn Alemi-Balkhi, the second running mate of presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, on 3 October denied rumors that Qanuni was quitting the race, Afghanistan Television reported. Alemi-Balkhi said that Qanuni enjoys the support of a great number of Afghans and intends to stay in the contest.
Qanuni is regarded by many as the only viable challenge to Karzai. Moreover, the official announcement by Rabbani to back Karzai may be a blow to Qanuni who, as a former member of Jami'at-e Islami and an ethnic Tajik, may lose some of his potential supporters (see above). Karzai, who has invited Qanuni to join him, has said he will not form a coalition government with anyone (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September and 1 October 2004).
Qanuni said in a speech on 4 October in Mazar-e Sharif that 14 candidates will withdraw their nominations and will back one candidate, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Qanuni said that he was in complete agreement with Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Satar Sirat, Mohammad Mohaqeq, and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai that "if not in the first round, we will definitely form a coalition in the second round."
Qanuni dismissed the rumors that the international community, led by the United States, was supporting Karzai's candidacy, adding that in his talks with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and other countries' envoys in Kabul, he has been assured of their "support for the decision of the [Afghan] people in the election."
Qanuni's presence in the race could force a runoff if no other candidate wins at least 51 percent of the vote. (Amin Tarzi)
CLASH REPORTED BETWEEN KARZAI AND QANUNI SUPPORTERS IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN...A number of supporters of presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni marching in protest on 28 September in Herat city reportedly clashed with supporters of Chairman Karzai, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 29 September. Qanuni is widely considered to be among the strongest of Karzai's 17 rivals for the presidency. The argument between the two camps apparently resulted in the removal of Qanuni posters by Karzai supporters. However, in a sign of reconciliation after the fracas, Karzai supporter Khalil Ahmad Taymori said instructions to his team are "not to stick Hamid Karzai posters over the posters of other candidates," according to the radio report.
Mohammad Amin Hokumat, a security officer in Herat, denied the report of clashes between supporters of Karzai and Qanuni, Sada-ye Jawan reported. "Such incidents [clashes] did not take place in Herat," Hokumat said, adding that the security forces "were ready to tackle any kind of incidents in the city." Hokumat advised citizens in Herat to be calm and patient and "vote for the person they like most." "It's not good to insult one another and tear down posters of the candidates," Hokumat added. (Amin Tarzi)
FOUR NEW POLITICAL PARTIES REGISTERED IN AFGHANISTAN.The Afghan Justice Ministry allowed four new political parties to begin operating on 29 September, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The parties are: Azadikhwahan-e Mardum-e Afghanistan (Freedom-seekers of the Afghan People); Tahrik-e Wahdat al-Muslimin-e Afghanistan (Muslims' Unity Movement of Afghanistan); Hambastagi-ye Melli-ye Aqwam-e Afghanistan (National Solidarity of Afghan Tribes); and Hizb-e Etedial-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan (National Islamic Accord of 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/). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER RECEIVES AWARD IN GERMANY.Karzai traveled to Germany on 3 October to receive an award, Afghanistan Television reported. The "United We Care" award is presented on German Unity Day on 3 October to four personalities who have made outstanding contributions to the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres.
The timing of the trip "couldn't help but raise eyebrows as thousands of Afghan and international workers feverishly struggle to prepare for" the presidential election in less than a week's time, AP commented on 3 October. Karzai's opponents have charged that his frequent foreign travels -- three since campaigning began on 7 September -- and his infrequent campaigning in Afghanistan "show he is fearful of his own nation, and out of step with ordinary" Afghans, AP added.
In a meeting with the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Karzai, who is the favorite to win the election, said that he hoped the contest "will not go to the second round because it would be very expensive" for Afghanistan (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN BLAMED FOR KILLING SEVEN SOLDIERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni said in Qalat that seven pro-government Afghan militiamen were killed in attacks on military posts in the Sur Ghar and Shenkay districts of the province on 29 September, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported the next day. According to Hosayni, the seven were executed after they surrendered to the neo-Taliban, AFP reported on 30 September. Hosayni added that on 28 September the neo-Taliban also attacked the district headquarters in the Khak-e Afghan area. Eight neo-Taliban fighters were killed in the attack and 14 others, including their deputy regional commander for Zabul, identified as Lal Mohammad, were injured. There has been no reaction on these reports from the neo-Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)
GERMAN AND SWISS SOLDIERS INJURED IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Two German soldiers and a Swiss colleague attached to the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz Province were injured on 29 September when their camp came under attack, ddp reported. According to an unidentified German Defense Ministry spokesman, the soldiers were injured when a grenade hit the PRT camp. The PRT camp houses approximately 270 troops and 30 civilians and is one of five PRTs under NATO command. Germany, with around 1,500 troops, is the largest contributor to the 8,000-strong ISAF. (Amin Tarzi)
NEARLY 1,000 KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN IN 2004.As of 4 October, 957 people have been killed in political violence since the beginning of 2004, AP reported. The number of dead was drawn from a review of hundreds of daily stories by AP, but the "actual toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many killings in remote areas are not reported." The death toll includes some 260 Afghan security personnel, 30 U.S. soldiers, 40 aid or reconstruction workers, as well as 160 Afghan civilians.
While international attention has been focused on curtailing violence around Afghanistan's election, the neo-Taliban militants have recently indicated that their plans are not specifically centered on the election. (Amin Tarzi)
NETHERLANDS TO RECONSIDER FORMER AFGHAN COMMUNIST LEADER'S ASYLUM REQUEST.A Dutch court overturned a decision by the government to reject an asylum request from former Afghan Communist Vice President Abdul Rahim Hatef, AFP reported, quoting ANP news agency. The ruling by the Hague-based court obliges Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk to reconsider Hatef's request for asylum. The Dutch government had refused asylum to Hatef, who served as a deputy to President Najibullah from 1988 to 1992, on charges of carrying out political assassinations and torture.
In November 2002, when Afghanistan officially joined Interpol, the then Afghan chief of security, Basir Salangi, hoped that Afghanistan can pursue "thousands" of criminals who are among the Afghan diaspora, saying, "People who have committed crimes in Afghanistan and gone to countries such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands will no longer be safe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002).
The Netherlands is a favorite destination for former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92 and under whose rule more than one million Afghans perished. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY1 October 1901 -- Amir Abdul Rahman dies; he ruled Afghanistan since 1880. His son Habibullah becomes amir on 3 October.
4 October 1961 -- U.S. President John Kennedy sends messages to Afghan King Mohammad Zaher and Pakistani President Ayyub Khan, suggesting the United States might make proposals to help improve relations between the two neighbors.
1 October 1964 -- King Mohammad Zaher endorses the new constitution. National Assembly dissolved as a one-year transitional government is established.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).