election campaign wall and (below) the just released Lebanese
Puts a Damper on Afghan Elections
S. Mudassir Ali Shah
August 23: As the US-backed Afghan leader Friday called on his
compatriots to catapult sincere people to power in the mid-September
parliamentary elections, several murderous attacks on politicians
and security personnel in different areas amply highlighted continued
instability in Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai, addressing a well-attended ceremony marking his
country's 86th Independence Day at the Ghazi National Stadium
in the heart of Kabul, tended to list his administration's achievements
over the last three years and have the unsuspecting audience believe
Afghanistan had turned the corner.
Coinciding with the nation's Independence Day, murderous assaults
in the capital Kabul, eastern Kunar, southern Zabul and Ghazni
provinces left dead several people including a politician, a US
marine, an Afghan soldier and two civilians. Two US servicemen
had perished on Thursday in a firefight in Kunar, where a huge
offensive against combatants has been underway.
Friday's fatalities came hard on the heels of a stabbing assault
on a senior official of the Joint Electoral Management Body, tasked
with organizing the vote, in the western Herat province. Gul Ahmad
Nazari, JEMB's regional coordinator, was rushed to a Kabul hospital
in serious condition.
As usual, the gunmen gave clueless Afghan security personnel the
slip after wounding the JEMB representative, who was also robbed
of cash and valuables. The incident drew instant flak from the
UN-Afghan poll panel, whose spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin denounced
the attack as a cowardly act.
Without touching on the trail of murder and mayhem or the threats
being hurled at female candidates by militants, Karzai told the
gathering his government was taking strides towards establishing
a democratic order and banishing the twin menace of drugs and
'Successes' achieved in the ongoing campaign against insurgency,
the jihad against narcotics and the march towards democracy were
the running refrains of his didactic speech, which sought to play
on popular perceptions of Afghans' fierce independence and courage
in the face of anti-social scoundrels.
Oddly enough, the president himself appears to have little - if
any - interest in practicing what he is preaching to galvanize
his nation into standing up to warlords and gunmen, who remain
ensconced in the central government. As long as these elements
continue to hold government position, observers and analysts believe,
overdue administrative reforms will elude Afghanistan.
But Karzai sounded optimistic about the future of a "nation
all poised to enter a new phase" in its turbulent history
in the wake of the elections, marking the culmination of the Bonn
Agreements. Before the process comes to a close, a dispassionate
analysis of gains and losses will be in order.
Although international aid worth billions of dollars has pored
into the country since the UN-sponsored Bonn Accords, the social
sector remains crippled, schools and hospitals are two few and
too ill-equipped to be any practical help, the bureaucracy lamentably
seems to have no clear sense of direction and the political leadership
stays totally devoid of gumption.
One cannot take issue with the emphasis Karzai places on the election
of patriotic leaders capable of measuring up to multiple challenges
facing Afghanistan. However, the clarion call - coming from a
leader hostage to rank political expediency and cohabiting with
criminals of the darkest dye - rings hammy, lip-deep and counterfactual.
In a land blighted by abject poverty, unabated drug smuggling
and an unrelenting insurgency, the political leadership can be
rightly expected to play hardball on issues of national import.
But the incumbent government is thoroughly bereft of this badly-needed
political will to deal with gangsters, pressure groups and other
Tactfully skirting critical questions such as corruption in high
places, human rights abuses across the country and crude powers
of unwieldy groups as well as individuals, Karzai went on renewing
his resolve to purge Afghanistan of drugs. One wishes him warp-speed
success, but he will have to take on obstinate men within his
administration to work out the kinks in his strategy for stopping
poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.
The day the election campaign opened officially, an explosion
in the southern Kandahar province killed one policeman and wounded
The remote-controlled bomb hidden in a vegetable cart hit a bus
filled with police officers driving into the center of the former
Taliban stronghold from a training school.
Scared by persistent threats from militants, women hopefuls have
adopted an ultra-cautious approach to electioneering. With 27
per cent (68) seats reserved for them in the lower house and one-sixth
in the upper house, they are yet to be seen on the stump.
"A widespread lack of security means many women candidates
may curtail their campaigning. The Afghan government and international
monitors must take special measures to protect women from attacks
and intimidation," the Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Disillusioned with the current dispensation, some senior political
figures have rejected a presidential system as inconsistent with
their aspirations. Former interior minister and Karzai's main
challenger in last year's presidential race, Yunus Qanuni has
vowed he would try to introduce a parliamentary system in line
with popular demands. Heading a grand opposition alliance, Qanuni
says he will also push for amending constitutional clauses that
concentrate too much power in the hands of an individual.
More than 6,000 candidates, most of whom have already plastered
campaign posters on walls and lampposts around the nation's capital
and in the 34 provinces, have been authorized to hit the airwaves.
According to JEMB's formula, every contender will have a free
two-minute slot on local television stations and a five-minute
slot on radio.
Thanks to a patently flawed vetting procedure, many former commanders
linked to war crimes and a small number of Taliban dissidents
have been allowed to contest the polls scheduled for September
18. Given the relevance of gun power, male primacy and 'checkbook
politics' to the ballot, they are certain to be returned.
Coming back to the security question, the United States too hopes
the first post-Taliban legislative election would be held in a
peaceful manner, and that insurgents have no ability to scuttle
it. In his maiden media appearance in Kabul after replacing Zalmay
Khalilzad, Ambassador Ronald Neumann asserted Taliban were no
longer in a position to disrupt the polls.
Neumann's assertion is apparently based on the sheer numbers of
security forces - about 20,000 US troops to be deployed to the
shambolic south and east and 10,000 NATO peacekeepers in the north
and west in addition to 80,000 Afghan policemen to secure the
In a way these forces have already fanned out across the country,
but the pre-poll bloodshed knows no end.
Belying the assertion of the international coalition led by the
US that militants are on the run as a result of anti-insurgency
operations, Taliban have stepped up their activities in the south
and east in recent months. In the bloody build-up to the election,
almost 1,000 people have been killed in militant-linked violence
over the last few months.
Another stark reminder of the worsening law and order came Wednesday
evening when a leading Lebanese company - Soufan Industries -
wound up its operations in Afghanistan to save a kidnapped engineer's
life. "We are ready to quit Afghanistan for the sake of Engineer
Safiuddin Reza's release from Taliban captivity," the company's
Vice President Anwar Fahid Soufan said.
Literally kowtowing to the captors' condition for freeing the
engineer, Fahid Soufan communicated his pullout decision to Taliban
spokesman Latifullah Hakimi by phone. Reza, hailing from Lebanon's
fourth largest city of Sour, was freed in a remote area of the
Zabul province Thursday morning, as the government kept a mum
on the sordid affair.
Offering gainful jobs to many Afghans and foreigners, the Soufan
Industries had been playing a key role in Afghanistan's infrastructure
development over the last four years. It had installed generators
across the country, whose power sector is in a shambles as a result
of decades of strife.
Unable to cope with the security challenge in a decided manner,
Afghan officials frequently take an ostrich-like stance and blame
the media for "playing up minor incidents." On Thursday,
Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal, who had vehemently
denied the kidnapping of the engineer a day earlier, refused to
answer a volley of phone calls from this writer.