US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

  • Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process

KABUL: A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.
The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.
It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.
On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.
“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.
The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.
Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.
Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.
Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.
“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.
Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”
Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.
“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.
“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.
However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.
“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”
He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.
“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know... what will happen if the polls are not held.”
Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.
“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.


Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

Updated 12 min 11 sec ago
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Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas
  • The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative nation of 160 million people

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Dozens of protesters gathered in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to demand justice for an 18-year-old woman who died after being set on fire for refusing to drop sexual harassment charges against her Islamic school’s principal.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas. When she refused, she said her hands were tied and she was doused in kerosene and set alight.
Rafi told the story to her brother in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and he recorded her testimony on his mobile phone. She died four days later in a Dhaka hospital with burns covering 80% of her body.
The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported, victims are intimidated and the legal process is often lengthy. Many avoid reporting to police because of social stigma.
“We want justice. Our girls must grow up safely and with dignity,” Alisha Pradhan, a model and actress, told The Associated Press during Friday’s demonstration. “We protest any forms of violence against women, and authorities must ensure justice.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Rafi’s funeral prayers in Feni, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised Rafi’s family when they met in Dhaka that those responsible would be punished.
At least 17 people, including students, have been arrested in connection with the case, said Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation.
In late March, Rafi filed a complaint with police that the principal of her madrasa, or Islamic school, had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Her family agreed to help her to file the police complaint, which prompted police to arrest the principal, infuriating him and his supporters. Influential local politicians backed the principal, and ruling party members were also among the arrested.
Police said the arrested suspects told them during interrogations that the attack on Rafi was planned and ordered by the school’s principal from prison when his men went to see him. It was timed for daytime so that it would look like a suicide attempt, Majumder said.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rafi’s family said that they had received death threats before the attack telling them to drop the case.
While Rafi’s case is now being treated with urgency, that wasn’t the case until her death.
A video taken on March 27 while Rafi reported the assault shows the local police chief registering her complaint but telling her that the incident was “not a big deal.” The chief was later removed from the police station for negligence in dealing with the case.
For Bangladeshi women, it is often not easy to file sensitive complaints with police. Victims often fear further harassment and bullying. Police also often show an unwillingness to investigate such cases and are often accused of being influenced by local politics or bribes.
But the call for dealing with violence against women, especially related to sexual harassment and assault, is also getting louder.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation.”