Afghans worry about crucial poll and see no sign of immediate stability

Afghans worry about crucial poll and see no sign of immediate stability
Afghan employees of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) registering a resident at a voter registration center for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections in Kabul on April 14, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2018

Afghans worry about crucial poll and see no sign of immediate stability

Afghans worry about crucial poll and see no sign of immediate stability
  • “People are not optimistic that it will be a transparent election,” Waheed Mozhdah, a writer who worked as an official during the Taliban government, said
  • “Peace and security seem very distant to me. So, unfortunately, there will be more violence and casualties,” Mozhdah told Arab News

KABUL: Amid sustained exchange of bullets and shelling, scores of followers of Hajji Mohammad Daud, a tribal chief in Sangin district of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, rushed to the polling stations when he called them by phone to come and cast their vote in 2014’s presidential election.
Many fear that given the deterioration of security since then, the chances of holding the long-delayed parliamentary and provincial council polls slated for Oct. 20 this year in a transparent and in a secure manner are far slimmer this time around.
To Daud, like many tens of thousands of Sangin’s residents who have lived as war refugees elsewhere in the south, the possibility of holding the vote in their former villages seems a distant dream, as does their motivation for taking part in the process.
There are not many reliable phone connections anymore in Saning, like the rest of northern Helmand, where the Taliban have a stronger presence. Those who have stayed behind in northern Helmand for whatever reason, won’t dare to vote because of their fear of the Taliban, who have in the past targeted various rounds of elections, leading to deaths among poll workers and voters.
Refugees
“Those who voted in the previous elections and gave sacrifice have been living as refugees for years. They are too disappointed because the government has not helped them much with accommodation and not taken care of their casualties,” Daud told Arab News by phone in an interview from the south.
“I cannot persuade and bring my supporters together to come and vote this time because of their frustration and because they are scattered all over the place.”
Security is key to elections and the government has been grappling with growing Taliban attacks and the spread of Daesh activities despite sustained air and ground operations by US-backed forces in recent months.
A UN report last week showed that from Jan. 1 to March 31 this year, there were 2,258 civilian casualties (763 deaths and 1,495 injured) in Afghanistan, reflecting similar levels of civilian harm documented in the first three months of 2017 and 2016. Those findings are detailed in UNAMA’s first 2018 quarterly report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Like Daud, some people in other parts of the country, including the once relatively secure northern regions, are not optimistic, either, that the vote will be safer and transparent because of the influence of the Taliban or regional strongmen who are vying for power before next year’s crucial presidential elections.
Taliban influence
Mariam Koofi, a female politician from northern Takhar province, said she will run this time too but, like ordinary people and MPs, she fears that she won’t be able to campaign in a secure way as in the past elections in her constituency, where the militants have become stronger than in the past.
“The elections will not be held in a transparent way both because of the growing Taliban influence and the influence of commanders. In between, the government will try its best to help those nominees to win who will help it in return during the presidential elections,” she told Arab News, adding that this will cause more internal disputes and instability.
“People are not optimistic that it will be a transparent election,” Waheed Mozhdah, a writer who worked as an official during the Taliban government, said. While President Ashraf Ghani’s government speaks of preparations for holding talks with the Taliban, the president at the same time focuses on war efforts too, hoping to reverse the Taliban gains in recent years.
He said the Taliban have recently replaced some of the key leaders of the older generation of the group with younger blood and their intention is to increase their attacks too after the US turned down the group’s peace offer, and given that the elections will be marred with fraud and that the vote may bring further disunity and friction among government leaders.
“Peace and security seem very distant to me. So, unfortunately, there will be more violence and casualties,” Mozhdah told Arab News.
He said apart from engaging the government in direct military confrontation, the Taliban’s strategy has been to harm the administration’s public image and ability by destroying the power transmission and pylons that have provide electricity to Kabul lately.
Much of Kabul and some other provinces have been under blackout for two nights since suspected militants dynamited the pylons that bring exported energy from Central Asia via northern Afghanistan to Kabul and other parts of the country.
“The expectation is that the violence may not go down this year as Kabul will make every effort to ensure the gains made are sustained and the Taliban will try to break the shackles and re-impose their authority,” Rahim Mushtaq, an Afghan who serves as regional analyst, told Arab News.
“However, I don’t see the stalemate breaking, and no side will be able to make any further gains. In the meantime, if the Afghan Government, together with the US, can sustain the pressure they have created both in the region and in Afghanistan, we may have to kick start negotiations. However, violence will not go down.”