Afghan polls: US diplomat stresses need for transparency

Independent Election Commission (IEC) workers sit at a computer terminal while election information from all over the country is gathered at the Data Centre in Kabul on October 2, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2019

Afghan polls: US diplomat stresses need for transparency

  • Wells visit follows accusations of electoral fraud by leading candidates

KABUL: US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, during talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, stressed the need for a transparent vote amid accusations by nominees that the two incumbent leaders were involved in presidential election fraud.

The vote saw the lowest turnout in any ballot since the ousting of the Taliban whose threats — apart from fatigue among voters, mismanagement, irregularities and violations — deprived hundreds of thousands of people from taking part in the polls on Sept. 28.

The IEC said that it will not be able to release the initial results on Oct. 19 because it had faced technical shortcomings, even as a number of presidential nominees said on Tuesday that Ghani and Abdullah were involved in fraud, adding that they aimed to put pressure on the IEC to announce the results in their favor.

The IEC, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and officials close to Ghani and Abdullah have denied the charges.

Wells, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday and has since held separate meetings with Ghani and Abdullah who have shared power since the 2014 election that was marred with fraud. It followed a run-off where they agreed to share power under a US-brokered deal.

“I emphasized to [email protected] Ghani and CE Abdullah … that Afghan government institutions, leaders and elections must be transparent and accountable to the Afghan people …” she tweeted on Tuesday night.

“The IEC & ECC have a challenging task to review votes & process complaints, concerns, & allegations of fraud from across the country. We will support their decision on timing of release of preliminary results. Better for IEC/ECC to deliver an accurate result than a rushed one …”

The vote had been delayed twice due to division within government leaders and mismanagement as well as the progress made in peace talks between US diplomats and the Taliban.

Officials from Ghani’s administration said that the president had won a second term in office, while Abdullah declared himself as winner, causing uncertainty about the vote and doubt about the future of the country, which has been locked in war after more than four decades of foreign intervention.

The Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC) on Tuesday said that each of these two candidates declared themselves a winner of the election while the nation was still awaiting the election commission’s verdict to announce the results.

The CPC members also said that any attempt to put pressure on the election results — before the invalidation of fake votes — could push the country into a crisis.

“The ruling team is trying to refer the issue of the non-biometric votes to the Supreme Court, and this will be a great act of oppression. This will reduce any trust that the Afghan people have in the legal and judicial institutions,” Rahmatullah Nabil, a presidential candidate, said.

“These candidates (Ghani and Abdullah) messed up with three elections, so there is no one worse than them,” Enayatullah Hafiz, another presidential nominee, said.

“We didn’t get an answer from the international community whenever we consulted them, we asked several times whether you (international community) will guarantee the transparency of the election,” Ahmad Wali Massoud, a presidential election candidate, said.

Council members said that they will also dispatch a letter to the UN Security Council about the fraud by the leaders of the national unity government.

FASTFACTS

• Sept. 28 polls saw the lowest turnout in any ballot since the ousting of the Taliban.

• Of the 9.6 million people who had registered for voting, only 2 million people cast their ballot.

• The election commission says it will not be able to release the initial results on Oct. 19.

“We are completely monitoring the work of the secretariat of the election commission, we will not allow them to commit a violation. Anyone who tries to commit a violation — his place will be in prison,” said Shahab Hakimi, a presidential election candidate.

The council also stated that it was trying to prevent the entry of 1 million fake votes into the election commission’s database.

“Alice Wells visit to Afghanistan conveys two messages: first, election bodies were under immense pressure by parties and she has a clear answer to them,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Second, her remarks are hopeful for Afghans, despite the elections results being postponed. From her talks with the president and CEO, it seems that the election will go to the second round, and the current government will run until spring because of winter. Meanwhile, Taliban-US talks will resume, and sign an agreement afterward. The Taliban will talk with the winner of the election.”


Arabic-speaking Pakistanis meet online to bridge cultural gap

Updated 5 min 50 sec ago

Arabic-speaking Pakistanis meet online to bridge cultural gap

  • Apolitical platform to promote language, encourage people-to-people contact, organizers say
  • Constitutes a versatile mix of people from all walks of life

ISLAMABAD: For an hour and a half every fortnight, a group of Pakistanis log on to Zoom, a video-conferencing platform, to enter the digital space of the “Halqa-e-Aldardsha Al-Arabia” or the Arabic Speaking Circle.

The group of 20 are joined by 50 other linguaphiles from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and even India — Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor, and its archrival since the 1947 partition.

However, due to the apolitical nature of the group, the conversations are exclusive to and revolve around their experiences and mutual love of Arabic — a language that transcends their digital boundaries.

“Currently, there are 70 members in the group, 20 Pakistanis and 50 from other countries. The Pakistanis and two Indians aren’t native Arabic speakers, they’ve learnt it in the 1970s (as overseas workers), while members from Middle Eastern countries are native speakers, so it’s a good mix,” Dr. Inamul Haq Ghazi, founder of the group and chairman of the Arabic translation department at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, told Arab News on Tuesday.

The group held its first meeting on May 15 with an aim “to promote the language and exchange cultural experiences.” 

The idea, Dr. Ghazi said, originated from the fact that a lot of overseas workers and expatriates were well-versed in spoken Arabic but “didn’t have a platform to connect to a larger audience.”

“Our governments (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) have strong historical relationships, but we want to promote people-to-people contact through our platform. Millions of our nationals are employed in different fields in several Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” he said.

Prime among those is Ambassador Javed Hafeez, another founding member, who said that it began as an informal “group of friends” who were fluent in classical Arabic and “wanted to share their social and cultural experiences.”

“Being fluent in the language, I appear on numerous Arabic news channels as an analyst where I promote a positive image of Pakistan,” Hafeez, who has served in many Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia as an ambassador, told Arab News.

He added that Arabic was a rich language, before urging Pakistani youth to learn it “to expand their careers in the Middle East and know more about their social and cultural values.

A screen grab shows participants of the Arabic Speaking Circle meeting via Zoom held on May 15. (Supplied by Ambassador Javed Hafeez)

All are welcome, Dr. Ghazi added, since there are “no restrictions on nationality.”

“We are, in fact, including people of different nationalities in our group to make it a multinational platform,” he said.

The topics vary from talking about personal experiences to curated subjects.

“In our next meeting, we are planning to discuss ‘Arab travelers to the sub-continent, and how they have portrayed the area in their travelogues.’ We’ve already circulated this topic among the participants, and each member will come prepared to talk about it and ask different questions,” Hafeez said, adding that in the previous session he’d shared his experience of learning the language and how it helped him “climb the ladder of success as a diplomat.”

Next, the group has plans to set up a “Regional Arabic Center” in Pakistan, with the help of Saudi Arabia, to promote the Arabic language and cultural exchange between the two countries.

“The platform could also be used to dub classical dramas and films in both Urdu and Arabic to promote them in Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries. This is an apolitical platform, and its only purpose is to promote Arabic language and strengthen our relationship with Middle Eastern countries,” Dr. Ghazi said.