Musings on Migration, Labour, Politics, Dissent etc.
– Bonojit Hussain
This is an English translation of a short reportage originally written in Assamese for the daily Asomiya Pratidin of Assam. 16th September 2010
While negotiating the endless traffic jam on Kabul streets, it is hard to miss the hoardings, poll signs and other paraphernalia of an upcoming election. But what would strike you is the fact that the candidates are missing from the streets, there are hardly any campaign trails to be seen.
Afghanistan is preparing to hold its second Wolesi Jirga or the Parliamentary elections since the fall of Taliban regime in 2001. The first wolesi Jirga elections were held in 2005. Around 2500 candidates are seeking seats in the house of 249. 68 seats are reserved for women at an average of 2 seats per province. Out of the total candidates in the fray are record 410 women candidates or around 16% of the total numbers. There are also around 80 warlords in the election fray.
But this is no ordinary election to be held on September 18th, it is an election in the of midst war. If last year’s Presidential election of 20th August saw an orgy of violence – one of the most violent days in recent year, this year’s wolesi Jirga election has all the potential to put forth an even more violent atmosphere.
The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the upcoming elections and asked Afghan citizens to stay away from the polls, which according to them is, “stage-managed by the enemy of Islam to further the ongoing occupation Afghanistan”. According to reports issued by Ministry of Interior, in last one month more than 750 people, including civilians, insurgents and combatants, have lost their lives. And more than a 1000 people have been wounded. Around 80 civilians have been killed only in past 10 days.
With intimidation, especially towards women candidates and violence increasing sharply, among all stakeholders in this election, security remains a major concerned. Anarkali Kaur, one among the two candidates from the religious minorities, says that she can campaign only in localities where the Afghan Government armed forces give assurances of safety. And often despite the assurances, she has to face hostilities for being a young woman in politics. Already four candidates and around 10 campaign workers have been killed in past few weeks, of which some killings have been owned up by the Taliban.
International watchdog organizations are of the opinion that the Taliban threats are a reason for great worry as it will surely dissuade voters from turning out on the Election Day especially in the ethnic Pashtun dominated south where the Taliban are the strongest, opening the doors for large scale electoral frauds by Warlords and insurgents. However, according to many skeptics, the Taliban threat is no longer restricted to Pashtun dominated south as Taliban has made rapid inroads into the strongholds of their bitter enemy, ie; the erstwhile Northern Alliances.
In view of the security concerns, the Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has declared that it will be able to secure only 5897 polling centers nationally out of planned 6835 polling centers. However, many feels that even plans to open 5897 polling centers is very optimistic. A senior news editor of the largest private TV network – Ariana TV, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that Afghan National forces are not capable of provided adequate security to 5897 polling centers as claimed by IEC.
Even if security concerns are brushed aside, a smooth election would still be a far-fetched goal. In the absence of any official population census since 1979, the voters registration list remains hopelessly flawed. Even though 17 million voters have registered during the recent registration drive; International monitoring groups estimate that out of 17 million around 5 million are fraudulent or are duplicate registrations.
Flawed voters registration and hostile security scenario allowed the last Presidential election of 2009 to be marred with frauds. Around 1 million votes were falsified and ballot-stuffing was rampant by loyal warlords of the current President Hamid Karzai. This time around, considering the large number of candidates, it won’t require 1 million false votes; only few thousands or few hundreds of fraudulent votes would be enough to influence the results at the provincial battlegrounds.
However, notwithstanding these grim scenario, a dominant section of Afghan intelligentsia think that this election is a litmus test for democracy to reborn in Afghan soil. While a resurgent Taliban engulfs the country, somebody like Najiba Ayubi, the director of influential independent media house – The Khillid Group – thinks that the elections must go on as democratic practices like election will help people dissuade from supporting the insurgents. Similar sentiments are expressed by Danish Karokhel, Editor-in-Chief of Pajhwok Afghan News, when he says “Fraud or no fraud, this election is extremely required.”
Perhaps a pertinent question to ask would be why is the Taliban rising back like a phoenix even after 5 years of electoral democracy and 10 years of NATO led war against terrorism in Afghanistan?