Afghan Youth Debates: Fraud, Security Fears in Paktia
Election officials in Paktia province in southeast Afghanistan have yet to address major concerns about security, corruption and problems with the distribution of voter registration cards, youth groups in the province say.
Concerns about preparations for this April’s presidential and provincial elections were raised during an IWPR-backed debate attended by more than 100 Paktia University students in the provincial centre Gardez on January 1.
Hamidullah Afghan, a literature student from Paktia, said he believed a combination of poor preparation by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), and the very real threat of violence from insurgent groups would prevent many voters from taking part in the poll.
He argued that insurgents were likely to block key roads on election day, and even prevent Afghans from leaving their homes.
Afghan accused election officials of failing to issue registration cards to residents of the Jani Khel district, on the border with Pakistan, meaning that even if people were able to get to polling stations, they would not be eligible to vote.
"The IEC appointed mobile teams to distribute cards to voters, but these teams stayed in the district centres and didn't go out to the villages," he said. "Only a small number of people have obtained voting cards."
Responding to this criticism, Sher Ali Faizi, head of the IEC's public awareness programme in Paktia, appeared to blame voters for the error.
"The procedure is that local people should request [a visit from] our mobile teams, and we then share their request with security officials before dispatching staff," he said. "Since the mobile teams haven’t been requested, it is not our problem. If people want to obtain voting cards to participate in the elections, they can come to the centre in Gardez and register."
Niazullah Asil Zazai, chairman of Paktia's Independent Association of Journalists, told the debate of his fears that enduring corruption and lack of transparency would mar the election result. He claimed that many high-ranking government officials had obtained their positions through "collusion", and that they viewed a free and fair vote as a threat to their authority.
"There are some individuals who are alarmed at the idea of transparent elections," Zazai said. "These are people who have come to power as a result of fraud in previous elections."
Language student Hamid Jan Ehsas said that in Paktia, mistrust of Western influence was likely to deter people from coming out to vote.
"A number of people have problems with the international community," he told the panelists. "Although these people have an opportunity to participate in the elections, they will not do so. They believe that our next president will be elected at the will of the international community, and that their votes will carry no value."
Abdulraqib Nuri is a university student in Paktia province.
This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.