Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghan Youth Debates: Poll Security a Major Concern in Nangarhar
A journalist from Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province has warned that deteriorating security is likely to prevent effective monitoring at polling stations in some districts.
Asef Shinwari, a local reporter, told an IWPR debate that Nangarhar's Haska Mina district, which borders on Pakistan, was now suffering more violent attacks than it had been during the 2009 presidential election.
“I went to [report on] the Haska Mina area during the last presidential poll but I can’t go there now," he told students attending the event at the Spinghar Hotel in Jalalabad on March 18. "I'm not sure how a fair vote can be held."
Mangal Shirzad, a lecturer at Nangarhar University, agreed that security remained a serious concern among Afghans who were looking forward to voting in both the provincial and presidential elections due to be held on April 5.
But he pointed out that the legitimacy of the ballot could be completely undermined if fear of violence prevented people from turning out in large numbers.
Audience member Idris Shigiwal questioned the debate panellists further on security matters. He asked how government officials could expect to ensure a transparent vote when insurgent were in control of so many areas. Fraud was bound to occur in districts where election observers were constrained by safety concerns, he argued.
“Given that the Independent Election Commission [IEC] has admitted that its staff cannot go to some areas, how can we guarantee a fair vote?" he asked.
Matiullah Ahmadzai, head of the provincial department for youth affairs, said public awareness programmes had enjoyed some success in persuading local villagers about the importance of voting.
“We have held meetings with young people in all districts but other organisations haven't," he told the debate. "This is why some people don’t yet know why elections are so important."
Azem Aref, a public awareness officer for the IEC in Nangarhar, said he hoped the country's security forces would tackle the insurgent threat in time for the vote.
He also urged civil society groups, tribal elders and media outlets to do what they could to ensure the election went well.
"The elections need to be transparent, and local communities, media outlets, young people and civil society organisations all have an opportunity to help monitor the vote," he said.
Zabihullah Ghazi is a student at Nangarhar University and an IWPR trainee.
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.
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