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Afghan Youth Debates: Tribal Chieftains Fear Poll Violence

A tribal leader in southeastern Afghanistan says many people there believe insurgent groups will attack anyone attempting to vote in the April elections.

Rasul Mohammad Tanai told an IWPR-backed debate in Khost province that he feared villagers would avoid polling stations on April 5 unless government forces made a greater effort to improve security.

Political analyst Yusuf Entezar agreed with Tanai’s prognosis, and said the Afghan army and police were poorly prepared for the ballot.

It was crucial that voters from more remote regions could be confident that they could go and vote in complete safety, he said.

“The Afghan government is ill-prepared when it comes to ensuring security at polling centres," he argued. "The Independent Election Commission has already confirmed that some centres are likely to remain closed due to poor security."

The IWPR debate took place at Shaikh Zayed University in Khost on February 20 before an audience of some 100 students. Media representatives and local government officials were also present.

Elyas Wahdat, a media analyst, was asked what action would be taken against anyone found to have breached Afghan electoral law.

Wahdat made the point that voting regulations, however good in theory, had been largely ignored in previous elections, and he warned that fraud could jeopardise the legitimacy of the process this time, too.

"If efforts to guarantee transparency of the vote don’t change, this will create concern. The old tactics are not effective," Wahdat said, suggesting that the Independent Election Committee (IEC) could videotape proceedings at polling stations in the interests of transparency.

Sharifullah, a debate participant, asked the panel why the government seemed so confident that it could deliver security on election day given that so many polling stations in remote areas were under threat and would not open.

Last month, the Afghan interior ministry told the IEC that out of a total 7,168 polling stations across the country, 500 would not open. This week, however, government officials claimed that successful security operations in contested areas now meant that only 366 centres would remain shut.

Wahdat attempted to assure the debate that the army and police did have the numbers and the training to prevent insurgents from disrupting the ballot.

Mohammad Adel is a student at Sheikh Zayed University in Khost province 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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