Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Euphoria at Afghan Poll Security Success

Pride in army and police boosted by largely peaceful elections.
By Mina Habib
  • Afghan police and soldiers have been praised for ensuring that the April 5 elections went well. (Photo: Mina Habib)
    Afghan police and soldiers have been praised for ensuring that the April 5 elections went well. (Photo: Mina Habib)

The Afghan security forces have been praised by politicians and members of the public alike for their role in allowing the April 5 elections to take place peacefully across the country.

Out of 12 million eligible voters, nearly seven million turned out to vote on a day that saw only scattered violence. The achievement was particularly significant as the presidential and provincial council elections took place after almost all security responsibilities had been handed over to Afghan forces by the NATO-led troop contingent.

“The enemy was prepared to carry out operations at polling stations in various parts of the country, but fortunately all these attacks were foiled by the country’s security forces in good time,” Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai told a press conference after the April 5 polls had closed. (See High Afghan Turnout Reflects Hopes of Change.)

Meeting the following day, the National Security Council (NSC) agreed to award bonuses, medals and certificates to personnel in the police, army and other security forces.

At the event, outgoing president Hamed Karzai said the election success was an important achievement, while Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said that unlike in previous ballots, the army had suffered few casualties while insurgent losses had been severe.

The Afghan parliament also issued a message of thanks to the security forces.

Nazifa Zaki, a former police general and now a member of parliament’s national security committee, said this was the first time the country’s own forces had been able to keep the peace independently.

“We must be proud of these true children of our country,” she said. “They really displayed heroism and won people's trust. I know many young people who are interested in joining the ranks of the security forces after polling day.”

Civil society groups joined in the praise. On April 7, a youth movement called Process Three held a public event at which they presented a bouquet of flowers and an Afghan national flag to interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi, representing the security forces.

The group also called for April 5 to be marked as National Security Forces Day from now on.

“This victory by the security forces amazed not only Afghans but also the world, because it showed that Afghans can do anything,” said civil society activist Abdul Ghafur Basim, adding that all the speculation about Afghanistan’s vulnerability had been proved wrong.

Lutfollah Mashal, a spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, said the success on election day was due to a major forward planning effort involving extensive coordination among the various domestic security forces and also with the public.

He said Afghan intelligence had received 3,200 alerts in the 48 hours before polls opened, and this made it possible to prevent many attacks.

The NDS arrested 76 people carrying explosive devices on April 4, and a further 106 people on election day itself, Mashal said. Another 90 were arrested for other suspected offences.

Jawid Kohistani, a defence and political analyst, said the armed forces were encouraged by the public enthusiasm surrounding this year’s elections.

“In fact, it was the high turnout for the elections and the public’s defiance in the face of threats from the country’s enemies that motivated our forces to defend the people bravely,” he said.

Kohistani added that Afghan forces’ handling of the election not only wrong-footed the insurgents but also served as a wake-up call to Kabul’s allies.

“The US has always threatened that if the [Bilateral] Security Agreement is not signed and they leave Afghanistan, our forces will be unable to defend the country. Yet our forces proved that they do have the capacity to defend Afghanistan,” he said, while acknowledging that the national military and police would continue to need US funding.

Other commentators said that a recent series of brutal attacks by the insurgents had turned people against them.

“The Taleban have recently killed civilians including children in a cruel manner. Such actions strengthened anti-Taleban sentiment in the security forces,” said Mir Ahmad Joinda, a political analyst and former member of parliament. “Although the government has launched a peace programme [with the Taleban], the security forces know very well who the enemies of the people and the country are. They will never be deceived by such processes.”

Ordinary people shared the same sense of pride in the performance of their army and police.

“I never believed that our security forces would be so capable,” said 60-year-old Kabul resident Hussein. “What’s even more interesting is that the behaviour of these forces on the polling day was so friendly and respectful that I asked myself whether they were really our own, since the police don’t always treat people well.”

Hajji Bakhtiari, 65, who lives in the capital’s Deh-i Afghanan district, added, “I always wanted to see my country with strong national security forces. These courageous men fulfilled my wish today.

“I am not capable, otherwise I would have stood alongside them. However, I have decided to encourage my children to join the ranks of these brave men and eliminate the enemies of our country.”

Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.