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

Taleban Pose Ballot Threat

Growing concerns that precarious security situation could scupper upcoming leadership poll.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi
With just two weeks to go before Afghanistan’s presidential election, the issue of security and its effect on the credibility of the poll is uppermost in the minds of both the Afghan government and the international community.



A fragile confidence was further hit by several volleys of rockets that landed in the capital on August 4. They injured two civilians but otherwise there was little damage.



The Taleban claimed responsibility and vowed that the attacks would continue until the August 20 election.



More than 200 million US dollars has been spent on the poll; hundreds of international observers have arrived, and hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Coalition forces are preparing to guarantee the safety of the electorate on polling day.



But even with all of the groundwork laid, the vote could still be disrupted.



The Independent Election Commission, IEC, has told reporters that a significant portion – more than ten per cent – of the nearly 7,000 polling centres will remain closed on election day. Others may have to be relocated, because insurgents control all or part of the area in which they were to operate.



Observers worry that a low voter turnout could pave the way for fraud, casting doubt on the transparency and legitimacy of the poll.



The Taleban have made no secret of their opposition to the elections. In a July 30 statement on the official Taleban website, the insurgents warned people not to participate in the vote.



“In order to achieve real freedom, people should join the jihad,” read the statement. “Instead of going to fake polling stations, they should try to liberate their invaded country.”



The rebels say they will close down all roads in the country the day before the vote, preventing people from reaching the polling centres.



Violence has spiked in Afghanistan in the run-up to the election. Over the past week, in addition to the rocket attack on the capital, the Taleban launched an armed assault on a police checkpoint in Baghlan province, killing two officers. They also detonated a bomb in normally peaceful Herat city, killing 12 and injuring more than 20.



There have also been attacks on candidates and their campaigns. Mohammad Qasim Fahim, President Hamed Karzai’s first running mate, has survived two assassination attempts in recent weeks.



Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s chief rival in a field of 37, has suffered several attacks on his campaign as well.



Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told reporters that the election will be held in all areas of the south and east of Afghanistan, and that the security forces were ready to guarantee the security of the elections.



“In spite of all these threats, we are beside our nation and people ... in all the areas of Afghanistan the election will be held,” he said.



But Atmar accepts some concerns, and says that it is possible that in a number of electoral regions the election will face some security problems.



“We never claimed that elections will be held 100 per cent in every place of Afghanistan. But we do claim that elections will be held in most areas of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan,” he said.



The ministry of defence said 300,000 security forces will be deployed for the election including Afghan and foreign forces.



Some analysts believe that the Taleban have stepped up attacks just because of the role of foreign forces in maintaining security for the ballot.



Wahid Muzhda, a political analyst in Kabul, told IWPR, “The main reason why the Taleban got activated and sensitised against the elections is that the Americans sent more troops to Afghanistan.



“Now the Taleban have come to the conclusion that, if the elections are held in peace, they will be seen as weak in the face of the foreigners. On the other hand, the presence of extra troops in Afghanistan will sound effective and reasonable. That’s why they started to increase their attacks and threats.”



Muzhda added, “Some months ago, the Taleban announced that they did not care about the elections – the elections were of no importance to them ... now by increasing their direct attacks against the foreigners, they want to say that [the authorities]are not able to guarantee the security of the elections.”



According to Muzhda, the security situation in Afghanistan during the election will not be good and he believes that this issue will bring the transparency and legality of the ballot into question.



A spokesman for the IEC acknowledged that it would not be able to open all the polling stations.



Zakiria Barakzai said that of 6,965 polling centres, the interior ministry had assessed 6,500 and would very soon say how many will be able to open on election day.



He added, “Not all polling centres will be open on election day due to security threats but the total throughout the country will not be less that 6,000 centres.”



They had estimated that at least 93 centres in ten districts under Taleban control will not open. “Some of the polling stations may be moved from the threatened areas to secure areas so that people can vote peacefully,” he added.



Kai Eide, United Nations Special Representative, told reporters on August 3 that security forces and the IEC were trying to open most of the polling stations on election day but it was too soon to talk about numbers.



“The election commission, security institutions and the United Nations are doing whatever can be done to make sure that a maximum number of polling stations are open on polling day. It is clear that some… may be relocated due to technical reasons or due to the security situation, but efforts are being made to keep that number to an absolute minimum,” he said.



Muzhda said the key issue was the security of people in their homes after the vote.



“Maybe the security of a polling station on election day is maintained with a large number of troops but when people vote they have ink on their hands, and are marked. It is important that they are safe for the post-election period,” he said.



The Taleban have denied planning to attack civilians, but they say that they will not allow people to go to the polling stations.



Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told IWPR, “Our aim is not to attack people. We have told them not to participate in the elections. We are sure that they accepted our request and they won’t participate.



“We will increase our attacks on the centres of the enemy and the puppets of the foreigners, to prevent the elections.”



Kabul resident Wahidullah says that although people are ready to vote, the government should guarantee their security.



“Early in the morning we heard heavy explosions near our homes. When we got out it was a rocket. Since it was early morning nobody was killed. Maybe the next rockets will kill people during the day. The government should prevent this, otherwise nobody will dare to vote. And if it continues like this, no one can guarantee that the rocket won’t hit the polling station that I am going to vote in,” he said.



Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter.