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Voter Intimidation Effort Uncovered

Posters warning against registering for the upcoming election and threatening women who co-operate with the United Nations appear in several sites.
By Amanullah Nasrat

Posters threatening Afghans who register to vote or support the government and the United Nations have appeared in the central province of Maidan Wardak.

The hand-written posters contained death threats against anyone working with or using the UN's women's centres. They also comprised unspecified threats against those supporting the government in the election process.

A Western diplomatic source said similar threatening "letters" have appeared in the neighbouring province of Logar and in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and some areas of Kabul.

Reports about the letters have persisted for some time. But an IWPR reporter was the first journalist to actually find one, which was posted on a wall in Chak, a district in Maidan Wardak, last week.

The letter from Chak, now held by IWPR, was written in ink on A4-size paper in ungrammatical Pashtu and signed by someone claiming to represent the Jamiat-e-Akhwan-ul-Muslimin, Society of Muslim Brothers.

Under the headline, "Announcement: In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful", the poster read:

"Dear compatriots,

"1. You are informed that you should not co-operate with the present government in any affairs that are against Islamic law.

"2. Those who work in government official organisations are seriously warned to quit their jobs, otherwise they will be responsible for what happens to them.

"3. The workers with the UN in the UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] election process should quit their jobs. Otherwise they will be responsible for what happens to them.

"4. Those women's centres set up with the support of UNAMA are providing a facility for sexual relationships for [members of] UNAMA. They [the women in the centres] should stop their activities, otherwise they should be ready for death.

"5. Those who indirectly support UNAMA policies or who are a link between our group and UNAMA are warned that they should save themselves."

A week after the posters first appeared, a grenade was thrown at the house of a woman working for UNAMA in Wardak, in Sayed Abad, the neighbouring district to Chak.

Mohammed Daoud Akbari, the team leader of the voter registration programme in Sayed Abad, said he learned of the attack on Wasima, 30, after the woman, dressed in a burqa, accompanied a male relative who reported it to the district administrator on her behalf. The woman was not injured in the attack.

Akbari said he had not spoken to the woman herself.

Wasima was the co-ordinator of the women's section of the voter registration programme in Sayed Abad.

Afghanistan is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in late September and approved election laws earlier this week.

Remnants of the former radical Islamic Taleban regime and conservative Islamic groups continue to threaten stability in parts of the country, particularly in the south.

The government and UN have reacted defiantly to the threats. A spokesman for President Hamed Karzai said, "Our people have never allowed themselves to be intimidated by this kind of warning," adding, "Afghanistan will never go back to the way it was."

Ghoti Khowry, a member of the election commission in Kabul, dismissed the letters as a product of conflict between local people.

"They will never [force us to] postpone the project of voter registration," she said.

The letters in Wardak appeared on May 19 on the walls of houses, the mosque, the health centre and on trees in the village of Anbokhak in Chak.

Local people said that, despite the threats, they supported the election process. Salim Kahn, 55, said, "The election is very important for Afghanistan and is a positive step towards democracy."

"This will not affect us in any way," said Abdulshkoor, 25. "We will continue with voter registration to choose a new government and president." He claimed that similar posters had been hung in Maidan, in the village Dand, which is a 30 minute drive away.

Women in the village were equally defiant. A woman doctor working at a hospital supported by a German charity vowed, "We will register for voting cards and take part in the election process to build our future, even if they threaten us. But the election teams should visit house by house, because [as women] we are not allowed outside of our homes."

Zainullah, the local police chief, promised that "we are ready to stop all illegal activities like this and to establish peace and security, to encourage people to build a future for themselves".

The letters are the latest in a number of incidents that raise questions about security during the voter registration process and the upcoming election.

In Nuristan province earlier this month, two unarmed Britons and a local translator were killed. They were working for the organisation Global Risk, evaluating security for the voter registration process.

A few days later, four Afghan election workers escaped unhurt after a jeep explosion near Grabawa, a village in Nangahar province about 96 kilometres south of Kabul. Their driver was treated for minor injuries.

The province of Wardak sits strategically between the province of Kabul and the former Taleban strongholds of Ghazni and Logar provinces.

Before the fall of Kabul in September 1996, members of the Taleban based in Wardak staged attacks on the capital.

Remnants of the Taleban are still in Wardak and some local people in the province continue to support their ideals. However, it is unclear if active fighters exist there - and whether they are an organised force.

Amanullah Nasrat is a freelance reporter with IWPR in Kabul. IWPR staff members Wahidullah Amani and Hafizullah Gardish also contributed to this report.

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