Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Voters Allege Intimidation in the North
Abdul Hamid had a chilling encounter when he went to cast his vote for president on October 9.
"There were four armed men in the polling station," he said. "And when I wanted to select the candidate of my choice, I was intimidated and beaten."
Abdul Hamid, who lives in Sayed Abad district in the northern Sar-e-Pul province, told IWPR that the armed men forced voters to mark their ballots for General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the influential Uzbek commander.
Abdul Mohammad, another resident of Sayed Abad, said he had a similar experience.
"They are cruel. One of them was standing by the ballot box, and would open up the ballot paper to see whom the voter had chosen,” he said. “Out of fear, most of the people wouldn't pick any candidate except General Dostum."
Abdul Mohammad said there were neither domestic nor international monitors at the polling centre, nor were there party representatives, who were also entitled to be present. Only the armed men were monitoring the site.
The threat of violence may also have kept some people away from the polls in the area.
Mohammad Juma Jawan said he did not vote because of intimidation, but he still had to explain to a local commander why he didn't cast a ballot.
"When I saw what the situation was, I burned my election card," he said. "And when the commander noticed my thumb [voters' thumbs were marked with indelible ink], he asked me, 'Why you haven't cast your vote?' I said, 'I lost my voting card’."
The militia led by commander Amardin wields serious influence in Sayed Abad. Amardin, who commands the 82nd Division, is a supporter of General Dostum.
While Dostum, who controlled significant militia forces before running for president, has already signed up to a United Nations-led disarmament program, a large number of armed men are still present in the region.
Haji Gulistan, Sayed Abad's district governor, said he was unaware of any intimidation or use of force during the election.
Azizurrahman Rasikh, head of an independent human-rights organisation funded by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said his office had received reports of voter intimidation from other areas in the north as well.
"According to the information we have received from those areas, most districts reported incidents where commanders and militia groups forced people to vote for General Dostum on election day," he said.
Rasikh cited an incident in Darzab, Jowzjan province, as an example.
"Two commanders, Zahir Padshah and Obaidullah Qahraman, went to a voting site at Abu Zar-e-Ghafari high school, and after stamping people's [registration] cards, put tick marks on the ballot paper and cast them on the voting boxes," he said. Rasikh noted that both men are relatives of Dostum, and that Qahraman had been awarded the title of “hero” by the former militia leader.
"In some villages of Pashtun Kot district, Faryab province, a commander named Abdurrahman Shamal – who was twice awarded the title of ‘hero’ by Dostum – was coercing people to vote for Dostum,” Rasikh said. “A ballot box was even opened and resealed. When the box arrived at the Mazar-e-Sharif counting centre, 'Opened and resealed under the supervision of commander Timur' was written on top of the box."
According to Rasikh, similar reports have been received from Sayed Abad, Shirin Tagab, and other districts in the same province.
One inhabitant of Khuram district, also in Sar-e-Pul province, said he was beaten by a local commander in Mazar-e-Sharif after casting his ballot.
The man, who declined to give his name to IWPR, said: "When I mistakenly chose [interim President Hamed] Karzai, the commander abused me for not picking Dostum's name."
Mohammad Nazari, the person in charge of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, in the five northern provinces, acknowledged there was an absence of monitors in some remote areas.
"These sites were monitored by local residents and the regional elders," he said.
Such local monitors may, however, have been fearful of interfering with local commanders.
Nazari also said he was unaware of such problems.
"Such complaints have not been forwarded to us," he said.
There is speculation, however, that both ordinary voters and local JEMB representatives may have failed to file such complaints out of fear of reprisal.
In an interview with IWPR, General Majid Rozi, Dostum's deputy, said his candidate was the victim of a smear campaign.
"All these allegations are meant to defame Dostum," he said. "If such allegations were true, why would other candidates besides Dostum get votes? You cannot find a single box where all the votes are for Dostum."
Rasikh, however, contended that the vote fraud was carried out professionally so as not to leave any kind of suspicion of irregularity.
Qayum Babak, a political analyst and editor of the independent newspaper Jahan-e-Now (New World) in Mazar-e-Sharif, said that he had received similar reports of voter intimidation in the Surkhab and Kuhistan districts of Faryab province.
"JEMB officials in charge of stations in those areas punched holes in voters' registration cards, marked their ballots for Dostum, and told people, 'This is your vote,' " he said.
Babak suggested that local commanders took advantage of people's illiteracy and lack of awareness about the voting process.
"The majority of the boxes containing votes for Dostum are marked with the same pen, and it could be easily shown through forensic tests that the ballots were marked by certain specific people," he said.
Nazari denied that allegation, and said JEMB officials corrected the minor voting errors in presence of the observers.
In Saripul, Jowzjan and Faryab provinces, Dostum is leading the polls and has garnered more than 60 per cent of votes counted so far.
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff writer in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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