Neighbourhood watch: Afghans prepare to campaign for presidential polls

Interior Minister says insurgents cannot derail democratic process.

Tahir Khan January 24, 2014
Interior Minister says insurgents cannot derail democratic process.

ISLAMABAD: Afghans are set to witness the first ever democratic transition of power in the history of the war-torn country as candidates gear up to begin campaigning next week for the presidential and 34 provincial councils’ elections scheduled for April 5.

The elections will also mark the end of President Hamid Karzai’s almost 12-year-rule at a time when he is resisting US pressure to sign a controversial security pact that will allow American boots on ground after the withdrawal of Nato forces this year.

Karzai is going to be succeeded by one of 11 candidates, almost all ethnic Pukhtuns. As to Karzai’s post-election role, some Afghan officials say he could be declared a national leader and given a major role afterwards to revive the country’s beleaguered institutions.

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Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission has set the campaign period for presidential candidates from February 2 to April 2 and for provincial council candidates from March 4 until April 2. The country’s electoral laws specify a 60-day campaigning period for presidential candidates and 30 days for provincial council candidates.

Political parties in Afghanistan are still very weak and candidates’ personal clout and ethnic background will play a major role in gaining votes. With a majority of the presidential candidates being Pukhtuns, there is a strong possibility that ethnic votes will be divided.

Security fears

Security is seen as one of the biggest challenges for the polls, as reflected by the deadly Taliban suicide attack on a Lebanese restaurant this month that killed 21 people, mostly foreigners.

A Pakistani woman working with a United Nations agency was among those killed in the attack in the highly-secure Wazir Akbar Khan area which also houses some embassies and foreign forces’ base.

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However, despite grave security challenges, Afghan officials are hopeful the election will be smooth as they do not see serious threats like in the previous elections, especially after Hizb-e-Islami chief Gulbaddin Hekmatyar announced his tacit support for the polls.

A report prepared by the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs regarding security of upcoming elections indicates the polls will be better than the previous ones.

Referring to the recent insurgent attacks, Interior Minister Umer Daudzai claimed the Taliban have been “ordered by their foreign handlers” to intensify attacks in Afghanistan to sabotage the April elections.

Daudzai told participants of a seminar in Kabul this week that insurgents had mounted anti-government activities as part of a plot to derail the polls, according to the Afghan Pajhwok news agency.

“We have reports that militants have been ordered from abroad to step up their activities using their hideouts during the winter season in Afghanistan to create mayhem during the elections,” Daudzai was quoted as saying. He, however, added insurgents are not in a position to create significant problems.

The ministry’s report also stated that security would be provided for 94% of the polling stations whereas 414, which fall in the insecure areas, would remain closed.

Daudzai told a meeting of police commanders and International Security Assistance Force officials this week that fewer than 800 out of 6,845 polling stations faced security threats. “This number will be decreased within the next two months after ensuring their security.”

Afghan officials say they will also seek cooperation from Nato forces for ensuring safe transfer of election materials, such as ballot papers and boxes, to polling centres around the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2014.


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