Second attack on Dr Abdullah raises security concerns for April elections

Karzai says polls will be secured by army, urges public to exercise democratic right.


Tahir Khan February 22, 2014
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah (C) waves to supporters at an election rally in Jalalabad. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: As electioneering gears up in Afghanistan, the recent attack on leading candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah by the Taliban has highlighted looming security challenges for the historic April 5 presidential polls. The elections will see the first ever democratic transition in the war-shattered country.

Abdullah’s campaign spokesman Fazal Rahman Oria says armed men targeted his convoy on Wednesday when he was on his way back to Kabul from an election rally in Nangarhar. Although nobody was hurt in the attack, it has raised security concerns.

Election activities will gain further momentum when permission is granted to provincial candidates to formally launch their one-month campaign next week.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had quickly claimed responsibility for the attack and maintained three of Abdullah’s guards had been killed and several injured.

Taliban have stepped up attacks in recent days, with the latest one being a bomb and gun attack at a police station near Kabul on Friday which killed at least one police official and injured others.

The United Nations has also stated that security will remain one of the biggest challenges for the elections. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Ján Kubiš, has called on the Afghan security forces to be on heightened vigilance over the coming weeks.

Referring to recent attacks, he deplored any attempts to undermine the electoral process which is being seen as a vital step with regards to the withdrawal of Nato forces this year.

Wednesday’s attack on Abdullah was the second of its kind this month. Two members of his campaign team were killed by unidentified gunmen in Herat earlier this month. The attacks led to an appeal from the Afghan Interior Ministry’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi to candidates to cooperate with the ministry for security arrangements.

As concerns also mount over possible vote fraud, President Hamid Karzai, who is scheduled to step down in May after serving for two terms, used a radio address on Thursday to promise that the elections would be free and fair.

He said government officials would not utilise official resources in favour or against presidential candidates, Pajhwok news agency quoted Karzai as saying in his fortnightly radio address that “Afghan forces will secure the elections with the cooperation of the masses. We should throng polling stations and cast votes in favour of our favourite candidates.”

Referring to 11 presidential candidates, he said the high number of candidates is ample proof of growing democracy in the country.

Taliban not the only opposition

The attacks reflect the Taliban’s opposition to the elections since Mullah Omar had said in his last Eid message that the presidential polls were a “deceiving drama”.

Besides the Taliban, there are several other groups and individuals who believe this is not the time for a democratic transition, especially amid the ongoing conflict and presence of foreign troops. “We do not reject elections but this is not the time for them. Elections mean a continuation of war as the newly-elected leader will also continue fighting,” former Afghan prime minister Ahmed Shah Ahmadzai told The Express Tribune in Islamabad this month.

A former Taliban minister, Mutasim Agha Jan, who is involved in peace talks with Karzai’s peace negotiators, has also opposed the election process. “As long as the flames of this imposed war remain blazing, no one can hope for holding a pure and fair presidential election and thus its results can never be acceptable for everyone,” Mutasim said in a statement recently.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2014.

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