The spreading insurgency in Afghanistan has slowed down voter registration to such an extent that election officials are talking about postponing the polling from September to October. “The election cannot happen in September,” electoral commission spokeswoman Ghutai Khawrai said on June 12. Khawrai explained that a presidential decree certifying the boundaries of electoral constituencies was only signed on June 5. According to Khawrai, this delay has compromised an electoral law that requires the government to give 120 days or four-months notice before polls can be held — which would push elections to October rather than September. Khawrai also complained that there was a shortage of funds. In the previous week, the United Nations (UN) revealed that, despite substantial pledges from the international community for the estimated US$101 million required for the elections, no money has been received by the Afghan government. So far, an estimated 3.5 million voters – mostly from urban areas — have been registered from a pool of some 10 million voters. The crucial presidential and parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for June but were postponed to September because of “logistical problems” cited by the Kabul government. Ministry of Justice official Sayed Mohammed Hashmi said that 21 political parties have registered so far. Most of them are newly-formed parties, but some of them also include elements of a revamped former Communist party, anti-Soviet armed factions, and political groups that existed before the Soviet invasion (Daily Times, Kabul, June 13).
The electoral commission, which is working with the UN to organize the polls, said it is concerned with new violence in northern Afghanistan. On June 10, eleven Chinese highway construction workers were shot dead as they slept in their tents in northeastern Kunduz province, making it the deadliest single attack against foreign workers since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001. The workers belonged to a Chinese company that has won a World Bank contract to repair the key highway from Kabul to the border with Tajikistan (PakTribune.com, Kabul, June 13).
Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim –who is acting president while President Hamid Karzai is visiting the U.S. — blamed the killing of the Chinese workers on the Taliban, al-Qaida and their allies. However, Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha, in a satellite phone call from an undisclosed location, denied Taliban involvement in the killings (Xinhua news agency, Beijing, June 10). Later, General Mohammed Daoud, the Kunduz military commander, said so far 10 suspects had been arrested in Kunduz and neighboring Baghlan province. Kunduz police chief Mutaleb Beg said, “There were signs” that followers of former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were involved in the killings (AP, Kabul, June 13). Hekmatyar himself is a Pashtun of the Kharoti tribe settled in Kunduz.
On the same day, a bomb intended for passing UN vehicles exploded near a bridge on the main road joining the two northern provinces of Takhar and Kunduz, but it caused no casualties. Because of these attacks, the UN has suspended its voter registration efforts in Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces (Afghan Islamic Press, Mazar-e Sharif, in Pashtu, June 10). Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, said it was hard to see a healthy number of voters being registered amid the deteriorating security situation. “If they are having attacks in Badghis and Kunduz, which are perceived to be the safest places in Afghanistan, nowhere can be viewed as safe anymore,” Wilder said (PakTribune.com, Kabul, June 13). Badghis province was the scene of a Taliban attack on June 2 that killed three Europeans and two Afghans working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (see EDM of June 9).
The possibility of another delay in Afghan points to the success of the Pashtun-Taliban insurgency (see EDM, June 3) to disrupt the electoral process, not only in their perceived strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan but also in the northern provinces presumably controlled by non-Pashtun warlords allied to Karzai’s Kabul government.
However, more disturbing is the apparent paralysis of the Karzai-led interim government to do anything to rectify the situation. Karzai’s lack of power to broaden political participation could very well end in a Kabul-managed show-piece election to please Washington, ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush’s re-election bid in November.
It appears that eventually it will not matter who else is elected in Afghanistan if it can be assured that President Hamid Karzai is re-elected. A clue to the machinations of ensuring such an outcome — regardless of how many voters register by September or October — can be seen in the questions raised about Karzai’s private meetings with the Mujahideen warlords (see EDM, June 8).
Karzai may not be aiming for a visible “coalition government” with Mujahideen warlords. But he is certainly being assured by them that they will not stand in his way as he vies for the presidency, in exchange for at least the same power and privileges that warlords already enjoy in the current interim Kabul government. How smooth a player Karzai is in preserving his own place of power was evident in his interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN on June 13 when he quickly revised the number of registered voters in Afghanistan upward to 3.7 million — courtesy of a phone call that Karzai indicated he had just received from Kabul — and expectations that this figure would soon rapidly increase. Also, he told Blitzer that even if the 10 million prospective voters were not registered by September, six million would be representative enough. But at no point in the interview did he mention the possibility of the September elections being delayed because of the current security problem.