The latest surge of violence against poll workers and other civilians in Afghanistan’s eastern and southwestern provinces killed at least 18 people and left more than 13 injured, some seriously. President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Ambassador Zalmai Khalilzad, UN Special Envoy Jean Arnault, and the coalition forces in Kabul all condemned the attacks. The incidents occurred as NATO leaders were gathering for their summit in Istanbul, Turkey (AP, June 27; RFE/RL, June 27).
The first attack came on Friday, June 25, in Uruzgan province. The suspected Taliban insurgents kidnapped 18 men, took them to Dai Chopan district in Zabul, and executed them. Between 10 and 16 people were killed (AP, June 28). This incident is significant for three reasons. First, the United States has stationed a large number of troops in Uruzgan province. Aside from the three main coalition army bases (Bagram, Kandahar, and Paktika), Uruzgan has the largest contingent of U.S. troops monitoring Taliban activities. Second, the attack occurred in a broad daylight, demonstrating how bold the insurgents have become. Despite repeated attempts by U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces to uproot the Taliban remnants, Zabul has become their safe heaven. Third, the attack was carried out against people who had registered to vote in the September elections. This was the first time that an attack of this magnitude targeted people whose only “crime” is possessing voter registration cards. Almost every Afghan citizen could now become a potential target.
The second attack, in Jalalabad, was the first to specifically target working women. On June 26 a bomb destroyed a bus carrying female election workers en route to registering new voters. At least three women were killed and about a dozen wounded. While there had been threats against female workers before, they were never carried out. These gender-based attacks not only brought condemnations from Afghan and foreign officials, but they also set off protests and rallies in Jalalabad. The demonstrators vowed to continue their support for the elections. They also asked neighboring countries, specifically Pakistan, to not to allow insurgents to attack Afghanistan and disrupt the election process (VOA June 28).
These attacks took place on the eve of the NATO June 28-29 summit in Turkey. The participants in the Istanbul meetings did not need to be reminded of the security threats in Afghanistan. Yet even with these vivid reminders, NATO approved only a modest troop increase. NATO’s foot-dragging has already emboldened the insurgents in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. NATO’s inability to contribute a sizeable force to contain the insurgency can only let the situation deteriorate further.
The latest figures from the Afghan Election Commission suggest that slightly more than 5 million people have registered to vote, out of an estimated 10.5 million eligible voters. With only two months left and attacks on the rise, the elections are in jeopardy. If the U.S.-led coalition and the UN peacekeeping operation (International Security Assistance for Afghanistan) fail to secure the legitimacy of the ballots — and the security of the voters — before the elections, the outcome is unpredictable. According to Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch, “If the elections don’t take place because of insecurity, or if they are conducted but are not free and fair, the blame will rest squarely on the heads of the United States and its NATO allies” (Telegraph, June 28). Given the prevailing conditions, the fate of the elections seems tenuous at best.