Afghanistan Elections: A Triumph of Democracy

by October 27, 2018 0 comments

Afghanistan Elections A Triumph of Democracy

The Afghanistan Elections actually taking place and the fact that a large number of women formed a queue for parliamentary elections represents a win-win of democracy.

It is easy to run down the elections to Afghanistan’s 250-member Wolesi Jirga, the lower House of its bicameral National Assembly, on October 20 and 21. There were technical and administrative glitches. Many polling centres opened late on October 20. Consequently, the Independent Election Commission, holding the elections, declared that these would remain open until 8 p.m. against the original deadline of 4 p.m. Those that did not open until 1 p.m. would remain open on October 21 as well. Besides, while the deployment of over 70,000 security personnel ensured that security was, on the whole, reasonably good in Kabul and the cities, violent attacks by the Taliban either disrupted or prevented polling in outlying districts like Roghistan and Imam Saheb in Badakhshan and Kunduz Provinces respectively. Trouble has also been reported from districts in the Maidan Wardak, Logar, Paktia and Taghar Provinces.

It remains to be seen how the elections in Kandahar Province, postponed to October 27, are held. No date has been announced for elections in Ghazni Province which have also been postponed. As officially indicated, it will not be held this year. Article 104 of Afghanistan’s electoral law lays down, “When security situations, natural disasters and other similar conditions” make “the principle of general and fair representation” impossible to uphold “and undermine the credibility of the electoral process,” the latter should be postponed from the specified date for a period of up to four months. It adds, “The postponement or suspension is proposed by the IEC and approved by a committee, which should comprise head and members of the National Security Council, speakers of the two Houses of the Parliament, Chief Justice, and chair of the Independent Commission of Oversight of Implementation of the Constitution of Afghanistan.” It further states, “If the situation mentioned above which led to postponement or suspension of the elections does not improve within the period of four months, the committee may extend the postponement or suspension of elections for a period of another four months.”

The fact, however, is that elections have been held in 32 of Afghanistan’s 34 Provinces and four million out of the 8.8 million registered voters have voted. Despite the killing of 10 candidates in the violence preceding the elections, the rest of the 2,500 candidates, including 400 women, remained in the field. And all this despite the fact that, stating that the elections were a project of the invading Americans, the Taliban had declared that resisting these was a religious duty. Announcing that they would do everything possible to prevent the elections, they had asked candidates to withdraw and had warned people against venturing out on the polling day as they would then risk being killed or hurt. Not only that, their violent attacks had killed hundreds in the weeks prior to the elections.

Significantly, the postponement of the elections in both Kandahar and Ghazni Provinces were due to violence unleashed by the Taliban. The latter has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Kandahar on October 18, that killed General Abdul Raziq, the police chief of Kandahar and one of Afghanistan’s most powerful and important security officials, the provincial Governor, Zalmay Wesa, and intelligence chief, Abdul Mohmin and two policemen. The Taliban further claimed that the targets of the attack — shooting by one of Raziq’s own elite guards — were General Raziq as well as NATO-led Resolute Support Mission Commander General Austin Scott Miller.

The elections in Ghazni have been postponed because of two reasons. The first is a volatile security situation. The Taliban occupied the provincial capital of Ghazni on August 10 and were ousted, after fierce fighting, on August 15-16 by teams of United States Special Forces operating with Afghan commandos, and military and police personnel, and with air support. They, however, have continued to be strongly entrenched in the countryside which has, according to the authorities, remained too disturbed to hold elections.

The other factor behind the decision to postpone the elections was a dispute over ethnic representation among Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks and Sayyeds. The Pashtuns, particularly, demanded the division of the Province into smaller units to ensure balanced ethnic representation. On June 25, 2018, the IEC decided to split the Province into three separate electoral constituencies for the parliamentary elections. Tensions, however, continue as the feeling persists among sections that the splitting has not been fair to all the ethnic groups.

The attacks in these two Provinces are a part of the roll of violence unleashed by the Taliban over the years from their sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal territories. The situation had been made worse by competitive violence by the Islamic State which sought to establish a base in the country. The combination of the two largely accounted for the surge of insurgent/terrorist attacks in the country during February-March this year. The Islamic State’s challenge seems to have receded, but Pakistan-backed Taliban violence has continued to escalate, United States’ President Donald Trump’s repeated warnings to Islamabad notwithstanding.

In this context, the targeting of General Miller in the Kandahar attack was significant. Metaphorically, it would have been tantamount to slapping President Trump on the face had it succeeded. Indeed, the very fact that it was not only undertaken but announced was clearly meant to deliver to him and the US the message that the Taliban thought nothing of trying to administer humiliating blows to their respective faces in public. Since the Taliban could not have done this without at least Pakistan’s approval — if not at its behest — the entire attack reflected the Imran Khan Government’s message to Washington, DC, that it would teach the Trump Administration a lesson for effecting the aid cuts it had imposed on Islamabad for not doing enough to combat the terrorist groups operating from its soil.

It remains to be seen how the Trump Administration sorts this out or if it can at all do so. Meanwhile, the escalating level of violence, which prevented the elections to the Wolesi Jirga, due in 2015, from being held till now, continues. The very fact that voting has taken place, many of the candidates have been young men and women, and a large number of women queued up to vote, is significant. It clearly shows that Afghans want democracy and not the retrograde, medieval theocracy of Pakistan-backed Taliban that would reduce women to, at best, domestic slavery.

(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)

Writer: Hiranmay Karlekar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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