Afghans to Vote Despite Taliban Threats10/19 06:12
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Most Afghans will return to the polls for
parliamentary elections on Saturday, hoping to bring change to a corrupt
government that has lost nearly half the country to the Taliban.
Voters in Kandahar, however, will have to wait a week after the province's
police chief was assassinated, resulting in the vote there being postponed.
In the eight years since Afghanistan last held parliamentary elections, a
resurgent Taliban have carried out near-daily attacks on security forces,
seizing large swathes of the countryside and threatening major cities. An even
more radical Islamic State affiliate has launched a wave of bombings targeting
the country's Shiite minority, killing hundreds. Both groups have threatened to
attack anyone taking part in the vote.
In areas where the government still provides relative security, Afghans face
a different array of challenges. Widespread corruption forces people to pay
bribes for shabby public services, and increasingly influential
ultraconservative clerics blame the country's many ills on years of Western
influence, threatening to roll back the limited gains made by women and civil
society since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Many of those Afghans brave enough to defy the death threats hope to vote in
a new generation of younger and better-educated leaders. But they fear that
former warlords and the corrupt political elite will cling to power by
lavishing entertainment and cash handouts on impoverished voters.
"I am still not hopeful it will be fair," said Saeed Matin, a fruit seller
in a mostly Shiite neighborhood of Kabul who was bundled up against the chilly
autumn evening. He waved off the threats from the Taliban and said he hoped for
new leadership, pointing to campaign posters showing younger candidates.
"They are young and educated and I wish they could do something, but 100
percent I am worried the warlords and the corrupt people will not give them a
chance," he said. "These corrupt people are paying 3,000 Afghanis (nearly $50)
for each vote. They are not interested in the country, only in what they can
put in their pocket."
Afghanistan is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world by
Transparency International, which last year called efforts by President Ashraf
Ghani's government to stem runaway corruption "insufficient." Poor governance
has also confounded Washington's efforts to find a peaceful exit from the
17-year war --- the longest in American history --- which has cost the United
States more than 2,400 lives and over $900 billion.
The Taliban point to the government's dysfunction as proof of its
illegitimacy, and have rejected international demands to hold peace talks with
the authorities in Kabul, who they view as Western puppets. They say they will
only negotiate directly with the United States, which they view as an occupying
Religious conservatives, even those who have not taken up arms, are
increasingly echoing the Taliban's rhetoric, saying years of Western influence
have eroded the country's values --- a mix of Islamic teachings and tribal
traditions --- causing a breakdown of society.
Abdul Wadood Pedram, who heads the Human Rights and Eradication of Violence
Organization, said religious clerics use their weekly sermons in mosques
throughout the capital to rail against Western influence.
"Our society is growing very radical, day by day, because the government has
no control of the mosques and the madrassas (religious schools)," he said. He
said clerics routinely inveigh against women's participation in the workforce
--- a rare bright spot in Afghanistan's recent history --- as well as
independent media and human rights activists.
Despite the widespread pessimism, analysts and activists say the elections
--- which were delayed for three years because of insecurity --- send an
important message to the Taliban that no matter how unpopular the current
government is, the political system is here to stay.
"It is very important to indicate to the Taliban that the government is
functioning, the institutions in Afghanistan are functioning and that the
political process ... is also functioning," said Kabul-based analyst Haroun
Mir. "It will be a clear message to the insurgents and to the Taliban that they
have to deal with the political process that is accepted by the majority of the
In the heavily fortified offices of the Independent Election Commission,
Wasima Badghisy is working on final preparations for the vote.
"Young people are voting for the first time and many are worried about the
corruption, yet they still feel it is important to participate," she said.
"They feel that it will take time but gradually with every election it will get
better. For many this election is like a practice for their future. Their
energy inspires me to try to make it better."
The most pressing concern is security. Earlier this week, the Taliban warned
students and teachers not to vote and not to allow their schools to be used as
polling stations. Militant attacks have killed seven candidates, both before
and after the 20-day campaign period started. Two candidates have been
abducted, their fates unknown, and three others have been wounded in violence.
On Thursday, Afghanistan's powerful Kandahar provincial police chief Gen.
Abdul Raziq was killed along with at least one other senior provincial
official, in a brazen attack by one of their own guards during a meeting to
discuss security ahead of the vote. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying
their target was U.S. Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops
in Afghanistan, who was unharmed.
As a result of the attack, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission on
Friday postponed polling in the province for one week.
Security fears have already forced the commission to close about 2,000
polling centers. It has cancelled the vote in 11 of the country's nearly 400
districts, as well as in the entire eastern province of Ghazni, where the
Taliban control the countryside and laid siege to the provincial capital for
five days in July. More than 50,000 security forces will be deployed to defend
With 8.8 million registered voters, Badghisy said turnout will reflect
Afghans' confidence in the system.
"If 5 million voters turn out that will be very good," she said. "Those who
vote, I feel they are very, very brave."