In some of the most socially conservative regions of Pakistan this weekend’s local government elections will be men-only affairs. Local politicians and elders say parties contesting elections for district and village council seats in Hangu and parts of Malakand, districts of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have struck deals barring women from voting. There are fears of similar arrangements across KP, a province bordering Afghanistan where many Pashtun communities observe purdah traditions so strict that many female candidates do not publish photographs on election posters.
Afghanistan: Voters brave Taliban threats to choose new leader in presidential runoff | Associated Press
Afghans braved threats of violence and searing heat Saturday to vote in a presidential runoff that likely will mark the country’s first peaceful transfer of authority, an important step toward democracy as foreign combat troops leave. The new leader will be challenged with trying to improve ties with the West and combatting corruption while facing a powerful Taliban insurgency and declining international aid. Despite a series of rocket barrages and other scattered attacks that Interior Minister Mohammad Umar Daudzai said killed 46 people, the voting was largely peaceful. Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said initial estimates show that more than 7 million Afghans voted, which would be equivalent to the first round on April 5. That would be a turnout of about 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 12 million eligible voters. Abdullah Abdullah, who emerged as the front-runner with 45 percent of the vote in the first round, faced Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an ex-World Bank official and finance minister. Neither garnered the majority needed to win outright, but previous candidates and their supporters have since offered endorsements to each, making the final outcome unpredictable.
Afghanistan: Reports of Fraud and Violence Temper Joy Over Election in Chaotic Afghan District | New York Times
The turbulent district of Andar has been caught in one kind of crossfire or another for years: between American forces and insurgent leaders, between warring militant factions, between those hostile to the national government and those courting it. Over the past year, it has become clearly divided. One side is controlled by the government, which found a foothold here after an anti-Taliban uprising began in 2012; the other is still ruled by the Taliban, which operates openly. On Election Day, April 5, votes were cast in high numbers throughout Andar. Government officials hailed the news as a triumph for Afghan democracy in a place where only three valid votes were recorded across the whole district in the 2010 parliamentary elections. To a degree, that judgment was justified. Many residents in this remote corner of Ghazni Province said they felt marginalized in the last election, and they were determined to see their votes count this time, despite the risks.
On April 5, 2014, the Afghan nation voted to elect what is supposed to be the country’s first post-ISAF and post-Karzai government. This was the third time that presidential and provincial council elections were held in the country since the overthrow of the Taliban regime over a decade ago. The entire election process, however, is supposed to conclude with the third round of parliamentary elections which should be due sometime next year. This basically means that the April elections mark the beginning of a long-drawn complex process extending over a year. The whole exercise in due course will test the strength and credibility of the Afghan institutions and the resolve of the Afghan people to take the political process to its logical conclusion. It is not merely about change in leadership; it is about ushering the country into a ‘decade of transformation’ (2015-24) by further institutionalising a relatively inclusive political culture which could cater to the rising scepticism as well as aspirations among the Afghan people. It is about building a political order which is in tune with the changing socio-political realities, mindful of the several challenges ahead, the most important being, how to keep the international community engaged. Like the incumbent president, the next leadership in Kabul too will have to confront similar challenges: managing divergent perceptions and factional interests, competing patronage networks and parallel power structures at the sub-national level, seemingly irreconcilable ideological positions of the Pakistan-sponsored Haqqani-Taliban network and, most critically, sustaining the current constitutional framework to the extent possible.
With 10 percent of votes counted in the April 5 election, Abdullah leads with 42 percent, compared with 38 percent for Ghani, according to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan in Kabul. A runoff will take place between the two top candidates if no single candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the vote. “The results will change,” Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, the election commission chairman, told reporters in Kabul yesterday. “It is possible that one candidate is the front-runner in today’s press conference, and there will be another front-runner in the next press conference.” The Afghan government said voter turnout doubled from the previous presidential election in a show of defiance against Taliban insurgents who have sought to disrupt the poll. The vote paves the way for the first democratic transfer of power since the U.S. ousted the group in 2001.
It is not true to say that Afghanistan lacks good-news stories. It’s just that they are not the kind to generate headlines: 8m children at school, two-fifths of them girls, compared with 1m when the Taliban were in power; a tenfold increase in those Afghans with access to basic health care; some 20m who own mobile phones; and proliferating television channels, radio stations and newspapers. By contrast, the good-news story of the presidential election on April 5th was generating both headlines and surprise—and that is even before a result has been announced. The expectation was for another flawed election like the one in 2009. Jeremiahs predicted that a combination of fraud, intimidation and violence would produce only a tainted, illegitimate government. That would give weary donors of international aid all the excuse they needed to stop signing the cheques keeping the country afloat. The only real winners would be the Taliban. Yet in this election Afghans of all kinds rejected that account of their country. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals (and rotten weather), over 7m Afghans, about 60% of those eligible, appear to have voted, half as many again as in 2009. Around 35% of those who cast a ballot were women. Burka-clad voters raising an ink-stained finger as they left the polling booths became a symbol of defiance.
The Taliban launched a series of attacks, focused mainly on the capital Kabul, just a few days ahead of Afghanistan’s landmark April 5 presidential poll. The militant group had threatened to attack polling stations during the vote and warned people against casting their ballots. But activists and ordinary Afghans reacted by taking to the Internet and launching a massive social media campaign where they expressed their determination to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has been ever since the fall of the Taliban 13 years ago. Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. Pictures and slogans saying “Yes, I will Vote!” (main picture) circulated among thousands of Afghan social media users. The campaign paid off on April 5 when millions of Afghans took to polling stations to cast their votes despite the terror threats. The turnout was so high that many polling stations across the country ran out of ballot papers and Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) had to extend voting by an hour. The electoral body estimates that approximately 58 percent – seven out of 12 million eligible voters cast their ballots on Election Day.
Afghanistan has begun tallying votes from the weekend’s historic presidential elections, a process that will take weeks to complete, but rough early counts suggest that the country is heading for a second-round showdown between two former ministers. Voters defied Taliban intimidation, turning out in unexpectedly high numbers on Saturday to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai, who has ruled for 12 years and is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. The Taliban mounted nearly 700 attacks nationwide, said General Zahir Azimy, spokesman for the defence ministry, but fears of a bloody, dramatic attack in the capital or another major city during the election proved unfounded. The day ended with an outpouring of support for the 350,000 police and soldiers on duty around the country, who for the first time secured an election without foreign support.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats and rain on Saturday, underscoring their enormous expectations from an election that comes as the country’s wobbly government prepares to face down a ferocious insurgency largely on its own. With combat forces from the U.S.-led coalition winding down a 13-year presence and the mercurial Hamid Karzai stepping aside, the country’s new leader will find an altered landscape as he replaces the only president Afghans have known since the Taliban was ousted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But for some, progress — particularly with women’s rights — the country’s situation is inauspicious, especially with its poor security and battered economy. Yet despite spiraling carnage and grave disappointments, Afghans by the millions crowded mosque courtyards and lined up at schools to vote, telling a war-weary world they want their voices heard. Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife, was first in line at a school in eastern Kabul. “I have suffered so much from the fighting, and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan,” she said. “I hope that the votes that we are casting will be counted and that there will be no fraud in this election.”
“I am voting today to secure my grandchildren’s future,” said an octogenarian woman waiting in line at a polling station in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i Sharif. Throughout the day, Afghan media continuously showed live footage of voters standing in long lines: Old men leaning on their canes, women of all ages, first-time young voters, people from all walks of life and hailing from all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups. The 2014 presidential and provincial council elections opened at 7am on a cold and drizzling morning in Kabul, amid heavy security measures prompted by three deadly attacks the previous week and a Taliban threat to voters. Thousands of people had queued at polling stations at dawn, right after morning prayer. The air was filled with enthusiasm, hope and a kind of energy that I had only felt on Nowruz 2002, the first Afghan New Year’s Day after the fall of the Taliban. Twelve years later, however, there was an added aura of determination and defiance. My parents’ generation experienced this kind of euphoria in October 1964, when at the behest of the last Afghan king, Zahir Shah, a new Afghan Constitution had changed absolute monarchy to a constitutional one and had started what is known in contemporary Afghan history as the “decade of democracy”.
Afghans are excited about the upcoming presidential poll. For the first time in history the war-torn country will see the transfer of power from one elected president to another. But for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, the April 5 election will just be another ordinary day as they have been officially disenfranchised. The Afghan election commission says it does not have sufficient resources to make proper polling arrangements for the Pakistani Afghans, most of whom dwell in the refugee camps along the Pakistani-Afghan border. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are around 2.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, most of whom had migrated to the neighboring Islamic republic during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet forces. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent toppling of the Islamist Taliban government in 2001, many Afghans moved back to their homeland. A large number, however, preferred to stay back in Pakistan. Afghanistan allowed its citizens in Pakistan to vote in the 2004 presidential vote, but in the 2009 election, they were excluded due to security risks. Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai was successful in both elections.
The coverage on the impending Afghan presidential elections has been filled with death and chaos — the tragic shooting at the Serena hotel where an international election monitor was killed, the shocking attack on the Afghan Election Commission’s headquarters, the killing of a provincial council candidate and the news that several international monitoring groups are pulling out. These tragedies, however, shift the focus from the major news in Afghanistan this week: Election fever has gripped the nation. I hear from Afghans as well as many foreigners now working in Afghanistan that the excitement about the coming April 5 presidential election is palpable and encouraging. If this election goes relatively smoothly, it will mark the first democratic handover of power in Afghan history. Potential large-scale fraud and violence will be substantial obstacles to overcome, but there are also some positive signs. Voters, observers and security personnel are gearing up with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. Why be optimistic?
On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan’s upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley’s most remote reaches. None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak’s polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, “Taliban.”
Mariam Wardak is one of those young Afghans with her feet in two worlds: At 28, she has spent much of her adult life in Afghanistan, but she grew up in the United States after her family fled there. She vividly remembers the culture shock of visits back to her family’s village in rural Wardak Province a decade ago. “A woman wouldn’t even show her face to her brother-in-law living in the same house for 25 years,” she said. “People would joke that if someone kidnapped our ladies, we would have to find them from their voices. Now women in Wardak show their faces — they see everybody else’s faces.” Ms. Wardak’s mother, Zakia, is a prime example. She used to wear a burqa in public, but now has had her face printed on thousands of ballot pamphlets for the provincial council in Wardak. She campaigns in person in a district, Saydabad, that is thick with Taliban.
Afghanistan: Taliban’s Onslaught to Disrupt Presidential Elections Has Failed to Curb Voter Enthusiasm | Wall Street Journal
Lining up behind hundreds of fellow Afghans, Ghazanfar spent up to six hours each day over the past week waiting to register for Saturday’s elections. “Sun and rain, none of that has been a problem for me,” said Mr. Ghazanfar, a 46-year-old laborer in Kabul, who like many Afghans has only one name. “I am here to support a better future for Afghanistan.” The Taliban have launched a violent onslaught on Kabul and other Afghan cities in recent days, trying to disrupt the historic election. But, so far, the Taliban intimidation has failed to tamp down the enthusiasm of ordinary Afghans like Mr. Ghazanfar for the election, in which the country will pick a new leader after 13 years under President Hamid Karzai. Notwithstanding occasional violence and bureaucratic weakness that requires such registration waits, the country has gone through a full-fledged campaign, with crowded, nationwide rallies by the main candidates, and lively televised debates.
The number of people killed when militants stormed an election commission office in the Afghan capital Tuesday has risen to five, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said. The victims were two police officers, two election commission workers and a provincial council candidate, said spokesman Sediq Sediqqi in Kabul. Eight others were injured, including four police officers and four election commission staff, Seddiqi said. After a five-hour gunbattle with Afghan security services, the five militants who carried out the attack were also killed, he said, bringing the violence to an end. Two militants blew themselves up as they entered the compound in the Darul Aman area, he said, while the remaining three went into the election commission building.
Militants launched a gun and suicide attack on an Afghan election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, police said, less than two weeks before the presidential poll. The Taliban have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the ballot on April 5, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to election day. Blasts were heard at an Independent Election Commission office in the western Darulaman area of the Afghan capital, close to the home of Ashraf Ghani, who is seen as a frontrunner in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
It’s often said that slow and steady wins the race. But that’s not the case for Abdullah Abdullah, who needs a quick and decisive victory if he hopes to emerge as Afghanistan’s next president. Afghanistan’s complex ethnic politics likely mean that Abdullah must secure a first-round win — requiring more than 50 percent of the vote on April 5 — because he would struggle to win any second-round matchup. This is because of the nine remaining candidates, Abdullah stands as the exception. He is a mixed ethnic Tajik and Pashtun, while the other eight are Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
The Taliban threatened voters Monday and warned they will “use all force” possible to disrupt Afghan presidential elections next month, posing a crucial test for the country’s security forces seeking to show they can bring stability as the West prepares to end its combat mission by the end of the year. The Taliban’s first direct threat against the vote was one half of a double blow to hopes for a peaceful outcome from the elections. Observers said the death of the influential vice president over the weekend deprives the country of a powerbroker who could have prevented bitter recriminations among factions after the new leader is named.
The Taliban today vowed to target Afghanistan’s presidential election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the April 5 vote to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai. Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009 as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls. Another blood-stained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.