In the lawless days of Afghanistan’s civil war, Zardad Faryadi was a young militia commander with a uniquely cruel reputation. From a highway checkpoint near Kabul, he extorted money from travelers and enforced his demands by threatening to let loose a menacing man who was later executed for killing 20 people, according to human rights reports. Faryadi fled the country but wound up serving 13 years in a British prison for conspiring to torture and take hostages in Afghanistan. Today, at 54, he is back home and attempting to run for parliament in elections scheduled just over six weeks from now. He seems like a changed man — reflective and eager to defend the rights of nomadic groups backing his candidacy. But he and 35 other candidates have been barred from running for legislative seats because of ties to illegal groups.
As the first Afghan-run election since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, the Oct. 20 poll is seen as a democratic milestone and a make-or-break step toward successful presidential elections in April. But the election is already under violent threat from Afghan insurgents, who have attacked local election offices and bombed a voter ID card site in the capital, killing 57 people. Now, disputes and protests among Afghans over the election are posing a threat to the polls from within.
Opposition groups charge that the new voter ID system is inadequately protected from fraud. And the closed-door process that barred some candidates such as Faryadi while approving others viewed as abusive or corrupt has led to charges of political manipulation and bribery as well as angry protests that shut down the central election office for nearly two weeks.
“I have not been shown any evidence against me. I want nothing to do with violence or factions,” Faryadi said in a recent interview. He denied he had committed the wartime brutalities that sent him to prison and asserted that other candidates with ongoing criminal dealings had bribed their way back into the running.