Despatch from Kabul | International

An election in the time of war and uncertainty

Afghan women attend an election campaign by Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, in Kabul.

Afghan women attend an election campaign by Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, in Kabul.  

Already, multiple Taliban attacks have resulted in massive civilian casualties, building fear among locals about the coming elections.

As election campaigning for the already delayed presidential elections in Afghanistan move into full swing, citizens worry about growing incidents of violence following threats from the Taliban.

In a statement issued earlier this month, the insurgent group called the elections a “deceiving process”, and announced that they “shall exert utmost efforts in its prevention” by targeting political rallies and other gatherings.

“As campaigns for these theatrical elections are already in full swing and rallies are being organised, the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate will be becoming their barrier,” the statement read, calling on Afghans to boycott the process and not participate in any campaign rallies, to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

Already, multiple Taliban attacks over the past couple of weeks, including an assault on the office of vice-presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh in Kabul, have resulted in massive civilian casualties, building fear among locals about the coming elections.

Over 3,800 civilian casualties were reported in the first half of this year, according to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report documented a 27% increase in war-related civilian deaths in the second quarter, as compared to the first three months of the year. The UN has expressed concerns that the situation could deteriorate further, urging the Taliban to respect and protect civilians who engage in the election process.

A supporter of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani holds his photo during the first day of the presidential election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

A supporter of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani holds his photo during the first day of the presidential election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani  

 

“The United Nations emphasises that attacks directed against polling centres and civilians participating in the electoral process are clear violations of international law, and perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable,” read a statement issued by the UN office in Kabul.

Afghan civil society activists are very concerned and advise caution. “I personally do not trust the U.S. or the Taliban at all. Harming civilians is part of the Taliban’s strategy to trigger fear among people, show they are powerful and, of course, use it as a leverage in talks with the U.S. and to put pressure on the Afghan government,” said Samira Hamidi, an Amnesty International regional campaigner, who has also been a vocal critic of the Taliban. The Taliban and the U.S. concluded multiple rounds of peace talks last week and are expected to announce a deal soon. The insurgents continued

to carry out attacks even when the talks were under way.

“This is extremely worrying; in the last round of talks, the U.S. Special Representative [Zalmay Khalilzad] writes about “excellent progress” whereas a few hours later, the Taliban issues a statement claiming attacks on civilians and then the next day they kill and injure another 200 people,” she pointed out.

No safety

Ms. Hamidi’s concern also arise from the Afghan forces’ lack of ability to deal with the increasing violence during the elections. “I am also concerned about the weaknesses of our security system in terms of ensuring safety of the people or preventing attacks. While people continuously show bravery and resilience and participate in election rallies, their protection is not guaranteed at all,” she said.

However, many Afghans remain unmoved despite the Taliban’s threats. “We can’t give up on our democracy now,” said 45-year-old Shir Mohammad Shafiq from Baghlan province. Mr. Shafiq not only plans to vote in the September 28 elections but is also encouraging others to do the same.

“This is the only way to ensure that we have some form of a good and strong government,” he said, adding that a strong Afghan government is imperative for achieving lasting peace. “There are many mafia groups who benefit from the war and fighting in whole the country. Participating in the elections will be a way for us to reject them as well as the extremist groups.”

Mr. Shafiq, who is a poet, is aware of the risks involved. But the alternative is darker. “They are talking about an interim government with the Taliban after the peace negotiations are completed. But if the Taliban feel they have the trust of the people and want to be part of the government, then they must participate in the elections and let the people decide,” he added.

Ruchi Kumar is a journalist based in Kabul.

 

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 6:54:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/an-election-in-the-time-of-war-and-uncertainty/article29120089.ece

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