Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Afghanistan: Democracy in Name Only

Croneyism, backscratching and patronage. A second article by Françoise Chipaux in Le Monde today exposes the weak underpinnings of Afghanistan's democracy.

Democracy in Afghanistan Undermined by Patronage

At one month before national legislative and provincial elections, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN Afghanistan Assistance Mission (UNAAM)have issued a lukewarm appraisal of the political clout of the 12 million registered Afghani voters.

At first glance, the number of candidates--5,805 of which 583 are women--is a positive sign of interest by the voters in the next phase of political normalization. But the past of many of these candidates is cause for concern.

The vetting process, meant to eliminate the warlords, criminals and drug traffickers, is not immune to political patronage in Kabul. But the joint l'AIHRC/UNAAM report says that the results of the vetting process have been disappointing. The fact that the vast majority of those who were initially rejected have been rehabilitated has lead to deep disappointment.

At first, more than 1,000 candidates with links to armed groups were placed on an exclusion list. After intervention by the authorities, the list was quickly reduced to 208 names. At the end, the list had only 17 names on it. Among the remaining 208, 86 commanders cooperated so that we were able to round up between 10,000 and 18,000 weapons in a very short time, says an anonymous member of the Elections Commission. But only the marginalized commanders obeyed, because those who had connections in high places were removed form the exclusion list.

18 commanders of a total of 28 accused of keeping a large number of weapons and men were referred to the Election Complaint Commission. This independent body, composed of three international experts and two Afghanis, could have barred them from running. The ECC has the right to bar candidates at any time. But, once again, the other ten had protection. The government believed that these men were so dangerous that they couldn’t be barred, lamented one international expert.

The problem remains that candidates with power, money and support have the best chance of getting elected. Even if only 4% of the candidates are a real threat, that represents 200 people who have a good chance of getting elected to a chamber which only holds 249 representative seats, observes Nader Nadery of the Human Rights Commission.

In the provinces where local security forces are non-existent, these commanders have all the time in the world to act and, says Nadery, the atmosphere of fear has an impact on the process. The joint AIHRC and UN report confirms that a certain number of commanders try to dominate the political landscape and to influence the electoral process.

A mechanism for penalizing candidates who break the law was installed with the Electoral Complaints Commission but the process remains obscure for most voters. Many of the 600 complaints that we have received are more allegations and documented facts, says Grant Kippen of the ECC. Moreover, most have nothing to do with a violation of election law and concern candidates’ past over which we have not jurisdiction. There is a lack of understanding of the process, including by the candidates themselves.

Kicked off officially on August 17, the electoral campaign is limited to hanging posters, using regulated radio broadcasts and organizing private meetings. Insecurity, a significant obstacle, is everywhere and is not just confined to the Pashtoon Belt (area populated by Pashtoons).

Lack of security hobbles the freedom of movement by the candidates of Afghanistan’s largest parties in the south, particularly in Uruzgan and Zabul, in the southeast, in some eastern provinces such as Kunal, and in the west.

The Taliban has renewed their attacks on government agents. Any project managed by the Afghani Government or the United States military is our target, and that includes polling stations, vehicles and their employees, says Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi. The Karzai government is an entity administered by the Americans and even with support from the international community, it is unacceptable to us. To avoid civilian casualties, we will not target the polling stations on election day.

The AIHRC-UNAMA report points out that information coming from the provinces shows a alarming increase in violent attacks on candidates, election supervisors and local officials and constitutes a great threat to the elections. Even if for now no one doubts that the elections will take place, they risk not being truly representative of the desire for change by the Afghani populace.


The International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by NATO in Afghanistan, has been reinforced by three extra battalions for the elections. Its 10,500 troops are deployed in Kabul and around the capital to the north and west. Under UN mandate, ISAF has been present since 2001 and includes contingents from 37 countries. France, which furnished 500 troops, has dispatched six planes based in Tajikistan as reinforcement and will patrol the skies above the NATO deployment. Paris has offered to take command of operations in the Kabul sector but no date has been established for the transfer.

The international coalition, under US command, also directs Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and their allies. It numbers 20,000 troops of which 18,000 are American. Its units are mainly deployed in the Pashtoon Belt (south, southeast and east).

The security of 6,000 voting centers will be provided by Afghani police inside the polling stations. More police and Afghan troops will complement them on the outside. Coalition forces and ISAF will form a more distant third circle and will have greater firepower.


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