US-Backed Warlords Big Threat to Afghan Elections
security forces and a lack of election observers, combined with
regional warlords backed by the United States, continue to threaten
the upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan, says a new
report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
citizens feel the warlords pose a greater threat to their safety
than forces of the former ruling Taliban, which was ousted by U.S.
soldiers after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States,
adds the report by the U.S.-based group.
of the Taliban, which harbored the al-Qaeda terrorists who committed
the U.S. attacks, have remained in hiding in Afghanistan's remote
mountainous regions and recently carried out a number of deadly
52-page HRW report, "The Rule of the Gun: Human Rights Abuses
and Political Repression in the Run-Up to Afghanistan's Presidential
Election," says the international community, and countries
of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in particular,
should vastly increase the number of troops in Afghanistan to ensure
security for the elections.
also complains that there are far too few international observers
to monitor polls and give confidence to voters that their ballots
will be secret.
because of the inadequate forces, current security plans for the
presidential election include the use of deputized warlords of factional
forces to guard polling stations the very people Afghans
say they're most afraid of," the report noted, adding that
U.S. officials closely involved with election preparations "appear
to be complacent," believing "democracy is now on the
adds that continuing human rights abuses are fueling a pervasive
atmosphere of repression and fear in many parts of the country,
and that voters in many regions do not appear to understand the
ballot or have faith in its secrecy, particularly in the face of
pressure from militia factions.
warlords are still calling the shots," said Brad Adams, HRW's
Asia director. "Many voters in rural areas say the militias
have already told them how to vote, and that they're afraid of disobeying
them. Activists and political organizers who oppose the warlords
fear for their lives," he added in the report.
document, which was released just nine days before the election,
echoes many of the same complaints and concerns voiced by a number
of other human rights, development and women's groups in recent
main contenders in the election include the favorite of the administration
of U.S. President George W. Bush, interim Afghan President Hamid
Karzai, his former education and information minister, Yonus Qanooni,
and a dozen less competitive figures. Among them are at least three
warlords, such as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who kicked off his
campaign with a giant rally in his hometown Shibarghan, in the northern,
predominantly Uzbek, part of the country.
officials have reportedly tried to persuade Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik
from the Panjshir Valley, the stronghold of the Northern Alliance
that led the drive to oust the Taliban, to withdraw and join a new
unity government under Karzai, a member of Afghanistan's largest
ethnic group, the Pashtuns, who also constitute the ethnic base
of the Taliban.
addition to these efforts, Washington, which has more than 10,000
U.S. troops in the country, is also trying to prevent Taliban forces
and its allies from disrupting the election, especially in the Pashtun
regions of the south and southeast, where they have carried out
deadly attacks aimed at election workers and officials.
the HRW report agrees the Taliban pose a threat of further violence
in the days leading to the election, voters and political organizers
interviewed by the group across Afghanistan said armed local factions,
many of them supported by Washington and condoned by the Karzai
government, pose the most significant threat to a democratic process.
reality is that most Afghans involved in politics on the ground
are primarily afraid of warlords and their factions, much more than
they're afraid of the Taliban," said Adams, who, like other
rights activists, has been particularly frustrated by the failure
of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is
led and manned primarily by soldiers of the European and North American
nations of NATO, to extend its presence beyond Kabul into the countryside
and other important towns and cities.
a long time, there has been widespread agreement that elections
cannot be successful unless additional international security forces
are deployed and warlord militias are disarmed. If Afghanistan is
a priority of the international community, where are the troops?"
and control by warlords and the Taliban are not the only threats
to the election's legitimacy, according to HRW.
staff has confirmed several flaws in the voter-registration process,
including multiple registrations. Afghan and UN officials have claimed
that some 10.5 million people have registered, including more than
four million women, but HRW, echoing a recent report by the International
Crisis Group (ICG), has concluded the total is significantly
less if the multiple registrations are subtracted.
have used force, intimidation and deception to collect thousands
of voting cards from civilians, according to the report, which concluded
that tens of thousands of women were induced to register more than
once after being told the cards entitled them to certain benefits,
such as food rations.
have also used intimidation and harassment against Afghan journalists
and potential candidates for next year's parliamentary and local
report applauded Karzai's recent sidelining of some warlords, most
significantly, Ismail Khan, the governor of the western city of
Herat. But it called for the president and his government to intensify
such efforts and refrain from any deal-making that could further
entrench warlord rule.
and NATO should increase cooperation with ISAF and expand troop
levels to ensure security throughout the country, according to the
report, which said the United States in particular should clarify
its strategy in Afghanistan to make the protection of human rights
its primary goal.
current strategy of supporting both the central government and regional
and local warlords who resist accountability to Kabul undermines
the creation of democratic institutions and the rule of law,"
according to the report, which added that Washington must stop supporting
abusive faction leaders.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service