Afghan Vote Lags; Karzai Says US Must Go

September 22nd, 2005 - by admin

BBC News Online & Daniel Cooney / Associated Press – 2005-09-22 00:16:10

Sharp Drop in Afghan Poll Turnout
BBC News Online

Turnout in Afghanistan’s parliamentary and provincial elections on Sunday was more than 20 points down on last year’s presidential poll, officials say.

Just over 50% of registered voters cast their ballots, officials have told the BBC.

A number of reasons for the drop are being given. Many voters said they did not want to vote for candidates they regarded as warlords.

There was also evidence many people found the elections too confusing.

Only a few of the candidates declared any political ties, which observers say made it hard for voters to make an informed choice between candidates.

The parliamentary elections were the first in the country for more than 30 years.

President Hamid Karzai, one of the early voters, said Sunday was a good day for Afghanistan, whatever the election results.

He said he hoped the parliament will provide a strong focus for democracy in the country, even if a majority of deputies oppose him.

Ballot boxes are now being transported to counting stations by truck, donkey and helicopter.

The government says the counting of ballots will begin on Tuesday, with final results due in late October.

‘Compares Well’
Election officials told the BBC that about six million people voted on Sunday out of about 12.5 million registered voters.

But, because officials believe there were many multiple registrations, turnout is being estimated at just over 50 percent.

Chief electoral officer Peter Erben said the turnout figure compared well with other post-war countries.

“Afghanistan should be satisfied with the turnout in yesterday’s election,” he told a news conference in Kabul.

The elections were part of an international plan to restore democracy after US-led forces overthrew the Taleban in 2001.

There were 5,800 candidates nationwide for the two elections.

Thousands of foreign and Afghan security forces were on high alert after a campaign marred by violence.

Six people including a French soldier were killed in attacks by insurgents on election day.

Little Impact
In the capital, Kabul, and some surrounding areas, the queues were much shorter than for the presidential election 11 months ago.

But correspondents say it was not the sporadic violence that appeared to have deterred voters.

Attacks by militants, mostly in southern and eastern rural areas, have been largely blamed on supporters of the former Taleban regime who opposed the election.

Organising the voting posed the bigger challenge. Poor transport links and inhospitable terrain presented huge problems.

Illiteracy was also a factor and there were fears many people found it difficult to choose candidates by their picture and symbol.

In Kabul, voters had to work their way through a seven-page ballot paper with almost 400 candidates for the parliament alone.

More than 1,000 people, including seven election candidates, have been killed in militant-linked violence in the past six months — the worst bloodshed since US-led forces ousted the Taleban in 2001.

But officials said the peaceful conduct of the polls was a victory over the militants.

“After all their boasting, it’s a big failure for the Taleban,” interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal was quoted as saying.

• 2,800 parliamentary candidates
• 3,000 candidates for 34 provincial councils
• 249 seats in lower house or Wolesi Jirga
• About 25% of seats reserved for women
• 160,000 vote officials,
• 26,000 polling stations
• Final result due 22 October

Reports from Kandahar in the south say women voted in large numbers. BBC reporters in Jalalabad say more women than men voted there.


Karzai Wants End to US-Led Operations
Daniel Cooney / Associated Press

(September 20, 2005) — President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in Afghanistan, saying airstrikes are no longer effective and that US-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.

His call for a new approach to tackling militants came despite the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan since US-led forces invaded in late 2001, with more than 1,200 people killed in the six months leading up to Sunday’s historic legislative elections.

Karzai demanded an immediate end to foreign troops searching people’s homes without his government’s authorization. He also said foreign governments should “concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supply to them, on the money coming to them” — a veiled reference to support that militants allegedly get from neighboring Pakistan.

Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of aiding Taliban rebels and other militants, a charge Islamabad vehemently denies.

“I don’t think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore,” Karzai told reporters. “The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now.

“No coalition forces should go to Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. … The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now. … That’s what I mean by a change in strategy.”

It was the second time Karzai has publicly challenged the US-led coalition. In May, before a trip to Washington, he demanded more authority over the 20,000-member US-led coalition here, but President Bush said they would remain under American control. In addition to the coalition troops, there are 11,000 NATO peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

Karzai’s comments coincided with the start of the count from the Sunday’s parliamentary elections — the first here in more than 30 years. Trucks, helicopters and even donkeys were ferrying an estimated 6 million ballots to 34 counting centers around the country.

The polls are seen as a final step toward democracy on a path laid out in 2001, after US-led forces ousted the Taliban for refusing to hand over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.

At a news conference in Washington, US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared to agree that airstrikes in Afghanistan might not be as useful as they once were.

“When you don’t have a massed army on the ground or large puddles of enemies, then airstrikes are less effective than when you do have that type of a situation,” he said.

Overall, however, Rumsfeld emphasized the country’s ability to hold parliamentary elections without major violence, saying it marked a significant step toward stability.

“The country that hosted Osama bin Laden, that supported training camps for al-Qaida, endured decades of civil war, Soviet occupation, drought, Taliban brutality, is now a democracy that fights terrorists instead of harboring them,” Rumsfeld said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the US government works closely with the Afghan government and will continue to do so after Karzai’s remarks on foreign military operations.

“These are all issues that we stay in close contact with them on and we’ll continue to do so,” McClellan said in New Orleans where President Bush was getting updates in Hurricane Katrina.

Karzai said he was “very, very satisfied” with the election.

But in a tape aired on Arabic television, Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader dismissed the vote as “nothing but a farce” held “under the terror of warlords” — an apparent reference to faction leaders in Afghanistan’s destructive civil conflict of the 1990s, some of whom were candidates.

“Thieves and warlords are controlling affairs in the country, where international monitors can’t observe more than 10 constituencies even if they wanted to,” bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a five-minute videotape aired late Monday on Al-Jazeera television.

Both al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan border.

Celebrations over the vote have been tempered by projections that turnout was just over 50 percent — down from 70 percent in presidential elections last October. The lack of any major Taliban assault to disrupt the vote Sunday was seen as a major boost to efforts to marginalize the rebels, though the insurgency shows no signs of waning.

In the latest fighting, guerrillas ambushed police patrols in southern Uruzgan and Zabul provinces Tuesday, sparking fire fights that left three officers and four militants dead and four officers wounded, officials said.

Hours before Karzai spoke, coalition commander Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry warned that he expected “more fighting in the weeks ahead.”

“We are staying on the offensive against the enemies of Afghanistan, and we will continue that process throughout the fall and throughout the winter,” Eikenberry said.

He said the United States is committed to helping Afghanistan with security and reconstruction so that terrorists cannot use it as a base.

But Karzai played down the militant threat, saying, “We do not think a serious terrorist challenge is emanating from Afghanistan.” He did not specify whether he was referring to a threat from al-Qaida terrorists, Taliban rebels ˜ or both.

Associated Press Writer Steve Gutterman in Kabul and Noor Khan in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press

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