Tag Archives: Afghan Parliamentary Elections 2010

Our Mobocracy

My op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan Oct 18

It is now more than a year, but the parliamentary elections crises still produce a new chapter each time the older drama reaches its drop-scene. The latest victim of this manipulation is female MP Simin Barakzai. She was among the nine MP’s replaced by the IEC decision after Karzai’s decree. Ms Barakzai went on hunger strike after her plea, asking President Karzai to order review of her case, was ignored. She set up a tent camp near the parliament building. After ten days without food, Health Ministry officials declared her health was in severe condition and she could suffer kidney failure.

On the 12th day of her strike, on October 14, Afghan Police in the dark of night dragged her out of the tent, beating supporters, and took Ms Barakzai to Daud Khan Hospital. Some others who had joined her in the strike were arrested and kept in police station for a night.

The Karzai Administration has had two tactics throughout this crises, bribe and use of force. When they saw people flocking in the tent of Ms Barakzai and other MP’s joining her hunger strike, the geniuses in the Palace came with a new tactic. The Ulema Council issued a statement condemning hunger strike as Haram. They said, “It’s forbidden in Islam to reject drinking and eating. If anyone dies because of hunger strike, they will go to hell. Hunger strike is un-Islamic.”

The Ulema Council should be ashamed. They are selling out the little respect left for clerics in the hearts of Afghans. They have never been so quick and active in condemning suicide bombings and slaughter of civilians by Taliban, but a Fatwa against hunger-strike of a female is all a bunch of cowards can do. They are afraid of Taliban intimidation, and none dare to come on TV talk shows to denounce Taliban violence. Isn’t suicide attack Haram in Islam? How about using children for suicide bombing, and killing innocent civilians? How Islamic is that? The Ulema Council needs to look into their conscience. Independent religious scholars should come out to denounce this trend set by Karzai’s Fatwa Factory using the name of Ulema. This Council has become all, but a blackmailing tool of President Karzai being used for his political aims.

Bribing MP’s to form the Coalition of Reformists, or escorting the new ones into the parliament building with help of security forces has been common throughout, but asking the Ulema Council to issue Fatwas about democratic rights is a hit at the core of our crippled democracy and Government’s political cowardice at its lowest.

And that too against a female MP, whose last option was hunger strike, not for a seat in the parliament, which is not worth, but against the manipulation of this system at the hands of those who are in power for the sake of ruling, without any vision and agenda for this country. They could not dare to change a big-shot or any warlord; else we would see how they would threaten to take up arms.

As expected, Daud Sultanzoy did not come late with cheap comments about Ms Barakzai’s strike. He said she is doing it all for publicity. There you go. Someone refuses to eat, announces her will and is ready to embrace death for a cause. For Sultanzoy, it’s all about publicity. It is obviously his own agenda. He wants to get back to the parliament somehow, despite the fact that several reviews by the IEC and ECC could not find any vote rigging in his constituency. He is better off flying an aircraft, not the shameless self-promotion declaring himself as the pioneer intellectual of the nation in a TV talk show. We have not yet forgotten the farce in this ridiculous process of manipulation, when he declared Special Tribunal’s verdict as a Sharia law. Probably Sultanzoy shares the views of Karzai’s Ulema Council on hunger strike being Haram.

I am not arguing whether Ms Barakzai’s disqualification is right or wrong. But she deserves our support because she is setting an example of non-violent political activism by raising voice against a system that is being run with manipulations and force. Something that we have never seen in this country.

The mess started from the day first. President Karzai should have accepted the first ‘final’ decision of Independent Election Commission after the reviews from Election Complaints Commission. We would not have to see the parliamentary deadlock for one year, and crises between the legislature, government and judiciary, setting an example of a system founded with manipulations.

Ms Barakzai’s activism exposes the core problem with our society. We don’t hear about her on media after the tent was removed. Today she is on 17th day of her hunger strike going without food at Daud Khan Hospital. She has not stopped, despite forceful attempts of Government officials to feed her. However, the government should not have feared her. Even if Ms Barakzai dies—God forbidden—it will not make any difference to the dead collective conscience and reaction of our society.

The much gloried Afghan nang and ghairat might tremble, and mark a new example of non-violent resistance in the political history of our country where power struggles have always led to bloodbath. It might fasten the flow of blood in veins of those who still hold their hopes for the future of this country.

Watching the video of Ms Barakzai’s tent being removed amid screams of children, it reminds me of the statement by Rafi Firdous Adviser of Government Media Center who had compared the standoff between President Karzai and the parliament with the tussle between the US Congress and White House. He had said, “It shows the ‘beauty’ of our ‘democracy’.” Some folks have already compared Ms Barakzai’s hunger strike with the recent anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare in India. It’s all ridiculous. Ours is not a democracy, it is mobocracy, where rulers have no respect for rule of law and rights.


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The Crisis Continues…

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 18

The parliamentary crisis with its turns and twists from the day one, has reached to an interesting and important stage where the turning point could either end the year-long political battle among the three pillars of state, or mark the origin of a political calamity that could lead to the unimaginable and irreversible. The protest demonstration of MPs from the Coalition for Support of Law on Tuesday was not what it was expected seeing the fiery speeches of its leaders. But it does not mean it was the ultimate show of street-power by the protesting MPs and their supporters. In Afghanistan, there is no culture of incessant protest. But the crowds get out of control easily, and turns into a mob, or worse than that. The reason protesters were stopped by MPs before they reach center of the city is also the fear that once the situation gets out of control, the loss can be huge. We have witnessed it.

The Palace played well by releasing two different versions of the Presidential Order about the stalemate. The decision announced are same in both versions, however the one released with the signature of President Karzai is more like a Sharia statement from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It makes the matter more complex by defining ominous ‘judicial’ authorities of the President. The media version of that Presidential Order was released by the office of Presidential Spokesman. Seeing the unclear wording of the Presidential Order, a deal was imminent.

You needed a constitutional lawyer to translate that order. TVs in Kabul were reporting totally different from each other, some saying the Special Tribunal has been dissolved and the Election Commission assigned to finalize the election dispute, while others were reporting that the President has asked the Election Commission to implement decision of the Special Tribunal. Such was the ambiguity of the statement that both sides of the conflict, MPs in parliament and the ‘protesting candidates’ claimed victory. It was intentional to cause the confusion, keep space for a deal, and depict the ‘order’ in way that seemed like President Karzai has made a very rational decision about all this crisis by assigning IEC to resolve the conflict. But in reality, there is already a deal of sort. I would name it the Plan B of Karzai for this crisis.

The Presidential Order had kept the criminal issues of this dispute exceptional while baring all state organs to cease dealing with this except the IEC. Among the list of 62 MPs, 17 of them come into the category of ‘criminal’. And sources say Karzai after intense meetings with leading political figures and Jihadi leaders have ‘found the middle way’ of this crisis, which is removal of 17 MPs, to be replaced by the ‘protesting’ guys. There was another interesting report by the McClatchy newspaper about UNAMA Special Representative Staffen de Mitsura proposing IEC Chief Manawi about removal of 17 MPs—Karzai’s Plan B for this crisis. This report also mentions that Manawi is looking for removal of ‘five or six’ that might include the rumored names I mentioned in the beginning.

The current battle among the government, parliament and judiciary has many dimensions. This can’t be generalized as a battle between the pro-Karzai camp and opposition, with judiciary, the government, attorney general and the Special Tribunal on one side, and majority of MPs, the Election Commission and Complaints Commission on the other. There are cracks within the divide. For instance, on Tuesday a group of MPs formed another coalition called Reformists.

It included all pro-Karzai folks, who condemned the Coalition for Rule of Law in a press conference that day. Insiders say there was a sale of MPs when players from Karzai-camp were busy buying off their loyalties, trying to split the Rule of Law group. There are different rumors about what IEC might announce in its final verdict this week. Some say five MPs might be unseated. The rumored names include Hafeez Mansoor, Sarwar Usmani, Tahir Zaheer and Simeen Barakzai.

The fun is that it does not include Daud Sultanzoy. If it turns out to be the actual decision of IEC, Sultanzoy might declare the verdict ‘Haram’ and issue a ‘Fatwa’ calling IEC an un-Islamic body. These days he has been making statements defining Islamic Sharia. His fans did not know he was an expert on Sharia. While talking to his group of 200 supporters in Kabul the other day, he said,

“the court decision [Special Tribunal] is binding and enforced by Islamic Sharia law. Nobody can defy the injunctions sanctified by the law. If they stand in the way of implementing this decision they will be considered ‘mumtamarid’ [defying Islamic principles]. We all know that what Sharia prescribes for dealing with such people.”

Mr. Sultanzoy has been very critical of the Independent Election Commission. He is an intellectual, no doubt, but the above Sharia statement and his self-centered stance during this entire crisis shows the ‘pro-democracy’ face of our intellectual.

Daud Sultanzoy’s statement is not just a random rant, but as per the script, this crisis has been shaped to end with such episode. President Karzai has motivated judges and prosecutors in different provinces. Meetings were held with statements in favor of President Karzai. Besides that, the Kabul Appeal Court had also condemned the MPs rejecting the Presidential Order, saying they are opposing Sharia. Ulema Council of Afghanistan in a statement has hailed decision of the Special Tribunal. They all are putting indirect pressure on IEC to follow a certain line this week.

As I mentioned above, the Presidential Order twist with two different versions was part of this script. The one released with sign of President Karzai include a long paragraph not included in the version of the Order released by the Office of Presidential Spokesman for media. Below is the translation of that paragraph by AAN;

Given that ruling no. 22 (13/05/1390) of the Civil Affairs and Personal Status Division of the Appeal Court of Kabul province on the disputes arisen from the parliamentary elections of 1389 [2010] determined that the right to be an MP (hagh-e wekalat) in the Wolesi Jirga is a right of political privilege and representation (hagh-e emtiazi-ye siasi-ye eghtezai) and the use of this right, in the face of the current tensions that are running high in the country and in view of the highest national and social interest of the community, country and nation, has been vested within the authority of the person of the president, as the judge who has the authority to inaugurate the judiciary, the Ol-ul-Amar [the Amir whose authority is not given by people but is based on religious principles], and the leader of the national policy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, so that the implementation of whatever decision he deems best serves the interests of the country and the nation and matches the realities of the society, may put an end to the existing confusion.

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Karzai Must Quash Decree, Dismiss “Special Court”

My op-ed on Outlook about the parliament inauguration crisis.

After the UN, European Union, US and Canada expressing deep concerns on delay of the parliament inauguration, President Karzai rushed back to Kabul on Saturday. He called on a lunch with all the winning MPs, who had warned to convene the house on Sunday, with or without Karzai. In the meeting, President seems to have relented for a compromise and have offered parliament inauguration on Wednesday. But we are still concerned if it will go on smoothly, since nothing from the Palace comes surely. AAN has a detailed report of the events of past three days.

The winning MPs should have pressed the President hard in Saturday’s meeting at the Palace, which did not end with a clear deal. Though currently Wednesday has been agreed upon for inauguration, but it has not been cleared what will happen to that pity unconstitutional “Special Court” to ‘investigate’ the alleged fraud. The MPs must stand strong against the constitutional maneuvering by the President to avoid future authoritarian extensions of power. The Special Court must be dismissed, as it is not according to the Constitution of Afghanistan, which allows special courts only for three cases; impeachment of the President, cabinet members and Supreme Court judges. President Karzai must respect the Constitutional Oversight Committee’s stance that the Special Court is unconstitutional. The real motives are all authoritarian moves of the President to alter the election results, he seems to be less careful about it being constitutional or unconstitutional.

The United Nations had released a statement of “concern” on Friday about the delay of parliament inauguration. The UNAMA press release said it is “deeply concerned on the recent call to delay the inauguration of the National Assembly”. Though UN statement is late, as it should have come earlier and stricter, but still we welcome the reaction and support for democratic institutions in Afghanistan. The statement recalls the Security Council meeting about timely inauguration of the Wolesi Jirga, but it does not urge President Karzai to stop the mess with constitution. The European Union, United States and Canada are the countries mentioned in the statement. The democratic forces in Afghanistan also expect other major supporters of international efforts in Afghanistan such as UK, Germany and other members of international community to express their position on the current crisis with parliamentary elections.

The UN statement further says it supports “peaceful” resolution to the issue by relevant Afghan stakeholders, with full respect for the Afghan Constitution. The stance of international community should have been clear that if President Karzai violates the constitution by supporting unconstitutional courts to maneuver election results, there will be no support for a vote recount, or new elections, if the results are cancelled, as threatened by the “Special Court”. UNAMA says it will assist all parties to ensure effective functioning of executive, judicial and legislative bodies to prevent conflict.

There were indications that diplomats of these countries might have attended the inauguration today, if Karzai had not come up on a deal with MPs for Wednesday‘s inauguration. Some MPs had also met the two vice presidents who had expressed support for early inauguration. These two show-men have no say in the decision making process of the Presidency. Though they have brought the bulk of votes for President Karzai, but they have no say in all important decisions. The vice presidents must realize their influence and responsibility in this regard and get more active in decision making process. Otherwise we are already being led to a one-man authoritarian rule.

President Karzai must quash his decree, dismiss the election “Special Court” and inaugurate the parliament on Wednesday; otherwise we are doomed to crisis that will eventually lead the country to a chaotic situation at this crucial time when we need political stability and unity direly. Afghan civil society and media have strongly criticized the political motivations behind the formation of Special Court, which is unconstitutional.

Already people are fed up with intensifying insecurity, huge corruption, unemployment and hopelessness for future with ineffective and incapable leadership who instead of leading the country out of the current period of transition from conflict toward normalization, are making a reverse journey toward the chaos of 90s. The little hope and trust left among the masses is evading with the more-than-enough self-centered tribal-mindset, personal-politics of our rulers. And this will ultimately lead toward the collapse of this political setup.

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Post-polling Transparency More Important for Voters

A woman checking lists in a center in Mazar. Reuters by Barat Ali Batoor.

The turnout on Saturday’s parliamentary elections, held for second time in Afghanistan’s history, was positive with 40 percent. Despite all out attempts by Taliban to disrupt the entire process, millions of Afghans defied security threats  and flocked to polling centers from early morning. More than 3.6 million votes are cast at 4632 polling centers. ISAF has reported about 400 incidents of violence across the country, which is less than that in last year’s Presidential elections. Insurgents intensified attacks during the weeks before polling day. They kidnapped candidates, killed supporters and bombed even a mosque—in Khost—to disrupt the campaign process. Workers of Election Commission were killed. Many candidates received threats, while attempts were made to stop people from taking part in the process. But masses came out, voted and it was quite successful, in a country like Afghanistan. Taliban attacked polling stations and voters, but the turnout remained more intense during all the day. There were total 3,642,444 votes cast at 4,632 polling centers making a 40 percent turnout. The insurgents also killed over a dozen civilians, just a week after Mullah Omer in his latest statement had called Taliban to avoid civilian casualties. It was the intense participation of people that lack of ballot papers were reported from all across the country, though speaking of Afghanistan Independent Election Commission’s poor management.

After last year’s Presidential elections, IEC is wholly managing this parliamentary elections too. There were many stories of weak management of the Commission. For instance, most common problems and complaints from voters were about lack of ballot papers. This is a recurrent issue, which was a major problem in previous elections. But the IEC was failed to manage it. Officials of IEC stationed at the polling centers were not able to manage further ballot papers, making the voters wait for hours. Its not understandable why such problems occur when all the polling centers, number of voters and everything related is known. Many doubt it was intentional. Less ballot papers were sent in certain areas to affect voting. Another issue was that the ink being used for fingers to identify that a voter has voted, could be washed away easily. I heard many people talking about this. A friend of mine who voted in a polling station of Kabul said, he could easily remove the ink, after some times of wash. But IEC in the press conference at the end of polling denied this saying they don’t have ‘evidence’.

How transparent and fair this election would happen to be, is something that will be echoed by the announcement of results. But there were intentional attempts of fraudulent. By intentional, I mean political attempts by the Karzai Administration. For instance, just a week before the polling day, many polling centers in most peaceful parts of the country were canceled due to concern for ‘security threats’. There were reports about this on media too, but nothing was done to make it undone! Fake ballot papers moving around in thousands was another story of the week before polling day. National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence, had arrested a person from Ghazni with over 3000 fake voting cards. The fake ballot papers, as it happened previous time during the Presidential elections, were printed in thousands in Peshawar city of Pakistan. The IEC and other concerned quarters were failed to stop fake ballot papers coming into the country, and going to special constituencies.

The list of candidates was being reduced every day. Many candidates were rejected during all the process until the campaign time ended. The given justification by IEC is not enough.

Though officials said about 92 percent of all the polling stations were open and rest in insecure areas remained close, but there were some political attempts in this process. Such attempts were for pre-polling day. For instance, polling centers in some peaceful parts of the country were canceled by IEC concerning ‘security’.

But most important of all is the process from today. Results’ announcement will take weeks. Amid all the chaos and atmosphere of blame game and doubts, many common Afghans doubt the transparency of counting process. Transparency and ‘safety’ of ballot boxes are common concerns. Even many people are doubtful of the process the digital lists of results are made and kept on the computers of IEC. There must be heavy monitoring of the post-polling process.

And now those who will challenge any fraud will have no confidence in the panel appointed by Karzai replacing the Electoral Complaints Commission, which investigated and found out the rigging in Presidential elections.

There was less interest from the international community in this parliamentary election, compared to last year’s Presidential or the previous parliamentary elections. There were not many monitoring organizations. Nor has the UN been reflecting the concerns of common Afghans. There is a perspective among a considerable number of Afghans that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is working in line with the wishes of President Karzai, therefore no interest was shown to prevent fraudulent attempts in this elections, leaving everything to Karzai’s appointed panel, and the Election Commission.

Overall, with the high turnout it was positive. We have to remember that Afghanistan is having the second parliamentary elections of our history. An election of western standard in a country ravaged with three decades of wars and conflicts should not be expected.

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Parliamentary Elections’ Security Update

Candidates outside capital Kabul and provincial centers, are feeling more insecure after recent attacks on several. On Wednesday a candidate was attacked in Balkh province. One of his guards was killed and three are severely injured. Meanwhile on Tuesday a former Jihadi commander who was campaigning for a parliamentary candidate was attacked in Mazar. He got critical wounds. The same day, another female candidate was attacked in Mazar with an explosion in front of her house.

Already one candidate has been killed last week in Khost. There was a bomb blast in a mosque killing several people, who had gathered for the campaign speech. Two other candidates were kidnapped from Herat and Ghazni last week. One has been released after days of efforts and mediation from tribal elders, while another is missing.

These all have happened during last week in just four provinces, Herat, Balkh, Ghazni and Khost. Many candidates have increased their security arrangements, while some, those in troubled areas, have limited their movement. Taliban attacked a mosque where people had gathered for the campaign of a candidate. The safest place for campaign is a mosque, considered the home of Allah by Muslims, which is hoped not to be targeted by militants. These all show a grim situation alarming for insecurity ahead for the parliamentary elections next month. There is only one month left for the campaign and already Taliban have increased their attacks to terrorize people and keep them away from the campaigns and election related activities. Women candidates face more problems. The military operations going on during the elections campaign would certainly not only affect the campaign, but the whole security of the process. Kandahar is already witnessing increased attacks and worsening security. Besides conducting a transparent elections, security would be the biggest challenge for the Government and international security forces.

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Election Campaigning In Afghanistan

My blog post for CNN.

More than 2,500 candidates are running for the 249 seats of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, Wolesi Jirga, elections on September 18. About 400 women, mostly from Kabul and provincial capitals, are also in the race. The campaign is in full bloom in the capital Kabul. The streets are filled with signboards and posters of independent and party-nominated candidates. These posters mostly include slogans about change, poverty, security, development, illiteracy and promotion of justice. The posters and big boards look like resumes of the candidates, listing all their past experience and political background. The lists of their slogans are like whole manifestos.

Read more here…

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“Development Work Under Progress” and Election Atmosphere in Kabul

There is an intense and apparently rapid “development work” on the roads of Kabul nowadays. All the major roads are broken and blocked with sign boards of “development work under progress”. Afghanistan is going to have the first flyover of its history. Its being built on Kota-Sangi junction. The traffic is at the worst of its mess nowadays. The other day it took me two hours from Interior Ministry to Bagh-e-Bala junction. Anyhow, first I thought the new Mayor of Kabul wants to show something of a change unlike his other preceders who did nothing. But only a mayor can’t start such a massive work suddenly, unless there is decision from top level. Its also because of the Kabul Conference. I am more than sure none of these broken roads of Shar-e-Naw or other areas would be built before the conference. If the flyover in Kota-Sangi area, and roads of Shar-e-Naw are not completed on time, it will be a mess for Kabul Conference participants, as they will not fly from Airport to the center of the city.

Election campaign for parliamentary elections has also started with big boards on streets of Kabul, posters displayed on walls and vehicles. Its a colorful atmosphere with the dust of the “development work under progress”, traffic jam and funny slogans of the candidates. Clumsy posters are displayed on beautiful newly painted walls of private fancy buildings without prior permission of the owner. Slogans are written with heavy color. The huge boards with photos and slogans of candidates are so common, that already no space is left on junctions and squares. Number of independent candidates are more than party nominees. Reading the slogans of these candidates, it seems like a whole manifesto. Election culture is new in Afghanistan. Such clumsy atmosphere will prevail for some elections. The campaign started on June 23, but most of the huge boards and posters appeared since last week. It will end on September 16.

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