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The Killid Group, September 24, 2013

Warlord ambitions cast shadow on poll legitimacy

Names of those accused of war crimes are probably going to figure on the list of candidates for the presidential poll

By Mohammad Reza Gulkohi

On Sep 16, the three-week period for filing nominations for the April 2014 presidential and provincial elections started. Afghan voters will be going to the polls to decide their leaders.

But there exists an underlying fear that like in previous elections the warlords, former leaders of jehadist parties, immeasurably wealthy and powerful, will deal with the destiny of people.

The concern is apparent in opinions aired in public in civil society circles as well as cultural and social gatherings.

Names of those accused of war crimes are probably going to figure on the list of candidates for the presidential poll.

Ajmal Baluchzada, a political observer, warns the election process may be fraught with challenges. "There are people that are trying to menace voters through illegal armed supporters and prevent participation in the elections," he predicts.

Should the warlords run for elections the process would lose validity and not be acceptable to people, he warns. There would be widespread fraud and violence through the use of illegal weapons. The only way would be to bar those who have violated human rights from the elections.

However there are legal obstacles to preventing the registration of candidates who would use money and muscle power to edge out rivals in the democratic process.

Fazel Sangcharaki, the spokesperson of the National Coalition of Afghanistan, thinks it is unlikely warlords will dominate the polls. "The Constitution and election laws have put in place mechanisms to address grievances. There is no need for concern," he says.

Worried voters

The ruthless power of the warlords has been seen mostly in the provinces. In the jockeying for power that was seen in the country after the fall of the Taleban regime the National Assembly enacted the National Stability and Reconciliation Law granting immunity from prosecution for all those involved in the wars that destroyed Afghanistan.

The AIHRC (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission) observes the immunity under the law cast a shadow on a "national consultation that was launched by the AIHRC in 2004 for implementation of a programme for justice, peace and reconciliation."

Human rights activists fear warlords and armed commanders of illegal militias can with impunity contest elections, and win by menacing voters. Farid Tamana, a Kabul resident, feels warlords who "tied Afghanistan with cannons and guns for one decade still wield power and terror with no concern about constitutional rights." There should be a way of keeping them out of elections, he says.

Bleak outlook for women

Women's rights activists have complained that the continuing strong influence of warlords hinders women's participation in the polls. Women are prevented from voting, and the field for women candidates is also narrow.

Alema Alema, head of Women's Political Participation Committee,is vociferous in her criticism of the government's lack of serious attention to women's issues. The role given to women in the government and public is "symbolic", she insists.

"The women of this land have been forgotten so badly that it seems that they are nothing more than addresses in speeches and programmes of male candidates," she says.

Civil society activist Baluchzada does not think it would augur well for women if those accused of war crimes are allowed to participate. If they capture power they will again put limitations on women's activities, he feels. During the years of the civil war and under the Taleban government women were robbed of their rights, and were forced to conform to the wishes of their fathers and husbands.

He says, "There are people in power who are on the list of (human rights offenders of) the AIHRC."

He urged the independent commission to publish what is known as the "mapping report", a 1,000-page exhaustive analysis of allegations of serious human rights crimes since 1978.

The report should be made public and the guilty should be prosecuted, he says. "Unfortunately the (guilty) people are in power (even though) their names are on the list of the Commission," he states.

Slow start

Civil society organisations have expressed concern about the likelihood of those accused of war crimes filing their nominations for the upcoming elections. They have requested the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to reject the applications. The IEC has promised to take action if a court presents it with a list of accused individuals.

The pace of registration is slow. In fact on the day nominations opened no candidate came forward to register.IEC officials think that prospective candidates are rethinking their decision because of strict new preconditions for registration including a payment of one million Afs (17,700 USD).

The IEC said among the names of candidates who have picked up information packages for registration are Abdullah Abdullah, leader of National Coalition, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the head of the National Front of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Karzai's challenger together with Abdullah Abdullah in 2009, Ata Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh, and Hanif Atmar,leader of Right and Justice Party. Karzai who cannot run for a third term has not as yet announced a successor.

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