Two die in bid to assassinate Karzai's running mate in Afghan polls
Wed Oct 6, 8:24 PM ET AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's running mate survived an assassination attempt when a bomb killed two people in a convoy carrying him to an election rally, a government official said.
Karzai's candidate for first vice president, Ahmad Zia Massoud, was not injured in the attack in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province, interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
A remote-controlled mine hit the second car in the convoy just after Massoud's vehicle passed by, he said, killing two and injuring two, including the deputy provincial governor.
The blast, the latest attack in a spiral of violence, came as the United Nations mission in Afghanistan gave its approval to preparations for the presidential election on Saturday.
The UN's special representative for the troubled country, Jean Arnault, told a news conference that even with "full knowledge of the difficulties", the UN believed the vote would be successful.
"We deem the degree of freedom and fairness adequate to allow the will of the Afghan people as a whole to translate at the polls, and the next president of Afghanistan to claim to represent the nation," he said.
Front-runner and US-backed incumbent Karzai pledged to accept defeat if he is beaten.
He was speaking to a crowd of several thousand people at Kabul football stadium, notorious in the past as a public execution arena under the hardline Islamic Taliban regime.
The election is the first of its kind in the history of Afghanistan, which has been roiled by conflict for the past 25 years. The Soviet occupation of 1979-89 was followed by a civil war and the fight against the Taliban, who were finally toppled by a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Karzai said it was a "source of great pride that people are expressing themselves through posters and ballots not through guns and bullets".
His upbeat assessment of the election process is not shared by all. Independent analysts say violence and intimidation combine with a lack of education among voters and a shortage of independent monitors to create fertile ground for fraud.
That in turn increases the risk that the winner will not be able to claim an undisputed victory, possibly sparking further violence in a country where regional warlords hold sway outside the capital.
The threat was put into words by top warlord and presidential candidate Abdul Rashid Dostam who warned Wednesday that if he did not win the election the government would not be legitimate.
Dostam stopped short of saying he would not accept the result of the vote. But he presented himself as the true representative of the people through years of war.
"Firstly I tell you that we will win. If not, the future government without us would have no legitimacy," Dostam told a crowd of fewer than 1,000 people, mainly from his minority Uzbek ethnic group.
The role of warlords, who use militias funded by drug money to control large swathes of country outside the capital Kabul, is one of the most worrying aspects of the election, analysts say.
Human Rights Watch said in a report the warlords, ranging from some of Afghanistan's wealthiest men to local thugs, were more of a threat to the freedom of the vote than insurgents loyal to the former Taliban regime who have vowed to disrupt the election.
The US-backed Karzai is widely tipped to win. But independent analysts say weaknesses in the electoral process may make it difficult for him to claim an undisputed victory -- possibly leading to further violence in this troubled country.
Explosion 'targets Karzai's ally'
Wednesday, 6 October, 2004 BBC News
An explosion in the north-eastern Afghan city of Feyzabad was aimed at President Hamid Karzai's running mate, Afghan officials say.
At least one person died in the explosion. However, Mr Karzai's vice-presidential candidate, Ahmed Zia Massood, was not injured.
The incident came as Mr Karzai held his final rally in the capital, Kabul.
The poll on Saturday will be Afghanistan's first election for head of state.
No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attack although the Taleban and al-Qaeda have vowed to disrupt the presidential elections.
The BBC's Crispin Thorold in Kabul says the province of Badakhshan, where the blast took place, is not an area where there has been much militant activity.
There is some confusion over the details of the attack.
Some reports said Mr Massood was travelling from the airport to a rally site when his convoy was struck, possibly by a mine or roadside bomb.
But interior ministry spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal said it took place at the rally itself in Feyzabad, the capital of Badakhshan, 300km north-east of Kabul.
He said there had so far been no arrests.
"The investigation is going on. It is the work of the enemies of peace and the elements who want to derail the election process," Mr Mashal said.
Mutaleb Beg, a local police official, told the Associated Press agency four people were hurt in the blast.
Reports said the former governor of the province, Sayed Ikramuddin, was one of those hurt.
Mr Massood is the brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massood, who led the battle against Soviet occupation.
Ahmed Zia Massood's running partner, President Hamid Karzai, held his final rally on Wednesday in front of thousands of supporters in Kabul's sports stadium.
Mr Karzai told them: "By voting you are laying the first bricks in a wall of democracy that will last for decades and centuries."
The Kabul rally was only the second public meeting Mr Karzai has held.
The first was on Tuesday when he flew by helicopter to Ghazni, 100km south of Kabul, to speak to about 10,000 people.
Under Afghan electoral law, campaigning ends on Wednesday.
Around 6,000 people packed into Kabul's stadium - which was notorious under the Taleban regime for public executions.
Our correspondent, at the rally, says there was a festive atmosphere with men performing the national dance to the accompaniment of drums.
Supporters held banners saying "a vote for Hamid Karzai is a vote for democracy".
Mr Karzai said Afghans should cast their ballots freely, without pressure from anyone, including his own officials.
"We have 18 candidates and it is a source of pride that after three decades of war, interference, bloodshed and destruction... we proved that we are a noble nation."
Mr Karzai's rally was followed at the same venue later in the day by one for Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
He told a crowd of around 1,000: "Firstly I tell you that we will win. If not, the future government without us would have no legitimacy."
Our correspondent says the campaign is drawing to a close just hours after it sprang into life.
For nearly four weeks the candidates' posters, pasted to walls across the country, were the only sign that a democratic ballot was imminent.
Although the other leading contenders, including the former education minister, Yunis Qanuni, and the Uzbek regional leader, Abdul Rashid Dostum, have been more active, this is an election that is likely to be won behind closed doors, our correspondent says.
Afghanistan's Taliban claims responsibility for assassination attempt
07/10/2004 14:32:21 | ABC Radio Australia News
Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime has claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai's running mate in upcoming elections. Mr Karzai's candidate for first vice president, Ahmad Zia Massoud, was not injured when a remote-controlled bomb hit his convoy in Faizabad, the capital of the northern province of Badakhshan, but two others were killed.
The blast hit the second car in the convoy just after Mr Massoud's vehicle passed by.Mr Massoud is the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the assassinated hero of the fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and of the struggle against the Taliban.The bomb blast is the latest in a series of attacks in the run-up to Afghanistan's first presidential election this Saturday.
Officials have warned of a sharp rise in attacks on election day when up to 10.5 million registered voters go to the polls.
Major acts of violence in Afghanistan during 30 days of campaigning
Wednesday October 6, 9:52 PM AP
During the 30 days of campaigning that ended Wednesday for landmark presidential elections in Afghanistan on Oct. 9, dozens of civilians, Afghan and foreign soldiers, police, militants and others have been killed across the country.
Here is a look at some of the worst violence.
Wednesday: A convoy carrying Afghan President Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running mate is attacked in Badakhshan province. Ahmed Zia Massood is unhurt, but one person is killed and four others are injured in the roadside explosion.
Tuesday: A mine explodes under a police vehicle in Kandahar province, killing seven officers.
Monday: Afghan soldiers and police raid a suspected Taliban hideout in Uruzgan province and an ensuing gunbattle leaves seven rebels dead.
Sept. 29: Suspected Taliban guerrillas fatally shoot seven Afghan soldiers in Zabul province after forcing them to lay down their weapons. Four suspected Taliban militants and another three Afghan troops are killed in a separate gunbattle in Zabul.
Sept. 20: A roadside bomb hits a convoy carrying Afghan Vice President Nayiamatullah Shahrani and another Cabinet minister in Kunduz province. They are unhurt. Two U.S. soldiers are killed in a firefight with militants in Paktika province.
Sept. 16: Karzai escapes an assassination attempt when a rocket is fired at his helicopter near the city of Gardez.
Sept. 13: U.S. forces kill 22 militants, including three Arab fighters, in Zabul.
Qanuni jostles for poll position
By the BBC's Nazes Afroz in Mazar-e-Sharif
"President-in-waiting" is how some in the diplomatic circles of Kabul describe Yunus Qanuni, who has emerged as a key contender to Hamid Karzai in Saturday's presidential election. Experts say if Mr Qanuni loses but puts up a good fight he will be in a much better position in the next election. Mr Qanuni probably knows it well. He is the only candidate to have criss-crossed the entire country. Being an ethnic Tajik, Mr Qanuni's support base comes from the north - the Tajik heartland. Supporters praise him as a mujahideen who will uphold the values of Islam.
A large turnout at a rally for Mr Qanuni in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif - traditional stronghold of Uzbek candidate Abdul Rashid Dostum - might not have been expected. But the scene at the airport was impressive - a large crowd had gathered to greet him.
It was clear that a well-organised election machine was in place.
Hundreds of buses, trucks and cars had been laid on to get supporters to the airport. Chanting supporters were well orchestrated - organisers shouted instructions through megaphones. The supporters pushed and jostled with dozens of armed bodyguards to get closer to their leader. A number of high school students came to the rally with placards and a local journalist said they had been brought by their teachers. Some students referred to Mr Qanuni as the future president of Afghanistan.
In his speech at the rally in the courtyard of the famous Hazrat Ali shrine in Mazar-e-Sharif, Mr Qanuni spoke time and again of the mujahideen war against the Soviet army in the 1980s. This is his main campaign plank - the glory of mujahideen war. There has been a lot of rumour and speculation over the past week that Mr Qanuni has a deal with Mr Karzai and may opt out of the race in favour of his rival.
But through his campaign, Mr Qanuni has made it clear that he is a serious challenger and it is unlikely he will throw in the towel days before the election.
Top warlord warns of trouble if he doesn't win Afghan election
KABUL, Oct 6 (AFP) - Top Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam warned Wednesday that the government will not be legitimate unless he wins Saturday's presidential election.
Bringing his campaign to Kabul, northern strongman Dostam stopped short of saying he would not accept the result of the vote. But he presented himself as the true representative of the people through years of war.
'Firstly I tell you that we will win. If not, the future government without us would have no legitimacy,' Dostam told a crowd of fewer than 1,000 people, mainly from his minority Uzbek ethnic group.
The whisky-drinking warlord arrived in a black Mercedes at the Kabul football stadium, notorious for public executions under the Taliban, then mounted a horse after delivering his speech. The horse is the symbol of Dostam's campaign. But after receiving the adulation of the crowd as the horse reared, the flamboyant politician dismounted and left by car. 'I have not come from abroad -- Germany or Europe -- I have been raised from amongst the people, I belong to the people,' he said.
This was a dig at the front-runner, incumbent President Hamid Karzai, who spent many years abroad while Afghanistan was racked by conflict over the past two decades.
'I made myself a candidate in respond to the request of the people,' he said. 'I remember the days when Kabul women came to me and said that the children of Kabul are in risk and said 'Dostam, please save us from the attacks'.'
Dostam, 50, changed sides frequently over Afghanistan's years of conflict. At first he fought for the Russians who invaded in 1979, before joining the mujahideen (holy warriors) who eventually drove the Soviets out of the country.
The role of warlords, who use militias funded by drug money to control large swathes of country outside the capital Kabul, is one of the most worrying aspects of the election.
Human Rights Watch said in a report the warlords, ranging from some of Afghanistan's wealthiest men to local thugs, were more of a threat to the freedom of the vote than insurgents loyal to the former Taliban regime who have vowed to disrupt the election.
The US-backed Karzai is widely tipped to win. But independent analysts say weaknesses in the electoral process may make it difficult for him to claim an undisputed victory -- possibly leading to further violence in this troubled country.
Two Candidates Drop Out of Afghan Presidential Race
(VOA) - In a surprise move on the eve of Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election, two candidates say they are withdrawing from the race and throwing their support behind current transitional President Hamid Karzai, also a candidate.
In separate announcements on the final day of the presidential campaign Wednesday, Syed Ishaq Gilani and Abdul Hasseb Aryan said they were dropping out of the race.
Although it is now too late to strike the two men's names from the ballot, both publicly called on their supporters to vote instead for President Karzai. Mr. Gilani, the more prominent of the two candidates, is known for his religious fervor and his past service as a fighter against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His support is believed to be strongest among conservative ethnic Pashtuns in the south and east of the country, who respect his pious image.
Mr. Aryan, the other candidate leaving the race, is a former policeman whose sparsely attended rallies have marked him as a minor candidate in the field of 18. Mr. Aryan says in exchange for his support, he expects Mr. Karzai to redouble his efforts to stamp out illegal drug production and to disarm militia leaders, whom he referred to as warlords. Mr. Aryan did not give a clear reason for his decision to drop out and Mr. Gilani said he was acting the unity of Afghanistan.
With no comprehensive opinion polls published on the Afghanistan presidential election, set to take place Saturday, the importance of the new support for Mr. Karzai is difficult to judge.
But for his own part, Mr. Karzai has previously said he expects not only to win, but to get more than 50 percent of the vote and avoid a second run-off election.
Afghanistan staging presidential election after decades of turbulence
Thursday October 7, 8:57 AM AP
Afghanistan's first direct presidential ballot Saturday will be a historic experiment with democracy after more than two decades of ruin, from Soviet occupation to civil war to the repressive Taliban and the thunderous U.S. bombing campaign that ended their rule.
Despite persistent violence from still-vigorous Taliban insurgents, the United Nations has declared this hard-luck nation ready for the vote, following a campaign that focused on tackling feuding factions and helping people out of poverty.
Thousands of polling stations manned by hastily trained staff open early Saturday for some 10.5 million Afghans who registered for the landmark vote. It will be closely watched by American, NATO and Afghan security forces.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai, seen by many Afghans as a bridge to the West and a figure unsullied by the country's long-running strife, is expected to garner the most votes and secure a five-year term. Partial results are expected by midweek.
But there are serious doubts about the integrity of the country's fledgling democracy amid sustained violence and evidence that officials have abused their office to help the U.S.-backed incumbent.
"Peace will not come until the Afghans see that their rights are being observed," said Yusuf Pashtun, the governor of Kandahar province, once the capital of the Taliban regime and home to Osama bin Laden.
Campaigning ended Wednesday with a burst of violence when attackers set off a bomb near a convoy carrying Karzai's vice presidential running mate in Badakhshan province. Ahmed Zia Massood wasn't hurt, but one person was killed and four others injured.
Karzai, the overwhelming favorite among the 18 contenders, has said Saturday's election is an opportunity to build a new future for a country that has known nothing but war, drought and poverty for a quarter century.
The vote is a key step in rebuilding an Afghan society following decades of turbulence, with the Soviet invasion of 1979, the 1985-89 war against the occupiers, the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that ended with a Taliban victory, and the U.S. campaign to oust them in late 2001.
Karzai's opponents include warlord chieftains of Afghanistan's northern minorities to a relative of the country's last king and a former U.N. worker running as the only female candidate.
The breadth of the field could scatter votes so widely that Karzai fails to achieve the majority needed to avert a run-off, which would give Taliban rebels another chance to disrupt Afghanistan's democratic process. At least a dozen election workers have died so far in a string of attacks, while Karzai and two his closest aides survived rocket and bomb attacks during the campaign.
While Karzai has won endorsements from regional leaders across the country's deep ethnic divides, many of his fellow ethnic Pashtuns have not registered in the south due to insecurity while conservative custom has prevented many women from signing up.
Drug smugglers and disgruntled militia forces who helped the U.S. military oust the Taliban three years ago but are now set for disarmament under a U.N.-backed peace plan also may have reason to disrupt the vote.
Still, the American military sees the election as an opportunity for the militants and Karzai's internationally backed transitional government to seek reconciliation.
Some 18,000 U.S.-led troops are in Afghanistan, up from just 11,000 late last year, to help protect the vote. Another 9,000 NATO-commanded soldiers are on the lookout for trouble in the capital, Kabul, and much of the north.
"Now, are they (the polls) going to be perfect? No. Are they going to be marred by violence? Yes. But we are seeing things happening now that we couldn't imagine a year ago, or two years ago, and certainly not around 9/11," said Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Even if the vote goes ahead without major violence, a Karzai victory is sure to draw criticism that the incumbent benefited from a campaign that flouted the country's election laws.
Former Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai, a powerful tribal leader now serving in Karzai's Cabinet, told hundreds of elders on Tuesday to vote for Karzai, even though the rules say all officials have to remain neutral.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's brother who has marshaled his campaign in the south, shrugged, saying Afghans would not understand why a tribal leader should hold his tongue.
"Democracy is a baby in Afghanistan," he said.
Thumbnails of leading candidates in Afghanistan's first direct presidential election
Wednesday October 6, 2:35 PM AP
Eighteen candidates are competing to become Afghanistan's first directly elected president in historic elections on Saturday.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai is well-placed to win the first national vote since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. If no candidate secures a majority, the top two qualify for a run-off.
The following is a list of the chief contenders:
_ Hamid Karzai. Elected by a tribal grand council after the fall of the Taliban, Karzai has become an international celebrity, drumming up billions in aid pledges. But his image at home is clouded by slow reconstruction. Likely to pick up votes among fellow ethnic Pashtuns, Karzai may also win over reform-minded Afghans, having dropped his powerful defense minister from his election ticket after a failed drive to disarm unruly militias. Concern for his safety limited the U.S.-backed incumbent's ventures beyond his Kabul palace during the 30-day campaign.
_ Yunus Qanooni. Karzai's former education minister was last to join the race but has emerged as his most powerful rival. Qanooni has the support of Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah, forming a powerful troika of former anti-Taliban leaders from the Panjshir Valley bidding for the loyalty of their fellow ethnic Tajiks.
_ Mohammed Mohaqeq. Another former minister, Mohaqeq was also an anti-Taliban militia commander, but from the long-suffering Hazara minority. He could overshadow Karzai's less popular Hazara vice-presidential nominee.
_ Abdul Rashid Dostum. A former communist and wily player in his country's brutal civil wars, this archetypal Afghan warlord is widely distrusted, particularly by Pashtuns. Still, Dostum ran a fairly efficient mini-state in the northeast before it fell to the Taliban in 1997, and could secure broad support among fellow Uzbeks.
_ Massooda Jalal. An outspoken former U.N. worker who challenged Karzai for the interim leadership in 2002, Jalal is the only female candidate. She could score in cities where educated women can find work _ and husbands allow them to vote for whom they choose.
_ Abdul Latif Pedram. A Tajik former exile who fell foul of communist, mujahideen and Taliban governments, Pedram attacks Karzai's government for doing too little for the 3 million refugees who have returned since 2001.
_ Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai. A vice president in the early 1990s, Ahmadzai was a leader of a party with links to the Arab volunteers who joined Afghanistan's anti-Soviet resistance and later al-Qaida. Ahmadzai, who has an American wife, says those ties are long gone.
_ Abdul Hafiz Mansoor. An intellectual, Mansoor has emerged as a pole of independent dissent against Karzai, accusing him of trying to install an elected dictatorship.
_ Abdul Satar Sirat. A refined former aide to Afghanistan's last king, Sirat could tap nostalgia for the monarchy, whose reign coincided with the last period of peace before it was swept away by a 1973 coup.
Afghan Race Shaping Up as Battle of the Modern and Traditional
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, October 6, 2004; Page A22
SINZARI, Afghanistan -- More than 1,000 leathery, turbaned men gathered in a cavernous village mosque Friday for a presidential campaign rally. They no longer carried rifles, and some had even brought their small sons. But the assembly of mujaheddin, or former anti-Soviet fighters, crackled with esprit de corps.
The veterans were all ethnic Pashtuns, and the rally was held in Kandahar province, the heartland of Afghan Pashtun culture and the birthplace of President Hamid Karzai, who comes from a prominent Pashtun tribe and has courted Pashtun votes in his bid to be elected president this Saturday.
But these tough ex-fighters had come to show their support for someone else: Yonus Qanooni, the former interior and education minister and an ethnic Tajik, who is Karzai's major challenger. To them, the candidate's ethnicity mattered far less than his credentials as a fellow mujahid and defender of Islam.
"We have all sacrificed a great deal, and we all lost brothers and fathers in the fight for our country," said Asadullah, a farmer in the crowd. "We want a leader who is a true mujahid, so our rights will be protected. We are all one tribe and one nation. We don't like Karzai. We want Qanooni."
With Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election just days away, analysts here predict that Karzai, 47, will garner the most votes. He remains by far the best known of the 18 candidates in the race, he is widely regarded as the American choice, and he has the power and perquisites of incumbency.
But the unexpected inroads made by Qanooni, even on Karzai's home turf in southern Afghanistan, make it increasingly likely that Karzai will not win more than 50 percent of the vote. This would require an expensive runoff election that could take several months to arrange, leaving the country in a state of anxiety and political drift.
The popularity of Qanooni among some Pashtun mujaheddin, moreover, suggests that the race may not break down along ethnic lines, as has been widely predicted, but instead become a contest between two clashing visions of Afghan society: one that is modern and Western-leaning and one that is protective of traditional Islamic values.
In Kandahar city, Karzai's campaign aides seemed confident of his success at the polls. Ahmad Wali Karzai, one of the president's brothers and a wealthy Kandahar resident, has been receiving a steady stream of Pashtun tribal leaders from across the south pledging the support of their communities at the polls.
"Ninety-nine percent of the provincial elders have guaranteed us they will vote for the president," Karzai said. "We don't see any strong challenger in any of the six southern provinces. From every district, they keep coming to volunteer. And the local cable channel has given us two channels free to use 24 hours for campaign messages."
Karzai suggested that any local support for Qanooni was limited to a small number of former militia commanders -- principally from one Pashtun tribe, the Alokozai -- who he said oppose the government program to disarm and demobilize militias nationwide.
"They are against the program, because they want to stay in business with their weapons and troops," he said. He complained that officers under the city police chief, a Qanooni supporter, had taken down thousands of Karzai campaign posters in the city.
There were also reports that militia commanders had removed some heavy weapons from Kandahar last week to avoid turning them over to the authorities. And two new election surveys by international groups found that most Afghans responding, including those in Kandahar, were far more concerned about pressure or abuse from military commanders than about terrorist violence on election day.
But critics of the government, including campaign aides for several other candidates and the local representative of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, complained that regional officials had been actively working for President Karzai's election and pressuring people to vote for him.
In Kandahar city and the surrounding areas, many residents said they supported Karzai, describing him as a fair and honest man and adding that he is a son of the region. Many seemed to know little about the other candidates, including Qanooni, suggesting that Karzai could win merely by being the only familiar name and face on the lengthy ballot.
But familiarity does not necessarily translate into enthusiasm. Last weekend, a rally organized by Ahmad Wali Karzai for students at a park pavilion in Kandahar was a decidedly anemic affair, attended by about 200 young people who listened politely to a series of speeches but rarely bothered to applaud.
At a tiny market on the city outskirts, a baker said he would vote for Karzai because "when he came, war stopped." But a customer who works as a government clerk interrupted eagerly, saying, "I'm for Qanooni. We need a strong leader and a mujahid. Karzai has just been sitting home and doing nothing."
Indeed, while Qanooni, 43, whose home base is the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan, has made campaign trips to Kandahar and the western city of Herat, Karzai remains a prisoner of his tight security bubble. Since the campaign began, he has taken more trips overseas than within Afghanistan, and he meets citizens only under the most restricted conditions.
The president's first campaign trip was aborted when a rocket was fired near his helicopter. A trip to northern Afghanistan, where he inaugurated a new highway, was a public relations disaster.
The visit was tightly controlled by the U.S. military and Karzai's U.S.-contracted bodyguards. When a crowd of invited guests surged forward, the guards shoved them back and slapped one, who turned out to be the minister of transportation.
On Tuesday, Karzai made a brief campaign visit to the town of Ghazni, about 75 miles south of Kabul, the capital. He arrived and departed by helicopter, and he was guarded on the ground by several hundred rifle-armed security men.
The president, who called on the crowd of several thousand to "vote for peace and stability," reportedly rebuked his guards for trying to push well-wishers away.
"Ideally, Mr. Karzai should be able to campaign in Bamiyan" in the north "and Mr. Qanooni should be able to campaign in Kandahar," said Fida Mahmad, Qanooni's campaign chief in Kandahar. "All candidates should be able to travel everywhere. We do not want the country to be divided again by tribalism and war. People are tired of dictatorships. We have a new thing called democracy, and within the framework of Islam, that is what we want."
In Sinzari, a dusty town 15 miles west of Kandahar, soldiers were busy putting up Qanooni posters for the rally last Friday, and convoys of four-wheel-drive vehicles disgorged hundreds of mujaheddin. They proudly recounted the history of that spot on the highway, where Afghan guerrillas blocked and destroyed hundreds of Soviet tanks in the 1980s, then chopped them up to be sold as scrap.
The local military commander, who goes by the single name Habibullah, was busy preparing the rally and ticking off lists of tribes that had sent representatives. He said he had a good official relationship with the central government, but his Pashtun heart was clearly with Qanooni, the Tajik mujahid from Panjshir.
"When I was a boy, I carried a Kalashnikov on my shoulder. I do not want my children to carry a gun," he said, adding that he supported militia disarmament. But he complained that Karzai and many of his aides had lived in exile during the country's most bitter years and still keep foreign passports. "I am a citizen and I have the right to one vote," he said, "and it will not be for Karzai."
Karzai promises to build self-reliant Afghanistan
KABUL, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- The presidential candidate and incumbent head of state Hamid Karzai on Wednesday repeated his commitment to lead Afghanistan towards prosperity if people vote for him in the Oct. 9 election.
"I would spare no efforts to push the country towards welfare, prosperity and progress and self-reliance," he told a public gathering at the last leg of his electoral campaign here.
Karzai, in a gathering attended by over 3,000 people including some ministers, said his only aim was to serve the war-weary nation.
"I want to see a united, independent and honorable Afghanistan," noted the heavily guarded president in his 10-minute speech at the Olympic Stadium.
During the past two years he frequently promised to rebuild thewar-ravaged country, establish durable security and alleviate poverty.
Karzai, who is pitted against 17 challengers in the race, askedhis countrymen to wisely use their vote in electing the country's president.
"It makes no difference for me to lose the election but it is our responsibility to cooperate with any one who wins the people'sconfidence in the poll," the ambitious Karzai stressed.
Campaigning for the coming presidential election, the first ever in the post-Taliban nation, is going to be formally closed later Wednesday, 48 hours ahead of the Oct. 9 landmark election.
Uncle Sam's man
By Ashish Kumar Sen Asia Times October 6, 2004
WASHINGTON - As Afghans prepare for their first presidential elections on October 9, President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, is being challenged by over a dozen factional leaders, but most Afghans and international officials expect him to win.
Those who represent tribal blocs are likely just creating political capital for themselves to barter for positions in a future Karzai cabinet, said John Sifton, an Afghanistan researcher with Human Rights Watch.
"Much of the political pressure and threats reported here may in fact merely be part of efforts by factions to create malleable factional voting blocs, which the factions can then deliver for Karzai on election day - for a price," said Sifton. The worry, therefore, is not that the election will descend into violence, but that Karzai will enjoy a "hollow victory in which he is forced to appoint an unrepresentative cabinet, similar to the current one - a body stocked with warlords".
Undoubtedly, Karzai's opponents' success will hinge on the size of their clans. Yunus Qanooni, a prominent Tajik in the Northern Alliance - which helped US forces overthrow the Taliban in 2001 - has the backing of Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, who was dropped by Karzai as his running mate.
Another key contender, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, in July stepped down as military advisor to Karzai.
Dr Masooda Jalal, a Tajik pediatrician-turned-politician, is Karzai's lone female challenger. "The people of Afghanistan are fed up with constant wars and want a fresh start," Jalal said in a phone interview from her home in Kabul. What sets her apart from her opponents, she said, is that "I don't have blood on my hands, I haven't destroyed any cities." She is confident that "if the process were democratic and free from the interference of warlords and their money, I could say that I would triumph in the election".
With US forces mired in the insurgency in Iraq, analysts say President George W Bush is eager to portray a foreign policy success before he goes up for re-election on November 2. With the harsh winter and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan drawing close, October was the obvious time to hold an election in Afghanistan.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has predicted that the Taliban "and other insurgents will continue to disrupt the process, perhaps even by attempting a large-scale attack on election day itself". He lauded Karzai's efforts to rein in the warlords, saying the Afghan leader had shown "political courage and determination".
"It may well be that these factional leaders are starting to accept that their future lies within the framework of the Afghan constitution," Armitage told the House International Relations Committee.
Some members of the panel were skeptical. "Did you fail to give the president a briefing that the Taliban is still in existence and still very much active in Afghanistan?" asked New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.
Menendez said a fear of violence was keeping candidates from campaigning, Karzai was largely confined to Kabul, and that Afghans continued to be intimidated by the Taliban. "I think we have to stop sugarcoating the realities of what is happening in Afghanistan ... and be honest with the American people," he said.
Afghanistan's diverse factions of warlords, who fought a bloody civil war in the early 1990s, are by no means easy allies. "Political repression and military factionalism are still very much a problem, and comprise a very real threat to Afghanistan's future, a bigger threat than the Taliban," said Sifton.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said, "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."
A volatile and uncertain security situation, compounded by the presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, has cramped the style of most presidential candidates. "There are candidates who cannot walk around Kabul without security guards," said Jalal in an oblique reference to Karzai, who is always escorted by a small army of American and Afghan guards.
In September 2002, Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the southern city of Kandahar. Last month, insurgents fired a rocket at the president's helicopter.
Even as Armitage assured members of Congress that the US had made a "long-term commitment to Afghanistan", Sifton pointed out that as the leader in the international effort in Afghanistan, the US has led incoherently. "US strategy over the last two years has been divided into two dominant efforts. First, vaguely defined military operations to kill or capture remnants of the Taliban and non-Afghan militant groups; and second, assistance to help strengthen the government of President Karzai and help to reconstruct the Afghan nation," he said. "In execution, these goals have often been at cross-purposes, and in many cases the means employed to reach the goals have been insufficient, inappropriate, or contradictory."
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, this dual strategy has proven mutually contradictory, such as when the US cooperates with or provides assistance to regional warlords who interfere with national development programs or otherwise oppose Kabul's authority.
Efforts to strengthen the government of Afghanistan, and support Karzai's efforts to rein in factions, are clearly suffering heavily, the report says. "US personnel are cooperating and even supporting warlord leaders like Hazrat Ali in Jalalabad, General Dostum and Commander Atta in Mazar-i-Sharif, and General Fahim in Kabul - even as the central government attempts to rein them in." This strategy is "self-defeating", said Sifton.
"The process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is progressing, albeit slowly, with all heavy weapons now cantoned in Kabul," Armitage said.
Terrorist elements are not the only security challenge the fledgling government will face, he said. "There is also a serious and growing narcotics trafficking problem. One year ago, this was considered a secondary concern, but today, President Karzai and other Afghan officials say that the drug trade and the associated corruption may be the most significant threats to a secure and democratic Afghanistan."
Armitage admitted there was "a direct link between drug trafficking and the militants and recalcitrant warlords who seek to undermine the central government".
House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde, said: "Waiting to take on the drug lords will not make the situation any better. For now, the drug lords are getting stronger, faster than the Afghan authorities are being built up. In other words, we are falling further and further behind." As a consequence, throughout provinces outside Kabul, these "drug lords" and remnants of past Afghan military forces are strengthening their grip on political power.
Faced with death threats, politically active Afghan leaders are opting out of the process or toning down their activities. "In many areas, voters have been told by regional commanders how to vote, and will likely obey," said Sifton.
"The signs are ominous," said Adams. "Many candidates for next year's [national] elections are already facing threats, and may shelve their candidacies for fear of being killed. The Afghan government and its international allies have to act fast. What's needed is a significantly increased international security force and UN human rights monitors."
Both Armitage and Hyde applauded voter registration statistics in Afghanistan. Noting that 10 million Afghans had registered to vote, Armitage said more than 40% of those who have registered are women - "a percentage considerably greater than we expected".
But Sifton said there is "widespread multiple/fraudulent registration, so the numbers are highly unreliable."
"Afghanistan is not democratic," said Jalal. "If the situation continues, it will give democracy a bad reputation. It will turn elections into a sham." She complained that the Bush administration's support for Karzai had also dashed hopes for a level playing field in the election. "How can we call the results of such an election democratic? How can we say it represents the will of the people," she asked.
Hyde cautioned Washington must be careful to avoid the impression "that the United States has been more concerned with the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan, than it has been with supporting a meaningful electoral process for the Afghan people".
"US goals for a stable and independent Afghanistan could be undermined if there are perceptions that the United States has played a heavy hand in Afghan's domestic political decision making process," he added.
Ashish Kumar Sen is a Washington DC-based journalist.
Karzai pledges new government style
(BBC) - Afghanistan's transitional president, Hamid Karzai, has pledged inclusive government if elected in polls this weekend.
In a forum for the BBC's Pashto and Persian services, Mr Karzai told listeners he wanted to get away from the coalition-style administration of the last three years which "had not got anywhere".
"I want to build a government which reflects the whole Afghan people," he said.
The forum was the latest in a series of interactive BBC debates on radio and online in recent weeks in which all 17 of Mr Karzai's opponents have appeared.
Question and answer sessions featuring prominent candidates such as Younis Qanuni, Rashid Dostum, Masooda Jalal and Mohammed Mohaqiq attracted thousands of responses from listeners and web users.
Mr Karzai said that if people voted for him, his government "would have one clear policy". "I want a government in which the participation of the whole nation is tangible."
He also told listeners that Afghanistan was becoming a "powerful nation" and said the country's many armed militias and warlords "should not take affairs into their own hands" and endanger the process.
"People respect them... but nobody should claim to be the commanders of mujahideen anymore," he said. "Afghanistan should have a national army and a national police force and also national institutions who work in various social and political fields, but within the framework of the law."
"The feudalist system of government in every street of Afghanistan has been the cause of miseries for the Afghan people and the nation does not tolerate this sort of dominance."
Mr Karzai cited action against corruption and improving the country's economy as two of his key election concerns, although he acknowledged it would take years for changes to be implemented.
"Our currency is one of the most stable ones in the region but we have had problems with corruption and there are three reasons for that," he said. "One is we have been run by a coalition government and connections overtook regulations - this is one of the reasons that I am against a similar structure for the future government of Afghanistan."Also, we started with a non-existent bureaucratic system and it takes a long time for a healthy one to be put in place," he added.
"Thirdly, in a short span of time a lot of money was poured into Afghanistan and it is natural that when an impoverished country becomes relatively rich in a short time corruption and fraud happens."
Mr Karzai said he was glad that all the presidential candidates had run clean campaigns. "So far, the presidential candidates have not been too harsh to each other and I am very pleased about this," he said.
The BBC's Persian and Pashto services also spoke to other candidates in the Afghan elections.
Masooda Jalal, the only female candidate, took part in an discussion with young Afghans in Kabul. She said there were many instances of women leadership in the Islamic world, and that Muslim scholars had told her that her candidacy did not contradict Islamic teachings.
Mohammad Mohaqeq, a leader of the minority Shia Hazaras, said he was running for president in order to serve his country in its reconstruction era. He said if he did not win, he would co-operate with any elected government. He said promoting national understanding, co-operation and trust was essential if security was to improve.
Afghan poll's ethnic battleground
Wednesday, 6 October, 2004 BBC News By Pam O'Toole / BBC regional analyst
Whoever wins the Afghan presidential election will face the difficult challenge of trying to unite a country riven by ethnic, religious, regional and tribal rivalries into one nation under a strong central government.
Since his interim government came to power almost three years ago, transitional president Hamid Karzai has been seeking to extend Kabul's control over a nation that has sometimes been described as a series of small fiefdoms.
He has recently stepped up efforts to curb the power of the so-called warlords - powerful regional commanders and leaders who either directly control, or have de facto control over, private militias and have resisted disarming them.
These warlords are in turn linked to a variety of ethnic, religious, tribal and sub-tribal groups and clans.
Long-term rivalries and differences between these groups, which have often fought each other in the past, have played into the election itself.
Broadening the vote
Many candidates are portraying themselves as representing the interests of particular ethnic or religious groups, or the interests of the mujahideen who fought to expel the Soviet army during the 1980s.
Many voters are likely to face pressure to vote for someone from their own ethnic group. Human Rights Watch recently pointed to a string of alleged intimidations.
Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun and the favourite in the polls, and Yunus Qanuni, an ethnic Tajik regarded as his closest rival, are among a number of candidates fielding vice-presidential candidates from other ethnic groups in an attempt to broaden their vote.
Decades of war mean there has not been a national census in Afghanistan for many years.
However, it is widely accepted that Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group, with Tajiks second, followed by Uzbeks and Hazara Shia.
There are also many other, smaller, ethnic groups including Turkmens, Baluchs, Aimaks and others.
The various Pashtun presidential candidates have the largest potential ethnic-related vote base.
Mr Karzai also has the advantage of being head of the 500,000 strong Popolzai tribe, a sub-group of Afghanistan's most powerful tribe, the Durranis, who ruled Afghanistan for almost two centuries before being overthrown in the 1970s.
Tribal loyalties count for a lot in Afghanistan. Tribal leaders expect to be obeyed.
In south-eastern Khost province, elders of the Terezay tribe threatened to burn down houses of tribe members who did not vote for Mr Karzai.
The list of presidential candidates also reflects long-running tensions in Pashtun society between tribal and religious elites.
One candidate in the election, Sayed Ishaq Gailani, is a member of Afghanistan's religious elite.
Descended from a much revered Sufi spiritual leader, his family were extremely influential in Afghanistan during the time of the monarchy.
He and another Pashtun candidate, a conservative religious former mujahideen leader, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, may take some votes from Mr Karzai.
There is also a variety of ethnic Tajik presidential hopefuls, the most prominent of whom is Mr Qanuni.
He is hoping to attract not only Tajik voters from his native Panjshir valley but also support from the broader Northern Alliance coalition that fought the Taleban.
He has been capitalising on his position as a trusted aide of the late Ahmed Shah Masood, the celebrated resistance fighter who led Afghanistan's resistance forces in the fight against the Taleban.
Along with Afghanistan's defence and foreign ministers, Mr Qanuni is also part of a powerful Tajik Panjshiri clique that has wielded considerable influence in Afghanistan's transitional administration.
So much so, in fact, that there were allegations it was undermining Mr Karzai's authority.
Mr Karzai effectively demoted Mr Qanuni from interior minister to education minister two years ago in an apparent attempt to curtail the influence of the Panjshiris.
Mr Karzai also recently removed the Tajik governor of Herat from his post.
The presence of so many other ethnic Tajik candidates in the election could dilute Mr Qanuni's share of the vote.
Among the other candidates, two men, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, and Mohammed Mohaqiq, a Hazara Shia, are particularly well known in Afghanistan.
Both have been accused of human rights abuses in the past - allegations they strenuously deny.
But because they represent minorities with insufficient numbers to out-vote the Pashtun and Tajik communities, they are unlikely to win.
There has been speculation that, like a number of other candidates, they could be running in an attempt to increase their political leverage after the polls.
Many of these ethnic groups have fought one another in the past and have been accused of rights abuses against each other.
Many Pashtuns, who feel their influence has been eroded since the fall of the Taleban, will be hoping for a strong victory for Mr Karzai.
Other groups will be hoping that whoever wins, the elections do not lead to an erosion of their own power and influence.
Karzai no stranger to leadership
Wednesday, October 6, 2004 Posted: 0709 GMT (1509 HKT)
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, has been involved in the politics of his homeland since the country was pushed into war when the Soviet Union invaded it in 1979.
Karzai fled the country like millions of other Afghans but unlike the majority of his eight siblings, he stayed in the region and took an active voice in how his homeland was governed.
His work paid off. He was first named interim leader of the country for six months after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
In June 2002, he was elected to a two-year term by the loya jirga, or grand council, "a traditional gathering of Afghanistan's tribal leaders to resolve issues of national importance."
As the head of state, he has influence over the development of the war-ravaged country. But he also has to satisfy a broad range of ethnic interests to ensure the peace so essential to the process of reconstruction.
But it is a fragile peace in Afghanistan and a dangerous life for its president. Karzai has already survived attacks against him, but he has remained undeterred.
"I've been through this before," has says. "I've been hit three times at summits. Did that stop us from fighting? My father was assassinated by terrorists. Did that stop him from fighting against them?". "I will not stop," the president said. "I'll continue."
Karzai, 46, is no stranger to leadership. Even while in exile, he remained chief of the large Popolzai tribe in southern Afghanistan. The tribe is part of the Pashtun ethnic group, the largest of the Afghan ethnic groups and one that traditionally has produced the country's leaders.
His family also has previous experience with public service. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was a former senator in the Afghan parliament before the overthrow of King Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1973.
He also served as deputy foreign minister in the Afghan government from 1992 to 1994 after the mujahedeen defeated the Soviets. But he grew weary of the fierce infighting between rival Afghan factions and initially supported the Taliban, who tried to name him as their ambassador to the United Nations.
But he grew suspicious of the movement as he saw it being infiltrated and controlled by non-Afghans. He and his father broke with the Taliban and began to criticize the religious movement while in exile in Quetta, Pakistan. Karzai's resolve was strengthened further when his father was murdered in 1999, shot while walking home from a mosque in Quetta. The family believe the Taliban were behind the shooting.
Upon his father's death, Karzai accepted his place as chief Popolzai leader and continued his anti-Taliban activities, which were not getting much attention until September 11.
In October, he slipped into Afghanistan to lobby his fellow Pashtuns to oppose the Taliban and assemble a loya jirga to choose a new Afghan government.
"I was surprised, truly, to find out that the people were absolutely in support of an honorable life for Afghans and the return of peace, in support of loya jirga," he told CNN. He barely avoided the Taliban's wrath and with the help of U.S. air power, Pashtun fighters overpowered the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Karzai helped negotiate the Taliban's surrender of Kandahar, the city from which the religious movement was created.
Peace and belief
Karzai was born in Kandahar. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he left and attended college in India. One of his professors remembered being impressed by the 24-year-old.
Five of Karzai's brothers and a sister now reside in the United States and run a successful chain of Afghan restaurants in Chicago, Boston, Maryland and San Francisco. The restaurants are named Helmand, after the Afghan province west of Kandahar.
His siblings are supportive of his activities and talk to him daily via Karzai's satellite telephone.
"He's a very peaceful person," said Qayum Karzai, a brother who lives in Maryland. "He has enormous capabilities of dialogue and enormous diplomatic skill to negotiate, and is a person who really believes that Afghan national unity is the fundamental resource that we have to establish peace in Afghanistan."
Unlike most Afghan men, Karzai delayed marriage until he was in his early 40s, due to his political activities. His wife Zinat is a doctor. Karzai speaks English fluently along with six other languages.
In a CNN interview in 2001, Karzai said his priorities are basic issues like roads for the country, to enable some kind of commerce and economy to flourish again, education, and a health system. And while saying he was confident that international assistance would continue, at the time he warned the world not to ignore Afghanistan again.
"I must be very blunt. If the world does not pay attention to Afghanistan, if it leaves it weak, and basically a country in which one can interfere, all these bad people are coming in," he said. "So a strong Afghanistan, a peaceful Afghanistan, is the best guarantee for all."
This week, Karzai spoke to about 10,000 people gathered outside a Muslim shrine in the town of Ghazni, telling supporters the vote would be a turning point for the war-torn nation.
"This vote is not just to choose a president, but for peace and stability in Afghanistan," said Karzai, a close ally of U.S. President George W. Bush. "Instead of fighting, we are campaigning for our elections. We should be proud that we have freedom at last."
CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report
Facts and figures for Afghanistan's upcoming election
Associated Press / october 6, 2004
Facts and figures for Afghanistan's election on Saturday:
CANDIDATES _ 18, including interim leader Hamid Karzai, ethnic Tajik former Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni, Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Massooda Jalal, the only female candidate.
FAVORITE _ Karzai is widely favored to win, but it is not clear if he will garner the outright majority necessary to avoid a second round against the runner-up.
STAKES _ The vote is Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential vote and first national ballot since the fall of the Taliban. Karzai is hoping a victory will solidify his rule and allow him to take bolder steps to rebuild the country and fight the influence of warlords that still hold sway in much of the countryside.
DATE _ Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004, though organizers have left open the possibility some voting might be allowed on a second day.
POLLS OPEN: From 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. (0230 GMT to 1130 GMT).
VOTING CENTERS: 4,807, each of which will have separate polling booths so that men and women may vote apart to respect the country's Islamic customs.
VOTING STATIONS: There are 21,521 stations within the voting centers. Of these 12,354 will be for men, and 9,187 for women.
MONITORS _ More than 16,000 domestic observers but only about 225 international monitors will be involved in overseeing the vote to guard against fraud and intimidation _ a turnout which has disappointed the United Nations.
VOTERS _ Some 10.5 million people have registered within Afghanistan, about 740,000 in Pakistan, and there are believed to be another 400,000 to 600,000 eligible voters in Iran. 41 percent of those registered in Afghanistan are women, but that ratio is lower among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and in the deeply conservative Pashtun belt in southeastern Afghanistan.
POPULATION _ There are believed to be about 25 million people in Afghanistan, though there has been no reliable census since decades of ruinous war forced millions to flee. Many have since returned.
RESULTS _ Election officials say it will take two weeks to count the vote because of the remote terrain of much of Afghanistan and a lack of experience with democratic votes. They hope to have partial results sooner, but say they don't know when a winner will be announced.
Afghanistan: Ballots and Bullets
by Nir Rosen Asia Times October 6, 2004
PART 1: The school of death
KABUL - Zurmat is a district in Paktia province south of Kabul. In the parched village of Naik Nam the earth and walls are a blinding white, the mud baked by an unforgiving sun. Drought and poverty have led to neglect of the mud structures, which look like half-destroyed sand castles after the first wave has hit them. A maze of barely perceptible paths winding through the desert leads to the dunes and homes that hide behind them. Described by United Nations workers as a hotbed, the Taliban are said to be very active in Zurmat, a former Taliban stronghold, after six or seven in the evening.
My guides are two doctors from Zurmat, Dr Omar and Dr Mohammed Qasim. Both men were very nervous as we made our way from Gardez, the provincial capital, to their hometown. At first they took a taxi and then opted for a private car. They dressed me in a salwar kamis, a long shirt draped over matching baggy pants, and gave me a cap to complete the disguise. They would be telling locals I was a Saudi, they said, because people there liked Saudis. With an American base nearby, I doubted the wisdom in spreading rumors of a six-foot Saudi visiting a pro-Taliban village, but kept my skepticism to myself.
Dr Mohammed tried to reassure me along the way. "We are Afghans, we are Pashtuns, we will give our heads instead of your's," he said, slitting his throat with his finger and not inspiring confidence. As we approached the village they turned off the music in the car and became silent.
The last journalist to visit Zurmat was Pamela Constable of the Washington Post, for her September 5 article entitled "Afghan Blast Has Alarming Implications". To visit the village the police chief escorted her with two trucks full of Afghan soldiers.
A random sampling of various United Nations daily internal security reports reveals nearly daily "security incidents" in Zurmat. According to the UN, "On August 3, two Maltesier [a German humanitarian organization] employees, traveling back from Zurmat to Gardez in a yellow-white rental car were shot by two unknown gunmen standing on each side of the road, near Niknaam Village, Zurmat District. CFs [coalition forces] found the car, and two persons inside it - one dead and the other, shot six times, severely injured ... The attackers reportedly escaped in their black vehicle."
On August 15, a bomb exploded at a voter registration site in Zurmat, that night rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were fired at the home of a government employee working on the elections. The following day, American soldiers were shot at by a group of men on motorcycles in Zurmat. That same day an American military base was attacked with grenades. Two days later a bomb planted under a bridge killed three and wounded two civilians in Zurmat. Not only are there terrorist and insurgent attacks, but internal violence as well. The security reports describe a September 14 incident in which two tribes clashed with small arms because of an old dispute in Zurmat.
The Post's Constable had come to investigate an explosion in a madrassa, or school, that had killed 10 people. On August 29 three American employees of defense contractor Dyncorp were killed when a car bomb detonated outside their offices. This high profile attack obscured the afternoon explosion in the Mullah Khel school in Zurmat, 90 miles to the south. In her article Constable claims the school was targeted by the Taliban, speculating that the motives were either its relatively modern curriculum or the involvement of its teachers in voter registration. The bomb, she said, was hidden in a motorcycle and caused the deaths of nine students and one teacher.
The notion that children were targeted is terrible indeed, but the truth is no less disturbing in its implications. In reality, according to Mullah Qari Nazir Mohammed, a teacher in the school, as well as Drs Mohammed and Omar, who work in the town and other witnesses, the school was hosting seven young Taliban, or religious students, aged 18 to 21, who were being instructed in the construction of remote-controlled bombs. As often happens elsewhere, including Palestine, the inexperienced teacher accidentally detonated the bomb, bringing the lesson to a terrible end. All seven Taliban were killed and their corpses had no arms and bore signs of close exposure to the explosion. In the adjacent pathway between the next classroom a parked motorcycle was destroyed, though it did not contain the bomb, as Constable's article claimed. Tragically, the ceiling collapsed on the classroom across the narrow pathway, killing three students in teacher Sahar Gul's class. The seven dead Taliban, whom Constable had mistakenly included in her count of dead students, were visiting from different madrassas in the region, including Logar and Ghazni provinces.
Another religious student, Qari Daud, described his shock at witnessing Taliban training openly in bomb construction in madrassas in the border area of Miran Shah and elsewhere. The townspeople in Zurmat were reluctant to admit to Constable that their school was being used for a dual purpose, educating previously unschooled children in an "accelerated learning program", including mathematics, Pashtu, religion and art and providing a regional seminar in bomb-making techniques. There had been 25 students officially in the class, and an additional 13 who were not registered but attended anyway to receive a basic education. After the blast people from the neighboring 50 families in the area rushed to the site to dig the victims out of the rubble.
Twenty-six-year-old Sahar Gul still limps from wounds he suffered when a wall collapsed on him in his classroom, pinning him for an hour. It was his students who were killed, as he was teaching, and in the remaining wall of the classroom a chalkboard with some scribbling and a map of the world still hung unscathed. The slightly cross-eyed Gul was paid US$50 a month by the Afghan Women's Education Center, an Afghan organization run by a female doctor originally from Paktia, Shinkai Zahine, that supports 400 teachers like Gul in Paktia province alone. Gul sat with the village elders in his guest room, its floors and walls decorated with colorful traditional carpets and tapestries. A silent anonymous female hand reached into the room from behind a door offering a tray with green tea, and raisins, nuts and toffees were also served.
Gul and the village elders feigned ignorance when asked about the presence of Taliban forces in their area. Bismillah Shah, a weathered elder who lost two nephews in the explosion, says, "These people who fight the Americans or Afghan army don't want to develop our country, but we don't know who they are." Like many Pashtuns, he was ambivalent about the American presence in his country. "We have not had any problems with the Americans, we have not seen anything from them, good or bad," he said.
Paktia has one of the highest rates of voter registration in Afghanistan ahead of the October 9 presidential elections, and Shah proudly pulled out his registration card from his front pocket. "Elections are very good," he said, "we need them for the future of our country." Forty-seven percent of Paktia's women are registered, as were all the wives of the men present in the room. Shah added that they aspired only for "security, to be able to walk, talk and work". The men agreed that they wanted an Islamic government. Dr Omar explained to me that "people here think democracy means boys and girls will be together and women will walk uncovered".
In the Zurmat bazaar, a dusty collection of barely standing wooden shacks, 40-year-old shopkeeper Zainullah sat drinking tea surrounded by mounds of spices, henna, nuts, soaps and every imaginable item. He had been waiting excitedly to get his registration card, he said. "After 25 years it's the first chance the Afghan people have." He was pleased with the American presence nearby. "Nowadays our government cannot stand by itself. Security was good under the Taliban and now it is not," he said, "With the help of these forces our government will stand. The Americans are here temporarily, not permanently. We don't have a full army." When asked whom he might vote for, he was unequivocal. "All of Zurmat, no all of Kabul, no all Afghans want [President Hamid] Karzai. He has no enemies and doesn't make differences between Tajiks and Pashtuns."
Dr Mohammed left Afghanistan when he was seven and lived as a refugee in Pakistan, returning to Afghanistan to work as a doctor. He worried about the support Pakistan was giving to radical elements in his country. "The main enemy of out country is Pakistan," he said, "They don't want us to have peace. We are between two fires, Pakistan and Iran." Though he aspired to specialize in the chest and receive training abroad, Dr Mohammed was working as a social worker in Zurmat now. "People here have spent 25 years with guns and it will take time to turn their attention to knowledge," he said, and worried that "the madrassas are tools for terrorists pretending to teach but making students into terrorists."
Bush pins hopes on Afghanistan amid Iraq turmoil
Wed Oct 6,10:55 AM ET Politics - AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Amid turmoil in Iraq, US President George W. Bush is banking on relatively smooth elections in Afghanistan capped by a victory for American-backed leader Hamid Karzai to highlight success in the maiden front of the war on terrorism.
Washington helped install Karzai months after driving out the Taliban Islamic militia from power in late 2001, blaming them for harboring Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, which staged the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Bush declared the offensive in Afghanistan as the opening salvo in the global war on terror and vowed to establish a democracy in the Central Asian state ridden by decades of turmoil.
"Bush is anxious to portray the Afghan elections as an important step towards democracy and justify the launch of the war on terrorism," said Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
"It becomes all the more important now because Iraq has become so problematic," he said as Bush continues to face criticism from his White House rival Senator John Kerry for last year's Iraq invasion.
Bush and Kerry differ very little on the US strategy in Afghanistan but the Democratic lawmaker has accused the president of "diverting resources from the proper target, Afghanistan, to pursue an unnecessary goal" in Iraq.
"Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us," Kerry keeps saying in the run-up to the November 2 vote.
The Bush administration will undoubtedly claim credit if the Afghan polls go smoothly with a credible contest and a clear mandate for Karzai.
Karzai is the favourite among 18 candidates in the election, seen as a key phase of a political roadmap outlined by the international community in Bonn to implement democratic reforms in Afghanistan.
"A successful presidential election will be the first step in developing a tradition of democratic elections in Afghanistan, a tradition that can carry over into next spring to make parliamentary and local elections a success as well," said Deputy US Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
The presidential election, delayed twice, is also seen as the culmination of a continuing power struggle between Karzai and regional warlords who control most of the country.
The United States provided money and arms to the warlords to help topple the Taliban but subsequently withdrew support.
Eager to ensure a Karzai victory, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, was recently accused of prodding several warlords to withdraw from the race, prompting criticism from US legislators and reform groups.
"We must be careful to avoid any perceptions that the United States has been more concerned with the outcome of the elections than it has been with supporting a meaningful electoral process for the Afghan people," warned Henry Hyde, chairman of the foreign relations panel in the House of Representatives.
He said US goals for a stable and independent Afghanistan could be undermined if there were perceptions that Washington had played a "heavy hand" in the country's domestic political decision-making process.
Khalilzad has denied the allegations.
Karzai's interim administration is indebted to the United States for its survival. Aside from military firepower, the United States has funded much of the reconstruction effort, providing 4.5 billion dollars so far.
Karzai also relies on Americans for his own personal security with US firm DynCorp providing him bodyguards since November 2002.
One of the key provisions in Karzai's manifesto is the establishment of a long-term security relationship with the United States that would include training and material support for Afghan security forces.
But Khalilzad said Afghans wanted a long term commitment from the United States.
"The Afghans fear abandonment, I have to tell you that. That's their big fear, abandonment," he told reporters in Washington recently. "We made a mistake to abandon Afghanistan in the 1990s after the Soviet departure."
After working with Afghan groups to end the 10-year Soviet occupation, the Americans left a vacuum that led to factional fighting and the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Khalizad said.
"We have learned from our mistake. We will not do that again," he said.
But the Americans are also mindful of the lessons of Afghan history.
"Other foreign powers have been present in and summarily evicted from Afghanistan because they sought to subjugate and repress," senior Pentagon official Peter Rodman said. "A foreign presence that does not serve the Afghan people will be rejected by the Afghan people."
CHRONOLOGY-Key events in Afghanistan in recent years
07 Oct 2004 00:25:51 GMT
KABUL, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Afghanistan holds a presidential election on Saturday, the first time in its history that Afghans will directly choose a leader.
Here is a chronology of the main events in Afghanistan since the last Soviet soldier left at the end of a decade-long occupation.
1989 - Last Soviet soldier leaves under 1988 agreement. Mujahideen elect moderate Sibghatullah Mojadidi as president of Pakistan-based provisional government. Guerrilla war goes on.
1992 - Key commander defects from President Najibullah, who flees to U.N. compound. Mujahideen groups fight for control of Kabul. Mojadidi arrives, takes over as head of state. Under power-sharing deal, Burhanuddin Rabbani replaces him.
1993 - Fighting between Rabbani and prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar factions kills more than 10,000 civilians.
1994 - Battles reduce much of Kabul to rubble and force many to flee. Mullah Mohammed Omar, an Islamic cleric from southern Kandahar, sets up Taliban movement of Islamic religious students, who take up arms, capture the city and advance on Kabul.
1996 - Taliban take Kabul, hang Najibullah and his brother and found Islamic state.
1997 - Afghan opposition forms new government under Rabbani in northern Mazar-i-Sharif, stronghold of General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Taliban advance north from Kabul but parts of the country remain under the control of opposition forces.
1998 - U.S. forces bomb suspected al Qaeda bases in southeastern province of Khost in reprisal for bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa.
Sept. 9, 2001 - Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers assassinate mujahideen warrior Ahmad Shah Masood, military head of opposition Northern Alliance.
Oct. 7, 2001 - United States begins bombing Afghanistan to root out bin Laden and his Taliban protectors after Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Nov. 13, 2001 - Northern Alliance forces enter Kabul.
Dec. 5, 2001 - Afghan groups sign deal in Bonn on interim government headed by ethnic Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai.
June, 2002 - Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, elects Karzai as president of 18-month interim government.
Sept. 5, 2002 - Karzai survives assassination attempt in Kandahar.
Dec. 18, 2002 - 23 donor nations promise Afghanistan $1.24 billion to help rebuild in 2003 after meeting in Oslo.
2003 - Taliban-linked attacks increase across country.
Oct. 13, 2003 - The U.N. Security Council authorises NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to send troops anywhere in Afghanistan rather than confine them to Kabul.
Jan 4, 2004 - Rival Afghan factions at Loya Jirga agree on a constitution, paving way for first free elections after nearly a quarter-century of war.
Jan. 26, 2004 - President Karzai signs a constitution into law that had been adopted by the Constitutional Loya Jirga.
April 1, 2004 - In Berlin, 23 donor nations pledge $4.5 billion for the year to March 20, 2005 and a total of $8.2 billion over three years.
May 26, 2004 - Karzai enacts election law enabling first presidential and parliamentary polls.
Sept. 1, 2004 - Taliban ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar urges boycott of October presidential elections.
Sept. 7, 2004 - Official month-long campaign opens.
Sept. 16, 2004 - Karzai escapes assassination attempt in the town of Gardez in early stages of campaign.
Oct. 6, 2004 - Karzai's running mate escapes unhurt from a Taliban bomb attack. As the campaign closes, Karzai appeals to the Taliban to rejoin the mainstream.
For Karzai, tribal ties seen as key to victory
Loyal fellow Pashtuns organize support as Afghan vote looms
By Victoria Burnett, Boston Globe Correspondent | October 6, 2004
ROHABAD, Afghanistan -- Khalid Pashtun held up a long ballot paper and delivered marching orders to the sea of turbaned heads before him.
"Hamid Karzai is second on the list," he told the group of about 600 tribal representatives who gathered yesterday in this dusty southern Afghan village in Kandahar Province to pledge their support for the incumbent in Saturday's presidential poll. "This is his sign -- the weighing scales. Here is his name. Make sure you tick inside the box."
Saturday's vote will mark the dawn of a new era in Afghan politics, but in the tribal south where Karzai has a natural support base among fellow ethnic Pashtuns, the battle for the presidency is being fought the old-fashioned way.
Even though the ballot is secret, most voters in this deeply traditional, tribal region are expected to take their cue from the local elders. Tribal leaders and political figures in Kandahar said that village councils in the Pashtun communities of the south pick their candidate, then send representatives to declare support and get instructions on how to help organize voting.
"We have a tribal system. The people come to us," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Hamid Karzai and a prominent Kandahar businessman. At one recent gathering, the hallways were filled with groups of elders -- some wizened with flowing white beards, others in silk turbans with dark khol-painted eyes. "This has been happening for the last 1,000 years."
It is a system that will benefit Karzai, who has spent more time in foreign capitals than he has on the stump since campaigning began on Sept. 7. Largely confined to his heavily fortified palace, the president has made only two trips to the provinces in the past few weeks, in which time he visited four foreign countries.
Karzai abandoned a trip to the eastern provincial capital of Gardez two weeks ago after a rocket exploded as his helicopter was landing. Yesterday he addressed his first political rally - a crowd of about 4,000 -- in the central city of Ghazni.
That Karzai is surrounded at all times by American bodyguards and that Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Kabul, is frequently by his side at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and in the presidential palace has fueled the impression on the Afghan street that the president, who has strong support from the United States, has been "preelected."
Assassination fears have kept Karzai away from his hometown, Kandahar, which lies in the heart of a region hit by a campaign of violence waged by militants loyal to the ousted Taliban regime. Karzai narrowly escaped an attempt on his life during a visit to the city in September 2002.
Just outside Kandahar city, the village of Karz, where the president was born, is a cluster of adobe buildings, half of them -- including the house where Karzai grew up -- reduced to ragged hulks during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
The village elders said Karzai, who is head of the Popalzai tribe, has not visited Karza since he became president. They have no electricity and drought hit them so hard this year they asked for food handouts from the United Nations. Yet there was never any question who they would vote for, they said.
"Karzai told us he had to work first on the rest of the country, then see to us. He's doing his best," said Haji Wali Jan, a shopkeeper.
Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali, dismissed the suggestion that Karzai's absence in the south would dent his support among the Pashtun population. More than 10.5 million Afghans have registered nationwide to choose between 18 presidential candidates, though numbers have been inflated by people registering more than once.
"There isn't a tribe that hasn't been to see us," said Ahmed Wali, who clutched a letter of support signed by dozens of elders from neighboring Zabul province.
However, some allies worry that Karzai's standing will be hit by low voting levels among women, who are largely house-bound in the highly conservative Pashtun belt. About 40 percent of voters registered around the country are women, but that figure is significantly lower in the Pashtun region, where one district registered no female voters.
While yesterday's shura illustrated the potency of the tribal campaigning system, it also underscored the mystery of the electoral process in a country that has never before voted directly for its president and raises questions about how truly democratic the process will be.
Ahmed Wali Karzai says most voters are not ready for Western-style democracy.
"They come to me and say: Why? Why do we have to vote?" he said. "They have no clue."
Supporters seated under the shade of a huge red and yellow awning in Rohabad yesterday applauded occasionally as a dozen prominent Karzai allies and tribal leaders stressed the importance of voting for a fellow Pashtun.
"We are all Pashtuns. If you vote for someone who doesn't belong to this region, it's risky because you won't be able to go after him [if he fails to deliver]," said Azizullah Wasefi, head of Karzai's campaign in Kandahar and a loyalist of the former king, Zahir Shah.
The speakers urged the all-male assembly to make sure women got out to vote, and the government's spokesman in Kandahar implored them to lend tractors and cars to transport voters to polling stations.
After hours of speeches, dozens of men appeared with trays of roast lamb, rice, and cans of Mecca Cola. The elders rushed to wash their hands and arranged themselves into expectant rows on the floor. Then, with the real business of the day over, they headed back to their villages.
Security concerns and ignorance in the run-up to the election
GHAZNI, 6 October (IRIN) - As Afghanistan's first ever presidential election nears, many people lack essential knowledge about the electoral process, already weakened by threats from insurgents and the reduced participation of women in rural areas.
Voters in villages, populated widely by illiterate people, are often not aware of how many candidates there are let alone their policies.
Some people interviewed by IRIN, women in particular, think the voter registration cards they were given are aid distribution cards.
"I have taken this card to get rations from the government and NGOs," 43-year-old Amina, of Nawar district in the central Afghan city of Ghazni explained, pointing to her voter registration. Her husband had stamped his finger because she was not allowed to go to the registration centre.
No public awareness session on the elections has been held for those outside the main cities. Najim Khan, a local public awareness official with the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) in Ghazni, said that the awareness teams had not been able to travel to remote areas without government forces because of security concerns, coupled with the fact that armed escorts could make election workers more vulnerable to attack.
Momin Khan from the Hisarak district of eastern Logar province is another one who is hopeful of foreign aid for his card. "They will give us money, fertiliser and food for the cards," the 69-year-old man told IRIN at his farm. "I also got the card because I will not be allowed to go to civil hospitals and government offices if I don't have it, so they are really needed."
Sayeda Andar, head of the women affairs department in Ghazni, worried that the promise of aid had possibly been used as a means of attracting more eligible voters to register for the elections. "And in other cases, mostly with women, the information given by election workers about what the cards are used for was misunderstood as a promise of aid and food," she told IRIN.
Ghazni comes in third after Kabul and Herat in the estimated number of people registered to vote, according to the United Nations, which has organised the process.
Despite that fact, Afghanistan's only district where no women have registered to vote is also in Ghazni. Halim Khan, district chief of Ajristan, says traditional rules of keeping women isolated from such events might be the main reason for a lack of women's participation in the remote district, southwest of the city.
Worries about women's participation don't exist only in Ghazni. They are also present in other provinces where conservative values continue to restrict the activities of women.
Akhtar Khan, 37, a driver by occupation, from the Surkai village of Zarmat in eastern Paktia province, is one of many people there who oppose the participation of women in the elections. "Voting is men's work because women are for housework while men should do the jobs outside the home," he told IRIN.
Asked why some people think that females shouldn't vote, a young woman who declined to give her name, and with her face half-covered, told IRIN: "In our families, women are more in number than men. But no one listens to women and that will be the case in the whole country. So, why should we vote?" she asked.
Halima Khazan, a teacher at a girls' school in the provincial capital, Gardez, told IRIN that the women in the area would have to vote for the same candidate their husbands voted for.
"I don't believe that a woman would have the courage to vote without the permission of her husband, brother or father. Here, a lady was severely beaten by her husband when he found that she had taken a voter card," Khazan said.
Afghans will hold their first democratic elections on Saturday under fear of disruption and sabotage by members of the ousted Taliban who roam freely in some parts of the country.
And while the voter registration process, the first phase of the elections, has finished successfully without any major incidents as many feared, security for the nationwide polls remains a top concern for the Afghan government.
A joint report of the United Nations and Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issued recently has warned of escalating violence in the south of the country ahead of the presidential ballots.
"The Taliban and other anti-government elements have been increasingly targeting civilians and government officials. In the last month, they have created a climate of fear by confiscating the voter registration cards of entire villages and warning people not to participate in the upcoming elections," the report said.
The document also listed several incidents of violence, including the reported beheading of 10 tribal elders from the southern Afghan province of Zabul who were seen to be supporting the government and the election process.
Recently, people from Zabul told IRIN that the Taliban had threatened to cut off the fingers of those who they find have cast ballots in the 9 October presidential elections.
Afghan elections officials say they plan to prevent multiple voting by inking voter's thumbs in addition to requiring voter registration cards. But this is also how the Taliban say they will identify voters and cut off their fingers.
Ahmad Shakir, who was recently in the Shajoy district of Zabul, confirmed that the Taliban had threatened his relatives if they were found with the ink stain.
Some registered voters may now stay away from the polls because of this new threat, Shakir warned, adding that voters feared their fingers would remain coloured for at least one week, making them vulnerable.
"If we are not assured of security, why should we be identifiable to the Taliban?" asked Rahim Ullah, a resident of Arghandab district of Zabul.
Violence and intimidation also existed during the voter registration process in other parts of south. Local people in the Deh Yak district of Ghazni say five men who took voter cards were beaten up by unknown armed men.
Nevertheless, many people living in areas under potential threat from the Taliban remained committed to cast their votes on Saturday.
"I will never withdraw from voting because of such warnings," Mohammad Noor, a schoolteacher in the Andar district of Ghazni, where two mullahs were recently killed for promoting the elections, told IRIN. "If I and other people avoid selecting our president this time - as the whole international community is present to protect the process - we will never have a democratic government, something we have struggled for for three years."
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's national police are intensifying their security preparations as the presidential election approaches. The Afghan Ministry of Interior will be the leading organisation providing security on the day of elections with the deployment of 46,000 soldiers across the country, in conjunction with the Afghan national army, intelligence forces, the international peacekeeping force and the US-led Coalition forces.
John McCamber, a security officer with the JEMB in Kabul, said ensuring security on election day would be more difficult than during registration as polling stations had to be protected closely, as well as electoral offices and the voters.
"Each polling station will be sealed off by a security cordon," McCamber told IRIN. The job of the national army and the international peacekeepers would be to safeguard the security of the area, enabling people to cast their votes, he said.
Former Afghan king calls for free vote in presidential elections
KABUL, Oct 6 (AFP) - Former king Mohammad Zahir Shah Wednesday called on Afghans to vote freely for their own favourite in the country's upcoming landmark presidential elections.
"I, as the father of the nation request you, dearests, to take part in this historical event and vote for your favourite candidate," he said in a statement.
"Afghanistan needs peace and long-standing stability. The election process and electing a president is the guarantor of a stable future to the whole nation and I wish success to all of you in the presidential elections."
A member of the royal family and the former king's closest aide, Sardar Abdul Wali, told a news conference immediately after Zahir Shah's statement: "I will vote for the person who has the support of the people and the international community."
"For five upcoming years I think someone like (US-backed incumbent Hamid) Karzai fits the criteria and I personally will vote for Karzai," Abdul Wali said.
Zahir Shah, who is well respected by most Afghans, left the country three decades ago after his cousin Mohammed Daud staged a bloodless coup against him. He returned home after the US-led invasion in 2001 ousted the hardline Islamic Taliban regime. An emergency Loya Jirga, or grand council of tribal leaders, gave him the title "Father of the nation". The election on Saturday is the first of its kind in the history of Afghanistan, which has been riven by conflict for the past 25 years. The Soviet occupation of 1979-89 was followed by a civil war and then a battle against the Taliban.
Karzai is the favourite to win the election and several prominent figures, including former prime minister Burhanuddin Rabbani, have announced their support for him in recent days. A total of 18 candidates are running for the presidency. Karzai's only serious challenger is considered to be former education minister and prominent anti-Taliban fighter Yunus Qanooni.
NATO completes expansion in the north
ANKARA, 6 October (IRIN) - More than 2,000 troops have been deployed in Afghanistan by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to support the Afghan security forces during Saturday's presidential polls, NATO officials confirmed to IRIN on Wednesday.
With some 9,000 soldiers, NATO now has troops in all five northern provinces in addition to the main deployment in the Afghan capital, Kabul, under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The fifth ISAF Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT) reached the northern province of Baghlan on 1 October.
"This brings to an end the first phase of ISAF expansion as well as ISAF's augmentation in support of Afghanistan's presidential election," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, said.
The expansion in the northern provinces will support the Afghan elections on 9 October and included a UK-led PRTs in the cities of Mazar-e Sharif and Meymaneh, a German-led PRT in Feyzabad and a Dutch-led PRT in Baghlan. ISAF has already commanded a PRT in Kunduz.
In addition, those troops already operating in the country have been strengthened since the security situation seriously deteriorated as the elections approached, forcing, for example, the pull out of the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in July.
"ISAF has been temporarily augmented by one US Quick Reaction company for Kabul, one Quick Reaction Force battalion from Spain and one in-theatre Operational Reserve Force battalion from Italy," de Hoop Scheffer stated.
NATO deployment came after the organisation agreed at its summit, held on 28 – 29 June in Istanbul, on a further expansion in Afghanistan in the light of the upcoming elections.
More than 50 NGOs working in Afghanistan reiterated their call for NATO to refocus its attention on the security needs of the Afghan people, while international aid workers had expressed doubts over the effectiveness of NATO's expansion plans.
They argued that the expansion in the form of PRTs would not necessarily improve the security situation since they had a mixed mandate, both humanitarian and assistance with security.
A NATO official told IRIN that the PRTs' role was to assist Afghan security forces in providing security, giving the main responsibility to the Afghan police and army. "ISAF is there to support the Afghan authorities," the NATO official remarked.
Meanwhile, NGOs in the country expressed serious concerns over growing levels of insecurity in southern Afghanistan. But, the Brussels-based alliance has just completed its deployment in the north and has plans to expand its presence in the west. The southern part of the country would be the last phase, according to NATO sources.
Statement by Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan on the 9 October presidential election
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 6 Oct 2004
Kabul, 6 October - For the past two years, the United Nations has been very closely involved in the 2004 electoral process: in preparing the ground for it; in organizing it; in informing the population; and in verifying the extent to which the political environment is conducive to the holding of a free and fair election.
We have done so in compliance with our mandate to assist in the electoral process, but also in the spirit of the Bonn agreement, which provides that the 2004 election should not be a formal, perfunctory exercise but lead to the "fully representative government" that the Afghan people expect. We have therefore focused not only on the electoral operations, but on the goal of free and fair elections reiterated in Berlin 6 months ago.
In pursuance of this goal, many initiatives have been taken in recent months: expanding domestic and international security presence throughout the country, disarming and reintegrating militias, registering political parties that have cut their links with armed militias, strengthening protection for journalists, establishing a progressive regulatory framework for the election; and creating a capacity to verify the effective exercise of political rights.
We have followed very closely the implementation of these measures aimed at safeguarding the quality of this election and, last July, we have supported the postponement of the parliamentary elections when it became clear that neither the operational nor the political pre-requisites for parliamentary elections were met.
As the electoral campaign comes to an end tomorrow, it is time to take stock of these efforts.
In doing so, we keep in mind the shortcomings that have been identified in detail in the three joint reports by the Afghan Human Rights Commission and UNAMA and other reports.
It is therefore with full knowledge of the difficulties that surround this exercise that we deem the degree of freedom and fairness adequate to allow the will of the Afghan people as a whole to translate at the polls, and the next president of Afghanistan to claim to represent the nation.
Factors in this judgment include:
Massive popular participation in voter registration, in particular by women;
The beginning of a pluralistic system that offers voters a gamut of candidates representing different political options;
A campaign effort that, despite security limitations, has covered for the first time the country as a whole and cut across regions and ethnic groups;
The emergence of a more open public debate with the participation of the media;
An ongoing disarmament process;
A well-coordinated security plan bringing together international forces and more robust, more national Afghan security forces;
And last, but certainly not least, the continued determination of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to brush aside difficulties and go to the polls.
This is a remarkable situation. Not only because these elements were not present two years ago in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban. But also because they show unmistakably a trend, a process embraced by the population at large - and candidates - that quickens the pace of the transition away from the rule of the gun.
This trend does not blind us to the limitations that are bound to affect this election, including widespread lack of experience and understanding of democratic institutions; a lingering culture of violence inherited from the war; and violence or threat of violence by extremist groups. While we believe, therefore, that conditions exist for a good election, it is incumbent upon us all to make polling day as free, fair and safe as possible.
We therefore call upon the candidates to abide strictly by the law, reject any form of violence and undue influence, respect fully the integrity of the polling, and the result of the election;
We urge public officials and security personnel to protect the process and not to interfere in it;
We call upon the media to continue to inform the public about the secrecy of the vote, the role of observers and the other safeguards that protect the rights of voters to cast their ballot free of intimidation;
We encourage national and international observers to expand their presence far and wide;
We call upon security forces to do everything they can to ensure that voters are nowhere disenfranchised by the violence or threat of violence of extremists.
With this, we are confident that those who want to prevent this election from happening will not succeed; and those whose only authority stems from the possession of a gun will not be allowed to distort it. Afghans are convinced that a popularly elected, representative president is urgently needed in order to bring an end to violence, whether by factions or extremists, to achieve reform, disarmament, justice and the rule of law. We share their conviction. And we think they will succeed.
US warns citizens in Kabul to lay low
KABUL, Oct 6 (AFP) - The United States embassy in Kabul Wednesday warned American citizens to restrict their movements around the city for fear of violence before the presidential election on Saturday.
"In the run-up to the October 9 elections, potential continues to exist for demonstrations, riots, bombings, and other violent actions against US citizens and interests in Kabul and the rest of the country," the warning said.
"The embassy recommends that all Americans living and working in Kabul restrict their movements, observe the strictest of security measures, and defer any unnecessary travel around the city."
The warning came on the day two people were killed at a rally held by interim President Hamid Karzai's running mate, Ahmad Zia Massoud, in northern Afghanistan.
Hundreds of people have been killed in political violence in Afghanistan this year, where more than 18,000 US-led troops remain in the country after invading in late 2001.
The US-backed candidate in the elections, incumbent President Hamid Karzai, is widely expected to win despite an insurgency by supporters of the ousted Islamic Taliban regime and intimidation by regional warlords.
Guantanamo Prisoner Claims Mistreatment
Thursday October 7, 9:46 AM
A Yemeni prisoner accused of being Osama bin Laden's errand boy appeared before a review hearing Wednesday, rejecting statements by an interrogator and saying U.S. troops mistreated him in Guantanamo and Afghanistan.
The shackled prisoner with bloodshot eyes has been held at the outpost for nearly three years. He is accused of training at an al-Qaida terrorist camp in Afghanistan in 1995, running errands for bin Laden and fighting for the terror network.
The man, who journalists are barred from naming, said he studied in Yemen until 1996, married in 2000 and moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan to teach the Quran. He denied belonging to al-Qaida or having links with Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. He said he never fought against U.S. or coalition forces and never received weapons training.
"I stayed in Afghanistan for about a year," the 25-year-old told a three-member panel through an Arabic translator. "I don't understand how a person in a year can become such an important person, a guard or someone who runs errands. You know more about the Taliban than me."
The panel is charged with deciding whether some 550 prisoners are being properly held as enemy combatants, a classification with fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. Every case is to be reviewed by year's end.
More than 134 cases have gone before the tribunals since they began July 30, little more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo prisoners have a right to challenge their detentions in federal courts. One man has been freed.
The review hearings are separate from the military commissions meant to try charged prisoners, but both proceedings have been attacked by lawyers and human rights groups.
One criticism is that the prisoners are only allowed to hear the unclassified evidence against them. Another is that some of the information came from murky sources or interrogations.
The prisoner denied the claim that he wrote a letter stating his intention to become a religious martyr. This letter was allegedly found in the car of Osama bin Laden's driver and guard.
"I never wrote such a letter and I would like to know what interrogator provided this information," said the prisoner.
He also challenged allegations that he spent time with bin Laden and was often seen by his side.
"What is a long time? Who saw me with bin Laden?" he asked the tribunal president, who shrugged. The identities of the panel members are not disclosed.
He that when the war began in Afghanistan he decided to return to Yemen but first tried to get to Khost to say goodbye to his students and get his belongings. The road was blocked because of fighting so he went to Pakistan, where he was captured.
After more than a week in a Pakistani jail, he was put in U.S. custody in Kandahar.
"We were tortured in Kandahar," he said. "As soon as we were brought to Cuba, and up until now, we're still being pressured and mentally coerced. I had heard the United States was a friend of human rights, a friend of justice, but since we've been imprisoned, we've seen the exact opposite of that. We've found no justice here."
The hearings are open to the media, but most go uncovered because more proceedings are taking place _ seven were scheduled for Wednesday _ and journalists may not stay on the base for extended periods.
Unclassified portions of the allegations are provided to media who do not attend the hearings, but the prisoner's testimony _ which often contradicts many of the allegations _ is not provided.
"This is the first time I've been in a court like this," said the prisoner, visibly frustrated.
Another Yemeni detainee, a 21-year-old accused of being an al-Qaida associate, also testified before the panel Wednesday. He called a witness who was detained with him in Pakistan who corroborated his account.
The detainee testified that he had gone to a guest house in Faisalabad, where he heard other Yemenis were staying. Pakistani police raided the guest house and arrested him and 13 others, he said.
He denied being an al-Qaida member and said he didn't believe anyone at the house was.
The military said an al-Qaida lieutenant looked at a photograph of the Yemeni and said he might have possibly seen him in Afghanistan.
"Do you believe anybody when they give you information? Maybe they made a mistake," the detainee said. "Maybe they looked at me and got me confused with someone else."
He said he had never been to Afghanistan except when taken there under custody.
The man is one of 60 detainees who have filed federal lawsuits challenging their detention.
The panels have ordered only one prisoner to be released to Pakistan. More than 64 men have been ordered held as enemy combatants. Other cases are pending.
On Tuesday, the tribunals heard six cases, including those of two men who boycotted the proceedings, a Saudi who said he received fighter training in Chechnya and a 30-year-old who said he was forced to join the Taliban in Tajikistan.
Afghans try to curb drugs trade
Ewen MacAskill in Kabul Wednesday October 6, 2004 The Guardian
The Afghan government, supported by the US and UK, is to mount an all-out push over the next six months against officials and warlords involved in the drugs trade, according to Afghan and western officials involved in counter-narcotics.
It will pit the Afghan government, supported by the US and other Nato forces, against the private armies of warlords who still control much of the country.
Mirwais Yassini, head of counter-narcotics for the transitional Afghan government, said: "The 10-year strategy [75% reduction in five years and complete eradication in 10] is too long. You go after the high-value targets and we will do that within the next six months." The targets would include corrupt ministers and governors in the existing government. Mr Yassini said there could be no political reform or security in Afghanistan without tackling them.
The push comes after US impatience with Britain, which is the lead government on drugs control in the Nato-led force occupying Afghanistan, for failing to reduce drug production over the last three years.
A UN report out at the end of the month or early November will show an increase in land under poppy cultivation rising from 80,000 hectares (199,900 acres) last year to more than 100,000 this year. Three-quar ters of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan and is worth billions. Production last year was 3,600 tonnes, with Afghan farmers receiving $100 (£56) a kilo.
According to the officials, the drive will see the new president, to be elected on Saturday but widely expected to be a confirmation of the transitional president, Hamid Karzai, begin by cleaning out of his cabinet those ministers involved in the drug trade and the warlords and governors either running the drugs trade in their provinces or collecting "taxes" from traffickers.
Many of them have private armies, but the Afghan army and anti-narcotics units will be supported on the ground and in the air by US and Nato forces.
Another element in the battle is Force 333, a mainly British trained military elite group, intended to fly teams anywhere in Afghanistan to destroy laboratories and heroin stockpiles.
Britain sees the criticism of its counter-narcotics strategy as unfair. It says the approach will be effective in the long term. It favours eradication on the ground, with offers to farmers of alternative livelihoods, to the US strategy in Colombia of spraying crops.
The determination to reduce production over the next six months is also aimed at reducing the influence of the warlords before parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
Pakistan's Cement Sales Rise 26% in Sep
Thursday October 7, 10:34 AM Asia Pulse
KARACHI, Oct 7 Asia Pulse - The sales of cement during September 2004 were highest ever, with monthly dispatches reaching 1.41 million tons including exports to Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates.
Total cement dispatches increased by 26 per cent in September 2004, versus 1.12 million tons of September 2003. Domestic sales increased by 22 per cent, to 1.25 million tons, whereas exports increased by 75 per cent, to 156,000 tons.
The strong domestic demand is may have been caused by infrastructure development projects by government and increasing housing activity, which has been fuelled by cheaper credit and shortage of housing in the country, said Abdul Rasheed, research analyst from Investcapital Securities. Export demand was mainly generated from Afghanistan. During the month, cement manufacturers also exported 14,000 tons cement to Middle East.
Total cement dispatches for the period July-September FY05 were 4.06 million tons, which meant an increase of 27 per cent, compared to Jul-Sep FY04 dispatches of 3.84 million tons. Compared to April-June (4Q) FY04 cement dispatches have increased by 6 percent. Cement demand remains strong during 4Q, since major part of PSDP budgeted amount is utilised during this quarter.
Afghan commander faces UK torture trial
Wed 6 October, 2004 14:38 By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - An Afghan commander who rose to prominence before the emergence of the Taliban regime goes on trial in London this week in what is believed to be Britain's first ever case involving allegations of torture.
Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, 41, is accused of conspiracy to torture and take hostages in Afghanistan between 1991 and 1996 when he was a commander in the Sarobi district of Kabul province.
Zardad moved to Britain in 1998 and was running a pizza parlour in south London when he was arrested for the alleged crimes.
A jury was sworn in at London's Old Bailey criminal court on Wednesday and the judge, Justice Colman Treacy, told them it was an "unusual case".
"The trial concerns events that took place a long time ago. We are also dealing with events that took place in a foreign country," he told the jury.
Underlining the importance of the trial, the government's top lawyer Attorney General Lord Goldsmith will outline the prosecution case. The first day is expected to be Friday.
"It's extremely rare for the Attorney General to open a criminal case," a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service told Reuters. "It's an indication of the unique nature of the case. We understand it's the first prosecution of its kind in this country."
The court is expected to hear from around 18 witnesses including alleged victims, some of whom will give their evidence via satellite link from Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan.
Zardad denied the offences at an earlier hearing.
In his homeland, Zardad had belonged to the conservative Islamic party Hizb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a mujahideen leader who became prime minister of Afghanistan during the civil war in the early 1990s.
Hekmatyar is now a fugitive allied to the Taliban who were ousted by the U.S. in late 2001, and his fighters are involved in an insurgency in the southeast of Afghanistan.
One of his men, Reza Khan, is in jail in Afghanistan and is expected to stand trial soon for his part in the killing of four journalists shortly after the fall of the Taliban.
Khan is accused of the rape and murder of Maria Grazia Cutuli, a reporter on the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, and the murders of Julio Fuentes, a reporter with the Spanish daily El Mundo, Harry Burton, an Australian cameraman who was working for Reuters, and Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan photographer who was also with Reuters.
Afghan midwives aim to reduce maternal and child mortality
by Geno Teofilo - Communications
Source: World Vision (http://www.wvi.org) / October 6, 2004
"Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world," says Kaswera Vulere, a Midwifery Training Coordinator with World Vision.
The country's health care system was left shattered after more than two decades of war, with medical care for pregnant mothers and newborns almost non-existant in the countryside.
"The high rate of complications shows clearly that antenatal care is very low in the rural districts," continues Kaswera. "The midwives and doctors are not trained in midwifery techniques. Their previous referral system is not working, or non-existing."
In order to reduce maternal and child mortality in western Afghanistan, World Vision is currently training 50 midwives at the Institute of Health Sciences facility in the city of Herat. This in depth training will take two years for the Afghan students to complete, before they are posted to rural at-risk communities. This program is funded by US AID, through the Management Sciences for Health.
Finding qualified female applicants for the midwifery program was a challenge in Afghanistan. All applicants had to be female, since the strict rural culture would not allow for a woman in labour to be assisted by a man who is not a relative. Once it was determined that all the midwives would be women, this created another problem. Most of the female applicants from communities at risk grew up without a formal education. This was due to destruction of schools from the war, the conservative rural culture discouraging girls' education, and the outright ban on female education by the Taliban, which wasn't lifted until they were ousted three years ago.
After advertising through the media announcing the search for more applicants, WV health teams went out to the villages, additional interviews were held, qualified applicants were found, and the 50 selected women began their midwifery training in Herat.
'Healthy Families at Home', is the vision statement for World Vision Afghanistan, and midwife training fits well into the county's health strategy, aiming to improve rural healthcare for Afghan families. The program is part of the Rural Expansion of Afghanistan's Community based Health Care, (known as REACH.)
After completion of the two-year course in March, 2006, the 50 midwives will eventually be based in communities across western Afghanistan, where maternal and child mortality currently ranks among the highest in the world.
A Nation, Not Just A Symbol
The Washington Post 10/05/2004 By Fred Hiatt
In 1991, as civil war raged in Afghanistan and the ranks of Islamic radicals there swelled, the first President Bush turned to a CIA briefer and asked, puzzled, "Is that thing still going on?"
That chilling anecdote is recounted in "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001." The book, by my colleague Steve Coll, is, among many other themes, about America's self-defeating inability to stay focused on anything for very long. This came to mind again Thursday when, in a presidential debate on foreign policy, not a single question focused on Afghanistan, though the United States invaded that country under the current President Bush and still has more than 20,000 troops waging war and keeping peace there.
The candidates did invoke Afghanistan, but more as a symbol than as a real country. Bush repeatedly referred to the importance of a "free Afghanistan"; Sen. John F. Kerry cited it only to underline the folly of having diverted resources to Iraq. Neither simplistic portrait did justice to Afghanistan's mixture of progress and problems, nor to the challenges a U.S. president will face there in the next four years.
Those challenges were brought home last week during a visit to Washington by Afghanistan's finance minister. Ashraf Ghani, who spent 24 years working at the World Bank and teaching anthropology at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University, understands all too well Americans' short attention span and our desire to move smartly to the postgame score-settling. But Afghanistan can't afford to get caught up in that mentality, he said.
"Getting to stability is not a five-year process but a 10-year process," Ghani said. "Getting to prosperity takes longer."
A lot of good things are taking place in his country, contrary to Kerry's description of an unrelenting downward spiral. Since the medieval Taliban fell in late 2001, the economy has begun to revive. Trade is booming, cities are rebuilding, markets are lively. In recent months the government has made progress toward disarming some of the warlords who control much of the country. As Bush said, millions of Afghan men and women have registered to vote in presidential elections to be held Saturday. "People are a lot happier here now than before, and they are moving toward a modern life," one 26-year-old recently told The Post's Pamela Constable in Kandahar.
But as Constable's reporting makes clear, Afghanistan also has plenty of problems, some of them worsening. Opium production and the corruption it engenders probably rank first on that list; Taliban attacks are increasing in remote areas; intimidation continues of women who seek to vote and girls who attend school; the Kabul government is far from asserting its writ throughout the country.
The Bush administration is partly responsible for these problems, though not primarily because of the diversion Kerry cites. When the Taliban fell, the Pentagon explicitly rejected nation-building, choosing instead to work through warlords who had helped unseat the dictators. Only last year did the administration reverse course. NATO is partly responsible, too, because European countries have been slow to meet their promises to supply peacekeeping troops and even slower to admit that drug lords also must be faced.
Mostly Afghanistan's history is responsible: a quarter-century of civil war that forced millions into exile and destroyed much of the nation's infrastructure. "What used to take two hours driving now takes six hours," Ghani said.
The professor-turned-workaholic-minister said that average per-person annual income grew from about $200 to $240 in the past year. In seven years, if these "miracle rates" of growth continue, he hopes to reach $500. A country with $1,000 average per capita income, he said, no longer engages in drug production.
Ghani has a vision for how such growth can be achieved. It depends on democracy and decentralization, and on maintaining flows of foreign aid without creating a foreign-aid culture in which U.N. drivers earn 10 times as much as health ministry bureaucrats.
It depends, too, on whether the West can keep Afghanistan in its thoughts before it becomes a crisis again. So far, he said, the Bush administration's attention "has really not wavered," but the media mostly have proven unable to handle two major stories at once. Attacks, assassination attempts, elections -- these are covered, but not "the fluidity, and the range of possibilities."
And that range is enormous, he said, and of enormous consequence: on the one hand, a democratic Muslim country at the crossroads of Central Asia that wants a partnership with the West; on the other, conflict, fundamentalism, narcoterror. With a professor's understatement, Ghani concluded: "Both the opportunity and the threats are very major."
Afghans travel an unfamiliar road to the polls
Amy Waldman NYT Thursday, October 07, 2004 The International Herald Tribune
KALAKAN, Afghanistan There were toothless old men, turbaned and gray-bearded, and young men not yet old enough to shave. There were mullahs and mujahedeen, and the presidential candidate's 3-year-old son. There were no women, except for the candidate herself: a doctor named Masooda Jalal. She sat at the front of the small square shaded by giant chinar trees, light and shadow playing across her composed face. Her head was tightly wrapped in a pale blue shawl, her body sheathed in a loose beige coat. She beckoned to her husband, sitting in the crowd, and gently ordered him to the front to introduce her.
Afghanistan's first presidential election will be held on Saturday and the campaign, such as it is, has few historical parallels. Across this mountainous, roadless country, there is relatively little campaign activity, reflecting fears about security, the candidates' lack of funds and experience, the presumption that President Hamid Karzai will win, and a tribal society in which elders broker deals for blocs of votes. Karzai addressed his first real political rally Sept. 29 in Ghazni, where a crowd of about 8,000 gathered as American attack helicopters flew overhead. Mostly his campaign has consisted of groups of elders coming to see him or, his brother in Kandahar, to pledge their support.
The public campaigning - often in mosques - has been conducted carefully within the confines of Islam and of Afghan culture.
"We will elect someone who preserves the values of our Islamic religion and follows the Islamic rule," the presiding cleric at Jalal's meeting told the 100 or so men and boys gathered. "As we see some of those who are the candidates, they are not talking about serving for the religion of Islam. Nobody has said that we need religious madrasas and schools."
Yet the campaign is also introducing to Afghans who endured the restrictions of both Communist and Taliban rule the virtues of free speech. At a mosque in Ghazni, one candidate, Sayed Ishaq Gailani, aggressively attacked Karzai, suggesting that he was a puppet of foreigners and saying that he had not done enough for Islam.
"I haven't heard of this man going to mosque in Kabul," Gailani told the crowd, referring to Karzai. "He goes to mosque in the palace with 10 foreigners standing around him."
He mocked Karzai's inability to travel the country, invoking a recent rocket attack that caused Karzai to abort a campaign appearance. "A leader is one where the people are throwing sweets on his car, not a rocket," Gailani said. Gailani promised to close places for foreigners in Kabul that serve alcohol or pork, instead of protecting them, as Karzai's government does. "We didn't do jihad to have a gun on the shoulder guarding foreigners' bad habits," he said. Gailani said afterward that he had no expectation that he would win. "We know who will win," he said, "but we are trying to teach the people for future elections, and also parliamentary elections." The elections will be held next year. The most impressive rally of the campaign was for the Uzbek leader, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, in his hometown, Shiberghan, in northern Afghanistan.
Up to 30,000 supporters rallied, men and women, tribal elders, former mujahedeen and schoolchildren who waved posters and banners. "Long Live Dostum! Death to Al Qaeda!" they shouted. The general, whose checkered past has included serving under the Communists, joining the mujahedeen, and then in 2001 becoming America's great ally against the Taliban, is successfully transforming himself again, this time into a democrat. In sharp contrast to a visit by Karzai to the same town two days earlier, Dostum waded through his excited supporters shaking hands. He gave a populist speech, promising jobs, electricity and gas for homes, freedom for women to work and effective health services. He finished with a passionate call for people to exercise their right to vote. "Do not be scared of anyone!" he shouted. Jalal's appearances have been more low key. She set off one morning recently tailed by a convoy of foreign news media, reflecting her celebrity as the only woman in the presidential race. Her message, however, was as serious as any from the 17 men running.
"I have lived in Afghanistan all my life - and I have been sharing your pain and your affliction," she told a gathering in this village north of Kabul. "Try to use this golden chance. Don't vote for those who promised but didn't act. Don't vote for those who are speaking forcefully.
"Vote for your sister. I don't have the power of treachery. I don't have the military and financial power. I don't have any party power. I only have God and God's creatures." Beyond the square, a woman in a burka tiptoed closer to listen. Then, before she could attract attention for tarrying, she was gone.
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