Afghan poll results delayed due to fraud complaints
Sun Oct 30, 2005 10:41 AM GMT By Yousuf Azimy
KABUL (Reuters) - Final results from Afghanistan's parliamentary polls in September are being delayed because of complaints of fraud, the country's election commission said on Sunday.
The results were originally set to be announced on October 19. It was then delayed to the start of November due to the slow pace of vote counting and the U.N.-backed commission expects that the slippage this time will be for another few days.
Close to 500 of 2,300 complaints filed with the commission relate to fraud by candidates on voting day, intimidation of voters, stuffing of ballot boxes and fraud in some voting centres as well as during the counting, an official said.
Election officer Grant Kippen said all complaints were being investigated by the body.
The September 18 polls for parliament and 34 provincial councils were the first for decades in Afghanistan, which is struggling to emerge from 25 years of foreign intervention and civil war.
Hundreds of candidates and their supporters have staged protests in key cities including Kabul over fraud complaints and accusations of irregularities.
The election commission has in the past said that fraud was widespread but that it would not affect the results.
The commission announced provisional results in early October, which showed that dozens of factional strongmen, dubbed warlords by their critics, appear to have won seats in parliament.
But indications are that women -- guaranteed at least 68 seats in the 249-seat house -- could hold the balance of power.
Afghanistan's parliament, on the frontline of a troubled history
Sun Oct 30, 1:39 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The bullet holes have been plastered over and the last bricks are being cemented into place: Afghanistan's parliament building is getting the finishing touches ahead of its first sitting in more than 30 years.
The scores of dust-covered labourers working on the complex in west Kabul are proud to be playing a part in this battle-scarred nation's first steps to democracy after years of occupation and brutal civil war.
"I feel good when I'm working here," grins Mohammad Ibrahim. "I'm working for the future of my country," he says, pressing down the last in a long line of bricks.
The building has witnessed many of the bloody episodes that have shaped modern Afghanistan.
Constructed in the late 1960s to house the first-ever parliament during the reign of King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last parliamentarians to occupy it were elected in 1969 in the last legislative vote before this year's elections.
It was abandoned after a 1973 coup ended centuries of rule by the monarchy. The new president, Mohammad Daud, had plans to form a new parliament but his regime was toppled by a communist coup in 1978 in which he was assassinated.
The building stood empty during the brief communist rule that followed and in the long years of Soviet occupation that started with the 1979-1989 Russian invasion.
But it was wrenched back into Afghanistan's history when holy warriors, the mujahedin, began the 1992-1996 civil war that toppled the Soviet-backed regime.
Standing on the frontline of heavy battles between rival factions, the building was nearly reduced to rubble. "Only the walls existed," says Azizullah Lodin, the secretary general of the new House.
"It was in between two fighting groups," recalls resident Mohammad Daud. "They were firing all sort of weapons -- artillery, mortars and tanks -- at each other. The shots that missed hit the parliament building."
More than 50,000 civilians were killed during the civil war, many of them in and around what was once the proud nation's parliament.
When the ultra-conservative Islamic Taliban scholars arrived from the south to overthrow the mujahedin government in 1996, the frontline moved north.
As fighting raged in the Shomali Plains outside the capital, where the Taliban had chased Ahmad Shah Massoud, the last resistance leader, hundreds of people fled to Kabul for safety, many taking shelter among the destroyed marble-pillared halls of the former parliament.
The refugees remained during the Taliban's brutal rule and after the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the hardliners.
They had to leave this year after President Hamid Karzai decided to spend three million dollars to repair the building so it could accommodate parliamentarians elected on September 18, pending the construction of an entirely new structure, Lodin said.
"The reconstruction started early this year," he told AFP. "It's almost done."
The complex has several new buildings, including a five-storey block for the secretariat and MP offices.
With safety concerns high in the heavily fortified city because of an anti-government insurgency launched after the Taliban were removed, a security force of some 52 staff will have its own section from where they will monitor cameras around the compound.
There are two halls: one for a still-to-be-elected 102-member upper house and the other for a 249-seat lower house chosen in September that will include some of the warlords who led the battles that devastated this city.
The new 25-million-dollar building, designed by Indian engineers, will take about four years to construct. "Maybe after we get the new building, we will turn this one to a library," Lodin says.
And to reassure residents worried about the changes to their neighbourhood, with security barricades snarling major sections of the city, he says: "We will not install lots of security barriers. If we do, we will plant roses on them to make them look beautiful."
Afghanistan sets up trust fund to fight drugs trade
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of illicit opium and heroin, has set up a trust fund to manage the money it expects to receive in foreign aid for its war against illegal drugs, an official said on Saturday.
Donors, foreign as well as Afghans, say they have spent $400 million so far this year on anti-drugs projects and in persuading local farmers to swap lucrative poppies for other crops.
Afghanistan is looking for more money to help persuade farmers give up opium growing and to rebuild irrigation systems and roads destroyed by decades of war in the country.
"In order to centralise the money and strengthen the process of the campaign, the government has set up a counter-narcotics trust fund," said Sayed Mohammad Azam, a spokesman for the ministry of counter narcotics.
The announcement of the trust coincides with the start of poppy sowing in many parts of the country.
The government fund would be managed by the United Nations Development Programme, he said, adding that the European Union had pledged 15 million euros ($18 million) to the fund.
Some 90 percent of heroin in the EU comes from Afghanistan, which produces about 87 percent of the global supply.
Opium production in Afghanistan has risen to record levels since the 2001 U.S.-led ousting of the then Taliban government. Last year, a U.N. report said if nothing was done, Afghanistan could turn into a lawless "narco-state" run by drug cartels.
President Hamid Karzai has voiced his opposition to U.S.-led proposals for aerial spraying as it could feed instability in southern and eastern regions -- the main poppy growing areas and the focus of a Taliban insurgency.
He has declared a war against narcotics but wants foreign aid for the farmers in return for destruction of their poppies.
The government has in the past said that some provincial officials were involved in the drugs industry, but has not taken any steps against them.
UK 'may add to Afghanistan force'
Sunday, 30 October 2005 BBC News
More UK troops may be sent to Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary John Reid said on Sunday.
Mr Reid told the BBC's Sunday AM that Britain would be willing to play its part if the coalition wanted to boost troops in the south of the country.
Reports have suggested Britain could send as many as 3,000 soldiers, but Mr Reid did not give details.
On Saturday it was announced a British soldier had been killed in a gun attack in northern Afghanistan.
Mr Reid told the programme: "We will be prepared if others are [to send more troops], and if we can get the resources and the right back up," he said.
"No reports at the moment can in any way be accurate because I have not made a final decision."
He also said that trade and aid were needed to bring peace to the country, but that military efforts were occasionally required.
On Saturday the MOD confirmed a soldier from the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry, was killed and five others injured as they travelled between bases in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
On Iraq, Mr Reid said the high voter turn-out in the recent Iraqi elections showed "every single effort" by British troops had been worthwhile.
But he also said the controversy over Iraq and the deaths of four young recruits at the army's Deepcut barracks in Surrey, may have affected the recruitment of British soldiers.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the whole question of Deepcut and the accusations of bullying, which we are trying to deal with, and the controversy around Iraq, the mums and dads then get worried about it."
But he said he believed the main reason recruitment was so low was high employment.
The Deepcut barracks has been under investigation since the deaths of four recruits - privates Sean Benton, James Collinson, Geoff Gray and Cheryl James - between 1995 to 2002.
An army instructor, Leslie Skinner, was jailed in October 2004 for indecent assaults on male soldiers.
Families of the four recruits have repeatedly rejected suggestions the deaths were suicides.
Girls School Burnt Down In Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
30 October 2005 -- A girls' school has been torched in Afghanistan destroying equipment but not causing any injuries.
Provincial criminal investigation director Qudratullah Arabzai said today that the primary school, 65 kilometers from the capital Kabul in Logar province, was under renovation.
He said the school, tents, chairs, generator, and a vehicle were destroyed in the fire late yesterday.
At least 23 people have been killed in a surge of violence in Afghanistan over the past several days.
In Kabul today, the Afghan election commission said final results from September's parliamentary polls are being delayed because of complaints of fraud. Final results are now expected sometime next month.
The former Taliban regime banned education for women.
Another girls' school burnt down in Afghanistan
ABC Asia Pacific TV / Radio Australia / October 30, 2005
Another girls' school has been torched in Afghanistan, which is battling insurgents loyal to the ousted fundamentalist Taliban regime that banned education for women.
The primary school, 65 kilometres from Kabul in Logar province, was under renovation and the girls were studying in tents.
The building was the fourth to be burnt in the same district since the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
A string of similar incidents in southern and southeastern Afghanistan has been blamed on loyalists of the Taliban, which banned girls from going to school.
Four Afghan ministers give up foreign citizenship
Reuters / October 30, 2005
KABUL: Four Afghan cabinet ministers have given up their foreign citizenship, an official said yesterday, in the face of possible opposition from the future parliament.
Afghanistan’s new constitution, passed in January 2004, does not allow ministers to hold dual citizenship. The four who gave up their foreign citizenship are Economy Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang, public works minister Suhrab Ali Safari, Mohammad Azam Dadfar, minister for refugees repatriation and Communications Minister Amirzai Sangin.
“They have voluntarily scrapped their second citizenships,” chief presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said. He did not give details. Rahimi said he did not know if other cabinet members still held dual citizenship, but added that some had in the past given up their other passports.
The spokesman said he expected the new parliament to have its first session in a month’s time. Many of the Mujahideen (holy warriors) who pushed for the exclusion of ministers holding dual citizenship from the cabinet are on top of the provisional list of the elections commission for the 249 parliament seat after last month’s poll.
Some of them do not favour the inclusion of western-educated technocrats in the cabinet on grounds that they did not take part in the struggle against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. They also feel that ministers may use their foreign passports to leave Afghanistan after committing possible acts of treason.
via The Peninsula (Qatar)
Unfinished business in Afghanistan
Commentary By Swanee Hunt / Washington Times (USA) / October 30, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan. - The Afghan election September 18 was an important benchmark on the road to democracy. For the first time in 36 years, citizens chose national and provincial representatives. A daunting 5,805 candidates, with campaign posters hanging in trees and affixed to walls, competed for hundreds of positions. Among them were 347 women who came forward in the face of intimidation and violence to claim a place in the lower house of parliament.
Half of the ballots have now been counted. When the process is complete, a form of "positive discrimination" will ensure that women electees comprise at least the 25 percent mandated by the constitution.
Afghanistan has taken a momentous step toward a model of inclusive security, whereby all stakeholders -- including women --participate in governance and other aspects of peace building. But it was only one small step. Women have the potential to play key roles in fostering openness and religious and political moderation that will facilitate a peaceful, prosperous future for a democratic Afghanistan. Two critical policies will help the Afghan people and the international community turn that potential into reality.
First, tribal warlords must be disempowered. The elections were marred by candidates with histories soaked in blood who, given a nascent judiciary, have not been brought to justice. Instead, political legitimacy increases the warlords' strength. One openly asserts that human rights, including women's rights, are contrary to Islam. An Afghan diplomat I met shortly before the election insists the warlords spell disaster: "Their strength grows day by day. International troops will leave soon. If we can't go after them now, when will we be able?"
Second, the Afghan judicial system must be profoundly reformed and revitalized. The justice system is neither fair nor functional. For example, despite contravening laws, too often, women are denied the right to divorce, frequently forced into marriage by family members, and jailed for "moral crimes" like refusing arranged marriages, speaking with an unmarried man, or traveling without a male guardian. Afghan women face gender-based discrimination in the application of laws and crimes against them go unpunished.
The current supreme court, though charged with interpreting the constitution, offers little hope for women. These nine influential judges -- all male -- are required to have "higher education in law or in Islamic jurisprudence," but that education may be religious training in madrassas or local villages that favor tribal customs over human rights and civil law. Afghan women lawyers and international human rights experts recognize the vast disconnect between the new constitution and the application of its legal protections. Conflicts between traditional and modern jurisprudence must be addressed and the judicial system reformed to include women who will protect the rights of all Afghans.
On election day, the women of Afghanistan proved they're determined despite the challenges. I met with several candidates, including television journalist Howa Nooristani. Afraid the single seat reserved for women in her family's rugged eastern district would go unfilled, she decided to run herself. On a steep mountain path, she was accosted by fiery-eyed men. Three of her campaign workers were kidnapped and are still missing. Shot four times in the leg, she dragged herself to a village. Several young men took turns carrying her on their backs the five hours to her car. When I visited her, bedridden at her Kabul home, her husband was still in the district campaigning for her. "Tell the world Afghans aren't afraid of terrorists," she appealed. "We'll build our country, no matter what."
Howa Nooristani isn't alone. I talked with scores of Afghans on their way to the polls. Not one mentioned the violence the Western press focuses on. Instead, they spoke of hope and of a new, transformed Afghanistan. "Women are kinder, and they'll bring that kindness into our government," insisted a retired government official with a beard as white as his hat.
Kinder, maybe. But impatient. One bent old woman described the pressure she faced on election morning from her husband, who wanted to control her vote. "Get lost," she told him. But beyond the personal, at a policy level, women are perceived by many as untapped resources in a country emerging from decades of hardship. "All the men in my family are going to vote for women," an Afghan nongovernmental organization leader told me. "They say women run things better in peace time, and now we have peace."
There's a limited window of opportunity to make an Afghan democracy flourish. Without a government of untarnished elected officials and true judicial reform, Afghanistan will never fulfill its democratic promise and certainly not its promise to the majority of its population -- its women.
Swanee Hunt, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, directs the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, where she also teaches. She is author of "This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace."
NZ soldier injured in Afghanistan
Radio New Zealand 29 Oct 2005
A New Zealand soldier has been injured in Afghanistan after an explosive device went off during handling.
Defence Press Officer, Commander Sandie McKie, says the device detonated while a group of soldiers was clearing old ammunitions.
Commander McKie says the injured soldier sustained lower body injuries and lacerations to his feet, and has been evacuated to a coalition medical facility.
She says the injuries are not considered life threatening, and his family has been contacted.
The soldier is part of a New Zealand Special Air Service deployment on operations in Afghanistan.
'Failure Is Not an Option'
Washington's envoy to Iraq speaks out about the new Constitution, and his strategy for containing the insurgency.
Nov. 7, 2005 issue - Zalmay Khalilzad has been America's troubleshooter on the most important challenges facing the country. He recently finished a stint as the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, and now he's ambassador to Iraq. He spoke last week to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh in Washington. Excerpts:
HIRSH: Let's start with the vote on the Constitution. What's your reading?
KHALILZAD: The Constitution won by a landslide in terms of popular vote—78 percent. For the Constitution to be rejected, three provinces had to vote it down by two thirds. Two did. So it was therefore close in electoral terms. I think there are additional opportunities for amendments to be made.
Some observers were concerned that this would only exacerbate the sectarian tendencies in the country.
The majority of Sunnis voted against it. That's a fact. But I am hopeful that it will not lead to exacerbation because of the last-minute agreement we made before the vote. It allows for a one-time package of [constitutional] amendments during the first six months of the next Assembly. And I think that will [motivate] Sunnis to participate in the Assembly.
Are you drawing on your experience in Afghanistan, where a unifying leader had prestige and presence? It seems as if it's been impossible to find someone similar in Iraq.
The fact that Afghanistan had a charismatic leader, broadly accepted in Hamid Karzai, was a huge asset. The fact that such a figure was not identified [in Iraq] has been a problem. I think a Hamid Karzai-type figure could have been identified early on, because when there is a role, usually a person can be found to fill it. But in Afghan-istan we immediately went to an Afghan interim-government formation. Here we had a period of the CPA.
You think that was done wrong.
No, I'm not saying that. I wasn't responsible for Iraq at that time and the complexity of the situation may not be entirely clear to me.
One of the people some in the Pentagon thought should have been head of the government was Ahmad Chalabi. Interestingly enough, Chalabi is now one of the leading contenders heading into the December election. When you talk about finding a Hamid Karzai-like figure, is that who you have in mind?
Well, Mr. Chalabi is one of several candidates who are running for office.
Let's talk about the Sunni insurgency. It seems as if the strategy of trying to divide extremists from those Iraqi Sunnis with whom we can negotiate has been central to your approach.
Could you talk about which Sunni insurgent groups you are hopeful about winning away?
My philosophy is that we need to isolate two groups from the rest. The first is [Abu Musab] Zarqawi and the jihadists, some foreign and some Iraqis. And the second is the Saddamists, those who want Saddamism to come back. As far as the rest are concerned, our effort has been to win them away. I have been very active with Sunni Arabs, reaching out to them.
On the tribal level?
Across the board. Tribes, yes. Nontribal political leaders, yes. Academics, professionals, yes. Some former government officials who were not criminals, yes. You name it.
What particular successes can you point to?
One is we've got some key Sunnis supporting the Constitution. Second, many more are supporting the political proc-ess. Now we have some tribes coming forward, like the Albu Mahal, that are saying they will fight against Zarqawi. So what's happening for maybe the first time since the liberation is a real struggle going on in the Sunni community between those who want to participate in the process and those who want a protracted insurgency.
Some observers say your strategy is exactly right—the only problem is that you're at least a year too late in coming in.
Well, I don't want to look back. But it's very important in my view to engage politically. And to communicate our goals. Our goal is not to rule Iraq. Our goal is not to have permanent bases in Iraq. Our goal is not to take over Iraqi oil or other Iraqi patrimony... It's very important that there is a balance between our various instruments—military, political, diplomatic, economic, cultural. If you have a hammer, pretty soon everything looks like a nail. I believe if I could say one thing, we're rebalancing the instruments.
What do you say to the mother and father of a soldier who has died in Iraq about why?
I have participated in a lot of ceremonies for dead Americans. The price has been extremely high for the United States. I believe that given that, we have to be extremely careful about the use of military force. [But] whatever you think of the circumstances that led us into Iraq, now that we are there, the struggle has been joined, and it is a struggle not only for Iraq but for the entire region. Failure is not an option.
Parliamentary candidate killed in S. Afghanistan
KABUL, Oct. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- Suspected Taliban militias have gunned down three persons including a parliamentary candidate in south Afghanistan, officials confirmed Saturday.
"A group of Taliban militants killed engineer Ghani, a candidate for the provincial council on Gresk-Nawzad road in Helmand province Friday night and two others on the spot," Deputy governor Hajji Mohidin told Xinhua.
Two more victims are the deceased's son and brother.
He also added that the slain Ghani failed to bag enough votes to secure a seat in the provincial council.
In the meantime, Taliban through their spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi from undisclosed locations claimed responsibility and said fighters of the hard-line ousted regime punished them for their support to government.
Taliban have claimed responsibility for the killing of over a dozen parliamentary candidates and election workers over the past six months.
Remnants of the former fundamentalist regime who failed to derail the landmark Sept. 18 legislative polls have intensified their activities since the polls.
About 1,500 rebels, Afghans and US troops as well as pro-government figures and even aid workers have been killed in Taliban-linked militancy since the beginning of this year.
US paratrooper killed in Afghanistan
October 29, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. paratrooper and a British peacekeeper were killed in separate attacks in eastern and northern Afghanistan on Saturday and five British peacekeepers were wounded, officials in London and Kabul said.
The U.S. soldier died after his patrol came under small arms and rocket grenade fire at Lwara, near eastern Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, a U.S. military statement said.
The British soldiers were shot by four men armed with assault rifles in the middle of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said Imamuddin, a senior police official in the city. He said three of the attackers had been arrested.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense in London confirmed later that a soldier had died. He said the men were attacked while traveling between two bases but did not give out any further details.
A spokesmen for the Taliban guerrillas said their fighters were behind the attack, but Imamuddin said he suspected the attackers were members of a pro-government Shi'ite faction.
Troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been attacked several times in northern Afghanistan, but Saturday's shooting was the first against ISAF soldiers in Mazar-i-Sharif, which is relatively secure.
About 10,000 ISAF soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan, charged with keeping the peace after U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
A separate U.S.-led force about 20,000 strong is hunting the Taliban and their Islamist allies, such as al Qaeda.
An earlier U.S. statement said U.S. and Afghan forces killed 14 militants in separate attacks this week, in which one government soldier died and a U.S. soldier was wounded.
Separately, three people, including an unsuccessful candidate in last month's provincial elections, were killed in a Taliban ambush in the southern province of Helmand on Friday night.
Helmand deputy governor, Mohiyuddin, identified the candidate as Abdul Ghani, who died along with his son and another relative in Noorzad district.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in militant-related violence in Afghanistan this year. Most were militants but the death toll includes more than 50 U.S. soldiers.
(Additional reporting by Ismail Sameem in Kandahar, by Kate Holton in London)
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