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Political Landscape

2010 Elections 17: A tense electoral run in Takhar

Fabrizio Foschini 6 min

The first, very partial election results in Takhar have appeared on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) website. This offers the opportunity to go back to notes taken on a field trip over election-day, and present them along with our perceptions of the situation in the province. By AAN researchers Fabrizio Foschini and Obaidullah Ali.

The count of votes is far from over, but three candidates stand on the top of the list. By 29 September, they seemed to have secured their success by a substantial margin of received votes over their remaining 90 (11 women amongst them) competitors. These three are: Abdul Mutaleb Beg, Abdul Baqi Malekzada and Abdul Malek Malah. The rest of the candidates linger relatively far behind, including prominent ones like MP Abdul Jabbar and the former governor of Takhar, Kabir Marzban. The results displayed online are too close to forecast who might gain the remaining four seats (there are two more that are reserved for women). Tables could still be turned quite easily, especially considering that the votes of a whole wuluswali (Chal) and those of several polling centres (PCs) from other districts must still be added to the count.
As for the women, preliminary results reward the candidacies of Habiba Danesh and Mariam Kufi. If the former was expected to confirm her outstanding performance in the past elections – she has also been one of the most active women MPs during this Parliament’s tenure –, the success of the latter, an outsider coming from Badakhshan province, may surprise observers. However, it is apparent that the political (and economic) weight of her sister Fawzia – an MP elected in 2005 – have had a decisive influence on her success. Mariam Kufi has been among the first targets of complaints by other candidates, not only among the female contestants, but rivalling in scope those made against notorious commanders and strongmen. The resentment that was expected towards her as an ‘alien’ competitor – coupled with fears of her potentials for success – now turns out to have been legitimate.

Complaints against the candidates mentioned above are indeed among the most frequent that AAN heard before and during election-day in Takhar. Apart from the fact that complaints usually target strong candidates, and not the weak ones, their backgrounds probably explains why it has been so.

Mutaleb Beg is a former commander who – despite being an Uzbek – remained always a bitter rival of Dostum’s Uzbek-dominated Jombesh-e Melli Islami party (and was very close to the opposition movement of Doctor Abdullah during last year election); Abdul Malek Malah, a former commander, too, is running for Jombesh. Abdul Baqi Malekzade belongs to another network: He is widely known for the support he enjoys from General Daud Daud, a leading figure of the former Northern Alliance’s core groupShura-ye Nazar, a former governor of Kunduz who raised to be deputy interior minister for anti-narcotics and was recently appointed as the ANP commander of the Pamir Northern Zone. Malekzade has married one of Daud’s sisters.

Reciprocal accusations by candidates are a common feature in all elections, and Afghanistan does not break the rule: in Takhar these accusations are often modulated along ethnic lines, or at least presented as such with less scruples than in many other parts of Afghanistan, where ethnic “politically correctness” is often an important asset for politicians.

Takhar not only produced some of the more vocal among the Tajik politicians who denounce the Pashtun hegemony at national level, and who reject the current reconciliation scheme with the Taleban (it is not by chance that former NDS head Amrullah Saleh headed to Takhar right after his dismissal by President Karzai, to have his political movement started), but its political discourse displays a complete set of communitarian grievances and claims. Uzbeks complain about under-representation in the ranks of the provincial administration and security apparatus, Pashtuns denounce the alleged scheme to exclude them from any institutional position, and the tiny Arab communities lament that they are forgotten and forsaken by the government.

So, in the days around the elections, AAN could listen to a Tajik candidate complaining that she could not campaign in the Uzbek areas of Baharak, Saray Sang and Lalmas because local Uzbeks were not allowing Dari-speaker candidates in; and in the next meeting to a Pashtun candidate stated that Muhammad Atta (the influential governor of Balkh province) made sure that no Pashtuns were to be elected into the Wolesi Jirga across the whole northern region through an expenditure of some 60 million dollars (whatever the truth, he has been prophetic at least with regards to his province, for it seems that no Pashtun candidate will be successful in Takhar).

Of course, more general allegations of fraud constituted the bulk of the talk the candidates were willing to have on the eve of elections. Among the various means of obtaining votes mentioned – always allegedly employed by rivals – one can find very different techniques:

– economic and political support from high-ranking administration or security officials;
– the use of ‘arbaki’ militias both actively (they improvise fire-fights near the PCs after which, emptied of potential voters, candidates agents or the same arbakai proceed to stuffing the boxes), or in a passive way (the arbaki are ordered just to leave the area so that the insurgents get in control and no PCs can open);
– corruption of District Field Coordinators (DFC) and other IEC personnel;
– multiple voting through the removal of ink (some candidates allegedly were providing their voters with bleach at the exit of polling centres);
– use of fake voter cards (3,000 reportedly distributed by a single candidate);
– buying of votes through distribution of money, food or every other item (sewing machines included) – the list would be long and varied: one candidate reportedly paid a sum to the director of a jail to have detainees voting for her, while another had the women from a remote area swear on the Quran that they would really vote for her, after having received her donations.

This year moreover, Takhar had to cope for the first time with serious security problems. But it is not clear whether this year’s failed attempts on the lives of candidates (remote controlled devices were exploded on at least two occasions between late August and election-day) originated in personal rivalries or insurgent activity.

A comparatively new phenomenon is the presence of a strong and active insurgency. Several districts in the north of the province and along the border with Kunduz province witness various degree of insurgents’ presence, but a common feature has been an increase of their activity during the past six months. At least in Darqad district, they have established a shadow administration. It appears that the Takhar insurgency had been kick-started from neighbouring Kunduz province but that it now attracts local recruits, mainly from the Pashtun minorities in Khwoja Bahauddin, Darqad and Yangi Qala. Networks of former Taleban supporters and of Hezb-e Islami commanders amongst the local Pashtuns which consider themselves marginalised from the provincial government had been mobilised again.

Recent operations carried out there by foreign troops have not proved successful in clearing the area for the election to happen – on the contrary, US troops almost ended the candidacy of Abdul Wahid Khorasani by an air strike in Rustaq district, claiming that it was directed against an IMU(*) target. In Darqad district, out of eight PCs only one was able to open on election-day as a result of insurgent activity. In Khwaja Bahauddin and Yangi Qala, several PCs (Katakjar and Ishanabad, among others) were opened just for a couple of hours and closed after coming under fire: insurgents had duly informed (threatened) the local population not to take part in the elections only a couple of days before.

On the whole, apart from powerful candidates enjoying the protection of some high-ranking officer, the performance of security forces in providing assistance to candidates during the electoral process appears to have been inadequate. The situation is clearly illustrated by the requirement made by the provincial police to candidates to enlist their own bodyguards and buy arms for them privately: they would have been allowed to carry them freely for the duration of the electoral process, after which they should surrender those weapons to the police.

The security dilemma of Takhar province in the end seems to be not much different from that in other areas of Afghanistan. The local strongmen and commanders are, if empowered or unchecked, likely to carry out different illegal activities, comprising of fraud during elections (as candidates themselves, candidates’ allies or just gunmen hired for the occasion), or constitute a more general obstacle for democratic processes in their areas. Moreover, commanders are often a primary cause for the development of a local insurgency through their abuses and the unbalance they create in power relations. If, on the other hand, they are removed from power or disenfranchised, they are likely to join hands with the insurgents, or – in the best option – to assume a neutral stance towards them, not checking anymore the latter’s inroads in their area.

So much about the efficiency of an assumed anti-Taleban bastion in Northern Afghanistan (see a recent blog on this issue here). Reflecting the mood of the people of Takhar, whatever their political leaning or ethnic identity, more than 100 complaints have already been filed with the provincial branch of the Electoral Complaints Commission that now wait to be addressed. Another largely rigged and unfair election will not represent a gain for anybody.

(*) Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. This movement originates from the Central Asian republic where it was crushed and pushed across the borders in the late 1990s. It became an ally of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. After its demise, many IMU fighters crossed over into Pakistan from where some have migrated back to Northern Afghanistan, in particular after NATO opened its trans-Russia supply route in early 2009. It cannot be excluded that other groups came to the area from neighbouring Tajikistan.

Tags:

Democratization Elections Government

Authors:

Fabrizio Foschini

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