Afghanistan’s elections have been surrounded by a swirl of politicking and tricking, of wrangling and pressuring, of outcry and resignation, of threats and promises, and of outbursts of violence. They show how old habits die hard and how new prospects of power inspire violent behaviour – as Jawed Kohestani, the leader of the Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan (Nehzat-e Azadi wa Demokrasi-ye Afghanistan), one of the new post-2001 political parties, recently experienced firsthand. Encouraging is that this case provoked a strong reaction.
Jawed Kohestani is a regular and rather outspoken commentator on the various television talkshows. On 21 September 2010, he was part of a discussion on Noorin TV on the elections where he raised the widespread prevalence of fraud and singled out several provinces, including Kapisa, Farah, Logar and Bamyan. Later that evening, after he had sent his body guards home, he was attacked by parliamentary candidate Iqbal Safi, who is from his home province Kapisa, and several armed men. The attack took place in a crowded area of Kabul and Kohestani managed to get away, after receiving a nasty bruise on his hand from trying to deflect a hit. His son, who was with him, injured his arm in the scuffle when he tried to defend his father.
It is unclear what Safi was thinking. He himself had not been singled out in the discussion, but being a powerful local commander and an incumbent parliamentarian bent on sitting again, he does immediately come to mind when discussing local fraud in his province. He had probably expected the attack to be without consequences and to go largely unreported. Jawed Kohestani leads a democratic party and has been largely marginal under the Karzai regime, so Safi may well have under-estimated the strength of Kohestani’s contacts and his resolve. Kohistani wasted no time. He mobilized a large number of government officials and Kapisa elders in his defence, and the other Kapisa candidates also rallied around his case – protesting the violent attack, but obviously also hoping for the elimination of a rival. He filed the case with the human rights commission, several government institutions and various international missions, including the UN and the EU.
Iqbal Safi was arrested but released on bail and – taken aback by the reaction the attack unleashed – has since then tried to make amends. Envoys were sent proposing reconciliation meetings, but Kohestani initially declined. He and his people seem energized by their own response and by Safi’s apparent regret, but at the same time shaken by the reminder of how easy it is to provoke an attack and how close he may have come to getting killed.
Last Thursday, a reconciliation meeting, brokered by elders from both sides, took place in Kabul during which Kohestani accepted Safi’s apologies. However, it is doubtful the affair is over. Afghans familiar with the case even think there could be another attack any time.
Another candidate who lashed out in violence was Mullah Tarakheil, already weeks before the election (on 25 July 2010). The precise details of the incident are contested but it is clear that his people were involved in a scuffle in Kabul city. The argument seems to have started over a minor traffic accident and the fact that the police was redirecting traffic, but it escalated in a shootout which left at least two bystanders dead and seven injured. Mullah Tarakheil denies he was present at the scene of the incident – a claim that is contested by eye witnesses. There is also a version which maintains that Tarakheil and his men were responding to a nasty taunt, based on his listing on the ballot paper (Tarakheil is number 39 on the list, which allows people to refer to him as yek-kam-chel – ‘one-less-than-forty’ – a rather unflattering local epithet).
The case was referred to the Attorney General’s office, who according toKabul Weekly called for his arrest and disqualification, but Mullah Tarakheil was allowed to run and is likely to be re-elected (he controlled the relatively large number of kuchi polling stations that were allocated to his area in Pul-e Charkhi at the Eastern outskirts of Kabul).
Both Mullah Tarakheil and Iqbal Safi are said to be Karzai loyalists.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020