In the second part of his pre-election analysis of Loya Paktia – with the three provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost -, AAN researcher Fabrizio Foschini takes a closer look at some of the candidates, the equilibrium of power that shapes their chances in the 18 September poll and ponders what will happen to the ballot boxes.
Political motivations play a less significant role for Loya Paktia’s candidates to stand in the upcoming election. The few members of civil society, mass media or humanitarian organizations running in the election have lesser chances to gain the upper hand in such a contest. Those of former state officials, or relatives of incumbent ones; ex-jehadi commanders or tribal leaders with strong qawm support are the most common backgrounds shared by the candidates.
On top of these connections some kind of party frame has often been developed. Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami (National Islamic Front) and Nehzat-e Hambastagi-ye Melli (National Solidarity Movement, for example, lean heavily on the religious respect enjoyed in the Ghilzai districts of Paktika by members of two different branches of the Kabul-based Gailani family, as traditional heads of the Qadiriyya sufi brotherhood. This has proven a strong factor in past election, as the major competition in the province has been between two cousins, and if the ultimate winner, Ishaq Gailani, was by far the most successful candidate in Paktika, the votes received by the two Gailani candidates altogether accounted for around one-fifth of the provincial total. This year Ishaq Gailani running for Nehzat, the party he founded post-2001, will probably be again one of the strongest candidates, although his permanent absence from the province has produced some resentment there. On the other hand, Mahaz is trying to acquire also the women’s vote presenting Najia Sayid, an highly educated woman living in Kabul who nearly got elected in 2005 (9 votes short of success!), besides the former Head of Tribal Affairs Department Mahmud Khan Sulaimankhel.
Some secularist parties are also active in the region; Khost provincial capital used to be a stronghold of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the party ruling from 1978 to 1992, in the last years renamed Watan [Fatherland] Party) and from there comes one candidate known as leftist, Nawab Amirzai. (Some other candidates are known for a similar past but have looked for new allies meanwhile.) The nationalist Afghan Mellat is also present with Doctor Muhammad Aref. However, more than party members, the elections in Loya Paktia will feature a great quantity of former members of provincial councils, brothers of governors and deputy governors, former chiefs of police and heads of tribal or religious shuras, without forgetting the current MPs, who, with the exception of the lone female MP from Paktika, have all enrolled for another term’s chance. Predictably, former MPs like Sharifa Zormati from Paktia or Khalid Faruqi, a leader of the legalised Hezb-e Islami wing, from Paktika are universally considered strong candidates, for their Kabul connection usually entails the ability to dispose of big sums of money for the electoral expenses.
Among the tribal strongmen, Pacha Khan Zadran makes probably the best known category representative. He still commands a good share of authority in the extremely poor Waza Zadran and adjacent districts of Paktia province, however his power has been undermined by insurgent infiltration in his constituency, and – some say – his own rough and unsophisticated attitude towards parliamentary politics. He has recently turned to the presidential camp, after years of stormy personal relations with the President.(*)
Some former commanders also retain the ability to influence the vote in their areas: among them Muhammad Daud Jaji, member of Sayyaf’s Ittihad-e Islami, has been by far the most successful in 2005 elections, when he resulted first for received votes in Paktia, notwithstanding the successful election as MP of another contestant from his tribe, the more urban Gul Badsha Majidi. Even lesser commanders, for example Zakim Khan from Urgun district of Paktika, who enjoys furthermore the support of Vice President Fahim, can come out as a strong candidate in an election where ground control means much.
This is not hinting at possible fraud or irregularities during the voting process: as for that, nobody from amongst the candidates, journalists or simple locals interviewed denied its occurrence, and more than an eventuality it looks like one of the few certainties people entertain. Actually, as opinion goes, significant percentages of real voting will occur in few districts only, and not exceed 50 per cent of casted votes even there – the list of places changes with the point of view and the provenance of the interviewed, but we can say it comprises the provincial capitals and few central districts, the causes beyond that being mainly better security, educational or political commitment.
So, apart from a small fraction, calculated by some as low as ten per cent, Loya Paktia’s vote is perceived as doomed already and rigged before the start. Candidates will induce not only in the already customary buying of votes through local elders or individually – a local journalist reported seeing young boys in Matun (another name for Khost town) approaching candidates to offer their vote to the highest bidder – but also to more active forms of rigging, from coercion of voters to the filling of boxes by themselves with fake voter cards, after having bribed the electoral officials to let them do so. This in particular seems to be considered the easiest and most effective way for achieving a parliamentary seat, and to be seen as an inevitable means for candidates to recur to. Of course, widespread insecurity in the districts – with its corollary lack of observers and real voters – will only help this process to happen on a mass scale.
Who can blame the locals if they do not crave for risking their lives – or even their fingers – in the elections? Even putting first the fear of direct threats or more indirect dangers, disaffection as a factor in explaining the low participation in the electoral process cannot be ignored. In Loya Paktia people are crammed in between an ineffective and corrupt government and a violent guerrilla. Recently, the mood of the population seems to have turned against the government and most of its components: army, police, politicians. Government’s use of the Pashtun card can prove ineffective in this overwhelmingly Pashtun region, and its leaning on an old and quarrelsome elite composed of tribal landlords, jehadi commanders, reconciled Taleban and tame religious leaders could prove too shaky vis-à-vis of an opposition which does not come to the ballot except for blowing it up.
(*) Pacha Khan Dzadran – dubbed PKZ by the Westerners – was a local commander during the anti-Soviet resistance, sympathetic to the former King, member of the Rome group’s delegation in Bonn 2001 where he internally voted against Karzai which earned him the later President’s ire, nevertheless made governor of Paktia by him but – by direct fire of opponents – prevented from taking the post which, in turn, made PKZ fire some rockets on Gardez the results of which were overblown by enemies in the Kabul government so that, in the result, even Zaher Shah declared Pacha Khan an ‘outlaw’ which, of course, alienated him further. With a checkpost in Waza Khan, at the Gardez-Khost road, he became a nuisance of everyone: of Khost governor Hakim Taniwal whom he considered a ‘communist’ (although he had opposed the Soviets), the UN who wanted to get supplies to Khost for returnees and, not least, the US troops who occasionally tried to kill him but ‘only’ managed to ‘get’ one of his two sons. When he made it into the Wolesi Jirga in 2004, the conflict slowly died down.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020