Andar district, which is located along Highway 1 after Ghazni city and also straddles the main road to Paktia, has long been a stronghold for the Taleban. The district is home to the Nur-ul-Madaris madrassa where a number of key Taleban leaders once studied and was one of the first places where the insurgency reappeared after 2001. During the 2009 presidential election, Andar was almost entirely controlled by the Taleban and little actual voting took place – only ten polling centres were open. How come, asks AAN guest author Fazal Rahman, that during these elections an ambitious 39 polling centres were planned to be open here? They weren’t, writes Rahman, who travelled to Andar and cross-checked IEC reports with eyewitness accounts, finding stark inconsistencies with the official reporting. (With input from Matthieu Aikins.)Nearly no suspicious votes from Andar district, Ghazni election authorities say. And 32 of 33 polling centres were open on election day. But this cannot be, argues Fazal Rahman in this text. Photo: Ariana News
In the past two years, the government has managed to regain a foothold in Andar district due to a number of militias now operating under the Afghan Local Police program, mainly in the central and southern part of Andar (read AAN’s previous analysis here.) Accordingly, government and IEC officials had ambitious plans for the election in the district, with police officials planning to mount an operation ahead of the election on 5 April 2014. Out of a total of 39 planned polling centres, only six were abandoned by the IEC prior to the election due to insecurity, leaving 33 still. While the police offensive never materialized, the IEC claimed in its list released last week that all but one of these 33 polling centres in Andar had opened on election day.
A journey along closed polling centres
The famous ‘Andar uprisings’ against the Taleban (see initial AAN reporting here) have given the impression that the district is now Taleban-free. This, however, is not the case. Parts of the district are still clearly controlled by the insurgents, and this author’s journey through Taleban-controlled areas of Andar last week revealed that in reality the majority of the polling centres the IEC had claimed would be open actually never opened in their designated locations. According to witnesses I interviewed in the villages of Bakhtiar, Alizai, Narmi, Shamshai, Sardar Qala, Sarfaraz Qala, Nani, Yaqub Clinic and Sarki, not a single polling centre opened in these places on election day.
The reason was obvious: these villages are controlled by the Tal
eban; whoever goes can see their fighters moving around – even during the day. When I asked the people of Narmi why no polling centre was open in their area, they said the Taleban fighters in nearby Telba village were ready to attack and if IEC officials would have come to Narmi, the Tal eban would have immediately ambushed them. “When you know and see your enemy, it is not logical to move towards him,” one villager told me.
In addition to the nine designated polling centre sites that I visited, I spoke by phone with witnesses in another six villages who said that their centres never opened on election day, due to a lack of government control.
Out of the 32 open centres claimed by the IEC, I was only able to find evidence that 12 actually opened, but in eight different locations, all of them in the ALP-controlled central and southern parts of the district. They were located in the following villages: Sahib Khan, Malangi, Mullah Mohammad Gudali, Abdul Wali, Midadwal, Mirai, Kunsaf and Khani Qala. The latter three villages were supposed to hold two centres but only had one open, though it is possible their centres had been merged before election day. Finally, the polling centre for Alizai was moved to an ALP-controlled village, Paindeh, according to a local resident.
According to people interviewed in these villages, their polling centres did see a high turnout, with ballots in some cases running out in the afternoon. “I was in Sahib Khan the whole day, I think there were almost ten boxes filled with ballots”, Mohammad Anwar, a resident of Sahib Khan told me.
Given Andar’s deeply conservative culture, the turnout was entirely male. According to voters, IEC officials had apparently not bothered to open separate polling stations for women – their male family members brought their cards instead and cast the votes on their behalf.
Tens of thousands of extra votes
As in the rest of Ghazni, officials in Andar boasted of an unprecedented turnout. Indeed, a senior police officer, an IEC official and a provincial council candidate all independently cited the same figure – a total of 47,658 votes cast – which, if perhaps not reflective of reality, at least shows the degree of coordination involved in manipulating the election across different organs of the government. An IECC official in Ghazni said that he did not know of any suspicious votes from Andar, except for one case, from a polling centre in the Khani Qala where the District Field Coordinator had apparently put the ballots of 18 boxes into eight, so these votes had to be quarantined. The IECC official said that the DFC had not been trained well.
Doubts are in order, though, doing the math. The 32 centres that the IEC claimed were open had a total of 91 stations, male and female, which, at 600 ballots issued per station, would make for a highly impressive rate of 87 per cent of all ballots used (if indeed 47,658 votes have been cast). This figure becomes even more astounding when one considers that at the 12 centres I was able to determine were actually open, there were a total of 34 male and female stations – which would have allowed for a maximum of 20,400 votes only.
Where have the tens of thousands of extra votes come from? It is possible that some were cast by real voters in centres that were moved and combined with centres at sites that actually opened. Another possibility, however, is the classic ‘ghost polling centre’ scenario seen in previous elections, where election materials are simply taken away and stuffed in favour of one or more candidates.
For example, according to the security official interviewed, there had been problems transporting electoral materials to the Sarda and Changa areas, where according to the IEC list the polling centres were open. He said the polling centre for the Sarda area of the district had then been moved to Sultan Bagh area, while the polling centres of Changa and Surki had been moved to Sardar Qala. Between those three centres, 7800 votes were cast, the official said. However, when I talked to the people in Sultan Bagh and Sardar Qala, they said there had been no election at all in these villages.
Given the level of insecurity in Ghazni province and the experience of previous elections, the IEC’s decision to open so many polling centres has unsurprisingly led to what appears to be widespread fraud with the collusion of local IEC and security officials. What is more worrying is that the latest round of partial results, that was released on 20 April, included 12 polling centers from Andar district, seven of which had actually never opened at the designated sites.
For example, according to the IEC results (which can be found here), 1,192 votes were allegedly cast in three male polling stations which were supposed to be located in the mosque in Shamshai village. However, when I visited Shamshai village three days after the election, I was told by two sources that there had been no voting in the area and that no polling centre had opened in the mosque which they had visited for afternoon prayers. Shamshai village is controlled by the Taleban; they had warned locals not to vote.
At another centre on the list, supposedly located in the Yaqub village clinic, allegedly 490 votes had been cast in three female polling stations. According to witnesses that I met and talked to in Yaqub, there had been no voting at all in the village, let alone by hundreds of women. The day before the elections, the Taleban had issued threats from the loudspeakers of the village mosques. Most locals remained at home.
Andar is very likely not the only highly insecure district in rural Afghanistan to have had an ambitiously high number of polling centres planned and an allegedly high turnout on election day. Whether these figures withstand the IEC and IECC fraud control measures remains to be seen, but the partial results released from Andar are worrying.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020