How do Afghans feel about the second round of the presidential election ahead tomorrow, Saturday, 14 June? How do they perceive the security situation, the campaigning of the two contenders, the election authorities’ performance – and are they still as ready to go and cast a vote as many of them were in the first round? Like before the first round (see here), AAN has again been listening to friends and acquaintances in many provinces. Here is what they had to say.Will Afghans as enthusiastically line up for the second round voting as they did for the first? AAN asked people from across the country. Photo: United Nations Photo (Flickr Creative Commons licensed)
Sar-e Pul, journalist
This time, there are more security forces on the streets checking vehicles than just before election day in the first round. At the same time, the number of threats seems to have decreased. Before the first round, other local journalists and I heard a lot about people receiving threats from the Taleban, directly and indirectly, telling them not to participate in the election. But now, talking to people, I didn’t hear of threats. A few days ago, Mawlawi Muhammad Zarif, a Taleban commander who lived in the Sufak area of Kohistanat district, was killed with eight of his men by the security forces. This gave people in Sar-e Pul a good feeling. They feel their security is being taken seriously. My impression is that people are as eager to go and vote for their president as during the first round. The successful first round gave them hope that nothing bad will happen. As you may know, Sar-e Pul was quite calm during the first round. However, there is one factor that could affect the turnout: in the last round, we had provincial council elections, too, with candidates very much encouraging people to go and vote and providing transportation for those who live far from polling centres. This time, this encouragement will be missing, although the Jamiat and Jombesh party activists continue to push people to go and vote.
The people in Nangarhar still seem interested in participating in the second round of the election, and both camps have their supporters in Nangarhar, but security is a major challenge. Security preparations look tighter; we see new check posts set up in different locations. Since Tuesday, the security forces have not been allowing trucks coming from Pakistan into Jalalabad city. Cars without number plates are being stopped and other vehicles are being checked more rigorously. We keep hearing rumours that there are serious security threats for the second round. People might stay at home for that reason. They also realised that the Afghan media did not report on security incidents last time and won’t do it this time either. I thought the decision was the right one, but I didn’t like the way it was reported and commented on after election day. It was not good that journalists got appreciation letters [from the security forces and Ministry of the Interior] and that the matter was widely publicised. That gave a sense to the opposition that the Afghan media is not independent. This is risky for journalists. After the first round, many journalists have been threatened by the Taleban across the country.
For the second round, there are eight new polling centres; in total, we now have 393. Two of them are not yet fully equipped with election materials as of now, Thursday. The head of the local IEC has also been fired; the reason was never publicised, though. The position was given to the previous head of the Panjshir IEC. This can be problematic as this man does not know much about Nangarhar – Nangarhar is very different from Panjshir. On the other hand, this could help prevent fraud.
Samangan, AAN analyst
Security is tight in Aibak, the capital of northern Samangan province. Police are driving around town, making sure local people are informed of the ban on motorbikes that will be in force over election day, starting Friday and ending one day after the poll, on Sunday, 15 June. With this measure the police wants to prevent any attempt at drive-by shootings. Police has also already defused a roadside bomb in the Omli area, just outside Aibak town close to a polling centre.
Both teams remained active to the last minute of the allowed campaign time that ended Thursday night. Dr Abdullah’s team had a minibus driving around town, in both the Tajik- and Uzbek-inhabited parts, covered with photos of the candidate and with loudspeakers blaring. The tapes played the Afghan national anthem and speeches of Abdullah promising to create “work opportunities” and saluting the mujahedin and their “sacrifices to protect the values of Islam and the freedom of Afghans.” In a city that is divided between its Tajik and Uzbek communities – and with the Uzbeks being expected to vote for the Ghani-Dostum ticket, but partly, and surprisingly, having voted otherwise in the first round –, this was an attempt to turn the last undecided votes.
In the first round, Dr Abdullah scored 86,845 votes, representing 61.33 per cent of the total votes cast – more than double the result of Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai who had 37,632 votes (26.58 per cent). Particularly the Uzbek vote was split, despite Uzbek warlord General Dostum being one of Ghani’s running mates. In the run-up to the second round of voting, Dostum has thus put a lot of effort into reshaping the Uzbek vote for the benefit of the Ghani team, keen to rectify what had been perceived as a large failure on his part after the disappointing first round.
The evidence of fierce campaigning is everywhere and threatens to fan ethnic tensions in a small city like Aibak. In the northern part, called Bazar-e Pa’in (lower bazaar) where mostly Uzbeks live, there are posters of Ghani and Dostum displayed in every shop. In the other part, Bazar-e Bala (upper bazaar) where most businesses are owned by Tajiks, Abdullah’s campaign posters are everywhere. The Tajiks residents, as soon as they recognise passers-by as Tajiks by their Farsi accent, start encouraging them to vote for Abdullah. Muhammad Shakib, a Tajik shopkeeper, insisted that the election would be legitimate only if Dr Abdullah won, “otherwise not.” It is not less emotional in Bazar-e Pa’in, where at the beginning of this week, during a political rally led by Dostum, a young Uzbek boy announced in front of thousands of participants that he was ready to hang himself if Dostum ordered him to do so.
Bamyan, AAN analyst
Arriving in Bamyan, it felt as if the election was already over here. On the surface, it was quiet. As there had been no major security incidents during the first round, there is now no heavy presence of security forces for the second, either in the provincial capital or the districts – unlike most other parts of the country. There have been no large rallies with the presidential candidates here, this time, either, and only a few new billboards went up, showing the rival candidates and their slogans. Below the surface, though, in the districts and villages, the campaigning went on energetically, with the Ghani camp, in particular, competing for Hazara votes, trying to make up for an unexpectedly weak outcome in the first round.
Then, Abdullah Abdullah dominated the result, winning 67.93 per cent of all votes. The Ghani team was disappointed. It had expected more, with Hezb-e Wahdat party member, Sarwar Danesh, as Hazara running mate and supported by Hazara heavyweight and current Second Vice President, Karim Khalili. They complained that Abdullah had led an unfair campaign, influencing local mullahs and elders by saying it was haram (religiously forbidden) to vote for Ashraf Ghani, on the grounds that he was “secular and pro-west” and that his wife was not a Muslim. The Ghani campaign had also complained that the Abdullah team was distributing “disturbing” anti-Ghani videos, exaggerating, for example, the land conflict between Hazaras and Kuchis (Ghani has a Kuchi background). In another video clip distributed, Ghani supporters, known to be Pashtun nationalists, said that all ethnicities of Afghanistan, except the Pashtuns, were “bastards” (harami).
For the second round, the Ghani campaign has seemingly changed its tactics, adopting some of the features of the Abdullah first round campaign, including grassroots-oriented work with local councils and religious leaders. Instead of holding more large rallies, local journalists told AAN, small teams of influential Ghani supporters, among them the deputy governor, could be seen travelling to the villages, for example, under the pretext, as described by one reporter, of “visiting on-going development projects, but in fact in order to encourage people to vote to Ghani.” They also seem to have copied the more questionable ways of campaigning – now distributing CDs with anti-Abdullah videos. The material alleges the involvement of Abdullah Abdullah in the mass killing of Hazara civilians in Afshar in west Kabul in 1993. It cuts together scenes of the massacre with voice-recordings that are said to be Abdullah’s (at that time he was the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, then controlled by Shura-e Nezar, one of the factions which carried out the massacre, along with Ittihad-e Islami). The editing makes it sound as if Abdullah ordered the attack.
Local journalists told AAN they now thought Ghani would get more votes in the second round and Abdullah’s leading margin would decrease significantly. Some, however, also expected a smaller voter turnout and gave three reasons: firstly, there will be no provincial council election with candidates encouraging local people to vote; secondly and consequently, there will be fewer free transport available for those living far from the polling centres. And thirdly, the farming season has started and people might not be inclined to leave their fields for hours or, depending on where you live, days, to go and vote.
I do not see much difference in how the people feel about the second round of elections. They want to go and vote, but from the discussions I hear it seems harder to decide who to vote for. Many of the candidates who people voted for in the first round failed and they and their deputies went either to Dr Abdullah or to Ashraf Ghani. Therefore, in both electoral teams people now see additional faces they often do not like. People are frustrated that whatever way the election turns, in the future government all those warlords will be involved. We all also discuss about security, of course – but, honestly, this is not new for us. We were concerned about the security in the first round, too. But we went and votes and accepted that it could be risky – and so we will do that again. Security concerns will not stop people from going to the polling centres. A few days ago, there were rumours that 12 masked Taleban who had been put in charge to disturb the first round of elections, were tasked to try that again. But then we heard that the security forces arrested a group of suicide attackers. Now we hope that the Taleban will fail again.
In Logar, people are eager to vote this time, because Ashraf Ghani is from Logar. I noticed that there is a lot more awareness about the election among people, compared to last time. People who did not vote then feel compelled to go and cast a vote this time. Local elders and Ghani himself also did more campaigning here over the past few weeks, while Abdullah Abdullah only had two posters up in the city centre. What I saw makes me think that 99 per cent of the people will vote for Ghani and only one per cent will vote for Abdullah. The security, too, is much better than last time, for two reasons. First, when the second round was announced, the ministry of defence carried out a large operation – they called it Piroz (victory). They claimed that 40 Taleban were killed and many were arrested. The second reason is that local people are cooperating with the military and police in securing their areas. The governor told me that this time, all polling centres would remain open, after 18 of them were closed during the first round. The IEC also had problems last time hiring enough female staff for the polling centres. They now say that they hired more, but I don’t believe that. This will be one of the problems again.
Kandahar, AAN analyst
Again, Kandahar is a story of two worlds. I talked to the residents of the city who said they were going to vote and had no concern as of yet about anything holding them back. Talking to passengers at Kandahar’s bus stations, catering for Spin Boldak, Zhari and Panjwayi districts – the latter two are former insurgent strongholds -, there seemed to be no grave concerns about security threats, either. But residents of some other districts were worried that there would be almost no voting in most parts of their areas. Residents of Maiwand told AAN that the fear of fighting and violence would force most people to stay indoors. The same concern was expressed by a resident of Daman district, just outside Kandahar city. No-one said, though, that they had received threats from the Taleban not to participate in the election. It appears the Taleban’s message discouraging people to vote had reached it audience already – possibly stronger than in the first round.
Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq said on Wednesday that he had intelligence indicating that the Taleban would not disrupt the election and that they were even encouraging people to vote. He is known for having informants across the border, in Quetta, where the Taleban leadership is thought to be based. One member of a campaign team also told AAN there were negotiations going on between senior Taleban commanders and Kandahar tribal elders, to create confidence that the insurgents will not attack the election. However, a suicide bombing just near the eastern gate of Kandahar city on Thursday in the late afternoon, killing at least one policeman, might indicate that not all is as well as Raziq would like people to believe and that the Taleban might indeed step up efforts to disturb the election this time around. In any case, motorbikes and rickshaws have been banned in the city from Thursday afternoon onwards. Other vehicles, except those with special permission from the police, will be not allowed from today, Friday, to drive around town or enter it from outside.
Ghazni, civil society activist
The people from Ghazni are both eager to vote and anxious. We hear that the Taleban became more active and that they put IEDs on the streets for people who want to participate in the election. A few days ago, we heard that 40 teachers were kidnapped in Qarabagh district when they wanted to go home for their holidays. Afghan security forces claim that they are in control but we still witness incidents like this.
It is hard to say if there will be more or less people coming out to vote compared to the first round, but I feel that in this round the election is becoming more ‘ethnic’. People are more likely to join ‘their’ ethnic candidate.
Paktia, AAN analyst
In Paktia on Thursday, security forces were busy transferring ballot boxes from the district centres to the polling stations. Security is tight in the city and thorough checks are conducted at its entry points. Both campaigns, with their offices located opposite each other on the same street, were still active. On Wednesday, the Abdullah campaign held a meeting at a popular local restaurant, attended by its most heavyweight supporters in the province. This included former tribes minister Amanullah Khan Dzadran (his brother Pacha Khan supports Ghani), the former commander of the Gardez army corps of the so-called Afghan Militia Forces (the pre-ANA Afghan army) General Ziauddin and commander Abdullah, the first post-2001 police chief of the province; both Ziauddin and Abdullah are Jamiatis and were the extended arm of then defence minister Fahim in the southeast in the first post-Taleban years. During the meeting, Abdullah’s Hezb-e Islami running mate Muhammad Khan was contacted over the phone and Amanullah assured him that they were going to win in Paktia (which will not be easy, given that they received just over 5 per cent of the vote in the first round) and that they would get more votes than in the first round (which sounds more possible).
But it was Dr Ashraf Ghani’s office where the larger crowds gathered over the past days. Ghani’s team prepared to report on fraud on polling day by distributing mobile phones to its candidate agents. It also continued its tribal mobilisation campaign. Representatives of the Paktia tribes came together in the Ghani office and decided that they would secure all polling stations in the province by raising arbaki; with each polling station being secured by five men, additionally to the local security forces. On Thursday, Ghani’s team announced in the Paktia Press Club that two provincial strongmen – former MP and commander Pacha Khan Dzadran and sitting MP Ibrahim Ghashtalai – also joined this security initiative. Pacha Khan used the opportunity to criticise the government for not having taken enough steps in this regard. Arbaki, he added proudly, have deep historical roots in the tribes of the province.
On the other hand, the Taliban have warned people in Zurmat, Wazi Dzadran and Shwak – three of the most insecure districts in Paktia where turnout was limited on 5 April – not to participate in the run-off election. In Zurmat, they warned people off that they would cut their fingers if they voted and also threatened Zurmat based District Field Coordinators of the IEC. On Friday morning, one local member of the Taliban told AAN that they would block roads in order to hinder people from reaching polling centres. Compared to the first round, larger number of Taleban have been seen in those districts over the past days. But people from Zurmat and Wazi showed themselves defiant when talking to the author. “We will vote at any cost, we are even ready to give the sacrifice if Taleban cut our fingers off,” an elder said. “I cannot see our own history to be destroyed. We are the rulers of this country and we own this land.”
The determination to vote appears larger than during the first round (which can partly be explained by the fact that this is a strongly pro-Ghani province). Even after the kidnapping of an intelligence officer in Gardez on Thursday, the bazaar was still crowded, while for the first round it had been closed two days before election day.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020