Elections in Afghanistan: Possibilities and Prospects
New York Times, August 17, 2009
Threats by Taliban May Sway Vote in Afghanistan
By DEXTER FILKINS
TARAKAI, Afghanistan — A group of Taliban fighters made their announcement in the bazaar of a nearby village a few days ago, and the word spread fast: anyone caught voting in the presidential election will have his finger — the one inked for the ballot — cut off.
So in this hamlet in southern Afghanistan, a village of adobe homes surrounded by fields of corn, the local people will stay home when much of the rest of the country goes to the polls on Thursday to choose a president.
“We can’t vote. Everybody knows it,” said Hakmatullah, a farmer who, like many Afghans, has only one name. “We are farmers, and we cannot do a thing against the Taliban.”
Across the Pashtun heartland in eastern and southern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents hold sway in many villages, people are being warned against going to the polls.
In many of those places, conditions have been so chaotic that many Afghans have been unable to register to vote. In many areas, there will not be any polling places to go to.
The possibility of large-scale nonparticipation by the country’s Pashtuns is casting a cloud over the Afghan presidential election, which, American and other Western officials here believe, needs to be seen as legitimate by ordinary Afghans for the next government to exercise real authority over the next five years.
Doubts about Pashtun participation are particularly injecting uncertainty into the campaign of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. Five years ago, Mr. Karzai rode to an election victory on a wave of support from his fellow Pashtuns, who make up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population.
Polls show that Mr. Karzai is leading the other candidates. But those predictions could be overturned if a large number of Pashtuns stay away from the polls.
The threats against the local population in villages like Tarakai show a change in the Taliban’s tactics from previous years. Five years ago, the insurgents largely allowed voting to go forward. At the time, Afghan and American officials believed that the prospect of voting was so popular among ordinary Afghans that Taliban commanders decided that opposing it could set off a backlash.
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