Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Uncertainty & Entrenched Insurgency Questions Ability of Government to Carry Out Parliamentary Elections On Time

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Uncertainty & Entrenched Insurgency Questions Ability of Government  to Carry Out Parliamentary Elections On Time

An air of uncertainty is prevailing across the country due to checkered peace process between Government and Taliban and for that matter, hasty offer by Government to achieve ceasefire with insurgents without first thoroughly analyzing prior events and setting up the modalities for such a deal; ongoing tussles between Government and political parties concerning demands to reform electoral process, weak response by Government to so called powerful, disqualified parliamentary candidates, who continue to disrupt normal functioning of IEC and IECC offices in most of the provinces and lack of coordination and unity of purpose inside Government security apparatus. In the face of this gloomy picture, people of Afghanistan have started to question the ability of Government to organize and undertake the most important national event – general parliamentary elections in October 2018.
Relative calm and peace is critically important for carrying out elections across the country. Government continues to fail on pledges and promises that it made to provide security and safety for its subjects. At this point in time when Taliban insurgents have become way more emboldened, organized and spread almost across the country with their shadow government in rural areas, and the group’s subsequent recognition at regional and international levels, it seems hard to believe Government will be able to provide leveled playing fields for the people of Afghanistan to go to ballot boxes and cast their vote to elect their preferred candidates for Parliament, without substantial agreements and ceasefire deals with Taliban insurgents. Taliban have gained the ability to disrupt normal life anywhere in Afghanistan – including the heart of capital Kabul – as the rockets / missiles fired on Presidential Palace during first day of Eid holiday is a case in point. Free and fair elections is the only democratic mechanism to transfer power to real representatives of the people, but in the event elections are tampered with by factors such as insufficient security, threats, suppression and absence of law and order, elections simply become a vehicle for powerful, influential armed groups to manipulate this important pillar of democracy to suit their vested interests and fraudulently push their own candidates to the threshold of power. Cases of fraud and manipulations were rampant in previous elections, and the reason was disruption of electoral process by Taliban insurgents. Keeping in view the time left for the day to cast vote, it is clear that Government has no plan to carry out military operations in provinces under siege, such as Kunduz, Ghazni, Farah, Helmand, Faryab and many other provinces to wipe out insurgents from population centers in cities and rural areas. This task was before the Government right after the fall of Kunduz city two years ago, Farah city three months ago and with the most recent case, Ghazni province. But the job was not done, and, government is trying to push for major national events without possessing the required space, writ and power to maintain peace and stability to undertake such events – one including upcoming general parliamentary elections in October this year.  People of Afghanistan know these realities, and therefore, they question Government’s ability and will to seriously embark on these national events.
Though President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has reportedly asked his entire security cabinet to ‘render their resignations’ which later was refuted by the Presidential Palace. The Palace claimed that the resignations of Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior and Chief of NDS were not accepted. The resignation of Mr. Hanif Atmar as National Security Advisor on 25th August 2018 authenticates a critical move by Government for possible major reshuffles of security portfolios at the senior most levels in near future. The Government has not shaped up its security apparatus, which matches existing challenges in the country and is competent of providing safety and security. Some of the major issues within Government security apparatus included lack of coordination, and defined roles, accountability and lines of command and control at almost every level – especially in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security and in the way how sensitive security related information was shared and acted upon. A case in point in Ghazni province was reported by Washington Post reporter in Kabul, who was live on TV, ‘In the midst of fighting when reinforcement arrived in the city, the army was handing over American guns to police contingents in the frontlines, and the police was using Russian weapons (AK47) – they did not know how to use American weapons – hence reinforcement was completely futile…’ This event occurred during attack on Ghazni province by thousands of Taliban insurgents, which almost had taken over the entire province.
Political parties have locked their horns with Government to demand to bring changes to electoral system before upcoming parliamentary elections. They want IEC to shift the present system to more like a multi-dimensional representative (MDR) system. Among arrays of other demands, political parties want the entire nation to undergo biometric registration before they go to vote in the upcoming elections. This is a demand not achievable during the time left for the elections. While the tussles with political parties continue, those candidates who were disqualified by IECC during the process of vetting and perusal of complaints against candidates have started to block entry to offices of IEC and IECC almost simultaneously across the country. They have shut down IEC and IECC offices for more than ten days, and demanded their names should be reinstated before they disperse and allow IEC and IECC workers to attend offices. Thought Government has forcefully cleared IEC main offices in Kabul, it is yet to take action against those in the provinces.  IEC has missed almost all the milestone dates it had set out in the beginning of ongoing electoral process, which certainly strain operational and logistical capability of IEC to organize for the elections day within the pre-set date. As of this date, IEC has not come up with a new date for elections day. This situation and lack of explanation by Government and IEC to address concerns, has created more confusion among the people of Afghanistan, and gave way to rumors that ‘Government is deliberately delaying elections to, first reach a truce with Taliban and then announce a new date for elections in order to give room for Taliban representatives to participate in elections as well…’, and ‘Government wants parliamentary elections to set back a bit and organize it along with Presidential elections in March 2019…’. These types of rumors sap confidence of voters and candidates equally to enthusiastically participate in the ongoing electoral process. Government and IEC should come up with a concrete plan and explain to the people to brush off these negative rumors.
Government should know it is confronted with entrenched insurgency, which is well trained and know how to maneuver politically and diplomatically against it. Recent advances on the part of Taliban at regional, national and international levels in diplomatic and political fronts merely stamp approval on this reality. Therefore, Government should come out of its comfort zone, shoulder responsibility for its failures, be honest and clear to its citizens and prepare a new, robust plan with commitment, backed by logical reasons and supporting data to rebuild the trust it lost due to events that brought in embarrassment to the Government and the country. Government should bring in people with knowledge and experience in the field of building state institutions and security apparatus in the country, including election security management. UNAMA has been requested to coordinate and lead international efforts for Afghan led and Afghan owned elections. In spite of continued international efforts, the situations slipped towards the prevailing uncertainties. UNAMA and UNDP who are actively engaged in the election process need to make their efforts more robust, objective, professional and tailored to Afghan context. Election process and more, the election security management is whole of government approach. The then Senior Deputy Minister of Interior for Security Murad Ali Murad released the election security plan in the last week of March 2018. International experts of UNAMA and UNDP handling with election security should have analyzed the plan for its relevance and completeness so that the present situation should have been avoided.
Resignations at ministerial levels do not help the nation much. The system and organization of the state institutions are to be strengthened and made inclusive and professional. Government of Afghanistan should consider seeking enhanced, strengthened and cost effective international support through Afghan suited regional and international mechanisms so that experienced, skilled and tested gurus are roped in to assist the Government in its efforts of rebuilding state institutions and ushering effective governance.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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