Monday, September 27, 2010

Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan and our Observations on Wardak

On September 18, 2010 the Afghan nation in 34 provinces went to polls to designate 249 deputies to be assigned in Wolesi Jirga (Afghanistan National Assembly) for the next period. On October 8, the first results; and on October 30, the ultimate results of the elections are expected to be declared. The elections in which more than 2.500 candidates were competing, was planned to be realized on May 2010. However, as a result of the reforms carried out to prevent the frauds as experienced during the 2009 presidential elections; the overlapping possibility of the election with the military operations during the spring; and the pressure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on the government for postponing, the elections were put off to September.

The achievement in the election was quite important for the U.S. to prove that everything was going right in Afghanistan. In the first remarks after the elections, White House stated that “despite all the negations, the Afghan displayed a noteworthy behavior as they participated in the elections and that particularly the government, all the security forces were congratulated.” But despite this statement, it is possible to say that the Parliamentary Elections were overshadowed by Taliban's boycott call and efforts to sabotage the election.

On the election day, so 400 incidents took place throughout Afghanistan. During the events 15 people, 9 of which were officials and 6 of which were civilians, lost their lives. Taliban organized over 200 rocket attacks throughout the country. Which is interesting is that the events were intense in the northern provinces but not in the southern provinces where Taliban is active unlike the expectations. Although the Afghan Minister of National Defense defines the case as “the result of the effective operations of NATO forces in the South”, to comment on the issue as Taliban was making effort to work off his energy for the North rather than for the southern regions where he already had control, is also possible. Because, in most of the southern provinces, the voting boxes were not opened for the security measures. Interpreting that the voting boxes were not opened, only because of the people's fear from Taliban's threats may not be right either. Besides the security risk, it is possible to say that a considerable part of the Pashtun people constituting the majority in the South, backed Taliban and voluntarily obeyed Talibans boycott call for the election.

Although the U.S. and the Afghan administration want to show the elections as successful, the legitimacy of the election is open to discussion. Before all, the electoral turnout is quite low. According to the statements of Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, 5355 ballot boxes were opened throughout the country, but 542 boxes were lack than the planned number and 153 of the ballot boxes were not opened because of the security measures. 3.642.444 electorate in total went to polls and the turnout at the election was 40%. According to the UN, to consider the election as successful, at least 5-7 million electorate needed to vote but because of the security measures, the electoral turnout was far above. Especially female turnout remained at a very low level. Besides Taliban's threats, that the men didn't allow their wives and daughters to vote was also effective on this. Moreover, the frauds realized both before and during the election process left their marks on the election. That before the elections, a considerable amount of Afghan citizen sold their votes for money appeared on press. The fact that the husbands voted on behalf of their wives who were not allowed to go out, and that the ballot boxes weren't opened because of the security measures stood out as major issues. As the ink, applied on the fingers were not standard; lot's of people voted more than once. The number of notices and complaints related to ink applied to the fingers of electorates throughout the country were over 200. There were complaints in 2950 ballot boxes linked with this ink issue, which are almost the half of the total ballot boxes. All these events overshadowed the credibility of the election.

Turkey, which has paid a multifaceted and extensive effort for peace and stability in Afghanistan since the beginning, has contributed two million dollars to the fund created by UNDP for an effective election period, and to watch the elections she sent an electoral observation delegation to Afghanistan. Among this Turkish observation delegation composed of 9 people, two experts from ORSAM performed their observation tasks in two different regions (Wardak and Mazar-e Sharif). The 9-person Turkish observation group took charge in 4 different regions in total which are; the capital Kabul, the capital of Balkh province Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Cevizcan Province Shibirgan and Wardak Province District.

Although Wardak is a relatively small settlement in terms of geography and population, it has a strategic importance. Wardak is situated on the way between Kandahar which is the headquarter of Taliban, and the capital Kabul. So, it can be said that Wardak is the most significant home base for Taliban in his operations against the capital Kabul. Also, the logistic of the U.S. reaches to Wardak by passing by Pakistan and Kandahar highway, and from Wardak it reaches to Kabul. In terms of damaging the U.S., Wardak is quite important. There are 8 provinces connected to Wardak center, and the half of them are completely under the control of Taliban. It has been stated that neither Afghan nor the U.S. forces could enter into these regions. The civil servants working in these provinces are composed of people who are not that far from Taliban to a large extent. In fact, Taliban has his own unofficial shadow governors, chief constables here. Thus, we can say that Taliban has the actual control over the considerable part of Wardak's rural area. It's possible to say that the general security in Wardak is in a bad condition. Taliban attacks on the U.S. PRT, found in Wardak center on a regular basis.

A major part of the Wardak population is composed of Pashtuns. We can say that Pashtuns great support is one of the biggest reasons why Taliban is that much effective in Wardak. Pashtun regions in Afghanistan begin with Wardak and spread towards the southern provinces. When the conservative nature of the community is considered, the organization is the result of a social structure, beyond to be seen as a despotism especially in Pashtun regions of Afghanistan.

5-person deputy quota is reserved for Wardak province. Two of the five deputies have to be female by positive discrimination, applied for women. So, two female candidates who get the highest amount of votes by competing among themselves are going to get into parliament. Therefore, women can get into the parliament by much less poll. Last year, among five deputies getting into the parliament from Wardak province; 3 of the deputies were elected among Hazara origins and 2 of them from Pashtun origins. That the Pashtuns responded to the boycott call of Taliban, or that they couldn't vote because of fear increase the chance of Hazara-origin candidates to win. In this election, most of the 37 candidates participating in the elections from Wardak province are of Pashtun and Hazara origin candidates.

For the security measures on the election day, the number of election centers that Turkish observation group visited was limited to two. In the election centers, two different election stations were formed for men and women separately. On the election day, Taliban organized 10 rocket attacks in total, to prevent the electoral turnout of the people. In the election centers, a separate body research section was created for women. Because, one can commit a suicide attack more easily in an Afghan traditional female outfit. In the light of limited observation carried out in Wardak, we can say that voting procedures were accomplished and the rules were obeyed in general terms. To understand the reaction of the people towards the rocket attacks: After a rocket attack to a quite close point to the election center where there were a lot of people waiting to vote at that moment, all of the Afghan electorates continued to vote almost without any reaction. This may have two reasons. Firstly, because the people do not find the situation odd as they live within these kinds of attacks for years. Secondly, because they know that Taliban wouldn't organize an attack directly against them, in other words to the civilians; and the belief that the target of these rocket attacks could only be to scare away.

The consequences obtained as a result of the observations on Turkey's existence during the presence in Afghanistan and Wardak, and as a result of the negotiations with the authorities are as following: Turkey's existence is in four different places of Afghanistan. An Embassy and a troop unit in Kabul, a Consulate in Mazar-e Sharif and a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Wardak and Shibirgan carry out their duties. Turkey's PRT working in Wardak has accomplished tremendously important projects both in the center and in 8 counties of the Province. The essential target of PRT's is to strengthen the Afghan government. Within this framework, both people are trained and the projects are conducted either to build an infrastructure or to ameliorate the existent one. Turkish troop unit in Wardak is only responsible for ensuring the security in PRT. Turkey offers yearly around 200-250 million dollar aid package to Afghanistan. And Wardak PRT has a yearly budget of around 5 million dollars. Within this budget, they build school, polyclinic, public building and cold storage depots, or they do some amendments. Besides, some little helps are carried out such as capacity building with another fund. Besides the projects, Afghan public servants are trained on subjects like education, security, health. Turkish courses are given in the schools which are established by Wardak Turkish PRT. Turkish policemen train their Afghan colleagues, and they carry out significant works on strengthening the public authority. Turkey can go over big by little investments thanks to her identity.

There's no any direct threat towards the Turkish existence in Wardak. The risk for Turkey is the possibility of being the target during attacks on the U.S. PRT or on the other elements by mistake. Almost everyday, Taliban rocket attacks are carried out against the U.S. PRT which is quite near to the Turkish PRT on a regular basis. Recently, one of the rockets has fallen on the Turkish PRT which is so near to the area by mistake. These kinds of events where no injuries or death take place are major risk factors for the Turkish units.

The fact that Turkey is found within ISAF and the the works that Turkey carries out through PRTS's mean beyond the support given to Afghanistan. For the Afghan people and officials, Turkey has a different position. Besides the historical ties, common religious belief affect Turkish perception of the conservative Afghan society in a positive way. Thus, Turkey's existence within the ISAF plays a key role on the increase in legislation of the ISAF mission in the eyes of the Afghan people, and on the decrease of the reactions against the ISAF.

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