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 gennaio 2021 


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by Emma Bonino After 25 years of war and authoritarian rule, Afghanistan is preparing for country-wide elections to parliament and provincial councils. Election day is September 18. JEMB, the Afghan-UN body that is organising the elections, recently released quite startling figures: there are 5,800 candidates, 6,300 seats, 26,000 districts, 150,000 voting booths, 40 million ballots (far more than necessary, to compensate for the fact that people can vote anywhere in their own province), 135,000 polling stations, and 140,000 bottles of indelible ink. The overall effort will involve 18 cargo planes, nine helicopters, hundreds of heavy trucks, and over 200 mules; 160,000 election monitors and 6,000 coordinators have been recruited, in addition to 60,000 security guards, 7,000 local observers; the number of International Security Assistance Force troops will rise from 8,000 to 10,000 units, while the number of those of the US-led coalition is already 28,000. Then there is the problem of setting up voting centres for the country's nomads, who are in continuous movement (130,000 have registered to vote), and of the refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran. It is without a doubt the most complex voting apparatus even set up, combining elements from the Stone Age with the latest high-tech devices. As is always true in this part of the world, the figures on women reflect a reality in constant motion. Of the 12 million Afghans who have registered to vote, 44 percent are women, up by 35 percent from last October's presidential elections. This increase occurred even in the most backwards and conservative regions, like Uruzgan, Helmand, Paktia, Khost and Kandahar. Of 5,800 candidates, more than 600 are women. I have met many of them in Kabul, including a woman from the Kuchi tribe, nomads who by law will receive 18 seats in parliament. I also met my friend Sima Simar, president of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, who in 1998 donned a burqa to participate in an international convention in Brussels. Then there was the Minister for Women's Affairs, Masooda Jalal, who commented: ''The men say a woman's place is in the house, and they are right: the House of Parliament.'' This doesn't mean it will be all peaches and cream from here on; quite to the contrary. Campaigning is very difficult for women in this country because of the centuries-old discrimination --for some it is un-Islamic for a woman to participate in public life, and in many rural areas women cannot leave their homes unless accompanied by a man-- and because of intimidation --threats and the slashing of posters to send the message that women should not reveal their faces - as well as the difficulty in accessing certain places from which women are banned. It is enough to consider the paradox of self-promotion behind a burqa. I met the head of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, Azizurrahman Rafiee, who came up to me and said, ''You don't recognise me because when you were arrested by the Taliban in 1997, I had a beard down to my feet.'' Rafiee worked for an NGO and assisted in the effort to free me when I was arrested by the Taliban to derail a campaign I was conducting to help Afghan women. Parliamentary candidate Ustad Muqim Khan, a high-school teacher of mathematics and physics, had a positive view of democracy and the rule of in Afghanistan, which he felt needs a multi-party system. He is, however, pessimistic about the future of the country because he fears that today's disfunctions will simply be perpetuated in tomorrow's institutions. It must be said that the entire process is marked by a certain fragility. While the high number of registered voters, particularly women, is a positive indication of the eventual legitimacy of the election, it is impossible to overlook the risk of fraud at various levels, the range of possible forms of intimidation (many very difficult to verify), as well with a number of grave incidents that have already occurred, such as the killing of three candidates and one supporter and various beatings. But what is most alarming with regard to security is not the strictly military concern of the ''War of Terrorism''--whether the Taliban can win the war or not-- but rather the risk of high or low intensity attacks intended to undermine the process, the primary target being the electoral apparatus. Unfortunately, given the many hiding places found full of weapons, and the complete porosity of the border with Pakistan, a large scale strike cannot be ruled out. Beyond the eventual outcome, September's elections will be successful only if the Afghans recognise their value and their fundamental importance to the future of the country, or at least if they can see the overall process as a positive one with regard to country's political inertia, the state of permanent war, and the sense of bitterness about the present and pessimism about the future. (*) Emma Bonino is a member of the European Parliament and Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission in Afghanistan.

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