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AFGHANISTAN: FOCUS ON SECURITY PRIOR TO ELECTION

IRIN - 30 August 2005 With less than three weeks to go before parliamentary elections in Afghanistan and with campaigning in full swing, security continues to be a major concern for voters, candidates and for national and international electoral bodies involved. Over recent months, extremist groups have stepped up violence as polling day draws nearer. While it appears the attacks have targeted pro-government and international forces rather than election candidates or election workers, analysts believe attempts to cause major disruption to the elections can still not be ruled out. According to a recent report on the verification of access to political rights released last week by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the greatest threat to the elections is still posed by anti-government elements. THE THREAT TO CANDIDATES An Afghan parliamentary candidate was killed in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, an official said a day later. Haji Atiqullah, who had worked for last year's presidential elections, was killed in Tarin Kot district of Uruzgan province, the provincial governor Jan Mohammad Khan said. The Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has said at least three other candidates and four election workers have been killed in different attacks since election preparations started in early spring. In the run-up to the polls, candidates have been attacked when out electioneering. In one case, a woman from the southern city of Kandahar was shot at after receiving threatening phone calls warning her not to make remarks against the Mujahideen, or holy fighters. In another incident, the home and car of a candidate who edits a secular newspaper known for being critical of Jihadi fighters, were firebombed. Some 6,000 candidates are standing for election to the lower house of the national assembly and to provincial councils. Over 12 million voters are expected to cast their ballots at more than 26,000 polling stations across the country, under the watchful eyes of nearly 200,000 election workers and tens of thousands of election observers. The fundamentalist Taliban, who ruled the country until their ouster in late 2001, have condemned the election and warned people not to take part. But a spokesperson, purporting to be from the hard-line group, announced in late August that they do not intend to attack polling stations on voting day. The announcement from the Taliban, who did little to disrupt the presidential election in October 2004, was welcomed by Kabul, but some international bodies have questioned the credibility of the statement. "We don't trust this [Taliban statement] because they have lied about several other issues in the past. We are prepared to react to any incident and fully support the Afghan forces," Lt Col Cristoni Riccardo, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said. JEMB spokeswoman, Bronwyn Curran, said the electoral body was also suspicious about the statement that the Taliban would not attack voters, candidates or security personnel. "We are not in a position to judge how centrally coordinated the insurgents are, as insurgents, notoriously, are not centrally coordinated. They are factionalised, they are a long way from having a central command, so we don't put a lot of weight into what a purported spokesperson - one man - says for a faction of insurgents." UN CONCERNS The UN's special representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, told the Security Council last week that extremist groups, such as the Taliban had stepped up violence in recent months using ambushes and explosive devices to deadly effect. The United Nations in Kabul has called for more efforts to strengthen coordination between national and international security forces before voting takes place. "Security remains a concern not only for the elections but for a period beyond that. It is clear that we need cooperation both from inside the country and beyond - that includes funding and training [of the Afghan security forces]," said UNAMA spokesperson Adrian Edwards in the capital, Kabul. UN officials also fear not enough has been done to train police officers in providing security protection for candidates. UNAMA has urged the Afghan interior ministry to create secure zones to allow candidates to safely campaign in insecure parts of the country. DEPLOYMENT OF SECURITY FORCES The government in Kabul said it was certainly taking the threat seriously. Karim Rahimi, a spokesperson for President Hamid Karzai, said last Tuesday that security during the elections was top of the government’s agenda. More than 100,000 personnel from the army, police, the US-led coalition and NATO-led ISAF are preparing for a massive security operation and will be operational just before, during and after polling day. "There will be three tiers of security. The first tier is provided by the Afghan police, the second one is by the ANA [Afghan National Army] and the third one will be provided by the international military forces i.e. ISAF and the Coalition," Riccardo said. "If any event is reported that requires ISAF support, we will intervene by land or air to support the Afghan army and police," he said, adding that ISAF would deploy in the north and the west, while the southern part of the country would be covered by Coalition forces. Washington is confident the Taliban threat has been significantly reduced ahead of the historic poll. The US military said it has killed at least 105 militants in a series of clashes over recent weeks in two provinces. The price has been the loss of 47 US soldiers in combat operations in Afghanistan this year. "ANA and Coalition forces continue to aggressively establish ‘Enduring Security’," US military in Afghanistan spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore said, referring to operations designed to boost the operational capability of local army forces. About 65 militants have been killed in 25 clashes in Zabul province in the south over the past week alone, while about 40 others were killed in fighting in Kunar province in the east over the last few weeks, Moore added.





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