Concerns Mount Over Afghan Election Security

Analysts warn that ongoing security concerns are continuing to deter Afghans from registering to vote in the run-up to parliamentary and district council elections due in October. 

A number of high-profile insurgent attacks on voter registration centres in recent weeks have led to high numbers of casualties. Attacks on centres in Kabul and Baghlan on April 22 killed at least 63 people, while another attack in Khost killed some 13 citizens who had come to register.

The violence has led to concerns that voter turn-out will be lower than that of the presidential election in 2014, undermining the credibility of the outcome.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) reported that security threats meant that 800 voter registration centres across the country had failed to open as planned. Of these, 120 were in Kunduz and 42 in both Paktya and Jawzjan.

IEC operational chief Zemarai Qalamyar said that 26 per cent of their voter registration centres had remained closed due to security threats. Out of those that were operational, 354 had been deemed to be at high risk of attack.

According to the IEC, more than 4.6 million people have so far registered to vote. The body had initially announced that it hoped to register as many as 14 million citizens at over 7,000 centres across the country.

For some prospective voters, the risks clearly outweigh the possible benfits of voting. Mirza, a 27-year-old resident of the Kart-e-Naw area of Kabul province, said that he had not yet registered. The father-of-seven said he was the sole breadwinner for his children and did not want to take the risk of getting caught up in an attack on a registration centre.

“I want the government to secure these centres by whatever means possible so that everyone can go there with peace of mind and register for voting, and make this national process more inclusive,” he said. “As far as the security at voter registration centres is concerned, I suggest that the government should prioritise [securing] the provincial capitals because of their higher population density and turn next to the districts.”

The ongoing security challenges mean that some people are doubtful that the elections will even take place. The Taleban have been explicit in their aim of disrupting the elections, and on previous occasions have followed through on threats to cut off fingers marked with indelible ink – a sign that people had voted.

“Considering the current security situation of the country, where it continues to worsen day by day, I don’t think that the elections will be held,” said military affairs specialist Attiqullah Amarkhail.

“Some parts of districts in different places have fallen under the control of Taleban. For several hours, the Taleban turned up in [previously relatively peaceful] Farah province. I don’t think that people will go to voting centres in the districts, because there is a risk that the Taleban may cut off fingers of those who cast votes, and other possible consequences too. So due to all these issues, I believe it will be difficult to bring voters to ballot boxes,” he concluded.

However, others disagree, arguing that the public are determined to participate in the process.

Political analyst and Kabul University lecturer Faizullah Jalal said he was sure that the vote would go ahead, although he said it was possible that turnout would be lower than in 2014.

“If elections are not held, the government will have no longer have any credibility,” he said. “I know that the security situation is not stable, but in spite of all these issues, elections will take place and people will cast their votes for those they want and trust.”

Candidates themselves acknowledge the ongoing security challenges.

“I know that there are a lot of security challenges,” said Zakia Sangeen, a lawmaker from Parwan province. “We saw that three people from Parwan province lost their lives in the previous elections, in 2014, but since this is a national issue and I have a responsibility to participate, I will once again put myself forward myself for parliament so that I can amplify my people’s voices to those in power and serve them.

“I agree that most people are not satisfied with the performance of the previous parliament, but I have always tried to reach out to my people and listen to them, and I am sure that they will vote for me once again. But I am also worried about security.”

Security challenges have thus far overshadowed issues of fraud, a persistent part of previous elections.  More than a million votes were disqualified following the 2009 elections, and there were similar accusations of cheating in 2014, although final vote totals were never released.

In April 2018, there were reports that more than 200 fake ID cards had been distributed in the Kama district of Nangarhar province.

Humayun Mohtat, the director of population registration, had asked the judicial authorities to investigate, but no arrests have yet been made. Ministry of interior spokesman Najib Danish confirmed that police were looking into the allegations.

IEC commissioner Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said that security was the body’s greatest concern and one raised in their meetings on a daily basis.

But he said that the number of people registering to vote was also on the rise, which he interpreted as a sign of ongoing voter interest.

Basir Mujahid, the spokesman for Kabul’s chief of police, said that they were preparing special security measures to protect polling stations in the upcoming elections.

He called on citizens to support their national police as well as participate in the elections to show that they are confident and trust their national police capabilities to provide security.

Dawa Khan Menapal, deputy spokesman for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, said that special security operations were being carried out ahead of the elections in some provinces.

He also stressed that that the government’s main focus was on ensuring security around the elections and providing voters with a safe environment.