Afghans go to polls amid tight security

Pakistani soldiers patrol next to a newly fenced border fencing along with Afghan’s Paktika province border in Angoor Adda in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency on October 18, 2017. The Pakistan military vowed on October 18 a new border fence and hundreds of forts would help curb militancy, as it showcased efforts aimed at sealing the rugged border with Afghanistan long crossed at will by insurgents. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI

KABUL: All eyes are set on Afghanistan where the presidential election are set to take place today amid tight security.
While independent analysts cast doubts over the veracity of the upcoming polls, opposition leaders have also started doubting the polling mechanism and they have started staging protests against the administration of President Ashraf Ghani over allegations of rigging.
15 men will contest the presidential election, in a race among old power brokers, including sitting and former government officials, prominent technocrats, and notorious warlords.
The twice-delayed September 28 election is slated to be only the second-ever democratic transition of power in the war-wracked country of 35 million people.
The candidates include some controversial figures from the last four decades of conflict in the country — former cadres of the Soviet-backed communist regime of the 1980s, Mujahedin from the civil war that erupted in the early 1990s, as well as members of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 until 2001.
Each candidate has entered the race on tickets that include first and second vice presidential running mates. These are often the result of political horse-trading that can forge unlikely unions. In a country where no ethnic

group can dominate the political scene on its own, candidates cross ethnic lines to choose high-profile running mates who can marshal votes from specific ethnic communities. The results can defy logic and assumptions based on previous electoral alliances and coalitions.
If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of the election on September 28, a second round will be held between the top two finishers.
Speaking to Pakistan Today, Former chairman of Afghanistan Group of Newspapers, Dr HussainYasa, said that the election is already shrouded in distrust as the opposition is blaming Ghani for rigging the polls.
“The electoral body has no credibility and has no system in place. There are allegations of ghost polling stations set up by the regime. There is no monitoring system and no observation of polls,” said Dr Yasa.
Dr Yasa expressed fears that any question on transparency of polls would badly destabilise Afghanistan and non-state actors would benefit from the chaos.
When asked to elaborate, Dr Yasa said that when over 50 per cent of the country remains out of the control of Afghan government, how can one expect transparency in polls. He said that the government has already said that it could not hold polling at 2,700 polling stations while biometric machines are not working.
“So what will happen now? The ballot boxes would be stuffed with bogus votes. Opposition is alleging that election is not being held in their stronghold areas. So everyone knows that the country is going to another fraud election as it does not suit President Ghani,” he observed.
Blaming the National Unity Government for not fulfilling its commitment to carry out electoral reforms, Dr Yasa said that opposition says that Dr Ghani has made arrangements to rig polls.
When asked who was leading the polls, Dr Yasa said that Dr Abdullah Abdullah was leading the race on ground as it had full backing of all minority groups.
“While Abdullah Abdullah is a Pashtun, he has support from smaller ethnic groups like General Abdul Rashid Dostum who is Uzbek, Dr Mohaqiq and Karim Khalili, who are from the Hazaras, while Ahmed Shah Masood’s brother is also contesting. So Dr Abdullah leads the race but Dr Ghani holds the fort as the entire government machinery is helping him,” he added.

President Ghani is from the country’s largest ethnic group. He has picked Amrullah Saleh, an ex-intelligence chief and one of the president’s fiercest critics, as one of two running mates. Saleh is a prominent ethnic Tajik, the second-largest ethnic group, with grassroots support among the youth. Ghani did not have a Tajik running mate in 2014.
Ghani’s other running mate is Sarwar Danish, an ethnic Hazara and a current vice president. The Hazara are the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
Dr Abdullah has attempted to seal two important voting blocs — the Hazaras and Uzbeks that together constitute some 20 per cent of the population — by courting two longtime ethnic leaders.
Abdullah has gained the support of Mohammad Karim Khalili and Mohammad Mohaqeq, two powerful but controversial former Hazara warlords.
Abdullah’s running mates are Enayatullah Babur Farahmand, an ethnic Uzbek ally of Dostum, and Asadullah Sadati, a Hazara who is backed by Khalili, a former vice president.
Abdullah also has support from Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, a Pashtun and former finance minister. Ahadi supported Ghani in the 2014 vote but has since established his own party.
Abdullah’s standing among his own ethnic Tajik community has taken a hit. A prominent member of the Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami, Abdullah’s influence in the party has waned and he has lost the support of several party stalwarts.
Rahmatullah Nabil is a two-time head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country’s main intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil is a Pashtun from the central province of Maidan Wardak.
Nabil, 51, is an outspoken opponent of the Taliban. He has also been fiercely critical of Ghani’s administration, blaming him for the growing insecurity and endemic government corruption.
His vice presidential running mates are Murad Ali Murad, a Hazara who was the deputy interior minister and an army commander, and Massuda Jalal, an ethnic Tajik who was the former minister of women’s affairs.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Afghanistan’s most senior militant leader, who twice served as the prime minister. Hekmatyar is the head of the Hezb-e-Islami militant group that signed a controversial peace deal with the government in 2016. He has since taken over the leadership of the Hezb-e Islami political party.
His vice-presidential running mates are Fazl ul-Hadi Wazin and Hafiz ul-Rahman Naqi, both ethnic Tajiks who are members of Hezb-e Islami.–Agencies