By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On September 17, 2019, at least 26 people were killed and another 42 were wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at President Ashraf Ghani’s campaign rally in Charikar city, Parwan Province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
On July 28, 2019, 20 people were killed and another 50 were injured in a bomb attack that was followed by a gun battle at the office of former National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief and Vice-Presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh, in Kabul city.
Indeed, warning Afghans to keep away from election rallies and gatherings, in a message posted on its website on August 6, 2019, the Taliban stated, “To prevent losses, God forbid, from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets.” The Taliban added that the Afghan elections did not hold any value and, referring to the 2014 Presidential Election asserted that these was mired in allegations of fraud and saw the U.S. broker a power-sharing deal between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections are scheduled to be held on September 28, 2019.
Overall violence in Afghanistan has increased since August 6, 2019, the day the Taliban warned Afghans to keep away from election rallies and gatherings. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since August 6, 2019, at least 242 civilians, 42 Security Force (SF) personnel and 1,538 terrorists have been killed (data till September 22, 2019). In the corresponding period preceding the Taliban’s warning, there were 160 civilian fatalities, 33 SF and 1,412 terrorists. The number and intensity of suicide attacks also increased, from six incidents in which 109 persons were killed preceding the warning, to eight incidents in which 206 persons were killed.
In the meantime, on September 7, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump called off peace negotiations with the Taliban, after the latter claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul city on September 5, 2019, which killed 12 people, including an American soldier, and wounded 43. The group carried out the attack amid ongoing peace negotiations with the U.S. representatives in the Qatari capital of Doha. In a Twitter post, President Trump declared,
If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?
Trump was referring to a meeting with the Taliban leadership, secretly scheduled at Camp David on September 8, 2019.
With the lifting of the limited restraint exercised by their participation in the negotiation process with the US, the Taliban is likely to escalate violence further.
Not surprisingly, expressing the view that the current situation in the country was not suitable for the Presidential Election, Mohammad Ismail Khan, a prominent member of the Jamiat-e-Islami party, who served as Minister of Energy and Water in former President Hamid Karzai’s Government, observed, on September 12, 2019, that the country would be driven into a new crisis if the elections are held within the next two weeks. He added, moreover, that there was also the possibility of manipulating the elections.
However, on September 11, 2019, committing to hold free and fair elections in Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Adela Raz said that Afghan Government is approaching the elections with a full and unprecedented commitment to ensure a transparent, free, credible and inclusive election.
On September 15, 2019, Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials announced that the delivery of election materials to 5,373 polling centres in 33 Provinces was complete. The officials also stated that over 72,000 security personnel had been deployed to provide security to the polling centres across the nation and 60,000 election observers had received credentials for the Presidential Election. However, as the date of Presidential Election approached, election observers lashed out at the Independent Election Commission (IEC) on September 16, 2019, over its failure to address their concerns regarding biometric identification devices. Humayoun Jarir, a member of the Committee for Political Parties and Political Movements stated, “I can say with confidence that the application which was supposed to be installed for identifying the photograph and the finger prints has not been installed in biometric devices and it is not connected with the main server.” Similarly, Sughra Saadat, spokeswoman for the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) noted, “Only eleven days remain until elections. From a technical perspective, this is very little time to tackle the issue of preparing the servers. The Commission should have been prepared before, because now we have very little time, so it is difficult to deal with technical issues.” The IEC has dispatched more than 23,000 biometric devices to polling centres across the country.
Meanwhile, reaffirming North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s full support to Afghanistan, on September 14, 2019, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg phoned President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and assured the alliance’s support to Afghanistan. Separately, affirming its commitment to doing everything possible within its mandated authority to support the IEC in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned election that is credible, transparent and inclusive, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Chief Tadamichi Yamamoto on September 16, 2019, observed “No one has the authority to disenfranchise Afghans who are registered to vote. Credible elections lie at the heart of any democracy, and the right to vote is in many ways a key symbol of the democratic progress made in Afghanistan over the last 18 years.” On September 17, 2019, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously extended the mandate of UNAMA until September 17, 2020.
The Afghanistan Government is investing great hope in the peaceful and successful conduct of elections. On September 14, 2019, Afghan Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi observed that the Afghan Government will only consider making a “legitimate” peace with the Taliban after a national election in September: “Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening on September 28. The legitimacy of a peace deal with the Taliban cannot be achieved without elections.”
The campaign for the Afghan Presidential Election kicked off on July 28, 2019, with 18 candidates, including President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, running for President. The campaign will conclude on September 25. The upcoming Presidential Election scheduled for September 28, will be the fourth election in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Based on the IEC’s timeline, preliminary results will be announced on October 19, 2019, and the final results will be announced on November 7, 2019.
IEC has been working day and night for the successful conduct of the September 28 Presidential Elections. For the moment, as elections offer the only peaceful mechanism for transfer of power and the only option out of war and insecurity in the country, the United Nations and other powers must readily support the efforts of the IEC to ensure that elections are credible and inclusive. Thereafter, only direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban offer the possibility of a political settlement, without the mischief of third parties engaging directly with the Taliban, even as the Taliban continues to engineer massive and indiscriminate terrorist attacks among the general population.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management