Afghan election campaign stirs both violence and hope

KABUL Sun Feb 2, 2014 2:24am EST

Labourers print posters of presidential election candidates at a printing press in Kabul, January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Labourers print posters of presidential election candidates at a printing press in Kabul, January 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) - Presidential candidates in Afghanistan begin two months of campaigning on Sunday for an election that Western allies hope will consolidate fragile stability as their forces prepare to leave after nearly 13 years of inconclusive war.

The Taliban have rejected the April 5 election and have already stepped up attacks to sabotage it. The militants will also be looking to capitalise if the vote is marred by rigging and feuding between rivals seeking to replace President Hamid Karzai, who can not run for a third term under Afghan law.

Whoever replaces him will inherit a country beset by deepening anxiety about security as most foreign troops prepare to pull out by the end of the year, leaving Afghan forces largely on their own to battle the insurgency.

Monthly attacks in the capital, Kabul, where candidates are expect to focus their efforts to win over women and young people, are at the highest since 2008, one embassy said in a recent confidential security report.

"This increase can be attributed to efforts towards the presidential elections," the embassy said.

Many Afghans say they are taking precautions.

"I have already advised my family to cut down unnecessary travel and never attend any big meetings," said Fawad Saleh, a barber in the Shar-e Naw area of Kabul. "The Taliban will reach any campaign and they will react violently."

While Afghanistan has no majority community, ethnic Pashtuns are considered the largest community and ethnicity will play a big role in deciding the next president.

Western diplomats expect the first round to be split between one of several prominent Pashtuns and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik who appeals to that voter base and who was Karzai's main challenger in the last election in 2009.

Two of Abdullah's campaigners in western Herat province were shot dead in their car on Saturday, police officials said, in another grim pointer to possible violence ahead.

"This coward action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated," the United Nations said in a statement.


The most ambitious efforts to conduct opinion polls, which were funded by the United States, have been cancelled over accusations Washington was seeking to manipulate the outcome.

But a first set of polling results in December put Western-leaning intellectual and ethnic Pashtun former finance minister Ashraf Ghani in the lead ahead of Abdullah.

Other front-running Pashtun candidates include Karzai's brother, Qayum Karzai, and former Islamist warlord Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf.

In spite of the threat of Taliban attacks, the campaigning season will kick off on Sunday with the rival camps throwing lavish parties in Kabul hotels.

Afghan businessmen have welcomed the campaign as a signal the political process is moving forward. Uncertainty about the future helped drive a tumble of more than 10 percent in economic growth in 2013, according to the World Bank.

"Now there is a hope for me and for the people of Afghanistan," said Ismail Temorzada, who owns a carpet shop on Kabul's once busy Chicken Street. His last sale was eight months ago, he said.

But optimism remains clouded by Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral deal to let a contingent of U.S. troops stay after 2014. If Washington pulls all of its troops, much of the aid that pays for most government and security is likely to dry up.

Widespread ballot-stuffing and wrangling marred the 2009 vote. Afghanistan's backers hope a country split along ethnic lines can accept the outcome as legitimate this time, even if the winner is not from the biggest community.

"The Pashtuns believe they have the right to the presidency because they are the most, and that's not good," said one Western diplomat.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Robert Birsel)

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Comments (2)
FRPSR wrote:
Forgive a little excessive extrapolation , please , thank you .
From Pashtuns to our own Industrial societies , a similar fantastic contention has yet to be dismissed . In the fabled islands of representative fantasy found in an increasingly despotic , or a My way or the highway , and a Do as I say and not as I do , irrational West .
Cabals may come , and Cabals may go , but the faithfuls acceptance , ergo tolerance , of a manic conflation in any of a number of phony soft sell images crediting the consolidation of fabulous wealth as an understanding or equal of divine character .
Imagining , whatever mad schemes unbridled wealth can float , a typical legend of a vengeful rising phoenix of “divine rights” re-imagining the ancient horrors once granted by the depth their trust funds . The born again regeneration of the narrowly based , but growing insanity Noblesse oblige adherents confer upon their patrons , and other two cent ideas . This is guaranteed to once again lead to the incest of money and power , and all the colourful torments in store for those who are selected as sacrifices for the pleasures , and wisdoms , found amongst the raving lunatics of the noble Aristocracy of Cash .
The persistence that our wealthy , professional tax dodging classes , who unblushing , play the political games of “It’s my ball we play by my rules” elites , are only becoming wealthier by the minute .
Amongst the idle entitled are powerful individuals seeking excitement and purpose within the old estabished frameworks of royalist ascendancies in the latest and greatest , yawn , rotten to the core “Gilded age” . Just turn the pages from industrial revolution , to feudal tyrants , wide eyed time traveler .
From the depraved histories of mad Kings , to mad military autocrats , the few hundred people who possess more than eighty percent of the entire planets resources , today (!) , are feeling that mingling amongst the unwashed as mighty trust fund babies , mob bosses , blood diamond~child soldier/military experts , just isn’t as wise an investment as their flatterers stroke a profitable narcissism , and who can stop a feeling ?
The movement to unbridal restrictions on the accumulations of unchecked wealth running riot through deregulated landscapes , less like any nuclear age philosophers , than masters of the marauding barbarians hordes whose every wish was someones command .
The possessors of the individual piles of monstrous , and growing wealth are acting as if they are feeling just a little entitled . Divinely asserting the rhetoric of stop me if you can , while inexorably seeking to insert whole worlds of capital given to those whose divine rights are established with guns , speech , as proofs , and that milliony billiony cross denominational currencies of “goodness” , equals votes , a certain sort of wisdom , and the ontological and epistemological certainty of knowing who , why , and where , to be born .

Feb 02, 2014 11:38am EST  --  Report as abuse
ZAfgh wrote:
Pashtuns are the majority. The last official census was 55-60%. That being said, over 5 million refugees are in neighboring Pakistan.

Feb 02, 2014 12:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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