- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

MAIDAN-SHA, Afghanistan | An Afghan government plan to pay tribal guards for extra security on election day does not appear to have diminished violence across the nation, and it remains unclear how many actually showed up to protect polling sites.

Mohammad Halim Fidai, governor of Wardak province, west of Kabul, said 15,000 guards had pledged to work in 17 high-risk provinces. But a week after the vote, the Independent Directorate for the Protection of Public Property and Highways Through Tribal Support - the agency responsible for hiring the men - still could not provide figures.

“I can’t tell you how many [worked] for all of Afghanistan,” said Arif Noorzai, who heads the directorate, to The Washington Times.

Sherwali Wardak, representative for the directorate in Wardak of the same name, said he has a list of names but has yet to identify who provided election security.

“Now we must figure out who actually worked,” he said.

Voter turnout, particularly in the southern part of the country, was low, and grenade and rocket attacks were reported at numerous polling stations. Combined with widespread allegations of fraud, the election results appear unlikely to shore up the legitimacy of the Afghan central government. Both incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his chief challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have claimed to be leading. A final tally is not expected for several weeks. If neither man gets 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off in October.

No Western election observers contacted for this story observed any militia forces around polling locations. Guards were promised $160 for their work - a huge sum in Afghanistan - and it is not clear what will happen to these funds if those who turned out cannot be identified.

Nematullah Habib, representative for the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) in Wardak, told The Times that “my polling workers didn’t see any of the tribal or mahali police. They didn’t help us.”

Provincial police chief Gen. Muzafardeen disputed that claim, saying that 540 guards did, in fact, show up as promised to six high-risk districts across the province.

Election day was violent, however, with 80 rockets fired.

In southern Wardak, an 8-year-old girl was killed when mortar fire hit a mosque, and because of poor security, just 90 out of 160 polling sites were able to open, according to IEC officials.

Mr. Habib said the area was “completely out of control.”

In other provinces, guard presence was spotty.

In Logar province south of Kabul, IEC representative Khowaja Fazly said his poll workers saw tribal guards in one district.

In Kandahar, the restive southern province that is the birthplace of the Taliban, the IEC representative saw militia in two districts; in nearby Oruzgan, tribal guards were spotted in one district outside the city; and in Herat, in the west, Zia Ahmad Zia, the provincial IEC representative, said the guards showed up in one district.

In that same district, however, he said, “three polling centers were burned.”

He said it was not clear who the perpetrators were.

Western election observers also say militia sightings were at a minimum.

According to the European Union Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan, there were just four instances in which tribal police were seen by mission observers, who visited 262 polling stations across the country in 17 provinces.

However, “Based on the 78 EU observers’ reports who observed the polling and counting, the Afghan National Police (ANP) was present in 86 percent of polling stations visited, and the Afghan National Army (ANA) was present in 12 percent of these polling stations,” the mission reported.

“We will ask the elders if [the tribal guards] didn’t show up - why they didn’t come, and we will hold the elders [who selected them] responsible,” Mr. Noorzai told The Times.

U.S. and coalition officials had expressed concern before the vote that the tribals would be hard to distinguish and there was a risk that uniformed military might shoot them.

An election review released after the vote by the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. group that promotes democracy abroad and often provides election assistance, recommended that Afghan National Security Forces be the sole provider of security in the country.

“There is a lack of transparency in how these proposed militias would function and a lack of clarity regarding their relationship to other security forces,” the report said.

“I have said all along that this is more about electioneering than election security,” said Matt Sherman, political adviser to the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, and a former analyst for Rand Corp.

Mr. Wardak said that at the very least, the prospect of a paycheck may have prevented some people from aiding the Taliban in disrupting the elections.

“At least [the enemy] were not in a position to destroy the elections [because of the program,]” he said, even though “they still attacked.”

Mr. Wardak said he hopes to identify the tribal guards who worked by the end of this week.

Mr. Noorzai said the government plans to continue the program “until we bring security in Afghanistan.”

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