- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

KABUL (AP) Elections in Afghanistan would be more secure in the late summer as originally scheduled rather than the spring when President Hamid Karzai wants them held, the country’s interior minister said.

The presidential election is likely to be the most dangerous and challenging since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban’s Islamist regime in 2001. The militant movement, which has regained control of large swaths of the country, said it will not participate — and warned other Afghans not to either.

Interior Minister Mohammed Hanif Atmar said the country’s security leaders have told government officials a summer vote would be safer, but said it was not for him to say when they should be held, because a constitutional process was being followed.

“It will not be 100 percent secure. We know it,” he said of a spring vote. “It’s a sad reality of the Afghan situation at the moment, but we will do our best. We will deploy all the resources and assets that we have to deliver on this presidential decree.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission chose Aug. 20 as the vote date in January.

Karzai suddenly issued a decree last week directing the election commission to set a date that adheres to the Afghan constitution, which calls for a vote 30 to 60 days before May 22 when the president’s five-year term expires.

Karzai’s decree has caused an uproar among the country’s political leaders, who say they don’t have enough time to prepare for a spring vote.

Election officials have said a fair vote cannot be held in the spring because of violence levels, spring snows in the high mountains, and logistical issues like ballot distribution. The U.S. is sending 17,000 more troops to the country this summer, forces that would be in place to protect an August vote.

Atmar said his police force will protect voters whenever the election is held.

“When he orders us to get ready, we will get ready,” he told journalists at his heavily fortified central Kabul office late Tuesday.

Atmar, who recently traveled to the United States to take part in a joint U.S.-Afghan-Pakistan review of the security situation in the region, said there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan at any given point. His police force often takes the brunt of Taliban attacks. He said an average of five police are killed every day in attacks.

Atmar took over the Interior Ministry in October. The ministry is seen the world over as widely corrupt, and the ministry’s police forces have much less training than the army.

But Atmar said he’s cleaned up the ministry significantly in his short time there. He said no one can buy or sell a high ranking police post any longer that would allow a police commander to make thousands of dollars in bribes.

He said 10 key commanders out of 100 have been dismissed and half of those were being prosecuted. The other half will be prosecuted when he has enough evidence against them, he said.

Atmar said there’s been a 70 percent to 80 percent reduction in illegal road tolls on the country’s main highways. More than 100 police were removed from their posts and prosecuted over illegal tolls, he said.

About 300 inspectors were dispatched around the country to account for all police on the government’s payroll in hopes of stamping out the problem of “ghost police” ? officers who receive paychecks but who don’t actually exist.


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