Afghan warlords intimidate northern voters
By Rachel Morarjee
Afghan police chief General Akram himself is an advertisement of how powerless Afghanistan’s fledgling police force is in the face of intimidation and violence by local militia
WITH a week to go until Afghanistan’s historic election, it’s not only voters who are intimidated by the gunmen of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam — even the local police chief is scared..
“People have been told which candidate to vote for. This is a reality,” General Mohammed Akram Khakraiswall, the ethnic Pashtun police chief for the northern province of Balkh said. When asked which candidates and local warlords had been intimidating voters in the run-up to October 9 polls the thickset, bearded General laughed and dodged the question.
“The police are also afraid of telling everything because we are not powerful enough,” he said.
General Akram, as he is known in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif has his work cut out providing security for the elections with a staff of poorly trained and ill-equipped police, many of them drawn from local militias. His turf is the stamping ground of two powerful local warlords — one of whom is standing for president in the upcoming election..
The governor of Balkh province is General Mohammed Atta while in neighbouring Shiberghan city in Jawzjan province General Dostam, who is standing against President Hamid Karzai in upcoming polls, holds sway. The two generals — Atta an ethnic Tajik and Dostam an Uzbek — loathe each other and have come to blows several times over the last year.
In a country divided by ethnicity, they still command powerful militias — Afghanistann’s former 7th and 8th militia corps — despite the stuttering beginnings of UN-backed disarmament programme.
“Since there are armed men all over the countryside, some of the candidates who lose the election could threaten security with riots,” General Akram said.
In Balkh province, four policemen, two women from the education ministry and a representative from the National Directorate of Security will guard each polling site with radio links to local NATO-led peacekeepers and Afghan army troops.
“For example, they could come to enter the polling site with armed men or take the ballot box. We are expecting such incidents so we are getting ready,” the police chief said.
He speculated that the seven staff guarding the polling site should be able to hold out for an hour or two until reinforcements arrived. General Akram himself is an advertisement of how powerless Afghanistan’s fledgling police force is in the face of intimidation and violence by local militia.
In July this year he was held hostage in his house for almost three weeks, and British forces from the local Provisional Reconstruction Team kept him fed and watered while he negotiated his release with General Mohammed Atta. Atta has since been appointed governor of Balkh province and has paid lip service to both the disarmament process and the principle of a free election.
Rights groups though, say both Atta and Dostam are using their militias to bully voters and order tribal elders to get their communities to vote for certain candidates.
A report this week by Human Rights Watch said police, military and intelligence forces in Mazar-i-Sharif and the surrounding northern provinces are controlled by factions allied with Dostam, Atta or ethnic Hazara general Mohammed Mohaqeq.
Commanders allied with the three warlords have “already threatened local leaders to vote as they command,” it added.
Largely illiterate populations, who have no idea what a secret ballot is or any guarantee that it will be secret, are widely expected to vote as they are told. General Akram said, however, he thought that villagers would pledge their support in public for a certain candidate and then vote, as they wanted to.“People want a free and fair election and if they feel this is a secure environment, they will vote as they want to,” he said. afp