NATO expansion in Afghanistan not enough to protect polls
By Madeleine Coorey
Observers warn that Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, as well as powerful regional warlords, can still create an atmosphere of intimidation, which can ruin the elections
While Afghanistan has welcomed NATO’s promise of more peacekeepers to improve security for September’s landmark elections, analysts and aid workers warned on Tuesday the measure could be too little, too late.
NATO’s International Peacekeeping Assistance Force (ISAF) is to increase its force from 6,500 to 10,000, but some troops will be on standby in nearby countries and most will be deployed in the relatively peaceful north. Observers warned that Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, as well as powerful regional warlords, could still create an atmosphere of intimidation, which could ruin the elections especially in the troubled south and southeast.
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, while welcoming the alliance’s expansion, called for NATO troops to move into other areas.
“Our concern is that for the upcoming elections this expansion of NATO will be a positive step but not a proper step to convince the Afghan population that there’s an environment for free and fair elections,” commissioner Ahmad Nader Nadery said.
“If the security continues (to deteriorate) the people will not be convinced that only the deployment and expansion of ISAF to the north will help all of the country.”
Nadery said that while the north was troubled by warlords and armed groups Taliban and Al Qaeda militants needed to be contained in the south.
Voter registration began in December for the country’s first presidential and parliamentary elections, two and a half years after the Taliban regime was ousted by US-led forces in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
But the polls have already been delayed once — they were initially scheduled for June — and continue to be threatened by remnants of the Taliban regime targetting notably election officials.s. The US-led coalition of 20,000 troops is battling to put down a rising Taliban insurgency in the southeast, but it has warned that more attacks should be expected in the lead-up to the polls.
In the latest incidents, 16 people were killed by suspected Taliban in south-central Uruzgan province on Friday apparently for carrying voter registration cards. Two female election workers were also killed in a bomb attack on their minibus on Saturday.
“Security policy in Afghanistan has failed to date and that is evidenced by the deteriorating security situation,” the director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Andrew Wilder, told AFP.
Rather than transferring civil-military provincial reconstruction teams in the north from coalition control to NATO command, the alliance needed to put more soldiers in Afghanistan ahead of the elections, Wilder said.
“While I would welcome any decision by NATO to increase the number of troops they need to make sure this isn’t smoke and mirrors but actual ... boots on the ground,” he said.
If extra troops are not supplied then the polls should not be held, Wilder said. “It’s irresponsible to be putting Afghan electoral staff as well as voters at risk,” he said.
Many in the humanitarian aid community also see NATO command of more provincial reconstruction teams, which combine small numbers of troops with civilian experts, as a “very limited response,” according to Barbara Stapleton of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief.
“The complexities of the security situation are such that there is no quick fix solution,” she said.
The Afghan government has also been cautious in welcoming the expansion. “On the one hand any additional deployment at this stage, given the security situation and the upcoming elections, is good news,” foreign ministry spokesman Omar Samad told AFP. “But on the other hand, it obviously needs to be in adequate numbers to ensure a relatively free and fair election.” afp