Afghan polling centers plagued by problems as casualties surge

AFP tallies nearly 300 poll-related casualties. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018

Afghan polling centers plagued by problems as casualties surge

  • Nearly nine million voters registered for the election, but many are allegedly based on fake identification documents
  • Despite the chaos, the UN said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance”

KABUL: Problems plagued hundreds of Afghan polling centers Sunday in the shambolic legislative election’s second day of voting, fueling criticism of organizers and eroding hopes for credible results after a ballot marred by deadly violence.
As voting restarted in more than 20 provinces, an AFP tally of official casualty figures showed the number of civilians and security forces killed or wounded in poll-related violence on Saturday was nearly 300 — almost twice the figure released by the interior ministry.
The huge discrepancy adds to concerns about the lack of transparency and credibility of the long-delayed election that is seen as a dry run for next year’s presidential vote.
At some of the 253 polling centers opened for voting on Sunday, election workers still struggled to use biometric verification devices and voter rolls were “either incomplete or non-existent,” Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman Ali Reza Rohani told reporters.
“Most of the problems we had yesterday still exist today,” said Rohani, adding some polling sites again opened late and had insufficient ballot papers.
Another 148 polling sites that were supposed to open remained closed for security reasons, the Independent Election Commission told AFP.
The IEC’s chronic mishandling of the parliamentary election, which is the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has all but dashed hopes it can organize the presidential ballot, scheduled for April.
“This does not bode well for next year,” Afghanistan Analysts Network co-director Thomas Ruttig told AFP.
“The IEC has clearly shown its lack of capacity to run acceptable and transparent elections, instead publishing doctored figures.”
A Western official, who had monitored the months-long preparations, told AFP they had no confidence left in the IEC.
“None at all,” they said on the condition of anonymity.
“With the current IEC leadership there are a lot of doubts that they would be able to handle the presidential election properly,” political analyst Haroun Mir said.
Initial IEC figures show around three million people risked their lives to vote on Saturday — many waiting hours for polling centers to open — despite scores of militant attacks.
Nearly nine million voters registered for the parliamentary election, but many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.
But the fact any Afghans turned out to vote was an achievement in itself, some observers noted.
“The people of Afghanistan showed that they are still hopeful for their future,” Mir said.
Despite the shortcomings in the voting process, that was “undoubtedly a great achievement,” he said.
Turnout was likely affected after the Taliban issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house candidates withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.
The militant group on Saturday claimed it carried out more than 400 attacks on the “fake election.”
Official observers described disorder and chaos at polling centers on Saturday where election workers did not know how to use biometric devices that the IEC had rolled out at the eleventh hour to appease political leaders and said were required for votes to be counted.
Many voters who had registered their names months ago were not on the roll, and the Taliban commandeered some polling centers and refused to let people cast their ballots.
There are concerns that extending voting by a day could “impact transparency of the process” and provide “opportunity for fraud,” Election and Transparency Watch Organization of Afghanistan said.
As vote counting continued and officials began the process of transferring ballot boxes to Kabul, Afghan voters and candidates took to social media to vent their frustration at the debacle.
“Shame on the IEC,” Hosai Mangal wrote on the IEC’s official Facebook page.
“There was no order at all, I could not find my name at the polling center where I registered.”
Another angry voter wrote: “The worst elections ever.”
But embattled IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad on Sunday defended the organization’s handling of the election, saying the problems were not due to “weak management.”
Despite the chaos, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has spearheaded international efforts to advise the IEC, said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance.”
UNAMA urged observers, political parties, candidates and voters to play a “constructive role in the days ahead to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process as votes are tallied.”
Elections will be held in the southern province of Kandahar on October 27 after the vote was suspended following Thursday’s assassination of a powerful police chief.

Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

Updated 37 min 28 sec ago

Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

KABUL: Afghan authorities are planning to rebuild a 13th-century Islamic teaching complex in Balkh province that once was home to one of the world’s most famous mystics and poets, Jalaluddin Rumi.

Rumi was born in the Balkh complex in 1207. The learning site, which comprised a mosque, monastery and madrasa for hundreds of disciples, belonged to his father, the theologian Bahauddin Walad, known by Afghans as Sultan Al-Ulema.

A few years after Rumi’s family left Balkh around 1210, the prosperous town northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongols storming in from the northeast. 

Work to rebuild Balkh took more than a century and the learning site remained in ruins. Centuries later, when billions of dollars of foreign aid began to reach Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the Kabul government came under fire for failing to restore Walad’s center.

However, restoration work is now due to begin in spring with the onset of warmer weather.

“It will be rebuilt in a classic and traditional manner,” Shivaye Sharq, Afghan deputy information minister, told Arab News last week.

“With the revival of the monastery, we hope to introduce people to a lost treasure,” he said. “In addition to the monastery, there will be a museum, a studio for sama dance, a cultural salon, garden and library.”

The whirling dance of sama is associated with Rumi, whose followers practice it as a form of prayer and devotion. 

Since Rumi lived most of his life in Anatolia, Turkey, and was buried in Konya, where his shrine became a place of pilgrimage, the Turkish government years ago pledged to help rebuild his father’s center, but the promise has not been fulfilled.

Matiullah Karimi, head of the information and culture center in Balkh province, said the $7 million cost of the restoration project will be covered by the Afghan government.

“A portion of a massive mud-built dome and four smaller ones are the only things left from the monastery,” Karimi told Arab News.

“Restoring this monastery is important for safeguarding our cultural heritage and learning, and it will be good for the tourism industry as well,” he said.

For Afghan scholars, the restoration of the learning center will also help society at large.

“The advancement of a nation is not gauged by the rising buildings, long roads and wealth that do not promote knowledge and science, but by libraries, knowledge and centers like Walad’s, which was a source of hope for many,” Hashmatullah Bawar, a social sciences lecturer at Kabul’s Dunya University, told Arab News.

The appeal of Rumi, who in the 21st century is still considered one of the world’s greatest and also bestselling poets, reinforces the enthusiasm over the reconstruction of his father’s center. 

“Rumi inherited his mystical thinking from his great father,” Saleh Mohammed Khaliq, head of Balkh Writers’ Union, told Arab News.

“Humanist and mystical thought is badly needed in our current world, which has become a victim of violence and wars.”