Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Election observations

August 24, 2009

So then. Free and fair elections in Afghanistan. Democracy blooms. My work here is done.

Well, freeish, and kinda fair. It’s all relative.

OK, so maybe not, but it’s so much easier if we pretend. Then we can all go home for tea and cake.

I was going to give a round-up of all the events across the country on election day, but there were 86 reported security incidents from the eastern region alone, so such a summary would be pretty boring for all concerned.

Sitting at home on the morning of election day, listening to the BBC reporters dotted around the country, and reading the ANSO security updates that streamed into my computer, and things seemed to be getting rather lively. In the end though, after planning for the worst, the day was strangely anti-climatic.

It’s one thing to stay at home relaxing; another to be forced to stay at home in mind-numbing boredom (yet getting a strange kick out of the constant updates on bombs across the country. like watching the on-line live text updates on the cricket. hmm, people getting killed and a very peculiar game: too crass a comparison perhaps? not if you’ve studied your Douglas Adams.)

The attacks that took place seemed to be aimed at disrupting the elections rather than killing, so causality figures were thankfully low (gee, thanks guys for killing only 26 people, that’s real swell of you). Voter turn out was low as anticipated, guessed to be around 40%. Fraud, intimidation, and general fuck-ups were aplenty, but hopefully not disastrously so. It could have been a lot better, and it could have been a whole lot worse.

Yep, that’s the extent of my analysis. The closest I’ve been to the elections this week is shaking a few people’s ink-stained hands. But since voters observed 10 observers for every voter, you don’t need me to stick my oar in and so I can concentrate on the serious business of being flippant.

Hamesha provides a much more interesting account, of his trip to the polling station. And of the televised debate between three presidential candidates a few days earlier, including the incumbent. I watched a bit of it (with a running translation from a friend) and was likewise mightily impressed. Afghan media may have mostly obeyed the order to not broadcast any bad news on the day (we don’t want to scare anybody off now do we? much better that they die trying, in joyful ignorance, then stay at home in heart-still-dejectedly-beating apathy), but sometimes the press provide much needed optimism.

The very next morning after the election, two people claimed to have won, which I thought was a pretty impressive feat. And the main candidates have promised Holbrooke that whatever the outcome they’ll kiss and make up afterwards, so that’s sweet. (Although I then read this morning that Abdullah’s accusing Karzai of fraud – shocking! – and continued doubts about the legitimacy of Karzai if he does win. who’d a thought eh.)

Election contingency planning

August 18, 2009

Things are getting a little bit tense around these parts, what with the elections, the suicide attack on Saturday and the odd wayward rocket.

But we are well prepared, and as all the Afghan staff are on standby, I have the office to myself at the moment so can relax with music, talk to myself and concentrate on the work I need to do, which makes for a pleasant change.

I am finishing my job and leaving Afghanistan in three weeks time, so a lot to do before then. A lot I could write about my departure as well but maybe another time. Will be happy to be home but it’s never easy to leave, so. Anyways.

If things really go belly-up with the elections – very unlikely but as I said, we are well prepared, and it’s quite fun to ham these things up – I may be leaving before then. My grab bag is ready and my radio tuned to the World Service, over which the embassy has said they will communicate the code word for evacuation.

Which is rather exciting, but I am slightly concerned. If they announce it during the business news I think I will realise, but if somebody says ‘the goose is stuck in the oven’ during the cricket it would be very easy to assume it was just another esoteric technical term rather than the order to flee; something akin to a ‘duck in silly leg-off’, perhaps.

Actually, I have a choice of where to flee: into the arms of my own embassy or that of my organisation’s and colleagues’ home country. As the pick-up point for them is in a place that just happens to be well stocked with cold beers (and wine, if there’s no electricity and the beer is cold. must consider every worst-case scenario, however unpalatable. not that wine is unpalatable of course, just that when the weather is this hot, something chilled is preferable) I think I might go with them.

If the news is bad and things go a bit quiet here for the next week, rest assured I’ll be safely passed out under the bar waiting for the cavalry to arrive.

The other presedential elections

November 5, 2008

Presidential elections are due to take place next year in Afghanistan. The first stage is voter registration, which is taking place at the moment. They are starting with the most inaccessible provinces before the winter snow shuts them off. My trip to Ghor coincided with the process, and the presence of some 300 Afghan National Army soldiers to ensure it goes without a hitch. I wasn’t greatly pleased with this coincidence, concerned by the security implications and the effect it might have on our work.

We were there to carry out an evaluation of a project, and I was worried that our asking of questions might get mixed up in people’s minds with the government’s asking of questions, so we had to take pains to separate the two. As for the security, I was assured that unlike the police, the army would actually quieten things down not stir them up.

Driving through a district where I would have preferred not to stop, we did. Just as I was beginning to protest, the driver pointed to a cloud of dust on the road ahead. We pulled over to let the convoy of 40 or 50 vehicles past, and took the opportunity of having a picnic upwind of the road. As we sat on the grass tearing at our bread and meat, we shyly waved at the guys in the back of the pick-ups, their black balaclavas pulled tightly down to keep out the dust. Pick-ups, supply trucks and an oil tanker, an ambulance and a couple of humvees rolled passed, slowing in the bottleneck of a little village then speeding away up the valley.

On a hill above our picnic spot was the ruins of some old building: a stack of stone pillars worn down but amazingly still standing. There were several sites like this on our trip. I was told they were watchtowers, positioned to survey movement up the valley, built during the Ghorid empire that ruled here in the twelve century. There was an apt juxtaposition between these and the army convoy: of ruling powers trying to patrol, monitor and protect their domain.

Struggling to count and name villages in just a couple of districts, I dread to think what it must be like trying to get an even remotely accurate electoral register. That though is probably the least of their problems.

There have already been reports of voter intimidation in Logar province, and there are worries that using schools and clinics as registration centres will make them into political targets, endangering those inside. I don’t see it being possible to do what they are doing now in Ghor in large parts of the south and east of the country. They would need a much larger convoy, and even then it’s hard to think that the security situation will allow the unfettered registration of voters. And as these parts of the country are where the majority of Pashtuns live, if the registration process is seen as at all incomplete, then a large proportion of the population will see themselves, and probably will be, as under-counted and politically disenfranchised. That will not make for a happy election.

(I’ve just read a newspaper article saying some folks are pushing to have the election cancelled altogether.)

Rambling on the Taliban

October 20, 2008

The war can’t be won, said the General. Which is a shame, I guess. For if the war can’t be won doesn’t that mean it’s lost?

Oh no no no. Such defeatism, can’t have that. What if our enemies heard such talk and took heart? All we need to do is change what it means to win, a strategic movement of the goal posts if you will. Years of hard fighting have taught us a valuable lesson: our victory must include a political settlement.

Anybody got a number for the Taliban? We should give them a call. For sure, it will be a little unpalatable – human rights and whatnot – but really it seems the only way.

What, which ‘Taliban’ should we talk to? Oh, I’ll leave someone else to figure out the details.

For we are fast running out of money for ammunition and the stockbrockers on Wall Street need our humanitarian aid now as well. Anyway, the bombs don’t seem to be doing the job of winning hearts and minds and all this development isn’t defeating the bastards.

Plus, we need to figure out a plan before McCain or Obama stick their oars in and start attacking Pakistan or some other country. Then there’s elections due here next year as well – did you hear? they’ve started intimidating people registering on the electoral roll already. Very proactive. Not that it matters when security is so bad in much of the country that the idea of elections is farcical – but anyway don’t expect that to change much on the corruption front and basically the whole thing’s been dragging on far too long and isn’t getting any simpler.

Thing is, now doesn’t seem to be the best time to start talking really. As the General said, we can’t win, the US seems to be going all communist on us and I expect the Talibs are feeling rather chipper right now. Could make the negotiations a spot tricky.

Maybe this food crisis will help. After the winter they’ll be too hungry to carry on and half the population will be starved to death so we won’t need to worry so much about civilian casualties. Teach them right for attacking food convoys. More tea, sir?