The Taliban has increased the frequency of its attacks ahead of the national elections on April 5. With election workers being kidnapped, would-be suicide bombers being shot in the streets, and journalists being killed – the future is not looking particularly bright for Afghanistan. The election will mark the first time in the country’s history that political power will be handed from one democratically elected regime to another. The current president Hamid Karzai has remained somewhat aloof of the electorial problems, perhaps to avoid any accusations of tampering with electoral ballots that plagued him during the 2009 election. His brother, the current presidential candidate Qayum Karzai, has dropped out of the election and declared his support for former foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul. This coalition might prove to be deadly to the frontrunner, Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik with a Pushtun running mate, Eng Mohammad Khan. Karzai and Rassoul’s alliance is clearly intended to draw out the Pushtun vote and create a stronger base in the new power arrangements that will reshape the country soon.
More alliances have taken shape as the country approaches the election. Ashraf Ghani, a Western favorite and former World Bank economist has positioned himself with the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in an effort to tie together the Uzbek and Pashtun vote. A dark horse candidate, and one that has an extremely unfavorable reputation in the West is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a Pushtun warlord who supposedly invited foreign fighters like Osama bin Laden into the jihad against the Soviets in the 1980’s. His running mate is Persian-backed Ismail Khan, the longtime governor of Herat in the West. Sayyaf carries significant baggage even with the Afghan people, as he – along with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Dostum, and Ahmed Shah Massoud were responsible for Kabul’s destruction in the early 1990’s.
The Taliban’s interest in preventing the election is manifold. According to press releases, the elections are contrived Western exercises that should be ignored. Despite this, the Taliban has targeted Afghan election officials specifically for the participation. The two most recent targeted assassinations took place in January and last September, when two of Abdullah Abdullah’s election workers were killed in Herat, and when Amanullah Aman, head of the Independent Election Commission charged with investigating corruption, was killed in Kunduz province.
- Tajik authorities have seized and burned more than 720 kilograms of drugs being smuggled along the Dushanbe-Khujand highway, in northwestern Tajikistan. Authorities confirmed that over 43kg of heroin and 11kg of raw opium were among the narcotics seized. Tajikistan has long been utilized as a transit country for drug smugglers, though the country’s incidence of drug use has remained surprisingly low when compared to other Central Asian nations.
- Canada has pledged $220m in financial support for Ukraine. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stated that the funds are to provide support for Ukraine in order to restore economic stability to the country. The brunt ($200m) of the funds will be conditioned on a pending deal to be brokered between Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund, and will be made in addition to the ongoing provision of medical and first-aid supplies made by the Canadian government.
- The Moscow Times reports on the impact of Russian support for the Crimean referendum on separatist groups in the Russian regions of Dagestan, Tatarstan and Chechnya. Consistent support for the referendum has had a galvanizing effect throughout regions with a history of separatist activities, and has provoked responses from opposition leaders in Moscow who see support for the referendum as setting a possibly dangerous precedent. Alexei Navalny stated that the Kremlin “must never support any referendums [on independence,” due to the domino effect it could have on regions with a history of violent separatist activities.
- Kyrgyz parliament member Ismail Isakov has initiated a bill to prohibit members of Kyrgyzstan’s government from owning foreign assets. The bill would outlaw foreign assets, bank accounts and deposits in foreign banks, and would extend to government officials, their spouses and underage children. The bill has been designed to combat government corruption and eliminate the possibility of bribes or excessive influence offered by foreign governments. The bill’s timeline has not yet been stated.