Afghans head to polls tomorrow

The long-awaited Afghan presidential election occurs tomorrow, April 5. Violence has been steadily increasing since the beginning of campaign season in January, with two AP journalists shot yesterday in Khost. Eastern Afghanistan has seen the largest spike in campaign-related violence, especially with the continued presence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (benefitting from their temporary cease-fire with Islamabad to launch new offensives across the border into Afghanistan). Last weekend, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission closed 352 polling centers because of security concerns.

Afghan officials, from Karzai to intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabeel, have pointed to Pakistani Taliban groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba as the primary perpetrators of anti-election violence in Pashtunistan. The leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah is based in Nuristan. Despite the finger pointing, Pakistani officials have pledged to “beef up” security along its border for the elections. Foreign Ministry representative Tasnin Aslam said that “…Pakistan has no interest in Afghan elections being disrupted as it would only complicate the efforts to stabilize that country.”

Apart from security concerns, many international and regional observers are concerned about monitoring of the election. Widespread fraud and ballot-stuffing was reported during the 2009 election, and that was with a large amount of foreign election observers monitoring the fairness of the election. The leader of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), said his organization is restricted from operating with enough freedom to monitor everything that it needs to because of security concerns. With over two thirds of Afghanistan under the age of 25, an additional concern is rioting. Loyalties and anger over the candidates’ pasts have split the country along ethnic lines. Candidates have capitalized on this, attempting to bridge the gaps between major groups by choosing their running mates carefully. Ashraf Ghani chose the Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf chose Persian Ismail Khan to cement his portion of the vote.

Stay tuned for updates.

News Briefs:

  • Negotiations between Iran and Russia have restarted on a potential deal that could be worth up to $20 billion in oil-for-goods exchanges. In January, Reuters disclosed that Moscow and Tehran were discussing a barter deal that would have Moscow buy up to 500,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for Russian “equipment and goods,” the nature of which were left unspecified. The main point of contention is the price of the oil, which was reported to be $100.
  • Azerbaijan has continued its charm offensive to build its economic clout in Central Asia. Yesterday President Ilham Aliyev received Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov to build relations “in all areas,” according to the press release. Aliyev invited Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to visit Azerbaijan once again in the future to continue to build their association. Meanwhile, Tajikistan has refused to acknowledge its migrant labor population, which comprises 48% of its GDP, by not allowing a Tajik petition to build a monument to its migrant workers.
  • Kazakhstan has legalized control of the media during “emergencies,” which has been denounced by Reporters without Borders and seen as a grasping way for the current government under President Nursultan Nazarbayev to tighten its grip. Opposition newspapers such as the Assandi Times were banned by an Almaty court yesterday. The “emergency situations” include wars, local or regional conflicts, famine, large strikes, mass disorders, and media outlets. Kazakhstan will additionally sign a trade bloc treaty with Russia next month, which is the first step on Russia’s planned initiative to transform the Customs Union into the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • In its ongoing Parliamentary crisis, the Kyrgyz Parliament voted overwhelmingly to appoint a reform candidate, Joomart Otorbayev. Otobayev, who was a former deputy PM in previous governments, was elected amidst the news last week that the Ata Meken Socialist party, the ruling political party of Kyrgyzstan, had withdrawn from the government. Additionally, US Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal visited Bishkek on April 3 to rebuild relations after the previous Kyrgyz government officially kicked the US out of the Manas Air Transit center in January.
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