Anand Gopal

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Category Archive for: Afghan Life

Afghan Vote Threatened By Fraud Allegations

KABUL — Reports of fraud and intimidation from election-monitoring groups are mounting, undermining the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s presidential vote and posing a challenge for the U.S. and its Western allies, who initially declared the vote a success.

A linchpin of the international community’s strategy here, Thursday’s election was supposed to shore up the credibility of the Western-backed Afghan government threatened by a spreading Taliban insurgency. Rolling back Taliban advances and reinvigorating Afghanistan’s development are the key goals of President Barack Obama’s administration, which has poured tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops into the country in recent months.

But now, as rivals of President Hamid Karzai allege widespread ballot-stuffing in his favor, the poll may have produced some unintended consequences. Allegations of fraud could end up eroding Afghanistan’s stability, fracturing the part of the Afghan society that is opposed to the Taliban — and making it even more difficult to contain the insurgency, say those tracking the election.

“The Obama administration’s policy hinges on whether a legitimate leader emerges from this election,” says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, who observed the Afghan vote. “Without a legitimate civilian leadership here you’ll have a shaky foundation for the whole policy.”

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Attacks Shake up Afghan Balloting

By Matthew Rosenberg, Anand Gopal and Yochi Dreazen

KABUL — Amid dozens of election-day Taliban attacks that claimed 26 lives, Afghans voted for president Thursday — but reports of low turnout and fraud made it unclear whether bombs or ballots would ultimately emerge the day’s victor.
Counting Ballots

Taliban militants had stepped up attacks for a week and threatened to target polling places with suicide squads to disrupt the vote and force voters to stay home. In the end they managed 73 attacks across the nation amid massive security efforts. The dead included a U.S. soldier and a British soldier.

U.S. and Afghan officials portrayed the day as positive because international troops were never called in to maintain security and there were no major attacks; many of the incidents caused little harm. Still, the violence was expected to result in voter turnout clearly below the 70% registered in the last election five years ago.

Election officials in a number of provinces reported turnout only a fraction that high, and in Taliban strongholds voters reported many polling stations were shuttered. “Everything is closed,” said lawmaker Roshanak Wardak by telephone from the southern province of Wardak. “Right now, I am hiding in my house. There are rockets and explosions outside.”
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Young Candidates Spar in Mock Afghan Election

KABUL — Slipping by his rivals with a platform of security and reconstruction that resonated with war-weary voters, a new president of Afghanistan was elected this week: the baby-faced, 20-year-old Munir Farahmand.

Who?

That, at least, is how things unfolded on “The Candidate,” a reality TV show that pits young Afghans against each other in a mock election.

Fans of the show watched over the last two and a half months as the young, make-believe candidates developed policies and campaigned. Viewers placed votes by sending text messages from their cell phones.

Afghanistan’s real elections, scheduled to be held on Aug. 20, have been marred by insurgent violence, privilege-peddling and questions over candidates’ associations with warlords.

Leading candidates, including incumbent Hamid Karzai, have avoided developing detailed platforms. They instead rely on patronage and tribal and political networks to win support.

But viewers of “The Candidate” have been treated to an entirely different experience. Young contestants have carefully cultivated policy proposals to curry favor with viewers. The winner got a laptop and office supplies to encourage him to set up a campaign office and get involved in politics in the real world.

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Karzai Befriends Rivals to Improve Polls Odds

The unpopular Afghan President’s talent for deal-making and conciliation are expected to pave way for another 5-year term.

By Matthew Rosenberg and Anand Gopal

KABUL — When the U.S. and its allies first anointed Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s president nearly eight years ago, he was seen at home and abroad as an adept politician uniquely suited to forge compromises among the country’s warring factions.

As Afghanistan has deteriorated, so has Mr. Karzai’s reputation. The same traits that once earned him praise are now criticized as signs of a mercurial and vacillating leader. He publicly denounces the U.S. presence. He is widely blamed for all that ails Afghanistan: the rampant corruption, the flourishing opium trade, the Taliban’s resurgence. And, until he began campaigning for re-election when the nation goes to the polls Aug. 20, he rarely ventured beyond the confines of his palace. At a rally on Friday he made only a brief appearance, speaking for about six minutes.

Yet the deeply unpopular Mr. Karzai, 51 years old, is heavily favored to win another five-year term. The reason, according to allies, foes and diplomats: Despite his many shortcomings, Mr. Karzai has become a passive strongman, a leader whose deal-making touch and conciliatory instincts have allowed him to sideline rivals or turn them into allies. That is expected to translate into victory at the polls, in a system in which voters tend to follow their traditional and ethnic leaders.

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Afghan Democracy Bares Rough Edges

by Peter Wonacott and Anand Gopal

KABUL — Afghanistan is expected to put its rough-edged new democracy on display in a televised debate between candidates vying to lead one of the world’s poorest, most turbulent countries.

But only three of the 41 presidential candidates were asked to appear for the event Thursday evening, and only one looked certain to show up, reflecting the disarray of a nascent system that still lacks political parties and general ground rules for debates.

On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the heavily favored incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, said the president wouldn’t participate because he didn’t have enough notice and more candidates weren’t invited.

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Afghanistan’s Divided Opposition Boosts Karzai’s Election Bid

Though unpopular, the president has more national reach than the shrinking pool of contenders.

Afghanistan’s unpopular President Hamid Karzai just registered Monday for his reelection bid. But already, he looks poised to easily win the August polls, as leading contenders drop out of the race and others fail to form viable opposition tickets.

The shrinking pool of candidates highlights how fractured the opposition remains against a well-advantaged incumbent.

Earlier this week Gul Agha Sherzai, a provincial governor popular among some Pashtuns – Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group – announced he would quit the race. Mr. Sherzai has also found favor in Washington for his success as a provincial governor, though his warlord past has drawn criticism. He was seen as the one challenger to Karzai who could have captured part of the key Pashtun tribal vote.

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In remote Afghan valley, a rare peace sprouts with insurgents

Promises of cash and jobs–rather than ideological pledges–help prompt fighters to lay down their arms. But questions remain about the program’s efficiency.

Deep in a mountain valley north of Kabul, Gulab Shah and his fellow insurgents were under siege. It was mid-March, and a French-led military offensive had been pounding their village night after night. A few of his comrades managed to escape into the surrounding mountains, but most were killed.

In the midst of these battles, a progovernment tribal leader met with Mr. Shah’s men and made them an appealing offer: Stop fighting, and we will give you amnesty and a job. The men cautiously accepted.

They joined a program aimed at reconciling rank-and-file insurgents with the government, an initiative that figures to be a central component in the Obama administration’s strategy to stabilize this country. Local tribal elders credit this reconciliation process, together with the French-led military offensive, for a stark turnaround in the security situation here.

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Afghanistan’s Controversial Law Emboldens Women’s Rights Activists

Hundreds in Kabul staged a rare rally Wednesday, defying counterprotesters’ stones and insults.

As Fatima Fedayee clutched a banner that read “Equality Is Our Right,” an angry man charged toward her and knocked her to the ground. As soon as she picked herself up, another man hurled stones at her. Then a group of men surrounded her, screaming unsavory epithets.

But Ms. Fedayee kept holding the banner, chanting “Islam means equality!” She kept up the rallying cry for more than an hour Wednesday, alongside nearly 300 other women, protesting a law that they say would greatly restrict women’s freedoms.

These demonstrators belong to a women’s movement that has emerged with unusual boldness in recent weeks to fight the law. Unlike other campaigns around gender issues, this marks one of the few times women have openly confronted the conservative attitudes in this country – and the first time in years they have demanded their rights in a public demonstration. Like Fedayee, many have withstood hostile, even violent, opposition – sometimes from other women.

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Briefing: Who Are the Taliban?

The umbrella organization includes many different groups fighting the Afghan government and Western forces.

As the Obama administration ramps up focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, insurgents from both countries have teamed up to confront the rising US troop presence. While the insurgents often get labeled as the “Taliban,” in reality there are several groups fighting the Afghan government and Western forces, and they often act independently of one another and have distinct command structures, ideologies, and strategies. Here, the Monitor maps out the diversity of the insurgency.

Who are the Afghan insurgents?

The most established group is the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar and others who held top positions in the Afghan government in the 1990s. The Taliban is strongest in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south, where it has deep roots. US officials believe that senior leaders are based in Pakistan, possibly Quetta.

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Smog Adds to Kabul’s Hazards

KABUL, Apr 15 (IPS/IFEJ) - On any given day, a pall of smog and dust hangs over Kabul’s streets. It clings to the face, burns the eyes, and stains the hands. It bathes the cars, often stuck bumper-to-bumper in traffic, and occludes the view of the distant mountains.

“My friends and I prefer to stay indoors whenever we meet,” says Kabul resident Habib Zahori, “because we can’t stand the air outside.”

The biggest killer in Kabul may not be the Taliban, but air pollution. Experts consider Kabul to be one of the most polluted cities in the world, and the scale of the problem has prompted a widespread government campaign.

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