Security still the pressing issue for Afghans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 12:00am

The push for early elections could damage the democratic process, say experts

Elections should not take place in Afghanistan until security concerns have been properly dealt with, observers warned a day after the first post-Taleban vote was postponed.

Analysts said political self-interest was driving the country towards the elections, which could seriously damage the democratic process if they went ahead prematurely.

President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday the elections would now be held in September due to difficulties in registering voters. Much of the country beyond the capital is controlled by warlords.

Security will be high on the agenda of a two-day meeting of western aid donors starting in Berlin tomorrow. They are expected to pledge a further US$4 billion in aid for the coming year, far short of the Karzai government's expectations.

Helena Malikyar, political analyst with the United Nations Development Programme in Kabul, said just 15 per cent of Afghans eligible to vote had been registered.

'There is no reason why elections should go ahead without adequate security,' she said. 'Another year would not harm the process.'

The government said on Saturday it would disarm 40,000 irregular militia soldiers and seize weapons countrywide to make campaigning safer.

Ms Malikyar, formerly a researcher with New York University, accused US President George W. Bush of pressing Mr Karzai to hold the presidential and parliamentary elections to make political gain for his own re-election bid in November. The overthrowing of the fundamentalist Taleban regime in November 2001 was the first stage of the US-led war on terrorism.

A US expert on Afghanistan, Thomas Gouttierre, believed Mr Karzai was more likely the main impetus for elections sooner rather than later.

'Karzai is eager to have elections as a way of demonstrating that he is his own person,' Dr Gouttierre, the director of the University of Nebraska at Omah's Centre of Afghanistan Studies, said yesterday on his return from a visit to Kabul. 'If elections keep getting postponed, then the process of getting Afghanistan back on its own feet is seen perhaps as too dependent on outside forces and influences.'

But the academic, who met the Afghan leader during his visit, admitted that many Afghans were dubious about whether there would be enough security to register a representational number of voters and allow for fair and free elections. There was some cause for optimism, though.

'The economy in Kabul is booming and it is being rebuilt, while the constitution has been drawn up and passed,' Dr Gouttierre said. 'Afghans feel a sense of pride. With that, they have a desire to see things progress.'

But William Maley, the director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at Australian National University in Canberra, said the existing security force was inadequate, and much depended on the commitments made this week in Berlin. The elections also posed a broader challenge, though, especially given the difficulties Mr Karzai's fledgling government faced.

'Elections are politically divisive exercises,' Dr Maley, the author of several books on Afghanistan, said. 'They put people in competition with each other.

'That works when there is a strong framework to contain competition within manageable limits, but if those institutions are weak, then competition can actually prove extremely destructive.'