Afghanistan UNAfghan monitors call for tighter security ahead of elections

“Despite the fact that extremists have failed to derail the election process or to pressure candidates to withdraw, the possibility exists that the threat of violent attacks will have an impact on the campaign process and on Election Day, potentially disenfranchising large parts of the Pashtun population,” says a joint report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). The Pashtuns live mainly in southern Afghanistan. UNAMA and the AIHRC are verifying the exercise of political rights in Afghanistan to ensure free and fair elections on 18 September. That ballot, which will wrap up the war-torn country’s political transition, is on track with 5,800 registered candidates and about 1.5 million newly registered voters. “The overall impact was positive, particularly for women in conservative regions,” says the report, which adds that the range of candidates does not support the view that the elections will be dominated by commanders and armed elements.At the same time, verification team also indicated shortcomings in the environment and “worrying trends.” The escalation of violent attacks against candidates, election staff, civic educators and community leaders is particularly alarming and poses the greatest threat to the election process, with the east, southeast and south being the areas of greatest concern, says the report. “Concerted action will need to be taken by national and international security forces to respond to the security threats,” the report says, adding: “While the establishment of the National Joint Election Operation Center is encouraging, much more will have to be done to ensure that the police, national army and international security forces work closely to address the security challenges ahead.” The report also says that efforts should also be undertaken by Afghan officials at the central and local level to create “security zones” in vulnerable areas to ensure that candidates can carry out campaign activities without fear of violent attacks. And while the Ministry of Interior’s orders instructing the chiefs of police to undertake measures to protect female candidates and voters is welcome, more specific measures must be adopted by authorities at the central and local level.