Oct 09, 2004

Afghan election: problems and successes

From Peter Bergen, Gardez, Afghanistan.
Visits to polling stations in Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan and Loghar province, south of Kabul, indicate that the problems with the ink used to mark voters' fingers in Saturday's Afghan presidential election extend beyond the capital. At the Kolangar polling center in Loghar election supervisor, Said Narullah, said "this ink can be easily removed." He demonstrated this by inking a reporter's thumb and wiping off the ink in a couple of seconds. Similar problems with the ink were also found in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia. Dr. Mohammed Nazar Mohammed Ahmadzai, a pediatrician who had just voted, complained that it was easy to wipe off the ink, a complaint endorsed by several others at the polling center. The problem is a potentially serious one for the legitimacy of the Afghan election as it allows voters with more than a single voter registration card to vote more than once. There have been widespread reports of Afghans who were able to secure more than one registration card.

Voters in Gardez expressed happiness in being able to participate in the country's first direct election. Despite the fact that President Hamid Karzai's helicopter was attacked with a rocket in Gardez last month, residents of the city expressed strong support for the president. A completely veiled woman, who gave her name as Jawara, said that she had walked an hour in the bitter cold to vote for Karzai because he was the candidate most likely to bring peace and stability to the country. That view was echoed by other voters, including the governor of Paktia, Asadullah Wafa, who said that he had voted for Karzai.

Security was tight in Gardez. Afghan National Army soldiers patrolled the streets in trucks. On Saturday morning local police arrested three "terrorists" carrying rockets and AK-47s near the University of Paktia. At noon a missile was launched in the direction of the city's main polling center. The missile fell short by a kilometer, damaging the office of a demining organization. There were no casualties. The incident did not deter voters who continued to gather by their hundreds at the polling center.