Afghanistan: 50 Dead on Election Day, with Low turnout in Some Districts

Violence that left some 50 dead, and a relatively low turnout in some provinces marred Afghanistan’s presidential election on Thursday. McClatchy reports that the largest election monitoring organization refused to sign off on the polls’ legitimacy until more information had come in. Some 95% of polling stations were said to have opened. But the southwestern city of Qandahar took rocket and mortar fire about every half hour through the day, and there was a significant battle in Baghlan to the north. Rivals Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah both claimed victory, but the electoral commission refused to accept either claim on Friday morning.

Global Post’s correspondent spoke of “empty” polling stations throughout the capital of Kabul. Other reports say that voting was light in the morning because of attacks and fear, but that more voters came out in the afternoon.

Some analysts are predicting that the election will proceed to a run-off two weeks fron now between Karzai and Abdullah. Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based analyst on Pakistan’s Urdu-language GeoTv, pointed out that a run-off will risk dividing Afghanistan ethnically in a very stark way. Karzai can only will on the first round by getting at least some votes from the Tajik, Persian-speaking group that mainly supports Abdullah. But in a run-off, the Pashtuns would go solidly for Karzai, whil Tajiks and some other northerners would likely swing behind Abdullah. The winner will thus be seen as an ethnic president, not an Afghan one.

The violence on Thursday could have been worse. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s Security Directorate, claimed that several bombing plots against Kabul have been broken up by Afghan authorities, and he went on to blame Pakistan for the suicide bombings on voting day. The level of dislike between some high Afghan government authorities and Pakistan does not bode well for the future. If the Abdullah Abdullah wins, expect Afghanistan relations with Pakistan to plummet to a nadir, since Islamabad tends to see him as an agent of Indian intelligence (the Research and Analysis Wing or RAW).

Pajhwok Afghan News says that Karzai and Abdullah were running neck and neck as of early morning Friday. Karza did well in the south and east (Pashtun areas), while Abdullah was favored by the Tajiks of the areas north of Kabul. Herat province results won’t be released until Friday.

This Persian report says that in the conservative eastern province of Paktia, men voted on behalf of the women of their families, who were said to be unable to come to the polling station because of poor security and Taliban threats. It reports that one Paktia man came to the polling station with a list of 36 female family members for whom he intended to cast the vote.

Aljazeera English reports on the violence in Qandahar on election day:

Aljazeera English reports on charges by some candidates that the supposedly indelible ink used to dye the finger of voters could in fact be washed off, raising questions of voter fraud.

NATO wants to build the Afghan army and police forces up to a total of 400,000, including as many as 270,000 army soldiers. While organizing such a huge force and trying to make it disciplined, willing to stand and fight, and loyal to the Kabul government seems like an almost impossible task, it is the only way I can see for the situation to end at all well.

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