Armed Band Takes Bank Near Presidential Palace; Charges Levelled of Foreign Money, Influence

On Wednesday morning, on the eve of Afghanistan’s elections, gunmen in the Seraji district of Kabul invaded the Pashtani Bank while laying down small arms fire and setting off explosions, a little over a mile from the presidential palace. Afghan security forces responded, and the clashes continued through Wednesday morning, with the attacks firing indiscriminately from the bank according to the Afghan Islamic Press agency.

AP says that at length police stormed the bank and said they had killed 3 extremists

The responsibility for the attack was claimed by a sub-group of the Jalaluddin Haqqani guerrilla band. Haqqani (b. 1950), an old-time anti-Soviet warlord backed by the Reagan administration, was once called “goodness personified” by Rep. Charlie Wilson. He received big bucks from the CIA in the 1980s, but opposed the 2001 US invasion and now leads one of four major guerrilla resistance movements to the Karzai government and to NATO.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber had hit a NATO convoy, killing 8 persons. A separate bombing in the Pashtun east killed 2 US troops and wounded 3 others. Plus, a rocket slammed into the presidential palace.

Reuters has video of the bombing.

Some 33 polling stations in troubled Ghazni province won’t be opened for voting on Thursday because of poor security. Also in Ghazni, Taliban have gone house to house confiscating voter registration cards to stop people from voting. In Helmand province, the Afghan press reports that only half of the polling stations will open, despite the recent military operation by the US and Britain in that province, which had intended to make it safe to vote. In the eastern Pashtun province of Paktia, a polling station was burned down on Monday night.

Indeed, some 440 polling stations have been ordered closed on Thursday.

Reuters profiles the leading candidates.

McClatchy argues that whether Karzai or Abdullah wins, the election will be consequential for the US and its war effort. A Karzai win likely promises more warlordism and corruption. An Abdullah win would bring even more Tajiks of the old Northern Alliance into government in an attempt to pacify them.

Challenger Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday accused incumbent Hamid Karzai of using the machinery of the state in his campaign, giving him an unfair advantage: “He (Karzai) has used state apparatus, state resources. If you just take the airtime on the state- run television, it was 90 percent for him, one percent coverage for me and the rest was for others. Let’s just take that one example.”

Candidate Mahbubullah Kushani accused some of the top candidates, without naming them, of receiving money from abroad to run their campaigns.

The Open Source Center translates a report in Pashto from the Afghan Islamic Press news agency about the stance toward the elections of the Hizb-i Islami (Islamic Party) of Gulbadin Hikmatyar. (Hikmatyar had also been a Reagan-era favorite in Washington; Haqqani in his youth belonged to the Hizb-i Islami):

‘ Kabul, 18 August: Hezb-e Eslami Afghanistan has asked people not to attend the elections. Hezb-e Eslami Afghanistan issued a three part statement regarding the elections and asked people not to take part in elections. The first part terms elections as mocking and announced that it will be disrupted completely. The second part has asked people not to participate in elections and express their hatred against foreign forces in Afghanistan. The third part says the armed forces of Hezb-e Eslami threaten attacks against military targets of the enemy therefore the people should stay at their homes during the day and save their lives. Hezb-e Eslami Afghanistan led by Eng Golbuddin Hekmatyar is one of the government opponent groups, which counts the current government as illegal and calls Afghanistan as an occupied country.’

The Taliban pledged to step up their attacks afer September 20, when the Muslim month of fasting ends.

Aljazeera English points out that much rides on the vote of the Shiite Hazara minority, about 22 percent of the population according to the parliamentary votes that have been held. Hamid Karzai just threw them a bone by allowing their clergy to administer Shiite personal status law in their communities, including a provision that allows a husband to coerce his wife into sex.

Trudy Rubin reports from Kabul on the state of women in Karzai’s Afghanistan.

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