election blues

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by ayesha tanzeem

voice of america

september 29, 2019 (sunday)

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KABUL – Afghan officials are counting votes after Saturday’s presidential election that was held amid repeated threats by the Taliban and fear of post-election chaos.

Better performance by electoral and security authorities notwithstanding, fears remain that disagreements on the result might engulf the country into a destabilizing fight for power.

Empty polling stations and empty ballot boxes. These were the scenes VOA teams found in the capital Kabul and many parts of the country Saturday.

Unofficial estimates indicate the voter turnout will be a historic low.

Extreme threats from the Taliban, voter dissatisfaction with candidates, and confusion over whether the twice-delayed elections will be held this time, kept campaigns from gaining steam.

Now that they were held, given Afghanistan’s track record, many fear a dispute over results that could devolve into a full-blown crisis.

Some candidates, like former warlord turned politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, seem to already be preparing for such a scenario.

“The elections will result in increased violence. No one will accept the results other than those who were involved in widespread fraud. Naturally, it will result in a crisis,” he said.

The process of counting votes in Afghanistan is long. Ballot boxes have to arrive from far off places with little or no communication lines. The preliminary results are not expected for a few weeks. Only then will they get to any complaints.

“The law is very clear. If there is fraud, candidates and their followers can go to the Election Complaints Commission and register their complaints. The commission will decide upon them and we are committed to abide by its decision,” said Habibur Rehman, Secretary of the Election Comission.

The last presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud and the country became so divided that then-Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and broker a power-sharing deal between the two leading candidates. The same two, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, seemed to be leading in this year’s race as well.

Despite the introduction of more robust systems this time to avoid fraud, including taking finger prints and pictures of voters, allegations of fraud have already emerged from certain quarters.

If more voices join ranks, this could wreak havoc to an already fragile system.

Both election and security authorities insist that they are ready to deal with any scenario. And everyone is hoping for a smooth transition. But Afghanistan has a long history of post-election chaos.

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https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/voting-over-now-real-challenges-begin-afghanistan

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ghani campaign plows ahead

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by pamela constable

washington post

september 20, 2019

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When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ran for office in 2014, he campaigned as a no-nonsense reformer in a hurry to modernize an insular, traditional society. Today, he is campaigning for reelection as an avuncular, turbaned elder, hugging everyone he meets and invoking the glories of Afghan history.

At a rally in southern Kandahar province last week, Ghani hailed its 18th-century founder and urged the crowd of fellow ethnic Pashtuns to support him, pledging to “bring peace to the hearts and minds of all Afghans” after 18 years of conflict with Taliban insurgents.

Addressing a mostly ethnic Tajik crowd in northern Parwan province Tuesday, he recalled  the region’s sacrifices in past wars against the British and Soviet armies, then promised to “give every home electricity” and deliver a “sustainable” and “Islamic” peace if he wins the Sept. 28 election.

This new populist style is part of an electoral strategy that is aimed partly at bringing the aloof and wonky president closer to ordinary Afghans, and partly at bringing together a nation roiled by ethnic and political divisions, in hopes of reviving both the aborted peace process and Ghani’s unfinished ambitions for state-building and economic development.

“We are trying to change the narrative to one of national identity and pride,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Ghani. “You can’t talk over people’s heads.”

Ghani’s critics portray this effort in a darker light. They view it as a ploy to cement his power and revive his stature, at home and abroad, after being sidelined from U.S.-Taliban talks, which have been canceled. Many Afghans wanted the vote postponed until domestic peace negotiations were held, but Ghani insisted that it take place on time. Now, some fear that a disputed outcome could plunge the nation into turmoil and strengthen the Taliban’s hand.

The president, however, is already planning for a post-election role as chief interlocutor with the insurgents who have long denounced him as a U.S. puppet. He also hopes that the election will give him a free hand to resume his governing agenda, after five years of a contentious power-sharing arrangement with Abdullah Abdullah, his top rival both in 2014 and in the current contest.

The awkward co-governing pact, with Ghani as head of state and Abdullah as chief executive, was brokered by the Obama administration after the fraud-plagued election collapsed, a recount failed and some groups backing Abdullah threatened violence. Ghani has vowed never to accept such an arrangement again.

“The last time you voted for me, I had one hand tied behind my back,” he told the Kandahar audience. “This time, you must liberate me totally.”

Most observers say Abdullah has little chance of obtaining the 50.1 percent of votes needed to win a first round, and none of the other 16 contenders has campaigned seriously because of violence and uncertainty. Abdullah has held rallies in Kabul and several provinces, attacking Ghani with sometimes bitter barbs and warning that he might steal this election.

“He is a liar, a fraudster and an absconder,” Abdullah charged Monday night during a live TV appearance, which had been planned as a debate between the two rivals. Ghani backed out at the last minute because of what aides said were suspicions that the event would be stacked against him.

As a result, Abdullah had the stage to himself for 90 minutes, next to an empty lectern. He ran through a litany of accusations, including rumors that Ghani had released a bank official, convicted of massive fraud, in exchange for a campaign contribution. Ghani’s top spokesman said the official had been moved to house arrest because of health problems.

Ghani’s supporters say the workaholic technocrat has made strides in many areas during his tenure, including anti-corruption overhauls and agribusiness development. But they say much of the change has been gradual or stymied by opponents, while the public has remained frustrated by the lack of security and jobs.

“In Afghanistan, everything was broken from A to Z,” Faisal said. “It takes time to change things, but we have made progress.” Since Ghani took office, he said, “Afghanistan went from being listed as the most corrupt country in the world to being the eighth-most corrupt. That is progress.”

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department dealt a stunning blow to such assertions, announcing that it would cancel a $100 million grant for a large Afghan energy project because of “government corruption and financial mismanagement.” It also said it would cut support for two of Ghani’s signature programs to overhaul public spending and contracting, because they had not proved sufficiently transparent or accountable.

The 70-year-old incumbent has campaigned relentlessly, flying to rallies throughout the country despite the risk of Taliban attacks. Just after Ghani and running mate Amrullah Saleh arrived by army helicopter at the heavily guarded Parwan event, a motorcycle suicide bomber killed 26 people outside the entrance. 

Public response to Ghani has seemed enthusiastic, on his home turf and elsewhere. In conservative Kandahar, officials praised him for cracking down on influential “mafia” bosses. The all-male crowd in a sports stadium cheered when Saleh, a former national spy chief, took sly digs at neighboring Pakistan, which many Afghans view as the patron of Taliban predations.

“Mr. Ghani removed the warlords who monopolized power here. If he can’t bring peace, no one can,” said Mohammed Nazir, 26, a car seller. Like several others in the crowd, he criticized the U.S.-Taliban talks as too secretive. “The Taliban must come to the table and talk to Afghans.”

In Parwan, a more liberal northern region, highway billboards lionize anti-Soviet freedom fighters linked to the major opposition party. But thousands flocked to hear Ghani, including many women. Some were covered in burqas; others were students and professionals in stylish dresses who had grown up in democracy and said they were determined to keep it.

“It is important for women to participate in public events and show that we count,” said Alina Latifi, 18, who will be voting for the first time. She said that some politicians want only to “get personal benefits” from the war but that she hoped Ghani would end it. “I’m going to listen and think about who will do the best job for peace,” she said.

Ghani’s only extensive, nationwide, election-related comments came in a TV interview last month, before the U.S.-Taliban talks were called off. He said that he would not delay the vote under any circumstances and that his role was to “save the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at any cost.”

Since then, his spokesman has said the peace process will be put on hold until after the poll, which the Taliban has denounced as a “fake election” and vowed to disrupt. Afghans hope that the widespread insurgent attacks against October’s parliamentary elections will not be repeated and that turnout among the country’s 9.6 million registered voters will be high enough to produce a credible outcome.

 But many are more worried about what comes after.

“No matter whether Ghani or Abdullah wins, the other side will charge fraud and the results will be disputed,” predicted Rangin Spanta, a former Afghan foreign minister. “I don’t think we’ll see chaos break out like in 2014, but we will see a weaker government come to power. That will only hurt the peace process, which the entire nation is demanding.”

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Pamela Constable is Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan & Pakistan.

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original story (if you can get to it):

dancing

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episode 21

Taliban Focus

by rawclyde

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The woman in the yellow polka-dot burka

Comes back with a pot full of sweet tea

As Taliban bullets whistle & sing all around & always miss

The Taliban are so captivated they can’t hit her

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She is so obviously good lookin’ under that burka

Such beauty glorifies the entire world

Makes it livable for humankind

And drives Taliban outta their mind

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Ten thousand bullets miss the two Afghan soldiers too

Cuz’ they are her Afghaneeland friends

The three of them lounge on the blanket in the shade

And drink their tea

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As the three musketeers partake

A moaning & a groaning grows louder & louder in the sky

Two A-10 Warthog aeroplanes approach

Looking for Taliban & find them

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Behind the pile of boulders

The Warthogs find ten thousand of the culprits

And blast them into bloody pulp

While Col. Sheena Johnson & the Afghan soldiers sip their tea

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series

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text copyright clyde collins 2015

taliban body count skyrocketing

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by Omar

Salaam Times

09-17-2019

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HERAT — Afghan and coalition forces have ramped up military pressure against the Taliban over the last two weeks, killing hundreds of militant commanders and leaving fighters with fewer and fewer places to hide.

More than 350 Taliban fighters have been killed in attacks conducted by security forces in Afghanistan’s western provinces since September 1, according to official data.

Those killed have included the Taliban shadow district governors of the Ghorian, Gulran, Obe, Keshk Rabat Sangi and Adraskan districts of Herat Province, as well as other well-known commanders, say authorities in Herat.

“Our security forces have launched operations in all areas where the Taliban exist,” said Herat Governor Abdul Qayum Rahimi.

“Operations against the Taliban are underway in Keshk Rabat Sangi, Gulran, Shindand and Obe districts, and we’ll continue these operations until we clear these areas of the Taliban,” he said.

In an operation in Obe District on September 5, “more than 50 Taliban fighters, including three of their famous commanders, were killed and another 50-plus were injured,” said Rahimi.

Rahimi earlier announced on September 3 that a Taliban trainer for suicide bombers was killed in Keshk Rabat Sangi District.

“In our operations in Keshk Rabat Sangi and Gulran districts of Herat Province, tens of Taliban fighters including a number of their group leaders were killed,” said Herat Police Chief Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil.

Mullah Sardar, the Taliban shadow district governor for Gulran, and Mullah Nabi, the shadow district governor for Keshk Rabat Sangi, were killed in these operations, he said.

“Mullah Idris, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Ghorian District of Herat, was killed along with six of his comrades in an air strike on September 10,” Amarkhil added. “Mullah Idris was the core organiser of blowing up electricity pylons in Ghorian and Zindajan districts.”

Nowhere to hide

Under pressure, Taliban fighters have withdrawn from most districts in the western region to remote areas. However, there is no place to hide, say officials.

“We have launched heavy and expansive attacks on the Taliban,” said Ghor Governor Ghulam Naser Khaze, referring to operations that started on September 1. “These operations were conducted in the west of Firuzkoh City and in some of the western districts [of Ghor Province].”

“More than 90 Taliban fighters lost their lives in these operations” and dozens were wounded, he added.

“The Taliban were forcing people into giving them tithe and zakat in some areas and districts of Ghor Province, but the security forces were able to stop this practice of extortion and expel them [the Taliban] from the villages,” said Khaze.

“The Taliban tried a lot to make the Herat-Ghor Highway unsafe and take control of the route, but in an operation, we cleared the highway of the Taliban,” he added. “We are working on putting permanent checkpoints to maintain the highway’s security.”

“The Taliban have seen heavy casualties in the past 10 days,” Col. Hasibullah Akhundzada, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the Afghan National Army in Badghis Province, said September 10.

“According to our reports, 114 Taliban fighters lost their lives and 67 sustained injuries, and a number of their commanders are also among the casualties,” he said. “We are trying to increase the number of ground attacks and air strikes on the Taliban.”

The Taliban attacked Farah City on September 6 and tried to capture certain areas, but they were defeated, said Farah Police Chief Gen. Ghulam Muhaiuddin Khairkhwa.

“Nearly 90 Taliban fighters, including their intelligence chief for Farah Province, Noor Ahmad Chakani, were killed,” he said. “A few other famous Taliban commanders who were leading the attack on Farah City were also killed in ground operations and air strikes.”

“Our operations on the Taliban have continued for three days in the outskirts of Farah City and we’ll search and clean all the areas,” Khairkhwa said on September 10.

“The Taliban intended to capture Farah City, but security forces with support from the Resolute Support Mission air forces were able to contain the Taliban and forced them to escape,” he added. “The Taliban couldn’t reach their goals and they didn’t succeed in killing civilians and the security forces.”

Losing a golden opportunity

The sustained pressure on the Taliban comes after a secret meeting in the United States between the Afghan government, US negotiators and Taliban leaders was called off September 8.

The Taliban passed up an opportunity by continuing violence amid talks in Qatar and causing the cancellation of the summit, say political experts and civil society activists.

The Taliban are no longer in the position they were in a few months ago and have lost their credibility at a global level by attempting to use the killing of civilians as a bargaining chip, they say.

“The Qatar peace talks were a great chance for the Taliban as it provided them with an opportunity to sign a peace deal with the international community, especially with the United States,” said Jawad Ameed, a civil society activist in Herat Province. “But the Taliban made a mistake as they declined to accept the ceasefire and increased violence and the killing of people, and thus lost the opportunity.”

“It is obvious that the Taliban will face enhanced military pressure in the wake of losing the chance to make peace, and this will be a huge blow to the group,” he said.

“The Taliban lost one of the best opportunities,” said Muhammad Rafiq Shahir, a political expert in Herat City. “The Taliban were dreaming of the Islamic Emirate in recent months, but they have to accept that now they have nothing, and they have lost their credibility.”

“If more military pressure is mounted on the Taliban in this situation, it will force them to renounce violence and join the peace talks,” he added.

“Giving the Taliban privilege and showing flexibility to them is like nurturing a snake in your bosom,” said Shahir.

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http://afghanistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_st/features/2019/09/17/feature-01

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afghan security forces, lethal & majestic

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Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani and Jason Criss Howk

Military Times

August 29, 2019

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The evidence that the U.S. wants a shift in its current political policy in Afghanistan is clear, yet actions should to be taken to fulfill the coalition’s commitments in Afghanistan…

The government of Afghanistan has been a trusted ally for over 18 years and can be trusted to bring an end to the Taliban insurgency, either by negotiations or by force…

If funded, supported, and advised adequately, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) can continue to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield and pressure them to hold talks with the Afghan government in Kabul…

The Taliban militia force of the insurgency, leading a campaign of terror against the Afghan people, were supposed to be able to get strong enough to over-power the Afghan security forces after the U.S.-led coalition left. That did not happen for two reasons. First, the creation of a professional and lethal ANDSF was a priority effort that started just weeks after the U.S.-led invasion and it has continued non-stop for 18 years. Second, the U.S.-led coalition of military, development and diplomacy experts from around the globe did not heed anyone’s advice to keep the ANDSF small and then leave quickly without training them adequately.

The continued efforts of dozens of nations have enabled the ANDSF to become one of the premier forces in the region. The ANDSF is the most respected institution in the Afghanistan government. The ANDSF does not just defend Afghanistan, it is also the primary force facing the global terrorism front line. Despite many states sponsoring the Taliban to destroy ANDSF, and despite thousands of ANDSF lives lost in the past 18 years, the ANDSF have displayed valor, lethality and professionalism, as they continued to grow towards their necessary capabilities. Fighting against over 20 different terrorist groups — who, of course, use different methods, techniques, and tactics on the battlefields — our innovative and proud ANDSF have not permanently lost a single province or city to the enemies. In fact, they have steadily gained territory and caused heavy human and material losses to the Taliban and other terrorist groups such as ISIS-K.

Currently, the ANDSF — particularly the Afghan Special Forces and the Afghan Air Force who are taking responsibly for much of the fighting — are in a good shape, conducting complex independent operations with no or limited foreign support. This record of battlefield success and continuing professionalism is the exact opposite of the communist army that was defeated by the mujahedeen in the 1980s and ’90s. This patriotic military force will not falter and is loyal to the Afghan citizens.

This year, as usual, the Taliban and their terrorist allies tried to launch a campaign of murder and brutality in Afghanistan that they like to call their spring offensive. This year it failed to even start. Let’s see how:

This April, the Taliban attempted to initiate an offensive campaign aiming to gain leverage in the Doha talks with the U.S. via some ground victories. In order to transport their terrorist allies and smuggle drug caravans to Central Asia, the Taliban wanted to overrun a strategic district bordering Turkmenistan. Right after their offensive campaign announcement, they attacked Balamorghab district in Badghis Province located in the northwestern Afghanistan, with a force of over 2,000 fighters. This was their third attempt since 2013 to capture this strategic district, but they failed to do so because the ANDSF denied them victory. Under the command of Gen. Yasin Zia, a new and passionate first deputy for Ministry of Defense, they launched a 10-day air and ground campaign on the Taliban fighters inflicting heavy casualties and clearing the district from the Taliban in the matters of days.

The ANDSF victory in Balamorghab and Taliban’s humiliating defeat, angered their leaders and regional supporters; and to ease this humiliating defeat on the battlefield, they ramped up their attacks on several key districts across Afghanistan in the months of May and July, including Shamulzayi and Mizan in Zabul province, Obe in Herat, Qush Tepa in Jawzjan, and Dila Wa Khushamand in Paktika province. But they have failed to permanently even capture them. If by surprise they were able to gain any ground, they have failed to hold on in those districts. Not only are those districts under government control, the ANDSF have also succeeded in retaking some key districts form the Taliban, including Dehyak and Khuwaja Omari in Ghazni and Bilchiragh in Faryab province.

Also, worth noting that, for the first time, ANDSF have successfully conducted 10 self-planned and self-commanded and controlled “liberating ops,” as they call them, to free ordinary Afghans and ANDSF personnel from the Taliban prisons. As a result, they have freed more than 250 men from the Taliban prisons. From the beginning of the Taliban’s so-called spring offensive, ANDSF have killed more than 24 Taliban shadow governors, battlefield commanders, and senior leaders including Sadar Ibrahim, the Taliban’s Defense Minister and Mullah Manan, their notorious leader in Helmand and other southern provinces.

These ANDSF successes, have significantly affected the Taliban campaign of murder and terror. Therefore, they turned their guns from ANDSF to ordinary Afghans. Recently, the Taliban took responsibility of a bombing that claimed lives of 16 Afghan civilians and injured 105, including 51 children and five women. The angrier and more desperate the Taliban become, the more they lose. Taliban lose not only on the battlefields, but also at the negotiating table. The Afghan government and people are right now considering whether they can allow the Taliban to reenter Afghan society. Atrocities against civilians, especially children are not helping the Taliban in this respect.

This war has been deadly for the ANDSF. It’s been costly for their families, as well. Despite the losses of tens of thousands of police and military members in this war, the morale of the ANDSF has been steadily increasing. The Afghan people have chosen their security forces over the insurgency militants, and continue to send their sons and daughters to join the ANDSF and defend the republic.

In closing, the ANDSF is firmly under the control of the Afghan government and by extension the Afghan people. They stand ready to continue to secure the nation against internal and external threats. It is time for the Taliban to accept the olive branch that the Afghan government is offering. A cease fire and peace talks with the Afghan government will give the Taliban a chance to return to normal life. The Afghan people deserve peace, and the ANDSF are the cornerstone of a durable peace. It’s time for the killing to stop inside Afghanistan, there are many external threats for the ANDSF and its allies to focus on in the region.

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Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani is an Afghan Special Mission Wing pilot by profession and is currently assigned to the Afghan National Security Council staff in Kabul. He is the author of “Afghanistan: A Collection of Stories.” Rahmani is an Expeditionary Warfare School graduate from Marine Corps University.

Jason Criss Howk is an interfaith leader and Islamic studies instructor who has worked on reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan since 2002. He is the author of the award-winning book “The Quran: a Chronological Modern English Interpretation” and the co-host of the “We’re Just Talking About It” podcast.

These are their personal views on the war in Afghanistan and neither of the authors speak on behalf of their nations or any organization.

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original

https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2019/08/29/afghan-security-forces-still-worth-supporting

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Editor ~ Rawclyde

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