By Ajit Kumar Singh
May 14, 2018
On May 11, 2018, at least four unidentified
militants were killed and another four persons, including two personnel of the
‘public uprising force’ and two militants, were injured when militants attacked
a voter-registration centre in the Kamarab region of Firoz Koh City (District),
the capital of the Ghor Province. The first ‘public uprising force’ was
reportedly formed way in 2013, when a number of people in the Andar District of
Ghazni took up arms against the Taliban.
Since then, according to varying media
reports, activities of such ‘forces’ have been reported from at least 17 out of
the 34 provinces in the country, though the total number and strength of such
‘forces’ is not known. Confirming that such ‘forces’ had the support of the
Government, Second Vice President of the National Unity Government Mohammad
Sarwar Danish, had stated, in August 2017, “The Afghan Government welcomes and
supports the public uprising forces. We urge our people, especially the youth
of every region not to just be witnesses but to cooperate with the national
army and police forces and to stand with the public uprising forces (against
On May 8, 2018, six Policemen and three
militants were killed and six Policemen and another three militants injured,
when militants attacked a voter-registration centre in the Laman Region of
Qala-e-Naw District of Badghis Province.
On May 6, 2018, at least 17 civilians were
killed and 34 were injured in an explosion that targeted a mosque where people
had gathered to obtain voter cards in the Yaqoobi area in Khost City
(District), the capital of Khost Province.
These incidents were among a series of
attacks deliberately targeting election-related facilities since the
commencement of the voter-registration process on April 14, 2018, for the Parliamentary
and District Council elections scheduled for October 20, 2018. On May 10, 2018,
the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a report titled
'Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Election-Related Attacks and Abuses
during the Initial Voter Registration Period' stated,
Since voter registration for the upcoming
parliamentary elections began on 14 April, UNAMA has verified 23
election-related security incidents resulting in 271 civilian casualties (86
deaths and 185 injured), the majority of whom were women and children, and the
abduction of 26 civilians.
The vast majority of civilian casualties occurred on
22 April 2018, when a suicide attacker detonated his improvised explosive
device (IED) amongst a crowd outside a national identity card (Tazkira)
distribution centre in Kabul city, resulting in 198 civilian casualties (60
deaths and 138 injured).
Of concern, approximately 75 per cent, or 17 of the 23
election-related security incidents, occurred at schools  or mosques 
used for election-related purposes. Two incidents at schools concerned the
abduction of six civilians, one involved setting fire inside a school, one
involved an IED [improvised explosion device] detonated in a school, and one
IED detonated at a mosque, while the remaining incidents at schools and mosques
involved threats, intimidation and harassment.
The date till which incidents were covered
in the report was not specified.
Partial data compiled by the Institute for
Conflict Management (ICM) identifies at least 10 election-related incidents of
violence across Afghanistan after voter-registration began (data till May 13,
2018). These incidents resulted in 111 deaths [94 civilians, eight security
force (SF) personnel, and nine militants] and 194 injured. As mentioned above
in the UNAMA report, the April 22, 2018, Kabul attack was the worst such
incident. The Islamic State or Daesh claimed responsibility for the Kabul
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations
Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the
UNAMA since June 2016, thus observed, in the aftermath of the Kabul attack,
Compounding the callous disregard for the
lives of civilians, the killing appears to be part of a wholly unacceptable
effort by extremists to deter Afghan citizens from carrying out their
constitutional right to take part in elections.
Indeed, the adverse impact of these
incidents has already been noticed. On May 11, 2018, civilians protested
against shutting down of 77 polling stations due to the security threat,
depriving more than 300,000 people of their right to vote in nine Districts of
Paktika Province. Melma Civil Society and Media Organization Head Yaqub Khan
Manzor disclosed that closing the 77 polling stations in the nine districts was
a joint decision of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan
and the military.
Significantly, on April 1, 2018, IEC of
Afghanistan Chairman Abdul Badi Sayat had confirmed that the long-delayed
Afghan Parliamentary and District Council elections would be held on October
Afghanistan has, so far, held two Parliamentary elections since the end of
Taliban rule, the first in 2005 and the second in 2010. The third election –
which was due in April-May 2015, as the five-year term of the present Parliament
was set to expire on June 22, 2015 – could not be held. The elections were
repeatedly postponed thereafter, both because of security fears as well as
disagreements on how to ensure a fair vote after the bitterly contested
Presidential Election of 2014.
In the meantime, President Ashraf Ghani extended
the Parliament’s mandate until a vote could be held, through a decree issued on
June 19, 2015. The current Parliament is operating under this decree. District
Council Elections have not been held since Taliban rule ended, despite being
mandated in the 2004 Constitution.
According to UNAMA’s 2014 Mid-Year report,
at least 242 violent incidents targeting the 2014 Presidential Elections, had
resulting in 380 civilian casualties (74 killed and 306 injured). In fact,
civilian casualties, which had remained in four digits till 2013, entered five
digits in 2014 for the first time since 2009, when UNAMA started documenting
Since then, casualties have remained in five digits. There were
10,453 casualties (3,438 deaths and 7,015 injured) in 2017. As of March 30,
2018, such casualties had already reached 2,258 (763 deaths and 1,495 injured).
Despite this, the new date of the election has been announced, reportedly
because President Ashraf Ghani’s credibility was on the line with both Afghan
voters and increasingly impatient international partners.
Meanwhile, internal discord within the
Government, which has existed since the time of its formation in 2014, has
become prominent once again. On May 3, 2018, Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief
Executive Officer (CEO) of the Government of Afghanistan, vehemently opposing
the launch of the electronic-National Identity Cards (e-NIC) distribution by
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and declared that “all the national processes
which are not being consulted within the National Unity Government (NUG) and
with the people of Afghanistan are not legitimate and I will not be part of
Abdullah also warned that the distribution process of e-NIC
will unfortunately divide people further and add further to problems. Earlier,
in the day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had inaugurated the distribution of
e-NIC, hailing it as an important step toward securing national elections. A
day later, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a prominent coalition partner in the
Government, also criticized the move, arguing that it was not appropriate to
launch the distribution of e-NIC as there are pending controversies in its
contents, specifically the nationality of identity card holders.
According to reports, the main point of
contention has been the use of the word “Afghan” on the cards to refer to all
Afghan citizens. The word was historically synonymous with Pashtuns, the
country’s largest ethnic group. Other groups, especially the Tajiks, who are
the second largest ethnic group, have objected that using “Afghan” would
politically benefit the Pashtuns.
A relatively peaceful conduct of the
scheduled Parliamentary and District Council elections is essential for
Afghanistan, as indefinite delay in the democratic process can only add to the
country’s present misery in the country. However, the challenges of holding
this massive electoral exercise within circumstances of enveloping violence
across wide areas of the country remain overwhelming.
Ajit Kumar Singh is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
South Asia Intelligence Review