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Taliban attacks don't deter Afghan election

By Aveek Sen
October 22, 2018 09:38 IST
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The election seem to have been conducted without any major security lapses.
However, in the coming weeks, the military situation in Kandahar could tilt in the Taliban's favour, notes Aveek Sen.

IMAGE: An Afghan woman casts her vote in the parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

On Saturday, October 20, Afghanistan voted for its lower House of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, even as threats to attack the 'illegitimate elections' were issued by the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan Province, which is mainly composed of breakaway members of the Taliban.

A high voter turnout of more than 2 million was reported even as some attacks were reported as polling day ended. Speaking to the Afghan media, Afghanistan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah said the 'high voter turnout was in response to enemies'.

Afghanistan's interior ministry said 27 civilians and security forces were killed in 192 different terror attacks across the country. The New York Times newspaper estimated the figures to be much higher -- 250 civilians wounded, mostly in Kabul and Kunduz.

Given that the voting began late in certain centres owing to the use of technological advancements for the first time, the Afghan election commission extended polling in those centres till 8 pm local time..

Voting in Kandahar province was postponed by a week due to the delicate security situation.


The entire top security leadership in the region, including the influential police chief General Abdul Raziq, were assassinated in a terrorist attack on October 18, an attack claimed by the Taliban.

General Razi was seen as a bulwark against the Taliban and had managed to maintain peace in the restive province.

The attack, which came just as a meeting on security measures to be implented during the election concluded, was carried out by a guard infiltrated into the governor's security team.

The Afghan intelligence agency NDS's Kandahar head, General Abdul Momin, was also killed in the attack. Kandahar Governor Zalmai Wesa was injured, but survived.

IMAGE: Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq, who died in the October 18 terrorist attack, Kandahar Governor Zalmay Wesa, who was wounded in the attack, and United States General Austin Scott Miller, commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, who escaped uninjured, at the meeting in the Kandahar governor's compound in Kandahar, shortly before the Taliban attack. Photograph: Reuters

General Austin Scott Miller, commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, was unharmed though another US general Brigadier General Jeffrey D Smiley was wounded (external link) in the attack.

Afghan Deputy Minister of the Interior General Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi said an 'enemy infiltrator' opened fire as the participants in the meeting headed to their helicopters after the discussions ended.

The news brought despair across Afghanistan. General Razi had survived dozens of such attacks.

A January 2017 attack at a Kandahar guesthouse office, again by an infiltrator -- a cook -- killed five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates including its ambassador to Afghanistan Juma Mohammed Abdullah al Kaabi. Humayun Azizi, the then Kandahar governor, was wounded in the attack and hospitalised for weeks.

General Raziq had just stepped out of the room that day before the bomb exploded. A joint investigation by the NDS, the Afghan police and an UAE investigation team concluded the target was the UAE ambassdor and instructions for the attack came from the Taliban's Quetta Shura.

"There has been an ongoing war in Afghanistan for a long time. Afghanistan is at war for the last 40 years and it affects civilians, security forces and government officials. Among all of this, General Raziq was a hero and a legend," Deputy Minister for Strategic Planning and Policy at Afghanistan's interior ministry Masood Ahmad Azizi tells this correspondent.

"He served his country truly and effectively. It is a very big loss for us. He will be remembered as a legend by us," adds Azizi.

"This is the most devastating moment in the history of the 17-year war so far," says Peymana Assad, a British politician who represents Afghan refugees who escaped that war in the United Kingdom.

"The assassination of General Raziq in Kandahar will have a profound impact on security in southern Afghanistan. Whilst the enemies of Afghanistan celebrate," says Assad, "I hope this sends a clear indication to the US and its allies, we need to get serious about the root causes of this conflict and the sponsors and backers of these terrorists in neighbouring countries, mainly Pakistan."

"It is distressing to see how dangerous the war has become and how things have been allowed to get so bad," says Ambassador Manpreet Vohra, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan.

"I knew the victims well. They were good Afghans working for the security and development of their people. This attack could be an inflection point for Afghanistan's future," Ambassador Vohra adds.

"A true son of Afghanistan has paid with his life for defending his country against the proxies of Pakistan. It is a huge loss for Afghanistan," says Ambassador Amar Sinha, another former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan.

"It is not the Taliban, but Pakistan's ISI which has killed General Razi and almost the entire top security hierarchy of Kandahar," asserts retired Indian diplomat Ambassador Rajiv Dogra.

"The police chief is the most important powerbroker in southern Afghanistan and Kandahar is one of the closest cities to Quetta where Pakistan has assembled its entire anti-Afghan leadership," says Ambassador Dogra.

The October 18 attack in Kandahar, Ambassador Dogra believes, "should be seen as a revenge by the Pakistan army for its Frontier Corps soldiers who were killed when they joined the Taliban in an attack on Ghazni in August 2018."

This attack, he adds, is "also a challenge to the US which has been urging Pakistan to stop its terror activities in Afghanistan. It is also the Taliban's reply to American efforts to engage with it in Doha."

IMAGE: The funeral of General Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar police commander killed in a Taliban attack on October 18, 2018. Photograph: Ismail Sameem/Reuters

Afghanstan's election commission says at least 10 candidates have been killed since July. The attacks intensified (external link) in the weeks before the election.

On October 17, 2018, a popular candidate, Abdul Jabar Qahraman, a general in the Afghan army in the 1980s, was killed in his office in the southern Helmand province in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

A Sikh Afghan candidate, Avtar Singh Khalsa, was killed in a suicide blast in Jalalabad in July. Avtar Singh was running unopposed for a seat reserved for the minority Sikh community.

The head of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Council, Avtar Singh, had been a senator in the upper house of the Afghan parliament. He had also served in the Afghan army. His son Narinder Singh Khalsa, among those injured in the July attack, is now contesting the seat.

Saturday's election seem to have been conducted without any major security lapses. However, in the coming weeks, the military situation in Kandahar could tilt in the Taliban's favour.

As the US-Taliban peace talks progress and with the Donald J Trump administration impatient to have an honourable exit from Afghanistan, further battlefield gains would give the Taliban greater leverage to negotiate.

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Aveek Sen