Afghanistan struggles to keep warlords off the ballot
The election commission says it will decide shortly whether to disqualify 21 more candidates from the Sept. 18 election.
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But reports of warlords running relatives as candidates, and then conducting campaigns of terror and vote-buying on their relative's behalf, are not uncommon, bringing into question what constitutes involvement with an illegal armed group. According to the ECC's Mohammed Farid Hamidi, to violate the Election Law a candidate must command an armed outfit or be an active participant. He conceded that warlords running brothers, cousins, and in one reported case a wife, are a "big problem."Skip to next paragraph
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Peter Babbington, the acting director of the UN-backed Afghanistan New Beginnings Program (ANBP), which in 2003 started efforts to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate military units, said last week that the 208 scrutinized candidates were all on his agency's expansive warlord database. To make that list, which contains 1,800 names, a person must be accused of involvement in an illegal militia by two credible and independent sources, a measure intended to keep personal vendettas from tainting the mechanism.
Most of those 1,800 commanders maintain self-defense militias in remote areas and are "benign," says Mr. Babbington. The number of dangerous groups is less than 100, he says. ANBP divided them into three categories: those that pose a threat to elections (insurgents), those that pose a threat to governance (roadblock extortionists, etc.) and those involved in narcotics trafficking. About 25 gangs fall into all three categories, he says.
But, Babbington adds, there are "some key individuals who are larger than life" and they are making their way into Afghanistan's fractured officialdom.
Hazrat Ali, a former warlord who stepped down as Nangahar's police chief and turned in weapons before entering the elections, is one of those figures, according to Babbington.
Having commanded a Northern Alliance force against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, he has worked closely with US military since the US invasion in 2001.
When a reporter entered Mr. Ali's campaign headquarters in Jalalabad, the provincial seat of Nangahar, several weeks ago, the compound bustled with about 100 mujahideen-turned-political activists. Ali's secretary Agha Jan, misunderstanding the reporter's introduction, snapped, "We have nothing to do with drugs!"
Ali voiced confidence in his campaign and dismissed the possibility of past crimes tainting his candidacy. "There was 30 years of war in Afghanistan. Good and bad things happened. It was war," he said.
Several officials with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission maintain that Ali disbanded his private army only on paper and that his men still participate in drug trafficking and land grabs, terrorizing the citizenry - practices mentioned in past reports by Human Rights Watch.
Many of Ali's ex-soldiers are now Nangahar provincial police. One ranking Nangahar police official that Ali's men, "imposed with pressure and power," have a disproportionate presence on his force.
"They're involved in illegal activities. The battalion commanders, the border police, they're all involved in illegal activities," the police official said, adding that the crimes include extortion, drug trafficking and other smuggling operations.