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Afghan election: Taliban not the only culprits of campaign violence

Ahead of Saturday's Afghanistan election, the Taliban has been blamed for most of the violence directed at candidates. However, some of it stems from intercandidate rivalries.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent / September 17, 2010

Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint ahead of parliamentary elections in Kabul September 17. Afghans go to the polls on Saturday in a parliamentary election where poor security and fraud will be among the major issues.

Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

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Kabul, Afghanistan

Daud Niazi, a candidate in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on Saturday, was returning from a campaign event in his native Laghman Province when a group of gunmen suddenly appeared by the roadside. They forced his campaign caravan to a halt, robbed the passengers, and then ordered the vehicles to get moving.

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As the convoy pulled away, the gunmen opened fire, shattering windshields, killing Mr. Niazi’s cousin, and leaving others wounded. The incident was the latest in a series of attacks against candidates. Many of the attacks are attributed to the Taliban.

But it wasn’t insurgents that were behind this grisly attack, it was a rival candidate, according to government officials. Afghanistan’s contentious campaign season, which came to a close this week ahead of Saturday’s polls, was marked as much by intercandidate violence and complex rivalries as it was by Taliban intimidation.

IN PICTURES: Afghanistan election

“There are some candidates that have ties to militias or warlords, who use guns to try to influence the elections,” says Hassan Haqiyar, an Afghan political analyst and author. “If you don’t have guns or money, it is hard to compete.”

More than 2,500 candidates are running from Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, with more than 600 in Kabul alone. However, poor security threatens the legitimacy of the vote in many areas. Authorities have closed about 1 in 8 polling centers because of security concerns, and it is likely that many more centers will remain out of operation in the south and east on polling day.

The Taliban vowed to disrupt the elections and have launched a campaign of intimidation in recent months, targeting election workers and campaigners. Some have been killed and others kidnapped and released, after pledging to quit their job.

The insurgents are likely to be behind the majority of preelection violence. But election watchdogs say that dozens of attacks that were originally attributed to the insurgents appear to actually be cases of intercandidate feuding.

In the central province of Ghor, rival candidates opened fire on one another in August, sparking an hours-long gun battle. A number of other incidents of violence in the province were initially reported as insurgent-related, but provincial officials now say that they suspect that candidates themselves might be involved.

In the northern province of Baghlan, gunmen recently fired on the campaign convoy of a candidate known simply as Narmgoy. Witnesses said that the culprit, which left the Narmgoy’s team unharmed, was the son of Shukria Isakhel, a rival candidate.

Ms. Isakhel admitted that her son was behind the incident but claimed that she did not order it. Her supporters say the attack was in reaction to Mr. Narmgoy’s campaign team’s distribution of cards with slanderous accusations against her, even suggesting sexual impropriety on her part.

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