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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.

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In another part of Baghlan, a recent armed clash between supporters of candidate Obaidullah Ramin, the former agriculture minister and close ally of President Hamid Karzai and of candidate Ghulam Haidari, prompted the latter to withdraw from the race. “There are too many warlords and powerful people who don’t allow others to run,” he said.

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In the northern province of Takhar, foreign forces may have become ensnared in a complex rivalry between candidates and local power brokers. Candidate Abdul Wahed Khorasani and some supporters were driving one morning early this month when a pair of American jets screamed towards them. They dropped a bomb that exploded near the vehicles, and then returned a few more times to drop more explosives. A dozen campaign workers were killed or wounded, including a number of Mr. Khorasani’s family members.

A US investigation determined that they killed Muhammad Amin, a commander of the insurgent group International Movement of Uzbekistan. But dozens of government officials, local leaders, and witnesses insist that only campaign workers were killed. One victim, Amanullah, had connections to a local Uzbek strongman and may have been confused with the insurgent commander.

Khorasani and some government officials insist that his election rivals, some of whom are backed by rival power brokers, passed on the faulty intelligence to the foreign forces.

“This was an attack on my campaign,” said Khorasani. “Before the attack my campaign was vibrant and committed, but afterwards it lost its life and color.”

Authorities say that some rivalries are strictly due to the elections, but others stretch back decades. In some cases individuals have enmity dating from the anti-Soviet insurgency, when they may have been on opposite sides or in different insurgent groups, and in other cases from the civil war of the '90s.

In many instances local strongmen maintain militias and are able to intimidate rivals. “There is no rule of law, while guns and money are easy to come by,” says Mr. Haqiyar, the political analyst.

In the eastern province of Laghman, government officials and an election watchdog believe that a strongman (and current parliamentarian) known as Muhammad Qarar was behind the attack on candidate Niazi’s caravan. Despite repeated attempts, Mr. Qarar was not available for comment.

Qarar has ties to a militia, officials and locals say, which has been used to intimidate other candidates in his drive for reelection. In response, Niazi and other supporters formed a jirga, or meeting, of tribal elders and other notables in the area.

“We had decided that if the government doesn’t do anything [about Qarar], we will raise a [tribal army],” says Niazi, the candidate. The participants also resolved to burn the houses of those who attacked them, following tribal custom. But gunmen started firing near this meeting as well, causing the gathering to disperse.

Qarar’s men then began to make threatening phone calls to Niazi’s campaign staff. Eventually his campaign manager even resigned. But Niazi is not cowed. “We’ve had a tragedy in our campaign,” he says. “Some people don’t want to work for us anymore out of fear, but no matter what happens I will never quit.”

IN PICTURES: Afghanistan election