Afghanistan election will still include suspected war criminals
Afghanistan elections planned for September aren't supposed to include parliamentary candidates with ties to militias. Problem is, many of those disqualified aren't actually involved with militias. 'The net caught a few small fish while the sharks swam around it,' says one election official.
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Perhaps not surprisingly, Afghanistan’s parliament voted in secret three years ago to grant immunity from prosecution for war crimes to participants in the country’s war against the Soviet’s in the 1980s and the civil war that followed. That decision was publicized earlier this year.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Etamadi, a journalist who said he worked as a propagandist against the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s but insists he has never belonged to an armed group or carried a weapon in Afghanistan's recent conflicts, says he was only informed by friends that he'd been kicked off the ballot when it was already too late to appeal. "A friend told me it was on the orders of Karzai. I believe him."
Election commission had no say
Officials from the commission say they had no involvement in investigating candidates, despite the announcement. Instead, they say, an ad hoc commission involving the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry, the National Directorate of Security, and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) made the decision.
"We had no authority to overturn or investigate their findings," says one ECC member. "We feel bad about this," said an Afghan election official involved in the process, who asked not to be identified. "There doesn't seem to be any evidence against some of these people. The others? Well, let's say the net caught a few small fish while the sharks swam around it."
"The ECC cannot just approve a decision made by someone else without asking questions about the credibility of the information provided to them. They have the power to question; they should not just serve as a clerk," he says. "I was disappointed with the lack of proper vetting of candidates with clear links to armed groups and serious human rights abuses records."
'It's an embarrassment'
Zekria Barakzai, deputy chief electoral officer at the IEC, said the process has now finished and there will be no more disqualifications. He predicts there will be far less fraud in the parliamentary election than in the election of President Karzai last year and says that 6,000 people who worked on the presidential election – out of a total of about 164,000 – have been blacklisted from poll work this time.
"Last time we lost control of a lot of sensitive election material," he says. "And we learned a lot. We have a very difficult job in a very difficult situation, but we are going to do a lot better this time."
Etamadi, the disqualified candidate, says that though he has publicly voiced the need for more devolution of power in Afghanistan, he can only guess that the reason he was ousted was that he was one of the few of the parliamentary candidates with an official link to a political party (Karzai frowns on political parties, so few claim to belong to one).
"This whole thing is an embarrassment," he said. "They're talking about reconciling with the Taliban while taking away my rights."
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Fair and open elections are crucial to Afghanistan's stability. But a closer look at how the many irregularities in last year's presidential vote were handled shows that independent electoral oversight has far to go.