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Cablegate: Against the Odds, Voter Registration Underway In

VZCZCXRO8028
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2896/01 3031212
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291212Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6022
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002896

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MCGRAW
CG CJTF-101, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV AF
SUBJECT: AGAINST THE ODDS, VOTER REGISTRATION UNDERWAY IN
NURISTAN

REF: A. KABUL 2708
B. KABUL 2851

1. (SBU) Delayed in starting and still struggling across
difficult terrain, Nuristan's voter registration process is
nonetheless underway and going better than many observers
expected.

------------------
FROM HERE TO THERE
------------------

2. (SBU) Splayed across the jagged teeth of the Hindu Kush
mountains, Nuristan remains the most remote corner of
Afghanistan. The province borders Pakistan's tribal areas
and is set apart by its unique language and ethnicity as well
as the practical difficulties of life among peaks reaching
15,000 feet.

3. (SBU) The logistics officer of the Independent Election
Commission (IEC) in Nuristan on October 26 had two problems:
how to get additional voter registration forms from
Jalalabad, to meet demand beyond IEC headquarters'
expectations, and how to get a replacement camera part from
Kabul. In recent months trucks traveling the road into
central Nuristan from the south, and along the rougher
eastern road to the northeastern district of Bargi Metal,
have come under frequent attack, while the safe western road
ends before Mandol district at Dow Ab. Mixing voter
registration materials in with a commercial shipment of rice
and sugar, or detouring across and back the border with
Pakistan, Abdulsamad mused, might be his best options.

4. (SBU) Abdulsamad's problems that day are typical for
Nuristan. No road traverses the province from west to east
across the mountain ranges. As Nuristan lacks cell phone
coverage outside its capital Parun, and Thuraya satellite
minutes are expensive and often inaccessible, in Kala Gush
Abdulsamad was thinking through these problems largely on his
own. Provincial Electoral Officer (PEO) Abdulwahab,
Abdulsamad's boss, works out of an office in Parun, where the
violence-prone Chapadara valley road up from the south simply
stops. Abdulwahab's superiors and subordinates quietly agree
that he is only a mediocre manager, and his decision to route
materials into the dead-end of Parun after the September 27
attack on a truck carrying voter registration materials (REF
A) contributed to delays in distribution. Voter registration
opened late in all of Nuristan's eight districts, with delays
from six to 18 days, and only after US forces responded to a
late IEC request to provide essential air lift. The grateful
IEC field operations director, Dr. Raheem, says he would like
to nominate the PRT for an award.

----------------
AHEAD UNDER FIRE
----------------

5. (SBU) The activities of shadowy anti-government or
anti-coalition forces (REF B) have not dampened the
enthusiasm of Nurgram district field coordinator (DFC)
Abdulraham, or many of his fellow Nuristanis, for voter
registration. A US convoy took RPG fire in the Titin valley
on October 25, and Abdulraham was traveling the same road at
almost the same time. Still, Abdulraham was willing only to
be vague about security problems in Nuristan. "People are
talking about the Taliban," he said, "but I only know about
local criminals." Abdulraham prefers to focus on the
positive. "Only a few people are absenting themselves from
the political process" in support of insurgents, he says,
while "many people support the government." He reports young
Nuristanis, in particular, are turning out to register to
vote. Popular demand is much of the reason IEC headquarters
on October 27 agreed to add back the days of registration
Nuristan voters lost when the opening of centers was delayed.
Nuristani senator Hazrat Ali, reeling off a list of
complaints about the Karzai administration, made the case
plainly: "We want to choose our next president."

6. (SBU) Still, electoral officials and local leaders are
frank about the political and logistical problems they see
with the present elections cycle. Most expect turnout will
be lower than in 2004 and 2005; last time, Abdulraham notes,
"voter registration numbers affected how many seats our
province would earn in the Lower House, and we knew this."
In 2004, the Nurgram district governor says, people would

KABUL 00002896 002 OF 002


walk six or seven hours to register and vote in Afghanistan's
historic election, but "not this time." Local ministry line
directors say they see less voter outreach and fewer of the
local civic educators who best understand Nuristan's mosaic
of tribes. Abdulraham reports that when his staff go
house-to-house to enroll voters, women often say they must
first ask their husbands if they can register -- a point he
counters, but often in vain. Abdulraham also thinks the
simpler, more durable materials and equipment for the
previous elections were better suited to Nuristan's stark
environment and the low technical skills of his workers.

------------------------------
MAKING DO, MAKING A DIFFERENCE
------------------------------

7. (SBU) A variety of local leaders express frustration
that, although desperately poor and vastly undeveloped,
Nuristan is largely neglected by the central government.
Mandol district presently has an outbreak of cholera, a
signature disease of primitive conditions among the poor.
These Nuristani leaders see themselves as left to make do
with very little as they struggle to learn to work the levers
of international aid. Hazrat Ali remarks, "Seven years
later, the promises of the Bonn agreement are only 50 percent
realized, and we understand also that only 50 percent of the
international community's aid reaches us here." A district
governor in turn sighs, "We elected our representatives to
the legislature, and they did nothing." A technical advisor
to the provincial government complains, "This government has
a Pashtun face, but it favors the Northern Alliance."
Education Ministry director Abdulmohammed proposes a humorous
solution: "We need one mullah, one woman, and one technocrat
in power in Kabul. Then we will get what we need."

8. (SBU) Despite these daunting odds, many Nuristanis appear
ready to work for change. "Nuristanis do not have politics"
like the partisan elites in Kabul, Nurgram's district
governor opined. "They lack education, and they just want to
work and to change their life." Several interlocutors agreed
that Nuristanis want roads, the rule of law, local
government, and protection from insurgents. DFC Abuldraham
is ready to help keep open the option of peaceful change. To
reach distant voters, he arranged for his team to travel to
different villages, under the protection of local elders; he
thinks his counterpart in Dow Ab cam also count on the
valley's greybeards to protect the electoral process.
Abdulraham proudly reports that the percentage of women
registrants increased dramatically as a result of his
outreach efforts. Similarly, to compensate for the lack of
local radio to use for civic education programs, the
province's DFCs came to the PRT to give PRT-sponsored Radio
Kala Gush interviews to explain the process to voters. "I am
confident the elections will be well-organized," Abdulraham
concludes, "except perhaps in the Pashgar valley..." where
fighters opposed to the government are present.
WOOD

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