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Cablegate: Old and New Rub Together in Voter Registration In

VZCZCXRO6950
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #3106/01 3380356
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030356Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6281
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 003106

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: OLD AND NEW RUB TOGETHER IN VOTER REGISTRATION IN
PAKTYA

1. (SBU) Summary: The dry, spare southeastern province of
Paktya, bordering on Pakistan, retains a solid social
framework of Pashtun tribes and traditional values. Its
inhabitants are also eager to win their fair share of
political representation and development dollars in the new
order. As the old and the new jostle together, Paktya is
making bumpy progress in preparing for the presidential and
provincial council elections in 2009.

--------------------------------------
THIS TIME, SIGNING UP TO VOTE FOR SURE
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Provincial Electoral Officer (PEO) Amir Hamza Khan
is clear: "The voter registration process is going well," he
says. As of November 28, 105,232 new voters had joined
Paktya's rolls, a total for Phase 2 that is second only to
the vastly more populous province of Kabul. All 18 sites in
Paktya's 11 districts are open; deployable teams are
responding to remote communities' requests for greater voter
registration opportunities; and no violence has marred the
process. As in other provinces, electoral officials have
negotiated with community leaders to allow registration
workers to travel safely to troubled areas, of which Paktya
has any number. PRTOFF and EMBOFF on November 29 and 30
visited about 25 per cent of Pakyta's voter registration
sites, in rural Sayed Karam and Ahmad Abad districts as well
as downtown Gardez, and saw voters and registration staff at
work.

3. (SBU) Paktya's voters have responded with zest to
diverse methods of public outreach. Local and electoral
officials report that they played drums, visited parks and
mosques, and manned loudspeaker trucks as part of the civic
education campaign. Provincial and district officials have
enthusiastically promoted voter registration throughout the
process. Governor Hamdard set the tone, hosting a large
shura in Gardez November 3 for about 150 tribal elders and
district officials to encourage people to get out and
register. Local representatives of the Pashtun-centric
Hizb-e-Islami party said November 26 that they planned to
send a party letter to encourage members to register.

4. (SBU) A variety of people posit that, because few of
Paktya's citizens voted in the last election, the province is
under-represented in the legislature, allowing the central
government to neglect Paktya. (In 2005 turnout in Paktya was
modest after registration had been high; international
election workers suspected registration fraud.) This low
participation is a mistake, Paktyans say, they are determined
to correct. "I saw a man who weighed 200 kilos, and a woman
who was 100 years old" come to register, twinkled Ahmad Gul,
a registration worker in Ahmad Abad. "Everyone wants to
vote."

--------------------------------------------- ---
ADDRESSING VOTER INTIMIDATION AND IRREGULARITIES
--------------------------------------------- ---


5. (SBU) PEO Hamza Khan acknowledges, however, that Taliban
efforts to intimidate voters have kept turnout low in Zormat
district, in the south. "People call me and say they want to
register, but that they are afraid," he said. On November 30
Hamza Khan reported that Taliban fighters forced five voters
in Zormat to eat their new registration cards. Earlier,
Taliban in Zormat broadcast threats from loudspeaker trucks
and checked passers-by for signs of the fingerprint ink used
in registration. Turnout recently has picked up slightly,
Hamza Khan added. "People pretend they are going to the
clinic, and then come and register," he said. Hamza Khan and
the province's Afghan National Army (ANA) chief are
coordinating future ANA maneuvers and the retrieval of voter
materials from Zormat.

6. (SBU) Irregularities n registration of women is another
flaw in Patya's process, and reportedly also in neighboring
Logar province. A UNAMA field officer on November 27 cited
credible reports that in Paktya men provided lists of women's
names to registration workers and received voter cards in
return. In keeping with traditions that exclude women from
public places, the women never appeared at the registration
site to prove their identity or provide fingerprints. At a
women's registration site in Sayed Karam on November 29,
EMBOFF observed a registration worker apparently preparing

KABUL 00003106 002 OF 002


cards from a hand-written list, with no women present.

7. (SBU) PEO Hamza Khan is aware of such irregularities and
claims to be working to resolve them, although local UNAMA
staff believe problems are more pervasive than he admits.
The PEO has met with FEFA, the Afghan NGO leading election
observation efforts, and checked through its short list of
irregularities. He has tried to smooth over complaints from
provincial council members about an overbearing electoral
official in Ahmad Khel district. Hamza Khan deployed a team
to register recent returnees from Pakistan in their
settlement outside Gardez, rather than accept a proffered
list of new returnee voters. When told of the incident at a
women's site in Sayed Karam, Hamza Khan noted he had already
received a phone call from the site's staff, and planned to
follow up.

----------------------------------------
TRADITION AND CHANGE, BENEFITS AND COSTS
----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Paktya's mix of traditional tribal ways and new
democratic institutions is producing uneven results, and its
citizens and leaders appear to still be sorting out the
advantages and disadvantages of each for the future. PEO
Hamza Khan meets weekly with his counterparts in the Afghan
National Police and Afghan National Army to plan and
coordinate on security for voter registration; the principal
topic on November 30, for example, was retrieval of completed
voter materials, and the discussion was productive.

9. (SBU) At the same time, IEC headquarters is considering
authorizing provincial election officials to also work with
tribal security forces (arbakai) in Paktya for the completion
of Phase 2, and Paktika and Khost for Phase 3. A provincial
council member on November 27 insisted that such tribal
forces would be key to security on voting day next year; a
local official in Ahmad Abad likewise endorsed their
effectiveness, citing cooperation between tribal forces and
the police on border control. In fact, in the run-up to voter
registration and as it progresses, Paktya's security forces,
government leaders, and tribal elders have consistently
maintained that arbakai are essential to securing the
process.

10. (SBU) As for how this traditional society copes with
the demands for women's participation, the IEC found women to
staff the voter registration sites in downtown Gardez, but
had to fall back to using elderly men, and one widow, in the
rural areas of Sayed Karam and Ahmad Abad. It is not clear
how much such adaptations affect women's turnout, nor whether
the observed irregularities in registration of women
represent clumsy attempts at fraud, or a compromise on
procedure to meet traditional social norms.

DELL

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