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Cablegate: Afghan Elections: Snapshots From the Mosques

VZCZCXRO2791
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #2348/01 2261519
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 141519Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0813
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002348

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV AF
SUBJECT: AFGHAN ELECTIONS: SNAPSHOTS FROM THE MOSQUES

1. (SBU) Summary: On August 14, the last Friday before
elections, and four days before the August 18 "blackout" on
campaign activities begins, some mosques are making a final
push to encourage voters to go to the polls - while others
are conveying the message that democracy undermines the power
of the ulema, or religious elite. Overall, Afghanistan's
mosques reflect local concerns, and they are not subsumed
under a centralized control. Customarily venues to discuss
current events as well as places of worship, mosques are part
of the campaign scene. End Summary.

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A National Perspective
----------------------

2. (U) According to Mohamed Aref Rahmani, Senior Advisor to
the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs, Afghanistan has
3,500 "official" mosques and over 200,000 unregulated ones.
Official mosques have salaried mullahs and respond to state
control, and the message in these mosques is supposed to be
only that voting is an important duty of democracy. Rahmani
also told us that Afghanistan,s democracy is new and many
mullahs also probably preach their personal preferences.
Mosques are a place to discuss current affairs, and the state
of the country, he explained.

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-----------------------
Wardak - Mixed Messages
-----------------------

3. (U) According to PRT Wardak, the messages in the local
mosques are varied. Some mullahs are urging people to vote
and insist that the elections are a positive step. However,
in areas of the province where security is more of a concern,
the message tends to be more negative and the elections
continue to take a back seat to the local population,s
concerns.

-------------------------------------
Paktia Mullahs Urge Residents to Vote
-------------------------------------

4. (U) In Paktika, the Provincial Elections Officer told PRT
Paktika that the mullahs in Sharana are generally positive
about the elections and are emphasizing that there is nothing
in Islam that says one should not vote. In Khair Kot and
Orgun districts of Paktika, mullahs are underscoring the
importance of the elections for Afghanistan,s future and are
encouraging their followers to vote for whomever they think
is best for the country.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Zabul: Message Reflects Local-National Power Struggle
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (U) According to PRT Zabul, mullahs in a number of
mosques in the province, including in the capital, Qalat,
have preached anti-elections sermons over the past few
months, perhaps because these mullahs consider the central
government a threat to their power base. To the PRT,s
knowledge, there have been no pro-elections or pro-government
sermons and today's sermons ignored the subject. On a
separate note, Zabul hosted its first visit by a major
candidate, Ashraf Ghani, on August 14.

------------------------------------
Helmand: A Pashtun Message Dominates
------------------------------------

6. (U) According to the PRT in Helmand, the most common
messages from local mullahs is that people must vote because
the future of the Pashtun people is at stake and that they
must sure a Pashtun president leads the nation. From
Helmand,s Hazara community, however, the message seems to be
a more generic one, i.e., that it's their national duty to
vote. According to PRT reporting, some Karzai supporters
showed up at the national mosque with large amounts of fruit
and food to distribute to worshipers.

-------------------------------------
Badghis: Criticism of Karzai's Record
-------------------------------------

7. (U) According to PRT Badghis, the mullahs have been
encouraging people and their families to vote on election
day. Some mullahs are also criticizing Karzai,s
administration for its lack of attention to Badghis and its
failure to deliver on campaign promises during the last
presidential election. On August 13, the director of the
line ministry for Hajj and Islamic Affairs in Badghis, Mullah

KABUL 00002348 002 OF 002


Malawi Nehmani, was arrested while he was meeting with a
large gathering of other mullahs from ulema councils
throughout Badghis. Reportedly the chief prosecutor arrested
him for alleged corruption and because he had made
anti-government statements during a speech at an IEC-hosted
event. Nehmani had campaigned for Karzai in 2004, but has
since become disaffected with the president because he has
been remiss on his commitments to the province.
Approximately 200 people, largely mullahs, protested
Nehami,s arrest in front of Qal-e-Naw,s largest local
mosque and he was released soon thereafter. During the
August 14 Friday prayers, another renowned mullah, Muhaedi,
suggested that elections are inconsistent with Islam, which
mandates that ulema representatives and educated elders
should select the president.

-----
Herat
-----

8. (SBU) PRT Herat reports that, according to local press,
President Karzai,s brother Mahmood attended the weekly
meeting of the Provincial Ulema Shura on August 11, chaired
by Mullah Khodadad, who is a strong supporter of Karzai,s
reelection. Local RTA news on August 11 reported that
Mahmood told the assembled ulema, comprising both Sunni and
Shi,a members, that President Karzai will increase the
number of madrassahs in his next five-year plan and that the
Ulema Shura has voiced its support for Karzai. PRT Heart
believes RTA may have overstated the extent of ulema support
for President Karzai, although Mullah Khodadad has been
actively working to gain their support for Karzai.
EIKENBERRY

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