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Cablegate: Karzai Shows Strength in Herat Rally

VZCZCXRO3553
RR RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #2366/01 2280333
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160333Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0835
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002366

DEPARTMENT FOR SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/A, EUR/RPM
STATE PASS TO AID FOR ASIA/SCAA
USFOR-A FOR POLAD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV AF
SUBJECT: Karzai Shows Strength in Herat Rally

REF: KABUL 1662, KABUL 1663, KABUL 2260, KABUL 2303


1. (SBU) Begin Summary. In an August 14 campaign rally in Herat
City (Afghanistan's second largest city), President Karzai drew a
capacity crowd of more than 10,000 people, and demonstrated a show
of unity among local and national powerbrokers. Flanked by Ismail
Khan, FM Spanta, Herat's Ulema Shura Chairman Mullah Khodadad Saleh,
MP Mohaqqeq, a Hazara and head of the Afghan People's Movement,
Governor Nuristani, and Provincial Council Chairman Dr. Azizi,
Karzai stressed the achievements of the past seven years in
infrastructure (mentioning the Ring Road, a USAID project in Herat
province), education, health, government structures. Signs above
the speakers during the rally captured the unmistakable unity theme
Karzai sought to project: "All ethnic groups of Afghanistan are
brothers and equal." Karzai reportedly was pleased with the
successful rally, and his campaign will be well positioned to
utilize the presence of a diverse group of powerful backers in the
final days of campaigning before the election. Still, many
commentators in Herat were less enamored by this show of unity, as
reflected in cartoons circulating in Herat that satirize the
perceived deals Karzai and Ismail Khan have made for jobs and power.
End Summary.

Friday Rally at Capacity
---------------

2. (U) Karzai spoke at a two-hour campaign rally prior to Friday
prayers in Herat's main stadium on August 14. The large capacity
crowd (easily 10,000 and probably more) filled the stadium and was
enthusiastic and overwhelmingly male (but there was a small women's
section of about 200 women in burkas and chadors, and included many
Pakhtuns). White doves were released when Karzai appeared.
Hundreds in the crowd waved Afghan flags. And Karzai ventured
briefly into the crowd to shake hands, surrounded by security
guards. Supporters not just from Herat city but from most of
Herat's 15 districts, many bussed in especially for the occasion,
were in attendance.

2. (U) Karzai flew in by helicopter amidst the tightest security in
Herat in several years. After the Qur'anic opening, Karzai's
campaign manager in Herat Dr. Homayoun Azizi (and Provincial Council
Chairman, who is not running for reelection) introduced the
President. Karzai delivered a stemwinder, complimenting liberally
Herat and Heratis, praising the dignitaries on the podium with him,
reviewing his seven-year record of accomplishments, and stressing
Afghans setting their country right, not foreigners. Karzai
stressed the achievements of the past seven years in infrastructure
(mentioning the Ring Road, a USAID project in Herat province),
education, health, government structures (functioning Parliament,
Provincial Councils, etc.). While urging the audience to
participate in the election, Karzai did not directly ask for their
votes.

Ismail Khan Present, But No Endorsement
------------------

3. (U) Despite prior indications that former governor and warlord
in Herat Ismail Khan would throw his support to Karzai at the event,
Khan was indirect in his support. Khan spoke briefly without
directly asking his supporters to vote for Karzai; he focused his
remarks on developing Herat, stating more roads would be asphalted
and electricity extended into the districts -- a not very subtle
reminder of his signature accomplishments in Herat city when he was
warlord/governor and had almost exclusive access (to the detriment
of the central government) to the sizeable customs revenues at the
border crossing point with Iran.

Key Local Leaders Line up Behind Karzai
------------------

4. (U) Provincial Ulema Shura Chairman Mullah Khodadad Saleh, an
active Karzai campaigner, also spoke. Additionally, signaling
support across ethnic lines, MP Mohaqqeq, a Hazara and head of the
Afghan People's Movement, accompanied Karzai from Kabul and spoke
last at the event. On the platform were Herati FM Rangin Spanta and
Herat Governor Nuristani, neither of whom spoke. Karzai made
reference to how happy he was to have two Herati native sons with
him on the platform, i.e., Ismail Khan and Rangin Spanta.

5. (U) One of the largest billboards at the stadium (and also
erected overnight prominently at the entrance to the downtown park
where the stadium is located) showed Karzai, next to Ismail Khan,
next to Spanta, with "All ethnic groups of Afghanistan are brothers
and equal" written above their heads. Others showed Karzai with his
two VP nominees, Fahim and Khalili, Karzai alone in national dress
and before a map of Afghanistan, and one nicely customized to Herat
of Karzai in front of the two thousand year old Citadel. Some of
the banners at the stadium bore these slogans: "Hamed Karzai:
Symbol of Afghan Unity," "Afghanistan: Proud and Developed," "A
Vote for Karzai Means Opposition to War and Conflict," "Today's
Election is Tomorrow's Guarantee."

RTA Devotes Long Segment to Rally Coverage
------------------

6. (U) Local RTA evening news on the evening of August 14 led with
a ten-minute feature on Karzai's stadium campaign rally. Unlike its
coverage of the other major presidential candidates (Abdullah
Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, and Mirwais Yasini) rallies in Herat, RTA
actually broadcast footage of the candidate speaking, rather than
just commentary. And after the regular newscast RTA carried a
ten-minute excerpt of Karzai speaking.

Governor says Karzai Pleased With Rally; Speculates on Khan Deal
------------------

7. (SBU) Governor Nuristani told State PRT Rep that Karzai was very
happy with the rally. Karzai reportedly told the Governor it was
both the largest and most enthusiastic crowd he has had this
campaign season. Nuristani discounted observations that Ismail Khan
had only given lukewarm support for Karzai and said Khan supports
Karzai. Ismail Khan, at least as of Aug 12, was still seething at
the appearance of a cartoon circulating on the streets of Herat,
which he called "blasphemy" and which he believes is the work of
Abdullah campaigners. The cartoon, entitled "Karzai comes to
Herat," shows Karzai riding a donkey, whose face is Ismail Khan's
and with FM Spanta pulling the reins of the donkey. Cartoon
captions satirize the widely believed deals Karzai and Ismail Khan
have made for jobs and power.

8. (SBU) Earlier the Governor (strictly protect) had told State PRT
Rep that among the deals between Karzai and Ismail Khan is the
appointment of a strong Ismail Khan supporter as mayor of Herat
after the election; reportedly the Independent Directorate for
Local Governance (IDLG) has already prepared the paper work. Still,
Governor Nuristani suggested Ismail Khan does not have as much
influence in Herat as he used to, saying that people at the rally
were not listening to his speech and were starting to leave the
stadium.

Security Ensures Incident-Free Event
---------------

9. (SBU) Karzai's Herat campaign stop came off without a security
incident. The Governor confirmed all stops were pulled to secure
Herat for the rally. Troublemaker Ghulam Yahya Siwashwani (AKA
Akbari), who operates in villages in Guzara district just 20-30 km
from Herat city, sent around a shabnamah (night letter) the eve of
Karzai's visit boasting that he would stop Karzai from coming to
Herat. However, the evening after Karzai left seven 107 mm rockets
were fired at the Herat airport, one impacting near a runway,
causing ISAF to close the airport to all aircraft until 1500 August
15. Ghulam Yahya, as he has done before, is believed to have fired
off those rockets.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) Karzai appears to have greatly improved as a public
speaker. Speaking without notes, employing rhetorical devices,
playing to the Herat crowd, and using expressive hand and arm
movements, Karzai delivered a good speech, at least the excerpt
shown on RTA. The fact that Ismail Khan did not come out and
directly endorse Karzai leads some observers in Herat to speculate
that negotiations are still continuing between Karzai's camp and
Ismail Khan over senior jobs and power arrangements for himself and
supporters. The Governor believes otherwise, that the deals have
been cut already. Whatever the truth, the powerful billboard
showing Karzai and Ismail Khan side by side (and with FM Spanta) and
the fact that Ismail Khan appeared on the platform with Karzai will
no doubt be used by the Karzai campaign to suggest he supports
Karzai.

EIKENBERRY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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