Cablegate: Civ-Mil Efforts Lift Election Prospects in the South

DE RUEHBUL #2403/01 2291411
R 171411Z AUG 09




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Civ-Mil Efforts Lift Election Prospects in the South

1. (SBU) Begin Summary: Voter turnout almost certainly will be
more modest than in the elections of 2004 and 2005, in part because
of Taliban intimidation tactics. But thanks to military clearance
operations, GIRoA actions and assistance from civilians in RC-South,
ISAF and Afghan officials estimate eighty-five percent of the
population in southern Afghanistan should have an opportunity to
cast a vote on August 20. This projection represents an improvement
compared to two months ago. Although without a formal role in the
election process, PRTs have helped to overcome a variety of
election-related problems ranging from mediating conflicts in Zabul
to arranging for logistical support to take election materials and
personnel into outlying districts in Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan.
While polling may not proceed smoothly in the Pashtun heartland,
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF have coordinated
closely on security measures. Election officials acknowledge that a
number of polling centers, especially in Helmand and Kandahar, will
not open because of insecure conditions. PRT Zabul predicts a 30 to
40 percent voter turnout in its province. End Summary.

Voter Turn-Out in the Pashtun South will Be Key for Karzai
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (SBU) Taliban disruption efforts are likely to dampen voter
turnout. PRTs in the region report hearing of many such threats.
Afghan security officials told PRT Kandahar officers that they
receive daily reports of night letters and direct intimidation of
potential voters in Kandahar City and surrounding areas. PRT Zabul
observed that even if polling centers are secure many villagers in
Taliban-controlled areas will have qualms about returning to their
villages with an ink stained finger. As a result, some observers
expect the regional voter turnout to be considerably less than in
the elections of 2004 and 2005. The PRT is predicting a 30 to 40
percent turnout province-wide, with higher results in the more urban

3. (SBU) A low turnout no doubt would be disappointing news for
President Karzai, the heavy favorite throughout this Pashtun region.
President Karzai's supporters have been active in trying to drive
up the vote. Last week, for example, Maywand District Governor
Obaidullah Bawari hosted a shura for 300 people at which he urged
tribal leaders to put aside tribal differences and secure a peaceful
election. According to PRT Kandahar, Karzai posters were on display
at the meeting and a Provincial Council candidate called on shura
members to vote for President Karzai. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah,
perhaps sensing opportunity, has also taken his campaign to
Kandahar, most recently on August 12 to conduct shuras and seek out
more endorsements. He appears to have made some inroads. The
Barakzai tribe in Arghandab district is currently divided between
prominent Karzai supporter Gul Agha Sherzai and Abdullah supporter
Noorulhaz Olumi and is not likely to support Karzai as strongly as
in 2004, according to PRT Kandahar's local staff. In a sign of the
increasing tension in Kandahar, the brother of Ashraf Ghani's
campaign manager was gunned down August 17 in Kandahar City by three
men on a motorcycle. Although there is some speculation the men may
have been from the Karzai camp, no one knows who the perpetrators
are, and it may just as likely have been insurgents.

4. (SBU) There are signs that President Karzai's political fortunes
may be at risk in other provinces as well. In Helmand, PRT sources
note that voter apathy among Pashtuns is high. In a clear sign of
concern about the turnout, the Karzai campaign sent Sher Muhammad
Akhundzada (SMA), the influential former governor who was removed
from office two years ago, to Lashkar Gah on August 10 to line up
support from key local leaders
and engage the public on Karzai's behalf. SMA held a large
campaign shura at Karzai stadium in Lahkar Gah. He also prepared a
campaign visit for Karzai (which was ultimately cancelled because of
a suicide bombing the day before) and has spent considerable time
with provincial officials and tribal elders to enlist their support
for the Karzai campaign. PRT sources believe SMA will continue to
employ his political skills in Lashkar Gah through the election
period to try to ensure a favorable outcome for President Karzai.

Access to Voting Centers Improved With Coalition Efforts
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) The election outlook in terms of access to voting centers
in the south has improved in recent weeks, the region's PRTs and
ISAF governance contacts suggest. Military operations, especially
in Helmand, have been a major factor, with election workers and
voter registration teams able to enter newly cleared areas of
Babaji, Spin Masjid, Chah e Anjir, and Khanashin. Security
preparations also have progressed, with ISAF units coordinating and
rehearsing with Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National
Police (ANP) deployed in the provinces. The number of polling
centers expected to open on election day has grown steadily. The
most recent list compiled by the regional IEC indicated plans to
open 44 of 47 polling centers in Nimruz; 101 of 222 polling centers
in Helmand; 41 or 44 polling centers in Zabul; 229 of 271 polling
centers in Kandahar; and 49 of 49 polling centers in Uruzgan. The
benefits may be misleading - ten polling centers were added in
Zabul, for example, by regrouping centers closer together for
security reasons, a decision that may also limit the participation
of some voters, PRT Zabul has said. But, since polling centers will
be open disproportionately in more densely populated areas, they
should make voting feasible for 85 percent of the population,
according to regional ISAF and IEC analyses. In Helmand, the PRT
estimates that upwards of 70 percent of the electorate now should
have reasonable access to a ballot box.

6. (SBU) Outwardly, PRTs and ISAF officers in the south have taken
care not to intrude unduly in election planning and execution to
ensure the process remains legitimately an "Afghan led" approach.
Moreover, PRTs have reported that Afghan leadership generally in
their respective provinces has come to the fore, providing guidance,
instructions, and plans for a credible election. Behind the scenes,
PRTs have taken a strong interest in the election planning process
and, at times, have lent important assistance. All PRTs have
participated in regular election coordination meetings, primarily as
observers but occasionally as advisers and advocates to resolve
contentious problems. PRT Zabul leaders, for example, have reported
speaking on a daily basis with the governor and deputy governor and
meeting at least once a week with the Provincial Election Officer
(PEO). The PRT leaders, drawn into spats between the PEO and
provincial officials, often served as informal mediators.
Similarily, in response to requests of the governor and provincial
ANSF chiefs, PRT Uruzgan and ISAF representatives have held a number
of meetings with Afghan decision makers to review election plans,
offer recommendations, and monitor exercises.

Civ-Mil Coordination Key to Improved Election Support
--------------------------------------------- --

7. (SBU) Given the difficult security environment, PRT Helmand, in
particular, has been involved in providing election support
virtually on a daily basis for the last two months. PRT officers
have held meetings regularly with IEC officials to identify areas
requiring support. PRT initiatives have included coordination with
IEC and ISAF personnel to develop a helicopter lift program for
getting the IEC officials into districts to identify polling
centers. Because roads in Helmand are unsafe, all travel has had to
be by helicopter, making it an enormous logistics challenge.
Immediately after military operations, the PRT worked out the
logistics for getting district field coordinators (DFCs) and voter
registration teams into newly cleared areas to set the stage for
elections. The PRT was also instrumental in persuading the
provincial governor and provincial election officials to send the
DFCs and voter registration teams into these areas. The PRT also
worked closely with UK and U.S. military forces to develop an
overall logistics plan for moving election material, ballots, and
personnel before and after election day. At times, this has
necessitated PRT officers serving as porters, lugging boxes of
election material to and from helicopters late at night.

8. (SBU) PRT Kandahar is addressing IEC concerns about the
distribution of election equipment and materials and the
transportation of election officials, particularly females, to
polling centers. ISAF has indicated that it will consider providing
air assets, if necessary. In Uruzgan, the IEC chief approached the
PRT with a request to move election material out to districts where
security conditions do not permit safe road transport. Utilizing
helicopter support from the Dutch and Task Force Wolfpack, the
material will be ferried to U.S. Special Force fire bases, then
collected by IEC support staff and distributed to remote locations
throughout several districts. In those locations where PRT
logistical support is limited due to security constraints, the PRT
is working with Afghan security forces and district chiefs to
develop "work-arounds," with the goal of enfranchising as many
voters as possible.

9. (SBU) PRT support will not end on election day. The Dutch, for
example, have established a joint operations center in Urzugan where
all political and security players can monitor election day events
and respond to crises as they arise. From mass-casualty planning to
preparing back-up force support for the ANA and ANP, the various
elements within the PRT have developed joint plans to help mitigate
hazards as they present themselves on election day. If Afghan
capacity is reached, the PRT is well prepared to augment Afghan
security elements, if requested.

10. (SBU) PRTs report key administrative and security preparations
for the elections are still ongoing. ANSF and ISAF have coordinated
extensively on security issues. One unresolved issue is the extent
of the use of civilians with personal arms -sometimes referred to as
"community based security" - to provide security in some areas. PRT
Zabul also noted this week that provincial election authorities
still needed to hire 500 to 600 staff to work at polling places.


11. (SBU) In the South, securing the electorate and permitting easy
access to polling centers has long been considered a key challenge.
The coalition activities of the past weeks in Helmand - particularly
in the newly cleared areas of Babaji, Spin Masjid, Chah e Anjir,
Khanashin, and Now Zad - in tandem with a coordinated voter
registration efforts supported by the civilians working closely with
the UK and U.S. forces there has increased the potential for locals
to access voting centers on August 20. Still, in addition to
continuing security concerns and Taliban intimidation tactics, voter
apathy and simple disenchantment with GIRoA leadership in Kabul may
be equally important factors on August 20.


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