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Cablegate: Election Preparations in Rc-North: A Message to Governor

O 191225Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0916
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC 0875
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002425

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/RA, AND SCA/A

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM EAID AF
SUBJECT: Election Preparations in RC-North: A Message to Governor
Atta

REF: KABUL

1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador Eikenberry warned Balkh Governor
Mohammad Atta Noor that any violence over election outcomes would
shape the international community's view on its presence in
Afghanistan. The Ambassador called on the governor to use his
prestige and position to serve as a ?voice of reason? during what
may be a very emotional post-election period. Atta was
non-committal, replying that the region's people will accept the
results if the elections are perceived to be fair and transparent.
ISAF and ANSF officials at the RC-North regional elections
Operations Coordination Center confirmed ANSF forces are deploying
to open 1,810 election centers. They predicted that 54 ?high
threat? election centers in Kunduz, Ghormach and Baghlan which serve
2.6% of the northern region's 4 million registered voters will
probably not open. End Summary

2. (SBU) During an August 15 visit to Balkh provincial capital
Mazar-e-Sharif, Ambassador Eikenberry discussed election
preparations with the local PRT and RC-North commanders, with
regional Operations Coordination Center Afghan National Army (ANA),
Afghan National Police (ANP) and National Directorate of Security
(NDS) officials, and with Governor Atta. Septel will detail
Ambassador's visits to USAID-funded agricultural development
projects and Governor Atta's request for a U.S. commitment to fund
substantial additional infrastructure development projects in Balkh
province.

3. (SBU) In an unclassified briefing with media present, RC-North
Commander General Vollmer called the pre-election security situation
in Kunduz province and the newly incorporated Gormach district of
Faryab province ?challenging? in light of a recent upsurge in
insurgent activity and advised that an increase in ANP forces
throughout the northern region would support ISAF stabilization
efforts. On election preparation, Vollmer said that, of 1,865
designated polling stations in the RC-North area, 1,805 are on track
to be opened in time for elections. The remaining 60 stations,
located in Taliban controlled regions of Kunduz, Baghlan and
Ghormach, serve only 2.6% of RC-North's roughly 4 million registered
voters. Vollmer confirmed that, if they choose, these voters will
be able to access neighboring polling stations in secure areas.

---------------------------------------
Regional Operations Coordination Center
---------------------------------------

4. (SBU) In a briefing at Mazar's Regional Operations Coordination
Center (OCCR), ANA 209th Corps Commander General Murad Ali Murad and
303rd Pamir Zone Commander Major General Mujtaba Patang briefed
Ambassador on security preparations for the August 20 elections,
highlighting close ANA, ANP and NDS coordination with ISAF on
information and intelligence sharing, analysis, and dissemination
over the past two months. ANSF forces, he said, are now beginning
coordinated deployment from provincial centers to districts to open
1,810 of the originally planned 1,864 election stations throughout
the region. (Note: This contrasts with General Vollmer's projection
that 1,805 election stations will be opened.) The remaining 54
election centers (22 in Kunduz, 18 in Gormach and 14 in Baghlan) are
considered high threat and will likely not be opened.

5. (SBU) NDS northern region chief Faizullah anticipated that
Taliban insurgents will attempt to disrupt elections at a number of
election locations via intimidation and by RPG and suicide bombing
attacks. Acting on intelligence that the TB had placed cells in
Baghlan and Ghormach, the OCCR has been able to ?collapse their
plans.? He hoped that OCCR coordinated countermeasures, including
establishing five ANA checkpoints in Baghlan, can reduce the number
of high threat election posts from 55 to 40. He also noted the
possibility of demonstrations in Jowzjan, Sar-e-pol and Faryab
provinces by followers of General Dostum and predicted that such
demonstrations could turn violent if the general does not return
before elections are held. (Note: Dostum returned to Afghanistan on
August 16. End note)

6. (U) In a follow-on press conference, the ANA and ANP generals
repeated their assurances of closely coordinated ANSF and ISAF
efforts to ensure that elections in the north go smoothly and
General Vollemer praised the performance and teamwork of ANSF
forces. Ambassador said he was impressed with significantly
enhanced ANA and ANP capabilities and the improving capacity of the
Afghan Border Police (ABP). He called the purpose of his visit to
Mazar to consult with Americans serving in civilian and military
positions here, to see firsthand how Afghan election preparations
are proceeding in the northern provinces, and to show our confidence
in both the ISAF mission and the will of the Afghan people to
conduct open and fair elections. He concluded that, while elections
will likely not be perfect in light of the enormous logistical
challenges involved, if a majority of registered voters exercise
their franchise, it will represent an important defeat for the
insurgency.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Governor Atta on Possible Post Election Demonstrations
--------------------------------------------- ---------

7. (SBU) In a meeting with Governor Atta and his senior provincial
staff, the Ambassador stressed that elections will be a challenging
exercise given Afghanistan's legacy of 30 years of internal
conflict, low literacy and challenging logistics. He said that the
U.S. and international governments back the IEC-GIRoA decision that
no polling station will be opened unless it can be fully secured by
ANSF forces and candidates who have mobilized local support are
satisfied they will have the opportunity to place monitors at polls.
The Ambassador stressed that the U.S. has neither a favored
candidate nor a preference for a one- or two-round process.

8. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed concern that uncertainty over
election outcomes could lead to violent demonstrations. He noted
that all major candidates have publicly condemned any resort or
incitement to violence by their followers and that any such violence
would shape international community's views about their presence in
Afghanistan. ?I know I can count on you as a voice of reason during
a very emotional period,? the Ambassador concluded. ?People will
accept the results if the elections are perceived to be fair and
transparent.? Atta replied. ?If not, people will protest.?

9. (SBU) Provincial Council Chairman and Atta protege Farhad Azimi
noted in a later aside to PRToff that he does not foresee trouble,
and noted that Karzai spoke positively about Atta during a recent
campaign rally in Kandahar, at which he said he would ask Atta to
stay on as Balkh governor should he win re-election. In response to
a private question from the Ambassador about his post-election plans
should Karzai win, Atta said he might accept Karzai's outreached
hand and stay on, albeit begrudgingly.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (SBU) With five-years tenure as governor, Atta is one of the
longest-serving of President Karzai's provincial appointees. His
own endorsement of opposition presidential candidate Abdullah as
well as his recent outright rejection of Ministry of Interior
instructions to replace provincial police officials has strained
Atta's relation with the Karzai administration. And Atta's oft
voiced view that the more secure northern provinces deserve a bigger
share of donors' development spending that has been ?unfairly?
concentrated in the insecure South and East (Septel) has sustained
frictions with local PRT and RC commanders. Though his response was
non-committal, Atta took on board the Ambassador's request that he
use his personal prestige and influence to temper any post-election
tendencies to violent demonstration.


EIKENBERY

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