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Cablegate: Afghan Elections: Media Ban Fallout, Afghan Voter

P 191305Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0918
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002426

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL AF
SUBJECT: AFGHAN ELECTIONS: MEDIA BAN FALLOUT, AFGHAN VOTER
RESILIENCE

REF: A. KABUL 2419
B. KABUL 2040
C. KABUL 2405
D. KABUL 2366
E. KABUL 2334

1. (SBU) The Afghan government has instructed all media to
refrain from reporting any "terrorist activities or
movements" on elections Day. Only two Afghan outlets have
reported on the ban, Radio Azadi and Pajhwok. Privately
Afghan journalists say they will continue to report on
terrorist attacks, noting the ban is not enforceable. Two
Tolo television journalists were temporarily detained by the
National Security Agency (NSA) forces August 19 for reporting
on the Taliban attack at a bank in Kabul, suggesting
Karzai,s government may be singling out the Afghan media.
The ban, for those who hear of it, could generate more fear
and discourage voter turnout. If the local press attacks
Karzai for the ban as the international press has, he may
lose some of his momentum (ref A). Regardless, Afghans show
some signs of resilience in the face of violence--although
voting will remain uneven in the most dangerous provinces.

-----------------------------------
Political Fallout of Media Blackout
-----------------------------------

2. (SBU) On August 19, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior
Ministry issued statements calling on a media ban on any
incidence of violence on elections day August 20 from 6 a.m.
- 8 p.m. The initial Dari version of the announcement said
it was "strictly forbidden," whereas the English version was
a "request," likely demonstrating the government may crack
down harder on national media, where journalists will be more
susceptible to intimidation. Two Tolo television journalists
were temporarily detained a day before the supposed blackout,
August 19. Tolo journalists said "the Afghan NSA did not
want us repotin on the breaking news of the Taliban attacks
on the bank in Kabul." They were released, and reported no
abuse. However, many interlocutors believe this was a
strategic warning to the national press to abide by the ban,
even a day early.

3. (SBU) Despite the ban, most media outlets tell us they
will continue to report on terrorist attacks, noting that it
is their responsibility to give the Afghan people accurate
information, and that the
Afghan government has no formal means to enforce the ban.
The Afghan press, aside from Radio Azadi and Pajhwok, has not
reported on the ban thus far. If Karzai starts to receive bad
national press on the evening news--so far it has been
primarily international--this may affect his campaign. Also,
if the media indeed continues to report on the violence,
Karzai could lose support from Pashtun votes in the most
dangerous southern and eastern provinces, as voters are
dissuaded from going to the polls by numerous,
widely-publicized attacks on voting day. The talk of the ban
itself could also dissuade voters, as they will not have
information on attacks, and therefore may opt to stay home.

---------------------------
Voter Resilience Continues
---------------------------

4. (SBU) August 19 Independence Day celebrations continued
on schedule in Kabul and in the Central Hazarajaat, as well
s most of the north. The size of the celebrations, as
reported by the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs),
appeared to mirror the security map of Afghanistan, with no
celebrations in the most dangerous provinces. The Paktika
Governor's Office told us there would be no Independence Day
celebrations due to security concerns and the deployment of
Afghan National Security Forces to polling stations. Paktia
district governors told us that, despite the Taliban's night
letters warning the people to not vote, the people "are
prepared to vote tomorrow." In Nuristan government officials
said , "the people are organizing themselves to protect their
right to vote."

5. (SBU) Many interlocutors tell us Afghan voters are
increasing disillusioned with the democratic process,
predicting that voter turn-out will not reach the 75% range
it did in the 2004 presidential elections. Female MPs and
university students have told us that the female and youth
votes will likely decrease, due in part to this
disillusionment. Further, the impact of the historic recent
presidential debates (ref A, B), and the increase in the
perception among the Afghan people that this time, more than
the last, the United States is impartial, remains to be seen.

6. (SBU) Note: the Embassy is preparing talking points on
the media ban, and has raised the issue with the Presidential
Palace. Senior Palace Representatives responded that they
will "clarify" what was meant by the press releases, and that
all they wanted was for the media to report "responsibly."


EIKENBERRY

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