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Cablegate: Afghan Elections Situation Report One - 1800 Local, August

R 191313Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0920
INFO RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7744
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 3771
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS KABUL 002427

DEPARTMENT FOR AFGHAN ELECTIONS TASK FORCE

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM AF

SUBJECT: Afghan Elections Situation Report One - 1800 Local, August
19, 2009

1. (SBU) This is the first situation report cable from Embassy
Kabul's Elections Operations Center (EOC). The next report is
scheduled for 1200 midnight (local) on August 20; reports will be
sent every four hours thereafter. Each cable will cover the
categories of: security, fraud, atmospherics, and messaging.
Starting 0800 (local) August 20, reports will also cover voter
turnout and voting/counting activities. Septel discusses political
fallout of the media "ban" on coverage of violence.


---------
Security
---------

2. (SBU) On balance, the security situation appears normal in most
of the country, even in the conflict-prone provinces of the East and
South, with few reports of elections-related violence. However, PRTs
report attempts at voter intimidation by insurgents in Paktya and
Helmand, where Taliban "night letters" threatening to cut off
voters' ink-marked fingers were left in mosques. PRT Paktika also
reported Afghan Police discovery and neutralization of an IED placed
in a polling center.

3. (SBU) High profile security incidents received national and
international media coverage, but the most heavily reported -- an
attack on a downtown Kabul bank that resulted in the deaths of the
three attackers and several policemen wounded -- did not appear to
be related to the election (although Salahuddin Ayubi, a
sub-commander of the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, claimed the
responsibility for the attack.)

Provincial reports by region follow:

REGIONAL COMMAND (RC)-North

--BALKH: A hand grenade was thrown at a polling center in Dawlatbad
district, Balkh province. No one was injured. PRT State rep also
reported that numerous IEDs have been found on the roads.

--KUNDUZ: Security concerns have dominated the lead-up to the
election in Kunduz province. The campaign was largely low-key, with
much of the campaigning conducted via gatherings of acquaintances
rather than large-scale public rallies. Press reports of Marshall
Fahim's and Rabbani's vehicle convoys' being attacked in Kunduz have
contributed to the feeling of insecurity, even though evidence of an
attack on Fahim's convoy is lacking and reports of an attack on
Rabbani were debunked. Despite a lull in security incidents in
recent days, it seems a virtual certainty that the poor security
situation in the province will depress voter turnout.

RC-SOUTH

--ZABUL: IED found and cleared in polling center in Shajoy
District.

RC-EAST

--GHAZNI: The Ghazni-based representatives of 9 Presidential
candidates and 2 Provincial Council Candidates visited the PRT the
morning of August 19 to voice concerns about the integrity of the
pols in 12 districts of Ghazni (Rashidan, Zanakhan, Andar,
Ajiristan, Aband, Qarabagh, Giro, Gelan, Khogani, Nawa- where there
are no polling stations, Moqur, and Waghez). The campaign
representatives told us that the security situation severely
complicated voting efforts in these districts, and they worried that
voters would either be disenfranchised or that the vote counts in
these areas could be manipulated.

NURISTAN: The attacks of anti-Afghan forces have limited
opportunities to go to the polls in Kamdesh and Waygul districts,
and shut out ballot delivery in Mandol district, with an estimated
6,000 voters. Hafiz Sultan, representing the four-valley shura of
Parun, on 19 August said security in Parun is good.

--KHOST: Early August 19, an ANP truck struck an IED in Dwamanda
District - 1 KIA, 3WIA. There were elections materials on board the
truck, but they have been secured and the mission is continuing to
deliver them. IED are fairly common in Khost, so it is unclear if
the elections convoy was specifically targeted. According to the
PEO, the truck company contracted by the Independent Election
Commission (IEC), to move move elections materials out of the
Dwamanda Distict Center to the actual polling centers is reluctant
to do so. The PEO is working to get ANA escort to move the
materials.


------------
Fraud Issues
------------

4. (SBU) No substantiated claims of fraud were logged with with the
ECC today. However, PRT contacts reported on the Karzai campaign's
ongoing efforts to influence voters in Helmand. Regional and
Provincial reporting follows:

RC-SOUTH

--HELMAND: Some campaigns continue to be active despite the 48 hour
ban on electioneering, with several PC candidates giving lunches and
dinners today at their residences. Sher Muhammad Akhunzada (SMA)
and Amir Muhammad Akhunzada (AMA) continue to actively court support
for Karzai by meeting with government officials, tribal elders and
mullahs. The Karzai-connected heavies (SMA, AMA, mullahs, etc) are
telling people that Karzai will win anyway so it's good for them to
vote for him.

PRT Helmand's contacts report further that Pro-Karzai heavyweight
Sher Mohammad Akhunzada has placed allies as IEC polling center
workers in a handful of polling centers close to Lashkar Gah. No
independent observers will go to these polling stations since
they're not safe areas, at least raising the prospect of fraud.

RC-EAST

--PAKTIKA: Roullah Muslimyar, of Paktika's ECC, affirmed that all
campaign activity in Paktika had ceased on time. He noted, however,
that an unofficial complaint had been recently sent to the ECC-Kabul
office. Since the complaint was not filed officially (via an
in-person visit to ECC offices and the completion of paperwork) the
complaint, of unknown origin and topic, will not be acted upon by
the ECC. (Per reporting August 18, the ECC office in Paktika has
never received an official complaint).

--GHAZNI: Several of the representatives cited unspecified instances
of pre-election fraud and malfeasance by sub-governors, but could
not provide concrete examples when pressed. They also said that they
"knew" several DFCs had abandoned their posts in insecure districts,
and left all election materials in the custody of the ANA and ANP.
The representatives requested that coalition assets transport
campaign-affiliated election observers to 144 polling stations in
these districts and suggested that polling centers with no observers
should be closed.

RC-WEST

--HERAT: Local RTA evening news Aug 18 featured the Provincial
Election Officer in a five-minute interview reassuring voters that
procedures were in place to prevent fraud. Among other things he
discussed were the finger dipping in ink and posting of the results
at each polling station at the end of the counting. He also
reassured viewers on election day security.

------------
Atmospherics
------------

5. (SBU) Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) spokesperson
Mohammad Noor claimed in a press conference August 19 that the IEC
has registered a total of 17 million voters, of whom 15 million
might actually vote. Noor noted that in 2004, 6 million out of 11
million registered voters turned out. However, embassy local staff
and others assert that voter motivation this year is lower than in
2004.

6. (SBU) In interactions with western diplomats, several major
political parties' representatives have expressed confidence in the
process and in IEC's role. Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan
(Ghilzai-Pashtun, Islamist), Hizb-e-Wahidat (Shi'a, Hazara),
Hizb-e-Junbesh (Uzbek), all support (and anticipate) President
Karzai's re-election. Only Hizb-e-Islami's representative
anticipated a second-round.

7. (SBU) Regional reporting from key regions and provinces follows:

RC-SOUTH

--HELMAND: Lashkar Gah is relatively quiet but tense today. As of
2pm this afternoon all roads leading into Lashkar Gah were closed to
vehicle traffic (open to pedestrians and vehicles with passes);
roads within the city also have checkpoints and are closed to
vehicles. Residents tell us they are worried about attacks tomorrow
- particularly suicide attacks or IEDs in town. Most Afghans we
talk to do not expect high voter turnout, due to both intimidation
and voter apathy. Our PRT political specialist thinks that one
bombing today or tomorrow would scare off all voters in town.

RC-EAST

--NURISTAN: Nuristan's voters will have uneven access to their
franchise on voting day. Popular enthusiasm appears high and
Nuristanis have organized themselves to protect their right to vote

--GARDEZ: On August 19, PRT Gardez reached by phone five of the
province's thirteen district governors to discuss tomorrow's
elections. Overall, these district governors have reported a stable
situation in the region and that the ANSF are providing security.

--HERAT: National Day: Brad attended the event at Governor
Nuristani's compound (notably absent was the Italian PRT Commander,
who likely stayed away for security reasons). Nuristani spoke
briefly; he encouraged people to exercise their right to vote. He
was followed by Ismail Khan who spoke for more than an hour.
Notably, Ismail Khan made no mention of Karzai in the speech and his
only reference to elections was to say it is fine to campaign but no
one has the right to bad mouth the mujahadeen. Khan started by
recounting Afghan history, then dove into many negative comments
about the coalition; he told the audience there would be no peace
until every last foreigner left Afghanistan. While he did not say
positive things about local troublemaker Ghulam Yahya Siwashani (AKA
Akbari), some of his remarks seemed to be sympathetic to him. Brad
remarked that the speech was a typical mujahadeen speech and Khan,
an excellent orator who spoke without notes, overdid it a bit with
the audience that was a mix of those who support and those who do
not support Khan.


--------------
Public Affairs
--------------

8. (U) AFGHAN MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS

In a statement issued today, Pajhwok Afghan News has rejected the
order of the National Security Council released by the Foreign
Affairs Ministry that forbids coverage or prediction of violence
during tomorrow's election. Pajhwok states that such an order has no
basis in the Afghan Constitution or the principles of democracy and
added that the news agency will continue to serve the people in
reporting on the elections.

Radio Azadi and Pajhwok reported that the government of Afghanistan
requested the media to refrain from broadcasting any incidence of
violence during tomorrow's election. However, the Dari version of
the statement released by Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more clear
on the point that it is seriously forbidden to report and publish
photographs on violence, or to predict that there will be attacks.
Radio Killid and Pajhwok News agency reported that Dr. Abdullah
Abdullah, in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, accused the
President Karzai of using the government machinery to his advantage.
He added that the process has been unfair right from the beginning.
According to these outlets, people didn't expect President Karzai to
perform better on this issue because his history of violating the
constitution. "How can one then expect him to abide by the
electoral law?"

Radio BBC and Tolo TV reported that the U.N. Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon has urged all Afghan women and men eligible to vote to cast
their ballot in Thursday's presidential and provincial council
elections. In a statement released by the U.N. Spokesperson, the
Secretary-General also calls on all candidates, their supporters,
political party agents, and domestic and international observers to
continue to cooperate with the Independent Election Commission,
other relevant Afghan institutions, and international stakeholders
supporting electoral preparations to ensure a smooth and successful
electoral process.

Shamshad TV reported that a district chief was killed along with a
tribal elder as their vehicle hit a roadside IED in Ragi district of
Kandahar province.

Pajhwok News Agency reported that the IEC head for the southern zone
told the reporter that more than 150 of the 643 proposed polling
centers to be set up in the southern zone, which comprises five
provinces, will stay closed on Election Day for security reasons.
The 150 proposed polling centers are located in the restive
districts of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul and Nimroz province.
Meanwhile, the IEC announced that all 2,835 polling centers in the
eastern zone, where election materials have already been shifted,
will remain open on Thursday.

Radio Azadi and Salam Watandar reported that around 75 armed
militants, including a commander, joined the Afghan government peace
and reconciliation process on the occasion of Afghanistan's 90th
independence anniversary from Britain in central Maidan Wardak
province.

Radio Azadi reported on the deaths of two IEC employees by an IED
explosion in the Shurabak district of Kandahar province today.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, four IEC employees were killed by
an IED explosion in Badakhshan province.

Pajhwok News Agency reported that the IEC chief in Ghazni, Abdul
Bari Rahimi, said that 33 polling centers could not be opened due to
insecurity in the province.

Pajhwok News Agency reported that former Afghan Interior Minister
Ali Ahmad Jalali called on his followers to vote for President
Karzai.


9. (SBU) MESSAGING:

The U.S. has been working to support credible, secure, and inclusive
elections that are seen by the Afghan people and international
community as legitimate. The U.S. does not support or oppose any
candidate in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. We are
impartial. Only the Afghans will decide if the elections are
credible and secure.

We'll be watching closely as the voting and election unfold. The
U.S. is funding over 360 observers from independent international
NGOs and from Embassy Kabul to observe the process. These U.S.
funded observers will be present in 27 of Afghanistan's 32
provinces.

The Government of Afghanistan is the lead for election security,
with over 160,000 police and army soldiers manning polling stations
and travel routes. The International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF) along with U.S. forces provide support security for the
Afghan forces. ISAF and USFOR-A have made the elections their
primary mission and are working closely with their Afghan partners
to enable the election day events.

We are aware of the Afghan Government's statements calling on all
media to refrain from publishing any incidents of violence during
election day. While we recognize the sovereign rights of the Afghan
Government and note their intention to encourage Afghans to turn out
and vote, we believe that free media reporting is directly linked to
the credibility of the elections and continue to support both the
freedom of the press and responsible reporting.


EIKENBERRY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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