Warlords to maintain power in Afghan elections?

While 11 candidates (out of some 3,000) were barred from Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections for ties to warlordism, many veteran Mujahedeen commanders with pasts tained by human rights abuses—or even ethnic cleansing—seem to have slipped through the cracks. Reported Newsday Sept. 19:

Nationwide, journalists and election monitors reported cases of voters, unaware of how to vote, being instructed by poll workers to choose certain candidates. In addition, the Asian Network for Free Elections, based in Thailand, has reported intimidation by local strongmen, buying of votes by wealthy candidates, and the selling of extra voter cards by profit-minded election workers.

The election’s biggest issue — the candidacy of former guerrilla leaders — was evident on the road from Kabul to Paghman about 12 miles away.

The road is festooned with posters for Paghman’s most powerful resident, Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf. As one of the main mujahideen leaders in the Afghans’ 1980s war against the Soviet Union, Sayyaf was financed by Saudi Arabia and well armed by CIA-supplied weapons. He was aligned with Osama bin Laden.

Beginning in 1992, after the mujahideen overthrew the Soviet-backed communist government, Sayyaf’s forces fought other factions in a battle for power that destroyed vast swaths of Kabul and included atrocities on all sides. Sayyaf’s forces, under his close supervision, “specifically engaged in widespread killing and abduction of Hazara civilians,” said a Human Rights Watch report published in July.

In the capital, Hazaras such as Abdul Hussein, a street vendor, say Sayyaf should be facing trial rather than election. “We know his history. Why can he become part of the government now?” Hussein asked.

Yesterday Sayyaf, a bear of a man with a long, gray-black beard, received a stream of visitors at his well-guarded villa in Paghman. He calmly dismissed the accusations and confidently predicted he would win a parliament seat, saying, “This election will show who has the real popularity among the people.”

See our last post on Afghanistan.