Amid almost daily episodes of violence in Afghanistan, “fear and anger are two sides of the same coin,” says Cristina Majorano in describing how Afghans feel about next October’s parliamentary elections.
Ms Majorano is regional director for Yemen and Afghanistan of Intersos, an Italian NGO that supports local healthcare, food security, and education and helps vulnerable people, children and youth.
Wednesday night, the Taliban launched an offensive in Farah, capital of Farah province, western Afghanistan, against Afghan Army forces in different parts of the city, terrorising civilians.
Provincial officials said that on Tuesday, hundreds of Taliban fighters infiltrated several security checkpoints, occupying some parts of the city.
The following day, the Afghan counter-offensive supported by NATO planes pushed back and killed 300 Taliban. Although the authorities claim that the city is now free from militants, some sources say clashes are still ongoing.
“Since the Taliban announced the annual spring offensive, in late April, it created concern not only for the government, but also for the people. It’s affecting social life in the big cities, even here in Kabul,” said Ali Obaid, an analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
The ongoing violence is also undermining the work of humanitarian organisations like Intersos, which has been present in Afghanistan since 2001.
“Respecting [humanitarian commitments] is becoming more difficult day by day, and endangers the humanitarian workers themselves,” said Majorano.
“For this reason, the humanitarian community has asked all the parties to the conflict to respect the rules of international humanitarian law,” she explained.
In addition to the fears due to the fighting between the Afghan government and Taliban rebels, there are suicide attacks by the Islamic State (IS).
However, despite the numerous attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country, ” Isis [Islamic State] is not getting stronger,” said Obaid. However, “they target ‘soft’ targets. They want to carry out attacks here, to get into the front pages of media articles.”
The country is only in the early stage of the democratic process leading up to 20 October election. There are no lists of candidates but registration began on1 4 April for the ten million eligible voters.
“Expectations were very high, that a huge number of people would register, but right now it’s only a small number of people,” Obaid noted.
The low registration rate has pushed the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to move the deadline from 13 May to 12 June. Yesterday, it said that 1.9 million people were currently registered – less than 20 per cent of those eligible.
On 10 May, the UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, reported 23 attacks against electoral registration centres with 86 dead and 165 wounded civilians.
“There are different views in Afghanistan,” said Obaid. “Some people are afraid they’ll be targeted if they register. Other will not trust candidates anymore.
“In the past years, people who cast their votes lost fingers, hands, lives. But the outcome of the vote was actually zero: promises not fulfilled and corruption still in the government. All this has produced negative consequences when it comes to elections and trust-building.”
The Intersos director agrees. The pre-election climate “is not relaxed, and registration is already at risk with attacks on registration centres with dozens of deaths and injuries,” noted Majorano.
“Forty years of conflict have made Afghanistan one of the longest lasting humanitarian crises in history. About 40 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, with limited access to employment opportunities and basic services.
“In 2017 the conflict killed more than 8,000 civilians, and almost half a million people fled their homes to seek refuge in safer areas. Given this context, expectations in these elections are not high.”