10/06/2004, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Elections: Afghanistan wants change

Taliban continue their threats: "Those working for Christian invaders will be killed"

Kabul (AsiaNews) - According to AsiaNews sources in Kabul, the population is "unperturbed" on the eve of Afghanistan's first democratic elections, despite the continuing episodes of violence and threats of those "who stand to gain from a boycott on voting".  These sources say that "the electoral process is forging ahead.  The unexpectedly high number of Afghans who have registered to vote is a sign of hope and the desire for change.  Atiqulla, election coordinator for the province of Uruzgan, has stated that "the elections will not be perfect.  People are being intimidated, but they are also certain that they no longer want the Taliban in power".

The anti-American propaganda and intimidation conducted by Taliban has continued throughout the pre-election period in various forms, in an attempt to scuttle the vote.  Last weekend in Uruzgan (southern central Afghanistan, a Pashtun-dominated area and a Taliban stronghold), two flyers was posted to the doors of a mosque saying, "We have declared war on the infidels.  Christian invaders, lead by the United States, intend to conquer Afghan Muslims.  Any Afghan working for them will be killed".  Such "night letters", as they are known, have also made their way to Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran.  Signs written in Pashto were also posted on the inside walls of refugee camps.  Most called for holy war. "The United States are occupying the territory of the Islamic State of Afghanistan.  Jews and their allies are killing our children and dishonouring our women.  They are attempting to eliminate Islam and our religious institutions.  Jihad is the duty of every Muslim at this moment: whoever disobeys will have to answer to Allah".

Fundamentalist violence is not being expressed in words alone.  Atiqulla said that, since early May, 5 members of his staff have been killed and two injured.  Attacks, including bomb explosions, against voter-registration stations have occurred in various parts of the country, especially the south.  Last June in Jalalabad, 3 women were killed in the explosion of a minibus in which a group of election workers were travelling.  Not even humanitarian workers have been spared violence.  "Doctors without Frontiers" left the country at the end of July: last June 2nd, an unidentified armed group killed 5 members of the Dutch section of the NGO in an ambush in Badghis province.  Caritas too has decided to bring home many of its workers in past weeks.

In the north, "warlords" are also threatening the legitimacy of elections.  Analysts are warning that such local grandees are getting ready to fix elections by using money and threats to sway votes in favour of their candidates.

The hope that these elections can bring greater dignity and fulfilment of rights is especially widespread among women.  The number of women registered to vote and involved in voting commissions is a sign of their desire to play a greater role in the public life of their country.  While not underestimating the problems that persist, a recently released Human Rights Watch report underscores the improvement in living conditions of "millions of women who, after the fall of Taliban government, have returned to their jobs and studies". (MA) 

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