Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Abdullah's supporters threaten to take up arms over 'rigged' election

With the results of Afghanistan's presidential election expected later today, supporters of the opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, delivered a grim message last night, threatening violence if their candidate loses.
Standing by the black marble grave of their fallen leader Ahmed Shah Masoud, two former mujahedin fighters said they still had their guns and warned that they had not forgotten how to use them.
Like most of Afghanistan's Tajik community, they had voted for Mr Abdullah, a former foreign minister of Tajik and Pashtun ancestry, who fought alongside their beloved Commander Masoud against the Soviet invaders and then the Taliban.
If the election is "stolen" by Hamid Karzai, the reaction would be violent, the former guerillas declared. Mohammed Amin, 51, said: "We have heard Karzai is saying he has already won. We have also heard there has been a lot of fraud in the south. The election cannot be decided like this. The international community should correct this and have these votes taken again. If they do not, people will resist. This is Afghanistan, and we have all got arms. If people are angry, we will use these arms."

The last time they waged war, under the charismatic command of Masoud, was to keep the Pashtun Taliban at bay when they had already conquered the rest of the country. Supporters of Mr Karzai are claiming a landslide victory in the election, which would give him outright victory without having to go to a second round.

Mr Abdullah, in turn, has further raised the temperature by accusing the President of being personally involved in organising of "ballot stuffing". But he has also urged his supporters to stay calm while the electoral commission investigates his concerns. Faced with repeated reports of fraud and intimidation, international monitors who at first declared the ballot a success have been forced to acknowledge there has been serious and worrying malpractice.

Kai Eide, the head of the United Nations mission in the country, said yesterday: "There is no doubt there were irregularities on polling day. I appeal to the candidates, their campaigns and also to the voters to demonstrate the patience and calm required while these are investigated."

But here in the spiritual home of the Northern Alliance, patience is wearing thin. "Look up there," said Mr Amin, pointing to the mountains rising above the verdant valley of the River Panjshir. "That is where we made a stand with Ahmed Shah Masoud when the Russians attacked us. We must make a stand again if wrong is being done at the election."

His companion, Abdul Dosht, 47, added: "No one wants to fight fellow Afghans. We are all the same. But why should people accept their votes being ignored? If people on the other side are not being democratic what choice have we got but to fight? But if that happens we won't be fighting just for Tajiks, we'll be fighting for all Afghanistan."

During his campaign, Mr Karzai privately raised the spectre of ethnic violence and a return to civil war. Dr Abdullah's team, meanwhile, has threatened that there will be disturbances of the type which followed the disputed Iranian elections – "only worse" – if victory is corruptly obtained by the President.

There is much talk of a backroom deal being done between Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah. But there is a sense of a very personal enmity and grievance between the two candidates. Dr Abdullah, who studied ophthalmology at Kabul University, says he proposed Mr Karzai, a Pashtun, as the new leader of Afghanistan as the Taliban were being driven out in 2001.

A few months later, on becoming President with Dr Abdullah as his foreign minister, Mr Karzai came to pray at the grave side of Commander Masoud, who was murdered by al-Qa'ida in the run up to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Later, Dr Abdullah and Mr Karzai fell out amid mutual acrimony.

There is now a mausoleum at the site on "Chief of Martyrdom Hill" with a montage of photographs, many showing Dr Abdullah in the company of Commander Masoud. Work is under way to construct a complex with a Masoud Museum and a mosque. The Iranians who backed Commander Masoud against the Taliban are providing much of the funding. Karzai's camp has privately warned that Dr Abdullah is "too close" to the regime in Tehran.

Habib Rahim, one of the financial officers for museum project, said: "Yes, President Karzai came here and he said he would unify the country and work for all the people. But what has happened since?

"We don't have a proper president, there is violence, unemployment, the economy is bad. People want change and that is why so many of us voted for a change.

"This change cannot be stopped by corruption. If that happens there is a real danger of a conflict."

Afghanistan to Release Partial Election Results Tuesday

Afghanistan's election commission says it will release partial results from last week's presidential elections Tuesday, but complete nationwide preliminary results will not be known for another 10 days.

As people await the official results, the country's finance minister, Hazrat Omr Zakhilwal, claimed clear victory for incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

Zakhilwal said Monday the president received 68 percent of the vote.

A spokesman for Mr. Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, rejected that claim.

On the political front, the United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has appealed for patience as Afghan officials investigate accusations of voter fraud.

And, on the security front, the top U.S. military officer says the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said in a television interview Sunday that the Taliban insurgency has become more sophisticated in its tactics.

He also expressed concern about waning American public support for the Afghan war.

In Washington Monday, Democratic Senator Russell Feingold called for a "flexible timetable" for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Feingold said it is time to start discussing such move. He said after eight years, he is not convinced that pouring more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy. He also expressed concern that sending more troops could destabilize the region.

The Obama administration expects to receive an assessment from its commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, within two weeks.

First death anniversary of Ahmed Faraz observed

ISLAMABAD : The first death anniversary of poet of love and revolution Ahmed Faraz was observed across the country on Tuesday.

The Hindko-speaking Faraz, who was born on January 14, 1931 in Kohat, died in Chicago last year.

Known as a contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Faraz exemplified a simple but profound style and preferred the language of ordinary people, a private TV channel reported.

He was preoccupied with politics and wrote against dictatorship and even declined the presidential Sitara-e Imtiaz award from former president Pervez Musharraf.

"My conscience will never forgive me if I stay silent spectator of the sad happenings around us," he once said.

"The least I can do is let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in any way with the regime."

Faraz was exile during the Zia-ul Haq regime after he was arrested for reciting certain poems at a mushaira criticizing the military rule.

He lived outside Pakistan for six years, in the UK, Canada and Europe before returning to Pakistan where he was initially appointed as the chairman of the Academy of Letters and later Chairperson of the National Book Foundation for several years.