(Kabul) - Taliban threats and violence against campaign workers and election officials risk undermining Afghanistan's presidential election slated for April 5, 2014, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a March 11 statement, the Taliban vowed to "use all force" to disrupt the vote, and to "target all workers, activists, callers, security apparatus, and offices." The Taliban also warned the Afghan government not to use public buildings such as mosques and schools for the polls, suggesting these locations could be targets of attack. International humanitarian law prohibits all attacks targeting civilians and civilian structures.
"The Taliban's threat to use violence to prevent the Afghan people from choosing a new president is as despicable as it is unlawful," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "That threat highlights the responsibility of the Afghan government and its security forces to take all necessary measures to protect campaign activities and voters." Prior to and during the presidential election of 2009 and the parliamentary election in 2010, the Taliban were linked to most serious incidents of violence and intimidation.
The April 5 election would mark the first democratic transfer of power from one president to another in post-2001 Afghanistan. Term limits in the Afghan constitution bar the current president, Hamid Karzai, from re-election. Human Rights Watch has previously expressed concern about the ability of Afghan security forces to provide adequate security on election day.
Violent incidents already linked to election preparations include:On March 12, the kidnapping by unknown gunmen of four members of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Nangarhar province; On March 12, the killing by unidentified gunmen of three elders associated with the campaign of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in northern Faryab province. The men were shot while returning from a funeral ceremony for the late Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Unidentified gunmen also warned villagers in the area not to vote; On March 10, a bomb blast by unknown perpetrators apparently targeted Abdullah's campaign office in Herat, which killed two security officers and injured four election workers; On March 9, an attack by unidentified gunmen that killed two campaign workers of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Helmand; On March 5, a failed bomb attack by unknown perpetrators near a campaign venue in Kunduz where presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was scheduled to speak; On February 19, an attack apparently targeting presidential candidate Abdullah as he was returning from a campaign rally in Nangarhar. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack; On February 9, an attack by unidentified gunmen that killed a tribal elder and a campaign worker of Dr. Abdullah in the Kohistanat district of Sar-i-Pul province; and On February 1, the killing by unidentified gunmen of two of Abdullah's campaign workers who were shot in the city of Herat.
The Afghan nongovernmental election monitoring organization, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, has reported that election-related violence and intimidation since the start of the campaign period on February 2 has included seven murders, one assassination attempt, and six threats of violence or use of force. More threats and violence are expected as the campaign for provincial council seats, which began on March 4, gains momentum. "The Taliban threats to use violence to derail the election process should not succeed," Adams said. "Taliban tactics of terror and intimidation only expose their fear of the ballot box and the Afghan people's right to choose their next government."